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Observations of an opportunistic feeding strategy in flat-tailed house geckos (Hemidactylus platyurus) living in buildings

House geckos (Hemidactylus spp.) are voracious
insectivorous that feed on large numbers of insects
daily. Several species of this genus live inside buildings
in close proximity to people where they forage near
artificial lights, feeding on those insects that are
attracted to light (Perry et al., 2008). This makes these
species excellent subjects for behavioral studies and
dietary analysis. Indeed, many studies have investigated
the diets of geckos belonging to the genus Hemidactylus
and found that diets of these species mainly consist of
insects such as Lepidoptera, Diptera but often also
contain other arthropods such as Arachinidae (Tyler
1961; Ramires and Fraguas 2004; Rocha and Anjos
2007; Diaz Perez et al., 2012; Tkaczenko et al., 2014).
Most of these studies suggest that house geckos are
strict insectivores, which is not any different for the flat-
tailed house gecko (Hemidactylus platyurus).
During the period between March 2013 to December
2016, I often observed house geckos (both Hemidactylus
frenatus and H. platyurus) foraging in garbage-bins
and on diner-tables in Kamphaeng Phet and Minburi,
Thailand and Malinau, Indonesia. I first assumed these
geckos were feeding on insects, such as house-flies, fruit-
flies or ants, that were attracted to leftovers. However, I
never actually witnessed the geckos preying on insects at
these specific locations. The geckos always disappeared
quickly when I tried to observe them. However, I
observed several times that fruits like papaya were eaten
by something, which I initially thought must have been
rats. It was later when I realized that it could have been
house geckos. In order to confirm this suspicion I placed
a camera near the garbage-bin in an attempt to capture
one of the geckos feeding on non-insect foods (Fig. 1).
In order to get clear images I served rice on a blue plate
that was placed on top of the bin. Figure 1 shows how
H. platyurus approaches a bin and snatches some boiled
rice. On another occasion I observed the same species
feeding on cucumber and fried egg.
Hemidactylus species are generally thought to be
strict insectivorous (see above), however here I show
that some species also feed on vegetal food items. Both
Hemidactylus platyurus and H. frenatus are often found
with close association with humans. The opportunistic
feeding strategy reported here may help to explain their
abundance in urban areas and their success as colonizer
and invasive species throughout the world (Carranza and
Arnold 2006). The abundance of insects inside buildings
can show high variation and might not always be
sufficient for house geckos. Feeding on other foods such
as rice, fruits and egg may aid survival during periods of
low insect abundance. Similar opportunistic behavior in
urban settings has been reported for other gecko species
such as the Malagasy day gecko (Phelsuma modesta
leiogaster). This species was observed feeding on honey
and artificial sugars inside homes (Gardner and Jasper
2015). However, unlike the genus Hemidactylus, the
genus Phelsuma contains many species that also feed
in natural situations on fruits and nectar (Murphy and
Myers 1996; Minnaar et al., 2013; Taylor and Gardner
It is unclear to what level vegetal food items play a
role for Hemidactylus species in natural situations,
because few dietary analysis have reported the presence
of food items other than insects or other arthropods.
One study on H. mabouia reported the presence of
vegetal material, but this was considered to be ingested
accidentally (Iturriaga and Marrero 2013). Two reasons
why non-insect food-items could be overlooked in
dietary analysis are because they are often much harder
to identify from stomach content or feces than insects
and feeding behavior is often studied at locations were
geckos are actively feeding on insects.
Herpetology Notes, volume 10: 133-135 (2017) (published online on 10 March 2017)
Observations of an opportunistic feeding strategy in flat-tailed
house geckos (Hemidactylus platyurus) living in buildings
Robbie Weterings1,*
1 Cat Drop Foundation, Drachten, Netherlands
* Corresponding author e-mail:
Robbie Weterings
Carranza, S., Arnold, E.N. (2006): Systematics, biogeography,
and evolution of Hemidactylus geckos (Reptilia: Gekkonidae)
elucidated using mitochondrial DNA sequences. Molecular
Phylogenetics and Evolution 38: 531–545.
Diaz Perez, J.A., Davila Suarez, J.A., Alvarez Garcia, D.M.,
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(Sauria: Gekkonidae) en un area urbana de la region Caribe
Colombiana. Acta Zoologica Mexicana 28: 613–616.
Gardner, C., Jasper, L. (2015): Diet of the endemic Malagasy day
gecko Phelsuma modesta leiogaster Mertens, 1970 in an urban
environment. Herpetology Notes 8: 489–192.
Iturriaga, M., Marrero, R. (2013): Feeding ecology of the Tropical
House Gecko Hemidactylus mabouia (Sauria: Gekkonidae)
during the dry season in Havana, Cuba. Herpetology Notes 6:
Minnaar, T.J., Köhler, A., Purchase, C., Nicolson, S.W. (2013):
Coloured and toxic nectar: feeding choices of the Madagascar
giant day gecko, Phelsuma grandis. Ethology 119: 417–426.
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(2008): Effects of Artificial Night Lighting on Amphibians
and Reptiles in Urban Environments. In: Urban Herpetology,
p. 239–256. Mitchell, J.C., Jung, R.E., Bartholomew, B., Ed.
Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles, Salt Lake
City, Utah.
Ramires, E.N., Fraguas, G.M. (2004): Tropical house gecko
(Hemidactylus mabouia) predation on brown spiders (Loxosceles
intermedia). Journal of Venomous Animals and Toxins including
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Figure 1. Hemidactylus platyurus feeding on rice from a bin in Malinau, North Kalimantan, Indonesia on 11 December 2016.
First H. platyurus approaches the boiled rice (A-C), then it snatches some rice grains (D-F) and finally it handles the rice and
swallows it (G-I).
Rocha, C.F.D., Anjos, L. (2007): Feeding ecology of a nocturnal
invasive alien lizard species, Hemidactylus mabouia Moreau de
Jonnès, 1818 (Gekkonidae), living in an outcrop rocky area in
southeastern Brazil. Revista Brasleira de Biologia 67: 485–91.
Taylor, B., Gardner, C. (2014): Nectar feeding by the day gecko
Phelsuma mutabilis (Squamata: Gekkonidae) on the mangrove
tree Sonneratia alba (Lythraceae) in southwest Madagascar.
Herpetology Notes 7: 85–87.
Tkaczenko, G.K., Fischer, A.C., Weterings, R. (2014): Prey
preference of the Common House Geckos Hemidactylus frenatus
and Hemidactylus platyurus. Herpetology Notes 7: 483–488.
Tyler, M.J. (1961): On the diet and feeding habits of Hemidactylus
frenatus (Dumeril and Bibron) (Reptilia; Gekkonidae) at
Rangoon, Burma. Transactions of the Royal Society of South
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Observations of an opportunistic feeding strategy in flat-tailed house geckos 135
Accepted by Jiri Smid
... Besides this interesting adaptation, common insectivorous gecko species have been reported recently to feed on food other than insects (Weterings, 2017;Tanalgo & Hughes, 2017). For example, Hemidactylus platyurus and H. frenatus were observed feeding on rice in a bin (Weterings, 2017) and Gekko monarchus feeding on bread from a plastic bag . ...
... Besides this interesting adaptation, common insectivorous gecko species have been reported recently to feed on food other than insects (Weterings, 2017;Tanalgo & Hughes, 2017). For example, Hemidactylus platyurus and H. frenatus were observed feeding on rice in a bin (Weterings, 2017) and Gekko monarchus feeding on bread from a plastic bag . To get an impression of how common this opportunistic feeding behaviour is among various insectivorous house-dwelling gecko species, we undertook an internet-based survey with ecologists, herpetologists and reptile enthusiasts that is reported here. ...
... Our survey shows that opportunistic feeding in geckos is more common than the incidental reports suggest (Weterings, 2017;Tanalgo & Hughes, 2017;. Such feeding has been recorded for all common invasive house geckos, except for Hemidactylus garnotii, and also from other house-dwelling gecko species that are not considered invasive. ...
Various species of ‘house’ gecko are found in and around buildings, where they can be observed feeding opportunistically on the insects attracted to artificial lights. Most of the species are considered strict insectivores. Nevertheless, there have been several recently published observations of ‘house’ geckos feeding on non-insect food. In order to assess how common this behaviour is among geckos worldwide, we offered an online questionnaire to ecologists and herpetologists. Of the 74 observations received, most reported Hemidactylus frenatus, H. platyurus and Gehyra mutilata feeding on rice, bread, fruits, vegetables, dog food or chocolate cream, taken from tables, plates, and garbage bins. This opportunistic feeding behaviour is much more common than previously thought and is perpetrated by species considered to be highly invasive, possibly contributing to their success as invaders.
... The success of foraging behavior will increase survival, reproduction and be a driver to successful geckos colonization in urban areas (Aowphol et al., 2006;Haley & Blackshaw, 2015). Moreover, as a foraging strategy, several species of geckos were found feeding on non-insect foods such as nectar, bread, boiled rice, cucumbers, and fried eggs (Taylor & Gardner, 2014;Weterings, 2017;Weterings & Weterings, 2018). ...
... A study on Gekko japonicus shows that the distribution of daily locomotor activity of this species is affected by temperature (Tawa et al., 2014). In Hemidactylus turcicus, foraging success is increased in simple habitats, encouraging successful colonization of this species in urban areas (Haley & Blackshaw, 2015 (Lapwong, 2021); has a strong preference for Lepidoptera and a slight preference for Culicidae regarding diet (Tkaczenko et al., 2014); and feeding on rice from a bin as an opportunistic feeding strategy (Weterings, 2017). Besides, the role of the house gecko in pest control in urban areas is worth considering (Tkaczenko et al., 2014). ...
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To understand the role of the flat-tailed gecko on pest control in urbanized areas, we observed the foraging behavior and daily activity of H. platyurus. It is one of the house geckos easily found but more studies on their behavior are still lacking. The observation was conducted between 14−27 May 2021, for 18 hours starting from 09.00 to 03.00 WIB using the ad libitum sampling method. Our result suggests that the foraging behavior was found almost every hour of observation, which is strongly influenced by relative humidity and insect abundance. This gecko was observed as a sit-and-wait predator or passively searching for prey. Our observation also indicated that this species has potential to control one of the household pests, the adult ants (alates). Hopefully, this study contributed to the understanding of the foraging behavior of the flat-tailed gecko. However, more studies are needed for better understanding of foraging behavior in the flat-tailed gecko.
... Although many reptiles and most amphibians are generalized insectivores, the study conducted by Weterings [6] reported that the insectivorous gecko Hemidactylus platyurus fed on rice, cucumber, and egg in garbage bins, while anthropophilic and insectivorous gecko Gehyramutilata have been reported by Tanalgo and Hughes [7] to feed on nectar from flowers. Also, Weterings and Weterings [8] reported that insectivorous Gekko monarchus was observed feeding on white bread on a kitchen table in the house. ...
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Background of the Study: The morphology of any reptile may be affected by different environmental factors such as climate change and habitat related features such as availability of food and other resources. Objective: This study aimed at determining the morphology and sexual variation of Rainbow male and female lizards (Agama.agama) in Obafemi Awolowo University. Study Design: Three locations in the University were selected (Student Hostels, Academic Area and Staff Quarters) and rainbow lizards were sampled from June to December 2019. Results: A total of 93 lizards were sampled, body parameters were measured, and the gonads were weighed after dissection. There was a positive correlation (0.98 & 0.78) between the body weight and gonad weight of the male and female lizards in all the three locations. Also, the specimen from the academic area of the University had the least body and gonad weight, while the samples caught in the staff quarters had the highest body and gonad weight. The Principal Component Analysis (PCA) showed a relationship in the body and gonad weight with few differences from samples captured in the academic area. Conclusion: In summary, external morphology of the rainbow lizards from all the three locations were similar with little difference in body weight. There was a positive relationship between external morphology and gonads of rainbow lizards.
... H. platyurus tails consist of various tissues, including epidermal, dermal, neural, muscle, adipose, bone, and connective tissues. 22,23 Tissue and organ regeneration are complex processes involving cells, proteins, and genes. 5,24 We observed that H. platyurus tail regeneration followed a growth curve with three distinct periods. ...
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The house gecko (Hemidactylus platyurus) has evolved the ability to autotomize its tail when threatened. The lost part is then regrown via epimorphic regeneration in a process that requires high energy and oxygen levels. Oxygen demand is therefore likely to outstrip supply and this can result in relative hypoxia in the tissues of the regenerating tail. The hypoxic state is stabilized by the Hypoxia Inducible Factor-1α (HIF-1α) and HIF-2α proteins. We induced tail autotomy in 30 mal H. platyurus adults using a standard procedure and then collected samples of the regenerated tail tissue on days 1, 3, 5, 8, 10, 13, 17, 21, 25, and 30 post autotomy. For each sample, mRNA expression was analyzed by qPCR, proteins were analyzed using Western Blot tests and immunohistochemistry, and the histological structure was analyzed using Hematoxylin and Eosin staining. On day 1, HIF-1α mRNA expression increased and the tissue was dominated by leucocyte and erythrocyte cells. HIF-1α mRNA expression peaked on day 3, at which time some cells were actively proliferating, migrating, and differentiating. At the same time as HIF-1α expression decreased, HIF-2α mRNA expression increased, as did overall cellular activity. HIF-2α expression increased more gradually but was present over a longer period of time than HIF-1α. We hypothesize that HIF-1α helps to initially stimulate the tissue regeneration process while HIF-2α functionally takes over the role of HIF-1α after HIF-1α succumbs to the oxygen conditions, but we suspect that both HIF-1α and HIF-2α play a role in overcoming the tissue’s hypoxic state.
... Although many reptiles and most amphibians are generalized insectivores (e.g., Parmelee, 1999;Van Damme, 1999), recent studies suggest that species living within human habitations are opportunistic feeders and include non-insect food in their diets. For example, Weterings (2017) reported that the insectivorous gecko Hemidactylus platyurus fed on rice, cucumber, and egg in garbage bins. Additionally, the anthropophilic and insectivorous gecko Gehyra mutilata has been reported to feed on nectar from flowers (Tanalgo and Hughes, 2017), while the insectivorous Gekko monarchus was observed feeding on white bread on a kitchen table (Weterings and Weterings, 2018). ...
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The West African Rainbow lizards are considered generalist insectivores, but recent studies suggest that they may be opportunistic feeders. Here we provide the first documented report of a Rainbow lizard feeding on white bread.
... They oftentimes feed on insects that are attracted to artificial light sources (Tkaczenko et al. 2014). Some Hemidactylus species are also known to forage in garbage bins and on tables where they feed on leftovers such as boiled rice (Weterings 2017). These highly opportunistic behaviors have contributed to their successful invasion of many regions. ...
[This corrects the article DOI: 10.1093/cz/zox052.][This corrects the article DOI: 10.1093/cz/zox052.].
... They oftentimes feed on insects that are attracted to artificial light sources (Tkaczenko et al. 2014). Some Hemidactylus species are also known to forage in garbage bins and on tables where they feed on leftovers such as boiled rice (Weterings 2017). These highly opportunistic behaviours have contributed to their successful invasion of many regions. ...
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In this study we identified the current distribution of five globally distributed invasive Hemidactylus species and predicted their potential and future distribution using species distribution models based on climate and elevation data. These species included H. brookii, H. frenatus, H. garnotii, H. mabouia and H. turcicus. We show that many regions with tropical and Mediterranean climates are suitable for most of these species. However, their current and potential distributions suggest that climate is not the only limiting factor. We hypothesize that climatic conditions may affect competition and other interactions resulting in a segregated distribution of the studied Hemidactylus species. As an effect of global climate change it is likely that H. brookii will expand its range to areas that are currently colonized by H. mabouia and/or H. frenatus while H. turcicus is likely to expand its range to areas that are not yet invaded by any Hemidactylus species. The role of species interactions in the range expansion of these five Hemidactylus species still remains poorly understood, but could be of major importance in understanding and managing these invasive species.
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The day gecko genus Phelsuma provides an ideal group in which to investigate the behavioural adaptations that permit survival in urban ecosystems, because it spans the spectrum of degradation tolerance from obligate forest specialists to human commensals. We opportunistically recorded foraging observations of Phelsuma modesta leiogaster in a house and garden in urban Toliara, southwest Madagascar, and found the diet to consist principally of natural and artificial sources of sugar (including fruits, honey, sugar, syrups and chocolate), with only 2 % of foraging observations consisting of invertebrates. Many Phelsuma species consume fruit, pollen or nectar in their diets, and we suggest that the specialisation on sugary foods may permit some species to adapt to urban environments where the availability of such food sources may be artificially high.
Coloured nectar is a rare phenomenon best known from islands and insular habitats. Islands are also known for lizard pollination, where coloured nectar potentially acts as a visual cue to attract pollinators, advertising the sweet reward. However, nectar may also contain secondary metabolites with toxic or deterrent effects. The aim of this study was to determine which factors are important as artificial nectar choice determinants to the Madagascar giant day gecko, Phelsuma grandis, an island pollinator: artificial nectar colour, artificial nectar colour saturation, artificial nectar conspicuousness and/or the presence of the alkaloid nicotine. Coloured artificial nectar and the darkest artificial nectar colour saturation were found to be important visual cues for the geckos, while the contrast between artificial nectar and petal colour was not. Geckos were deterred only by high nicotine concentrations (1000 µM in 0.63 M sucrose) and may even prefer low nicotine concentrations to sucrose-only solutions. Given their overall fondness for sugar solutions, Madagascar giant day geckos are likely to be important pollinators of Malagasy plant species that produce enough nectar to attract them, and plants with coloured nectar and/or secondary metabolites may have evolved those traits to attract the geckos in particular.
With more than 80 species inhabiting all warm continental land masses and hundreds of intervening continental and oceanic islands, Hemidactylus geckos are one of the most species-rich and widely distributed of all reptile genera. They consequently represent an excellent model for biogeographic, ecological, and evolutionary studies. A molecular phylogeny for Hemidactylus is presented here, based on 702 bp of mtDNA (303 bp cytochrome b and 399 bp 12S rRNA) from 166 individuals of 30 species of Hemidactylus plus Briba brasiliana, Cosymbotus platyurus, and several outgroups. The phylogeny indicates that Hemidactylus may have initially undergone rapid radiation, and long-distance dispersal is more extensive than in any other reptilian genus. In the last 15 My, African lineages have naturally crossed the Atlantic Ocean at least twice. They also colonized the Gulf of Guinea, Cape Verde and Socotra islands, again sometimes on more than one occasion. Many extensive range extensions have occurred much more recently, sometimes with devastating consequences for other geckos. These colonizations are likely to be largely anthropogenic, involving the 'weedy' commensal species, H. brookii s. lat, H. mabouia, H. turcicus, H. garnotii, and H. frenatus. These species collectively have colonized the Mediterranean region, tropical Africa, much of the Americas and hundreds of islands in the Pacific, Indian, and Atlantic oceans. Five well-supported clades are discernable in Hemidactylus, with the African H. fasciatus unallocated. 1. Tropical Asian clade: (Cosymbotus platyurus (H. bowringii, H. karenorum, H. garnotii)) (H. flaviviridis (Asian H. brookii, H. frenatus)). 2. African H. angulatus and Caribbean H. haitianus. 3. Arid clade, of NE Africa, SW Asia, etc.: (H. modestus (H. citernii, H. foudai)) (H. pumilio (H. granti, H. dracaenacolus) (H. persicus, H. macropholis, H. robustus, H. turcicus (H. oxyrhinus (H. homoeolepis, H. forbesii))). 4. H. mabouia clade (H. yerburii, H. mabouia). 5. African-Atlantic clade: H. platycephalus ((H. agrius, H. palaichthus) (H. longicephalus, H. greeffi, H. bouvieri, Briba brasiliana))). Cosymbotus and Briba are synonymized with Hemidactylus, and African populations of H. brookii separated as H. angulatus, with which H. haitianus may be conspecific. Some comparatively well-sampled widespread species show high genetic variability (10-15% divergence) and need revision, including Cosymbotus platyurus, H. bowringii, Asian H. brookii, H. frenatus, H. angulatus, and H. macropholis. In contrast, most populations of H. mabouia and H. turcicus are very uniform (1-2% divergence). Plasticity of some of the morphological features of Hemidactylus is confirmed, although retention of primitive morphologies also occurs.