An online acquaintance of mine, Ken Layne, lives in the mountain pueblo of El Quelite. He’s a terrific writer, and I loved this story about our Sinaloan geckos. I hope you’ll enjoy it.
THE LIZARDS ARE ON STATION ©2006, Ken Layne
Hawaii has its geckos that hang around people’s homes, schools, and businesses to keep the bug population under control. These little green lizards have been memorialized on thousands of tee shirts, baseball caps, handbags, and countless other tourist items. They even star in TV commercials for an insurance company. Sinaloa, too, has its own unique family of lizards that challenges the Hawaiian geckos as household fixtures.
Most folks in Mazatlan do refer to these little lizards as geckos, and they probably are members of the gecko family. I think there are couple dozen varieties of geckos worldwide. These Sinaloa gecko-lizards are unique, though, in appearance and lifestyle.
These little lizards are integral parts of every building in El Quelite, patrolling the ceilings and upper walls for insects. Unlike the Hawaiian geckos, which are bright green and can grow to a good size, the Sinaloa lizards are quite small — average length, about 3 inches — even when fully grown, and are almost translucent. Small size doesn’t hinder them in their insect-exterminatin g job, however. I’m sure that they are a major factor in keeping the Sinaloa spider population as low as it is.
In our house, the lizards hide by day behind the paintings on the walls and in small cracks and holes at the rafters. Conchita makes it a point never to take the pictures off the walls for cleaning. Rather, she dusts them in place. If you disturb the lizards, they might get upset and leave home — not good.
The lizards start to come out of hiding around 4:00 in the afternoon. They appear gradually. One may sprint out from behind a picture and run to the top of the wall. There, it will sit absolutely motionless for what seems an eternity. I think they even stop breathing and go into a catatonic trance. I know that any lizard can out-wait me. I’ll give up staring at one and go away before the lizard decides to move.
After the first lizard emerges, others gradually appear and start chirping. Yes, chirping! These little lizards talk to each other by chirping. Lizard chirp has a lot of volume and expressiveness. Lizard chirp is in the vocal range of a mocking bird or a magpie.
The first chirp is usually notice that the lizard has appeared for duty:
“Chirp! Lizard number 4 on station.”
How something that small can made such a noise is amazing.
These lizards are quite territorial. Each has its own area to patrol; if one lizard wanders into another’s turf, a war of words breaks out. A mighty dialogue of chirping ensues for several seconds until one lizard gives ground and retreats.
Occasionally, when tempers flare high, the lizards will square off like two Sumo wrestlers staring each other down. Then one lizard will launch a Kamikaze attack on the other. Darting across the wall or ceiling, the attacking lizard tries to strike a blow on the other’s flank. The rule seems to be that if the attacker achieves a strike, the other must leave the field of battle. If the attacker misses, it must continue on, out of the disputed territory. They don’t try to harm each other; they simply count coup to settle their disputes.
As I said, the lizards are territorial. Lizards on the south wall, never venture to the north wall, just 30 feet away. Ceiling lizards keep to the ceilings, while wall lizards patrol the walls. The latter never venture below windowsill level. I’ve yet to encounter a floor lizard.
One wise and enterprising lizard staked out the territory around the kitchen light. The kitchen light is a bare bulb in a receptacle mounted on one of the kitchen ceiling beams — decidedly not a decorator item but perfect for a lizard. The lizard in charge of this area will sit on the beam for hours, motionless for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Here he enjoys the warmth of the 60-watt bulb and snatches any flying insects that venture too close to the light. Lizards are very smart.
Throughout the evening, the lizards come and go. They patrol their territory but periodically dart back to the safety of the pictures on the wall. We take a lizard census each evening. The highest count that we have gotten so far for the number of lizards present at one time is 8.
At bedtime, our lights go out. We can lie there in the darkness, falling asleep to the chirps of the lizards on patrol. At sunrise, we awake and the lizards are all gone — back to their hiding places until the afternoon when they once again appear on station.