I was putting the dishes away after lunch the next day when Benita asked, have you seen the gecko? I looked at her, and followed her gaze to the ceiling. There peering back at us, was a lizard the length and width of my forearm, electric blue and speckled with red. Its amber eyes remained fixed on us, but they were so wide the aperture of lens probably took in the entire room.
This was the lizard Pitoon had been talking about, the massive one we had never seen, but had heard, croaking at night from some untraceable crack in the floorboards. Its call rings out sharp and loud, and sounds strikingly like a howler monkey. Now I could actually see it, with both arms extended, it could reach either side of the wooden beam it was resting on, and its head was the size of a cat’s. The skin of geckos is different from most other lizards; it doesn’t have the scaly dry reflectiveness of most reptiles, but rather a soft, delicate and fleshy exterior that gave the animal of this size a very meaty quality.
All I could do at this stage was point and swear, it was definitely the biggest gecko I had seen, I had no idea they even grew this size. We went off to see puppies and I thought of how to catch a gecko this size.
The puppies had now opened their eyes and were at the irresistible podgy and awkward stage, their big heads and bottom weighing them down as they waddled toward us and their mum. They surveyed their surroundings without taking anything really in. Benita and I had been worried about how they were doing since they had been taken back by Cody’s owners. We suspected that they wanted to sell them, something which Pitoon confirmed for us. After about an hour of cuddling them, we came back to the camp to find the gecko.
It had moved a little but was still there, looking at the kitchen with a lizardy expression. I put a chair against the wall and stood up, reaching out for the monster, but it was still about two feet out of my reach. I placed a stool on the chair, still too far. I placed an ice bucket on the stool, I could reach it.
The type of lizard really determines how you catch them. I’ve been catching lizards as long as I can remember, and it is something I can say confidently that I am good at. Growing up in the Caribbean there were hundreds of geckos, anolis, skinks and even iguanas around, it’s through catching them that I understood how they should be handled, how they respond to people and the best ways to catch them. My brother would go to the garden after school and spend hours in the orchard, chasing anolis- small green lizards, possibly the most common subfamily of lizards- along the ground and up the tall stems of palm trees into the canopy. For months we scrambled after them, losing them amongst the trees, but eventually learnt how each species was different, according to their diet and habitat. Skinks darted like a thread of quicksilver through the leaf litter, and by walking barefoot through the garden we could see them scattering away. We learned the best way to catch one, was to run ahead of it, then throw ourselves at the ground with our arms open so they would have to come past us. Anolis were different, they were incredibly brave, and would not move or flinch until you were very close, or made a sudden movement. When they wanted to, they could move faster than our eyes could track them, to catch them, we just had to move faster.
Geckos were the trickiest. They are nocturnal and change their colour to brown during the day, and a ghostly, fleshy pink at night. Their webbed feet let them scamper across any surface, in fact the smoother surface, the more easily they could climb it, unlike anolis that frequently got trapped against the window panes of the house- I later found out this was due to Van der Waal’s force, a beautiful example of how molecular interactions play an important role in the ecology of these animals. The trick with catching them, was to remain absolutely still, and at the last moment, whisking a cupped hand over their body, this avoided hurting them and cornered them At this point they would start to bite but it didn’t hurt, as the little triangles of teeth could never penetrate our skin. Today, however was a different story.
With Benita holding the chair beneath me, I whipped my hand out and grabbed its thick body, in just as fast a movement, the gecko turned and bit my palm. It hurt, but not too much and with my other hand I unhooked the webbed feet from the wall and lifted it down, it weighed about as much as puppy I had been holding earlier. I dismounted the chair and walked to the table, but with each step or tremble I made, the gecko bit down, harder and harder into the flesh of my hand. With everyone who had been in the kitchen, I tried to pull it off my hand. I hadn’t been in this situation before and it was a real lesson to me. It incrementally increased the pressure of its bite, so that the tiny reptilian teeth that I thought could never break skin, pressed down and through my palm. This Mexican standoff was very painful now, and the tiny teeth had really started to cut it. It began a slight writhing movement, something I recognized and was horrified to see. Reptiles can’t chew, a very reptilian characteristic because of their jaw structure, but they have figured out ways to tear bits off. By twisting its body, I could feel the teeth cutting sideways beneath my skin, it actually felt like I was going to lose a chunk of skin from my hand. Benita had come back with my iPad to take pictures and I yelled at her to hurry up, as this was now really painful. Bel and Jean looked at me and laughed, presumably at the stupidity of getting myself into the situation in the first place. I tried to hold it still but it increased pressure vertically instead, driving its teeth downward again. I desperately wanted to get its teeth out so I could hold it safely and look at it, but there was nothing for it now, the lizard had won. I let my other hand go from its body and held it over the ground. With a final, excruciating tug, it let go and landed with a loud slap on the floor. From here it ran like a streak of blue back up into the ceiling, leaving me clutching my sore hand, panting, bleeding and defeated.
Learned my lesson. Geckos hurt.