Question: Last night I saw this lizard in my Melbourne garden. It looks just like a gecko, but I didn’t think geckos lived this far south. I know tropical frogs sometimes make it to Melbourne in shipments of bananas. Could this gecko be a stowaway? I’m worried the gecko won’t survive a Melbourne winter. Should I try and catch it?
Photographer/Source: Michael Kearney
Answer: The gecko you saw in your garden is a Marbled Gecko, Christinus marmoratus.
Marbled Geckos are actually quite common in some parts of Melbourne (there is a huge population in the Melbourne Cemetery), but people rarely see them because they are nocturnal. You’re most likely to find them between pieces of wood in your garden, in your roof or even indoors behind a picture frame.
A Marbled GeckoPhotographer: Peter Robertson / Source: Wildlife Profiles Pty Ltd
Even if you never see a gecko in your house or backyard, you can often tell they’re around by the signs they leave behind. Marbled Geckos deposit tiny black and white poos on the surfaces they walk across (their poos look a lot like small bird poos).
Unlike most reptiles, Marbled Geckos don’t leave their shed skins behind for keen naturalists to find. They eat them! They also eat spiders and insects such as cockroaches, so they are useful little creatures to have around the home.
Marbled Geckos are the only geckos that are found in Melbourne. It is unknown whether this species originally occurred in the area; it is possible that they were unintentionally introduced to the city by people bringing in firewood and garden rocks from other parts of Victoria.
Many reptiles would struggle in Melbourne in winter; moving, digesting and reproducing become more difficult for reptiles when it gets cold. Marbled Geckos, however, can be active at temperatures as low as six degrees. In the dead of winter they may only come out for a short time after it gets dark and then find shelter when it gets too cold.
In winter, Marbled Geckos select daytime retreats that will allow them to warm up – thin sun-baked rocks, roof tiles or north-facing tree bark. In summer they choose deeper retreats.
We would not recommend trying to catch the gecko in your garden. You could give it a nasty fright and cause it to drop its tail (a useful defensive strategy allowing the rest of the body to escape). Geckos store fat (and water) in their tails. While your gecko will cope perfectly well with the cold in winter, it will struggle without its winter stores during this period when food is scarce.
The gecko is most likely to be a marbled gecko. They are extremely variable in their colouration pattern and are the only gecko commonly found in Melbourne. Asian house geckos can be very common in northern Australia but don’t make it as far south as Melbourne as it is too cold for them. Asian house geckos are usually found in close association with dwellings, so are more likely to be found inside the house than out in the garden. They are also quite vocal and you would hear their “chuck chuck” call.
Hi Rachael - we referred this query to staff from the Herpetology research area here at the Museum, and the response was the gecko you describe is the Marbled Gecko. These, like a number of other species, vary considerably in body pattern and colour. The other species you mention, the invasive Asian House Gecko is a window frequenter and is often heard uttering its very familiar ‘barking’ notes. Meanwhile the Marbled species is silent. The Asian species has been recorded in Melbourne but the numbers are very few, especially compared to the highly abundant Marbled Gecko. The Asian Gecko populations appear to be restricted to areas near docks and jetties. As we believe that the gecko you describe here is the native species, the cat should be restrained from taking them and all of those caught should be released into a safer environment
Hi Chris - the main diet of Marbled Geckoes consists of invertebrates, it's unlikely they would cannibalise. You should be aware that this species is listed on Schedule 3 of the Wildlife Regulations Act 2002; as such you require a licence to keep them in captivity. There is also a code of practice for the safe housing of this and other listed species. More information on this can be found here for the required licence, and here for the code of practice for animal welfare, particularly the keeping of reptiles.
We hope this helps
Marbled Geckos are harmless little lizards and may be attracted inside by warmth and insects around lights at night.
Hi Sarah, Wild animals tend to choose the environment that best suits them, unless for a variety of reasons they have no choice. The geckos have chosen your bathroom and laundry presumably because it’s the best environment for them, and will stay there until it’s no longer suitable. They will be fine in the front garden too but will probably move straight back into the house, because Marbled Geckos (Christinus marmoratus) find the wall and ceiling spaces of houses particularly appealing. Domestic cats regularly catch geckos but dogs tend to leave them alone.
The best lizards for the beginner are Bearded Dragons (Pogona barbatus and Pogona vitticeps), Jacky Lizards (Amphibolurus muricatus) or Blue-tongue Lizards (Tiliqua species). They are readily available in pet shops and in the private breeder trade, and require simple husbandry compared to many other species. Some Blue-tongue Lizard species may be kept without a licence, and the dragons require only a basic licence in Victoria, but all must be obtained from a licenced reptile dealer.
Firstly keep in mind that it’s illegal to take any native animal from the wild and keep it in captivity, even if it’s collected from your own backyard. Marbled Geckos (Christinus marmoratus) are one of the few native reptiles that can be kept without a licence, but any animals must be sourced from a registered breeder, not collected from the wild. Marbled Geckos eat small crickets, cockroaches and flies which can be caught or can be bought from specialist pet shops. If you are concerned that any reptile in your care is not well it should be taken to a vet specialising in reptiles.
Hi Tony, Geckos and skinks are both types of lizards. The Classification is as follows: Class Reptilia; Order Squamata; Suborder Lacertilia (Lizards); Families Gekkonidae (Geckos) and Scincidae (Skinks). According to the Victoria Department of Environment & Primary Industries (http://www.depi.vic.gov.au/environment-and-wildlife/wildlife/our-wildlife/reptiles), Victoria has 87 species of lizard, 52 of which are skinks and 9 geckos. Below are several websites that outline and illustrate the differences between geckos and skinks:
As to your query about whether you might expect to find more Marbled Geckos in your garden, the answer appears to be: A good possibility! In their 2001 study “Why do geckos group: an analysis of ‘social aggregations’ in two species of Australian Lizards” published in Herpetologica 57:4, researchers Kearney, Shine, Comber and Pearson report that one quarter of the Marbled Geckos they found were in aggregations of up to 10 individuals, and most aggregations contain one male. Given that many geckos have been reported to be quite territorial, it is surprising that Marbled Geckos aggregate so commonly. It has been suggested that this activity may be related to mating success, increased vigilance or simply attraction to high-quality habitat.
Hope you find more of the charming creatures in your “high-quality” garden!
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Thanks for the info! I found it very helpful.