Are Day Geckos Endangered?
Day geckos belong to the Phelsuma genus, the family Gekkonidae, and they are all known as day geckos. These reptiles inhabit various areas of the southwest Indian Ocean, most notably Mauritius and Madagascar.
Although, thanks to human intervention, they have been relocated to other areas as well as a form of pest control.
That’s because day geckos are quite proficient at eating pest insects. Currently, only someday gecko species rank as endangered, while some don’t.
Despite that, all day geckos, regardless of species, fall under the CITES Appendix II act, which protects endangered plants and animals.
Day Gecko Vulnerability Status
Day geckos rank as vulnerable and are protected as a result, despite the species making a recovery currently. There are no clear official records on the number of day gecko specimens available in the wild currently.
Apparently, we don’t even have the exact number of species belonging to the Phelsuma genus.
Some claim around 60 species, while others vary between 40 and 100. The truth is that, no matter how many species there are, the number of individuals belonging to each species is still dwindling.
So, day geckos require additional protection to preserve their ranks.
Causes of Decline in Population of Wild Day Geckos
There are numerous contributing factors to the decline in day geckos. Most, if not all of these, are present in all discussions regarding any endangered animal species.
Loss of Habitat
It’s only natural that the number one factor to consider is the loss of habitat due to human intervention. This tends to be a recurrent theme among animal species that live isolated or are reduced to smaller populations, constricted around small areas.
Such is the case with day geckos. While these lizards aren’t isolated as a whole, the vast majority of them are. Most day geckos reside in Mauritius and Madagascar, so, natural migration, which would allow the species to cover larger areas or change habitats, is not possible.
Unless geckos find a way to become semi or fully aquatic animals, which isn’t likely to happen anything within the following million years.
The notion of habitat loss refers primarily to the destruction of the gecko’s natural environment to make room for human settlements in one form or another.
Thankfully, we have helped day geckos migrate to other locations for pest control purposes, which will inevitably aid in the species’ spread and strengthening.
You can now find day geckos in Florida and several Hawaiian Islands like Maui and Kauai.
The notion of a new disease may be a bit misleading in this case. That’s because, technically speaking, there are no new diseases in the case of geckos.
We’re actually talking about normal diseases hitting the gecko population more severely due to changes in habitat.
To expand on this point, geckos get more crowded as their habitat changes, forcing them to compete over the remaining virgin land.
Habitat changes will also alter the environmental conditions, often causing large fluctuations in humidity levels, for instance.
These problems form the foundation of several health issues, including:
- Metabolic Bone Disease – This condition is also known as nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism and is the result of specific mineral deficiencies, most notably calcium. The main culprits are lack of proper lighting, UVB, to be more precise, and a deficient diet. The latter is especially worth noting because it is the direct result of habitat destruction, affecting the population of insects that make up for most of the gecko’s meals. Lower numbers of insects and smaller habitats are also responsible for increased food competition among geckos, leading the weaker specimens to starve. The outcome is quite obvious in this case.
- Skin infections – These can happen due to improper shedding (dysecdysis), fighting, and accidents, to name a few causes. The shedding process is of primary concern because geckos require specific temperatures and humidity levels to perform the shedding process without incidents. This is, naturally, easier said than done in the context of a diminishing habitat and an increase in the number of natural predators and territorial competition. The latter can lead to an increased likelihood of territorial violence which can cause skin injuries prone to infection.
- Impaction and digestive problems – Unfortunately, these are quite common in geckos, and there’s nothing you can do about it. They are not the result of human intervention but rather the result of nature itself. In short, the gecko will experience compaction (the digestive tract getting clogged by various hard materials) when swallowing hard substrate items. It can be a pebble, a piece of gravel, or even sand. There are ways to deal with impaction in captivity, with worst cases requiring surgical intervention. In the wild, though, the gecko will simply die if the problem is severe enough.
These problems are a good-enough explanation for the gecko’s reduced lifespan in the wild. Typically, animals live longer in the wild than in captivity. The situation is different with geckos and other endangered animals.
Geckos will only live around 10 years on average in the wild and up to 20 years or more in captivity. The predisposition toward various diseases and predators makes up for some of the underlying causes.
Geckos have a variety of natural predators like other reptiles, birds, mammals, and even spiders. Smaller geckos even have insects to fear, like ants that can paralyze and kill them fairly rapidly.
The proximity to humans has created additional predator threats via the introduction of pets like dogs and cats.
The situation is made worse by the gecko’s lack of defensive mechanisms, other than its ability to use elevation to its advantage. Geckos don’t possess venom, poison, stingers, claws, or teeth powerful enough to deter or hurt a predator.
They can only rely on their disposable tails as a smoke-screen tactic or hope that their aggressive stance with their mouths open will intimidate the attacker. Which, to be honest, only rarely works.
Geckos are subjected to intense illegal trafficking due to people selling them on the black market.
These practices aim mostly at satisfying the increasing demand of the pet industry with rather dark repercussions on the gecko population.
A constant battle is ongoing between poachers and the law seeking to preserve and protect natural gecko populations.
We are mostly talking about the fire ants here. Not all fire ants are invasive or exhibit dangerous behavior, but RIFA (Red Imported Fire Ants) are. These are known as Solenopsis Invicta and pose a serious threat to the local population of geckos and lizards in general.
Fire ants contain a special venom comprising oily alkaloids mixed with a small amount of toxic protein. This cocktail is powerful enough to cause severe discomfort to humans and paralyze and immobilize larger prey, including lizards.
This brings us to an interesting fact relating to some local lizards called eastern fence lizards, belonging to the Phrynosomatidae family.
These lizards were taken by surprise by the fire ants and had no means to counter them. So, they became prey for the voracious and venomous insects until Mother Nature kicked in and allowed evolution to take over.
Research shows that it took the eastern fence lizards around 70 years to grow longer legs and adapt their behavior to the ants’ presence.
These newly-acquired characteristics allowed this species to improve its survival rate considerably and adapt to the new threat.
Unfortunately, day geckos haven’t had the same evolutionary journey. At the moment, they are still vulnerable to the ants’ presence and struggle to survive in an increasingly deadly environment.
When and Where Were Day Geckos Discovered?
John Edward Gray first took note of the Phelsuma genus in 1825 via the discovery of several species endemic to the Rodriguez island in the Mascarenhas Archipelago in the Indian Ocean.
While those initial species have gone extinct, others have been discovered around the Republic of Mauritius and Madagascar.
We now have around 70 different day gecko species, each varying in color, pattern, size, behaviors, and physiologies.
How Many Day Geckos Are Left in the Wild?
There is no official number on the day gecko specimens are still available in the wild. But, given that the day gecko ranks as an endangered genus, it’s safe to say that the situation isn’t too bright.
How Can I Help Protect Day Geckos?
Interestingly enough, you, as an individual, have quite an impact on the population of wild day geckos. While you cannot help the day gecko community directly, you can assist them indirectly by only purchasing geckos born and raised in captivity.
Stay away from black markets and never purchase any day gecko marketed as being wild-caught.
The goal is to cut the demand, which will implicitly eliminate the offer with time. In other words, the poaching business will become less profitable if the demand drops.
It is the single best method of countering illegal gecko harvesting and trading since all other deterring methods only work temporarily.
What Are the Chances That Day Geckos Will Become Extinct?
There is no clear data available to answer this question, but the situation can go either way.
In essence, it depends on how thorough and effective the protection system is in preserving the gecko’s habitat.
Day geckos currently rank as vulnerable due to all of the factors we’ve mentioned. The good news is that these geckos are extremely adaptable and hardy, which already increases their survivability considerably.
Do your part, only get your gecko from reputed sellers, breed them in captivity, and cherish your pet gecko as a valuable member of your family.