There are two types of miniature dragon in Portugal – the Mediterranean house gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus) sometimes known as the Turkish Gecko, and the Moorish Wall Geckos (Tarentola mauritanica) also known as crocodile geckos. And it was the latter we spied sunbathing on rocks around the salt-pans yesterday.
It is not the first time we have seen them here. Unusually though they totally ignored me yesterday, despite me standing less than a metre or so away. I concluded they knew that Storm Felix was on its way and were enjoying as much sun as they could before the clouds appeared! The Turkish Gecko tend to be purplish in colour and the Moorish Wall Geckos, as you can see from all these pictures, are more brown and grey. There are some similarities though; they both have lidless eyes, grow to around 15cm in length and are I was intrigued to learn nocturnal. Clearly not though when they are sunbathing!
They are also I discovered, thanks to the excellent online magazine Enjoy the Algarve, the subject of many local myths and legends, which may explain why the Hemidactylus turcicus are on the decline. A study published in 2011 by Luis MP Ceríaco , Mariana P Marques, Natália C Madeira, Carlos M Vila-Viçosa, and Paula Mendes found a direct link between folklore and modern day persecution of geckos. The team were researching how local and traditional knowledge affects conservation and science, and focused on geckos in Southern Portugal.
They interviewed local people, and found that 10% of those surveyed all cited similar stories about Gecko’s harming humans. In one tale the Gecko poisoned a whole family after falling in the kettle and in another the Gecko fell on a boy whilst he slept and the following day the boy’s skin was covered in rashes and he nearly died. In all cases the story was believed to have happened to someone in their town or village, or to a distant relative or acquaintance of an acquaintance. There is however NO medical or scientific evidence to support the beliefs geckos are harmful to humans. Unfortunately though because of these stories, a lack of awareness they are legally protected and a general dislike by many people of the gecko’s appearance these wonderful reptiles are being killed.
It is believed the stories trace back to the 8th to 13th centuries when Portugal was ruled by the Moors, as similar folklore can be found in North Africa and the noun for gecko in Portuguese (Osga) is etymologically and phonetically similar to the Arabic equivalent (Whazaga). The study also suggests that where there is little or no Arabic cultural heritage, the gecko is seen in a much more positive and friendly light. Even in these areas though it is rare for them, or indeed any other reptile, to be the ‘poster child’ of a nature conservation campaign. I think it is about time that changed! What do you say?