Published July 11, 2023. Updated November 13, 2023. Open access.

Gallery ❯

Tropical House-Gecko (Hemidactylus mabouia)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Sauria | Gekkonidae | Hemidactylus mabouia

English common names: Tropical House-Gecko, Wood Slave, African House Gecko.

Spanish common names: Geco tropical de casa, salamanquesa africana.

Recognition: ♂♂ 15.3 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=6.8 cm. ♀♀ 15.0 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=6.7 cm..1,2 House geckos (genus Hemidactylus) can be identified from other lizards in Ecuador by their nocturnal habits, spine-like scales on the tail, expanded subdigital lamellae, lack of eyelids, and preference for man-made structures.1,3 Hemidactylus mabouia differs from H. frenatus by having tubercles on the side of the head and trihedral tubercles on the dorsal surface of the body and tail (Fig. 1). In H. frenatus, the head lacks tubercles and the dorsal surfaces have low tubercles.14

Figure showing variation among individuals of Hemidactylus mabouia

Figure 1: Individuals of Hemidactylus mabouia from Esmeraldas province, Ecuador: Canandé Biological Reserve (); FCAT Reserve ().

Natural history: Hemidactylus mabouia is an extremely common nocturnal46 and crepuscular7 human commensal gecko. It is found on walls and ceilings close to electric lights, but also on boulders and trees in or around human-modified environments in lowland areas.49 As of 2023, in Ecuador, the species is still restricted to man-made structures and is absent from adjacent natural habitats.10 During daytime, these geckos hide within crevices, lamps, behind furniture, wall objects, or beneath rocks and tree bark.4,6,10 Tropical House-Geckos are opportunistic predators. They feed mostly on arthropods that are attracted to artificial light sources,4,11,12 but also consume snails and slugs,12,13 pill bugs,11 frogs,14 blind snakes,8 and smaller lizards.8,14 When threatened, individuals of H. mabouia flee into crevices or under surface objects. If captured, they easily shed the tail.10 Throughout their distribution, Tropical House-Geckos are preyed upon by birds,14 cats,14 bats,14 lizards,6,15 snakes,6 frogs,14 ants,14 spiders,14,16 and crabs.17 Males of H. mabouia are social and aggressive. They call and wiggle their tails to attract females and to establish and maintain territories.18 Females are capable of storing sperm for months after mating.19 In tropical areas, they produce clutches of two20 eggs throughout the year.2 They deposit the eggs in communal nesting sites such as in crevices, ceilings,21 under tree bark,22 or in leaf-litter.6 Eggs hatch in 22–68 days.2

Reader support helps us keep the Reptiles of Ecuador book 100% free.

Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances..23 Hemidactylus mabouia is listed in this category because this species is widely-distributed, thrives in human-modified environments,6 and has large and increasing populations.23 This gecko represents a threat to other species. As an invader, H. mabouia competitively displaces native geckos (even larger ones, such as Thecadactylus solimoensis)8,21,24 and other previously introduced species,3 leading to their extirpation. Populations of the Tropical House-Gecko have exploded following expansion of urban areas,6 and they are likely to keep thriving under current scenarios of global warming25 and with the transformation of rainforest into open habitats.6 They also have spread with the aid of commercial ships and cargo,1,26 and have become naturalized on numerous islands.8

Distribution: Hemidactylus mabouia is a cosmopolitan gecko, occurring on two continents and on hundreds of tropical islands across the globe. The species is native to tropical Africa,3 but was introduced into the Americas as early as the mid seventeenth century.3,27 It has been hypothesized that the presence of H. mabouia in the New World could be explained by transport during the slave trade.4 In Ecuador, Tropical House-Geckos have only been recorded in lowland areas (Fig. 2).

Distribution of Hemidactylus mabouia in Ecuador

Figure 2: Distribution of Hemidactylus mabouia in Ecuador. See Appendix 1 for a complete list of the presence localities included in the map.

Etymology: The generic name Hemidactylus comes from the Greek words hemisys (=half) and daktylos (=finger)28 and probably refers to the two rows of skin folds under the digits of these geckos.29 The origin of the specific epithet mabouia is uncertain, but the word has an evil or demonic connotation in the Caribbean and is applied to certain lizards of the region.3 The superstition goes that geckos will jump on humans and remain attached to the person by their pads or kill them with venom.3

See it in the wild: Tropical House-Geckos can be seen year-round in and around buildings throughout their localities of occurrence in Ecuador. They have, for example, colonized the buildings of Canandé Biological Reserve. The best time to look for this species is just after sunset.

Author: Alejandro ArteagaaAffiliation: Khamai Foundation, Quito, Ecuador.

Photographer: Jose VieirabAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,cAffiliation: ExSitu, Quito, Ecuador.

How to cite? Arteaga A (2023) Tropical House-Gecko (Hemidactylus mabouia). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/VGUS2196

Literature cited:

  1. von May R, Venegas PJ, Chávez G, Costa GC (2021) Range expansion of the invasive Tropical House Gecko, Hemidactylus mabouia (Squamata: Gekkonidae), in South America. Amphibian & Reptile Conservation 15: 323–334.
  2. Anjos LA, Rocha CFD (2008) Reproductive ecology of the invader species gekkonid lizard Hemidactylus mabouia in an area of southeastern Brazil. Iheringia Serie Zoologia 98: 205–209. DOI: 10.1590/S0073-47212008000200006
  3. Powell R, Crombie RI, Boss HEA (1998) Hemidactylus mabouia (Moreau de Jonnès). Catalogue of American Amphibians and Reptiles 674: 1–11.
  4. Avila-Pires TCS (1995) Lizards of Brazilian Amazonia (Reptilia: Squamata). Zoologische Verhandelingen 299: 1–706.
  5. Vitt LJ (1995) The ecology of tropical lizards in the Caatinga of northeast Brazil. Occasional Paper of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History 1: 1–29.
  6. Rocha CFD, Anjos LA, Bergallo HG (2011) Conquering Brazil: the invasion by the exotic gekkonid lizard Hemidactylus mabouia (Squamata) in Brazilian natural environments. Zoologia 28: 747–754. DOI: 10.1590/S1984-46702011000600007
  7. Hatano FH, Vrcibradic D, Galdino CAB, Cunha-Barros M, Rocha CFD, Van Sluys M (2001) Thermal ecology and activity patterns of the lizard community of the restinga of Jurubatiba, Macaé, RJ. Revista Brasileira de Biologia 61: 287–294.
  8. Lamb AD, Lippi CA, Watkins-Colwell GJ, Jones A, Warren D, Iglesias TL, Brandley M, Dornburg A (2021) Comparing the dietary niche overlap and ecomorphological differences between invasive Hemidactylus mabouia geckos and a native gecko competitor. Ecology and Evolution 11: 18719–18732. DOI: 10.1002/ece3.8401
  9. Rocha CFD, Bergallo HG (2011) Occurrence and distribution of the exotic lizard Hemidactylus mabouia Moreau de Jonnès, 1818 in Ilha Grande, RJ, Brazil. Brazilian Journal of Biology 71: 447–450. DOI: 10.1590/s1519-69842011000300014
  10. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  11. Iturriaga M, Marrero R (2013) Feeding ecology of the Tropical House Gecko Hemidactylus mabouia (Sauria: Gekkonidae) during the dry season in Havana, Cuba. Herpetology Notes 6: 11–17.
  12. Rocha CFD, Anjos LA (2007) Feeding ecology of a nocturnal invasive alien lizard species, Hemidactylus mabouia Moreau de Jonnès, 1818 (Gekkonidae), living in an outcrop rocky area in southeastern Brazil. Brazilian Journal of Biology 67: 485–491. DOI: 10.1590/s1519-69842007000300013
  13. Araújo FB, Cruz Santos PM, Vasconcellos FJM, Mires de Freitas R, Rocha Brandão AL (2022) Hemidactylus mabouia (Tropical House Gecko): diet. Herpetological Review 53: 323.
  14. Borroto-Páez R, Denise Reyes P (2020) Predation by a Cuban treefrog (Osteopilus septentrionalis) and a domestic cat (Felis catus) on tropical house geckos (Hemidactylus mabouia) in Central Cuba, with a review of predators and vertebrate prey of tropical house geckos. IRCF Reptiles & Amphibians 27: 120–128.
  15. Lyakurwa JV (2022) Trachylepis striata (Striped Skink): diet. Herpetological Review 53: 330–331.
  16. Queiroz Almeida M, Sobral R, Da Silva-Neto AM, Mendes DMM (2019) Hemidactylus mabouia (Tropical House Gecko): predation. Herpetological Review 50: 577.
  17. Cruz Santos PM, Vasconcellos FJM, Araújo FB, Fonteles Dos Santos LF, Mires de Freitas R, Rocha Brandão AL (2022) Hemidactylus mabouia (Tropical House Gecko): predation. Herpetological Review 53: 323–324.
  18. Regalado R (2003) Roles of visual, acoustic, and chemical signals in social interactionsof the Tropical House Gecko (Hemidactylus mabouia). Caribbean Journal of Science 39: 307–320.
  19. Nogueira KO, Sartori SS, Araújo VA, Neves CA, Kolisnyk B (2015) Sperm storage in Hemidactylus mabouia: morphological and ultrastructural aspects of a reproductive strategy. Animal Reproduction Science 159: 212–216. DOI: 10.1016/j.anireprosci.2015.06.022
  20. Meiri S, Avila L, Bauer AM, Chapple DG, Das I, Doan TM, Doughty P, Ellis R, Grismer L, Kraus F, Morando M, Oliver P, Pincheira-Donoso D, Ribeiro-Junior MA, Shea G, Torres-Carvajal O, Slavenko A, Roll U (2020) The global diversity and distribution of lizard clutch sizes. Global Ecology and Biogeography 29: 1515–1530. DOI:
  21. Dixon JR, Soini P (1986) The reptiles of the upper Amazon Basin, Iquitos region, Peru. Milwaukee Public Museum, Milwaukee, 154 pp.
  22. Gurgel de Sousa PA, Xavier Freire EM (2010) Communal nests of Hemidactylus mabouia (Moreau de Jonnès,1818) (Squamata: Gekkonidae) in a remnant of Atlantic Forestin northeastern Brazil. Biotemas 23: 231–234.
  23. Howell K, Msuya CA, Ngalason W, Luiselli L, Chirio L, Wagner P, Niagate B, LeBreton M, Bauer AM (2019) Hemidactylus mabouia. The IUCN Red List of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2021-1.RLTS.T196915A2477783.en
  24. Williams R, Pernetta AP, Horrocks JA (2016) Outcompeted by an invader? Interference and exploitative competition between tropical house gecko (Hemidactylus mabouia) and Barbados leaf-toed gecko (Phyllodactylus pulcher) for diurnal refuges in anthropogenic coastal habitats. Integrative Zoology 11: 229–238. DOI: 10.1111/1749-4877.12194
  25. Weterings R, Vetter KC (2018) Invasive house geckos (Hemidactylus spp.): their current, potential and future distribution. Current Zoology 64: 559–573. DOI: 10.1093/cz/zox052
  26. Pinho CJ, Cardoso L, Rocha S, Vasconcelos R (2023) Aliens on boats? The eastern and western expansion of the African House Gecko. Genes 14: 381. DOI: 10.3390/genes14020381
  27. Agarwal I, Ceríaco LMP, Metallinou M, Jackman TR, Bauer AM (2021) How the African house gecko (Hemidactylus mabouia) conquered the world. Royal Society Open Science 8: 10749. DOI: 10.1098/rsos.210749
  28. Brown RW (1956) Composition of scientific words. Smithsonian Books, Washington D.C., 882 pp.
  29. Grismer LL (2002) Amphibians and reptiles of Baja California. University of California Press, Berkeley, 96 pp.

Appendix 1: Locality data used to create the distribution map of Hemidactylus mabouia in Ecuador (Fig. 2). Go to the section on symbols and abbreviations for a list of acronyms used.

ColombiaCaquetáVereda CórdobaiNaturalist; photo examined
ColombiaHuilaCriolloiNaturalist; photo examined
ColombiaHuilaSan AgustíniNaturalist; photo examined
ColombiaPutumayoCentro Experimental AmazónicoiNaturalist; photo examined
ColombiaPutumayoEscuela Santa TeresaiNaturalist; photo examined
ColombiaPutumayoMocoaiNaturalist; photo examined
ColombiaPutumayoPuerto AsísICN 3508; Calderón et al. 2023
ColombiaPutumayoPuerto LeguízamoICN 2754; Calderón et al. 2023
ColombiaPutumayoVereda PeneyaIAvH-R-9160; Borja-Acosta et al. 2021
EcuadorEsmeraldasCanandé Biological ReserveThis work; Fig. 1
EcuadorEsmeraldasEsmeraldasCarvajal-Campos and Torres-Carvajal 2010
EcuadorEsmeraldasFinca PaulitaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEsmeraldasLote SalvadoresReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorEsmeraldasQuinindéCarvajal-Campos and Torres-Carvajal 2010
EcuadorGuayasBosque Protector Cerro BlancoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorImbaburaCielo VerdeiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorManabíEl RosarioiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorNapoTenaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorOrellanaPuerto ProvidenciaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaGranja Las PalmerasiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSanta ElenaCascajaliNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSucumbíosGüeppicilloiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSucumbíosLago AgrioiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSucumbíosPuente sobre el Río CuyabenoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSucumbíosPuerto El CarmeniNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSucumbíosShushufindiiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSucumbíosSiete de JulioiNaturalist; photo examined
PeruAmazonasSanta María de NievaiNaturalist; photo examined
PeruCajamarcaSanta Rosavon May et al. 2021
PeruLoretoCabo PantojaFig. 5; von May et al. 2021
PeruLoretoJose OlayaFig. 5; von May et al. 2021
PeruLoretoSan Jacintovon May et al. 2021