Only in the Chihuahuan Desert: the reticulated gecko

Reticulated gecko

By Rick LoBello, Board Member

Every year I find one or more geckos under things in my yard or climbing on a wall.   For most of us in El Paso if we find a gecko we are more than likely seeing a Mediterranean gecko, an exotic species in the U.S. first reported in Florida in 1915.  When I find one I always leave it alone since I know that geckos like other lizards are doing me a favor in controlling insects and other invertebrates that might make it inside my house. Geckos have sticky pads on their feet giving them the ability to scale vertical walls and even hang upside down. Sometimes they find a way to get inside your house and I have found them at night inside my garage. They are totally harmless so if you find one I would suggest you just leave it alone.

Mediterranean gecko

Here in Texas we have two native species of geckos, the Texas banded gecko and the reticulated gecko.  The Texas banded and the Mediterranean are the most common.   Finding the second native, the reticulated gecko (Coleonyx brevis), is for many including myself a once in a lifetime experience.

When I was working in Big Bend National Park late one summer night I found a reticulated gecko near a rocky outcrop on a road.  At the time reptile hunters were often reported poaching snakes and geckos along roadways in and outside the park, so I decided not to report the exact location.  As far as I know my sighting was a first for the park since most of the reports at the time were long the highway between Study Butte and Presidio.

Reticulated gecko

One of the unique characteristics of this large gecko is its prehensile tail.  Since prehensile tails are used for climbing among the branches of trees, the reticulated gecko may be a relict species from a cooler time when rainfall was much higher and the high elevation woodlands that exist today extended down into lower elevations where desert and grasslands now dominate.  A second species of lizard found in the park also with a prehensile tail, the alligator lizard, may also be a relict species.

Reticulated geckos are known only to the Chihuahuan Desert and have been reported from the Big Bend area of Texas in Brewster and Presidio Counties.   To help protect them outside of protected areas Texas Parks and Wildlife lists the reticulated gecko as a protected species.  There are also records for this lizard in northern Mexico, but very little is known about them since they are nocturnal and have been reported mainly from wilderness areas where few people go.  

Texas banded gecko

Reticulated geckos are slightly larger than Texas banded geckos reaching 6 1/4” in length compared to the Texas banded geckos reaching 4 7/8”.   They differ from Texas geckos by having large tubercles along the back and brown spots and streaks in a netlike pattern.  

Like most geckos they are mainly insectivorous and have a very wide variety of prey including termites, spiders, crickets, and moths.

Western banded gecko
Leopard gecko


Cover and top – Rick LoBello
Mediterranean gecko – Michael Sveikutis, Wikimedia Creative Commons
Texas banded gecko – Cabo Neri, Wikimedia Creative Commons
Western banded gecko – Ashley Wahlberg (Tubbs), Wikimedia Creative Commons
Leopard gecko – Chris Parker, Wikimedia Creative Commons

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