Review of ‘Gecko’
This review is another by Dr Sam Lloyd AKA one of my neighbours, and also an ecologist and manager for South East Queensland Fire and Biodiversity Consortium. Sam is also a former dance teacher and a keen consumer of children’s literature. She has been involved in the Story Arts Festival Ipswich and she regularly reviews books for me, her post on bees is an extremely popular.
Author/Illustrator: Raymond Huber and Brian Lovelock
Publisher: Walker Books (published 2017)
Age Range:early childhood – lower primary.
Themes: geckos, predators, camouflage, diet, behaviour (nocturnal, territorial), specialist adaptations.
Click on title links or cover image to purchase.
‘Gecko’ is an informative and engaging natural history story book for children aged 3 – 8. In the book, we follow the adventures of our friend “Gecko”, as he goes about his daily business foraging for food and escaping predators, whilst learning some of the unusual and interesting facts associated with this group of lizards known as geckos. Two distinct types of font are used so the reader can follow the fictional story of “Gecko” or read real life gecko facts. The illustrations in this book are gorgeous – all the pictures have a splattered and speckled background, which presumably is trying to highlight the beautiful colouration and patterned features on many gecko species. Regardless, they are a highlight and work very nicely with the blue colouration of “Gecko”.
In the fictional story of “Gecko”, we follow him over a 24hr period, starting with sunbaking, cleaning himself and the fascinating act of shedding and eating his own skin! “Gecko” needs to forage for food, which makes him vulnerable to predators, including a hawk. We follow him as he successfully hunts for a cockroach, which the book incorrectly describes as a bug (see reviewer’s note). “Gecko” has a near-miss with a rat and we learn that tokay geckos can drop their tails (this is a common feature of geckos, but some species will do this more readily than others). Geckos are nocturnal and territorial (meaning they will defend the geographic space they live in) and we see this with “Gecko” as he calls out to defend his territory, thus avoiding a physical fight with the other gecko.
The gecko facts presented in the book naturally follow the behaviour and interactions of our hero “Gecko”. On the first page we are told that geckos (like all reptiles) are “cold-blooded” and need sun to keep warm. The scientific term is ectothermic, meaning their body temperature varies with the ambient environmental temperature (i.e. they are cold when it is cold and hot when it’s hot) and hence they bask in the sun to warm up. We learn about how geckos shed their skin and why they eat it, how they keep their eyes clean and what food they like. Geckos are nocturnal and thus exposed to a range of nocturnal predators, including the rat we see in this book. This scene gives the author a good opportunity to describe to us how and why a gecko drops its tail when threatened or under attack.
A Note on Geckos
The gecko in this book is a tokay gecko (species name Gecko gecko), a species exotic to Australia, but found throughout Asia. The tokay gecko is one of the largest species of gecko in the world, growing to around 35cm. Like most geckos, the tokay gecko has a reputation for being an excellent insect hunter and helping to reduce pest insect numbers in and around people’s homes. The distinct blue colouration seen in the illustrations, together with its size, makes this species particularly sought after as a pet. Please note: all Australian native species are protected by law and it is illegal to keep Australian native species as pets (including reptiles) unless you have a licence.
Many readers in Queensland or other parts of northern Australia would be familiar with the sight and sound of the introduced Asian house gecko (Hemidactylus frenatus), which the Queensland Museum reports as Australia’s most successful invasive reptile species. Often mistaken for native dtella species (Gehyra sp.), the Asian house gecko can be most easily identified by the loud “chuck-chuck-chuck” noise it makes and all its toes have claws (the inner toe of the native dtella is clawless). It has been reported that the Asian house gecko has come to dominate areas inhabited by people, potentially outcompeting native species. However, there are mixed views on the impact of this introduced species (visit the Queensland Museum website or read this article published in The Conversation).
Queensland Museum researchers are currently studying the distribution of this species, to get involved see here.
Reviewers note: Often in popular literature, media and advertising the word “bug” (or bugs) is used to incorrectly describe an insect or group of insects that are not actually bugs. In the case of this book a cockroach has been described as a bug, which is like saying a kookaburra is an emu – yes, they are both birds that lay eggs and have feathers, but that is where the similarity ends. Cockroaches belong to the order Blattodea and bugs belong to the order Hemiptera – two completely different insect orders with very different identifying features. Just to be clear, all bugs have one thing in common, sucking (or piercing) mouth parts – these are generally used to suck the juices out of plants (i.e. nectar or sap), but (as in the case of bed bugs), they can act as parasites and suck blood. Cockroaches however, have chewing mouth parts, a flattened body and antennae that is generally longer than their body. This book does such a nice job of providing factually accurate information about geckos throughout both the non-fiction and fictional parts of the story, it seems a shame to me to dilute it with incorrect information.