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Text and photos by Nick Baker, unless credited to others.
Copyright ゥ Ecology Asia 2024







Spiny-tailed Gecko

Fig 1

Fig 2

Fig 3

Fig 4


Species : Hemidactylus frenatus
Size (snout to vent) : males 6.1 cm, females 5.4 cm
Size (total length) : up to 13.4 cm

The Spiny-tailed Gecko, or Common House Gecko, is the most common species of house gecko in the Southeast Asia region. It is supremely adapted to urban settings, such that it is abundant in all towns and cities.

This is mainly a lowland species, and is generally not seen above 600 metres elevation. It is active both day and night on the walls of buildings, especially around lighting fixtures to which flying insects, its main prey, have been attracted. Adults are quite quarrelsome, and are ready to defend a prime location near a lighting fixture from other geckos.

In natural habitats it appears to favour tree trunks in forest edge settings, including highly disturbed habitats and mangrove. It may also be spotted searching amongst leaf litter.

Its call is typically a repeated, dual syllabic, chirping sound. In Malay this species, and other similar-looking geckos, is called cicak, an onomatopoeic word which describes its unmistakable call.

In the field, this species is most easily identified by the whorls of short spines around the original tail, although regrown tails lack this feature. Other features include a tail which is roughly circular in cross-section, short claws on all digits, and a vertical pupil. The head is somewhat flattened, the body of moderate thickness and the limbs of moderate size. The scales on top of the body are small and granular.

Its colour and patterning are highly variable and are often dependant on the substrate on which it lives. Typically it is various shades of brown or grey with darker speckles and other markings, which may include a dark stripe behind the eye which may extend onto the flanks. Specimens living on white walls may be pale yellowish.

This species is widespread in all countries of Southeast Asia. Outside the region it has successfully colonized many other tropical regions around the Indian Ocean, in parts of Africa and South America, and the islands of the western Pacific Ocean.

Fig 1 : Grey, mottled specimen on the trunk of a palm tree at Singapore Botanic Gardens. Note the whorls of short spines on the tail.

Fig 2 : Plain specimen from Pulau Sugi, Riau Archipelago, Indonesia.

Fig 3 : Mating pair inside an old bungalow in Singapore.

Fig 4 : Specimen from Pasir Ris, Singapore, revealing its subdigital lamellae i.e. specially evolved structures beneath the digits which help in gripping vertical surfaces. The red dots are groups of parasitic mites, which this species often has between its fingers and toes.

References : H11, H12