Wherever we travelled throughout the rural areas of the Philippines, we were entertained most evenings and nights by the strange and intermittent Philippines Tokay Gecko night call.
The call was too loud to be emitted by an insect. It sounded more human – like a negative response occasionally used by people: Something like a robotic, elongated version of ‘Eh-Errrgh’.
Tokay Mating Call
Although it was a welcome alternative to the ubiquitous karaoke, we were curious to find out where (and what) the call was coming from.
To me, the call sounded exactly like the catchphrase of one of the characters from the late BBC comedy series ‘Little Britain’.
Listen to the Tokay’s night call
This character, called Anne (played by David Walliams) simply repeats the catchphrase throughout the short sketches, with varying degrees of intonation and emphasis.
Short of David Walliams hiding in the rafters of our hut, there had to be another explanation for this weird lullaby.
Well, it turned out to be an oversized gecko cruising for a partner: Specifically, a Tokay gecko.
The Tokay is a large nocturnal gecko, reaching up to 35 centimeters in length (one of the largest in existence).
It is a strong climber with foot pads that can support the entire weight of its body from a vertical surface for a long period of time.
It can also change the color and form of its skin to blend into the environment. Tokay’s have folds of skin that prevent the animal from casting a recognizable shadow while resting in a tree. They simply blend in with the tree bark by opening wide these skin folds.
The Tokay’s native habitat is the rainforest, but it also adapts to rural human habitations in the tropics, roaming walls and ceilings at night in search of insects and small vertebrates. There is a mutual trade-off here: Humans provide shelter and Tokays provide insect extermination. Tokay geckoes eat pests such as cockroaches and locusts.
In certain areas of Southeast Asia, they are regarded as bringers of luck, good fortune and fertility.
Their tails have several sections from which they can be cast off in defense. The part of the tail that is cast off continues to move violently for several minutes – giving the gecko time to escape. It takes some time, but they eventually regenerate a new tail.
Philippines Tokay Gecko – Its bite is worse than its bark
Tokays have strong jaws that can bite through the exoskeletons of rainforest insects. This strong bite makes them ill-suited for inexperienced pet keepers. These animals have a reputation for being aggressive, hard to handle and apt to bite.
The Tokay gecko is quickly becoming a threatened species in the Philippines due to indiscriminate hunting. Collecting, transporting and trading in geckos without a license is punishable by up to twelve years in jail
However, because of their alleged medicinal value, Chinese buyers and other foreign nationals are rumored to pay thousands of dollars for large specimens.
Fun Fact: The name “gecko” is a derivative of a Malay word that is an imitation of a lizard’s call.
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