It ain’t the lizard in the fight, it’s the fight in the lizard.

In Nigeria, one of the most vital domestic resources you have is your house geckos. These are pink lizards about the length of your little finger with huge eyes and translucent skin that you can see shadows of their organs through.

Charming little devils, the house geckos — called ‘chit-chats’ for the calls they make — are the answer to the bug infestations common to the tropics. Once the sun goes down, out come the chit-chats and they have this incredible ability to run up walls and across ceilings as fast — if not faster — than they can across the floor.

Anyhoo, at the bungalow we had a bar that had a light on either end and one long flourescent tube across the top. These lights attracted all manner of bugs.

One cheeky little fellow had claimed the bar as his hunting ground and had been adopted by the multitude of ex-patriates more-or-less semi-permanently camped out at our house. Each evening when he woke up, he’d stroll up into one of the lamps to break his fast, then he’d crawl down to the base of the lamp and look at whoever was at the bar with his throat pulsing gently.

Whomever was at the bar would then offer him a drink, normally by dipping your finger into your glass then holding it out to him, but it was perfectly acceptable for the more skittish types to dunk a bit of popcorn or piece of pretzel into the drink and then lay the alcohol-soaked goodie on the lamp base for him to imbibe.

Once he had satisfied his thirst, he would lick his lips, blink at you, then climb off the lamp, meander across the bar top and up into the other lamp to begin the serious work of reducing the number of bugs present.

Now, this doesn’t sound like much, until you understand that when the chit-chat is slightly shorter than your pinkie finger, this makes him considerably shorter than the common Nigerian house roach. Watching the nightly battles twixt the big, armored roaches and the small, quick geckos, everyone tended to agree that geckoes were: “Stout little chaps. Scrappy.”

One evening, the chit-chat who had adopted the bar had fought an hour-long hit-and-run battle against a horned beetle who was twice his size, leading one sloshed Brit to declare that the little lizard was obviously an Army gecko, and thus had earned the name, “the Major”.

Now, what Dad was doing in Nigeria was grinding ‘mud’. ‘Mud’ being the chemicals necessary to the proper function of an oil well, and Dad was one of the few suppliers, this led to buyers being invited to the house for supper.

One evening, one of these buyers was sitting at the bar with about four of the Usual Suspects, running his mouth about the country.

It was readily apparent that he did not like Africa, and was heavily involved with bitching about everything to do with Africa, while waving a whiskey-and-soda, when the Major ambled down out of the lamp and waited patiently for his wee dram.

To our absolute and complete horror, The Buyer took one look at the little lizard, snarled, “And how can you stand having lizards running all over the place!”, cocked his middle finger behind his thumb and firmly thumped the Major off his lamp, causing the chit-chat to arc gracefully across the walking area behind the bar, slam against the mirror and drop out of sight.

Everyone stared in disbelief at The Buyer as he wiped his finger on his shirt with every indication of disgust.

Mom took off for the kitchen with murder in her eye, Dad followed to prevent the tactical application of frying pans and/or rat poison, and everyone else just kind of gave The Buyer the old Hairy Eyeball, which (being thick as a brick) he never noticed.

Anyhoo, Dad gets Mom out of the kitchen, minus any implements of personal destruction, and the evening carries on, until one of The Usual Suspects leans back in a stretch and freezes.

The expression on his face was unusual enough that everyone at the bar (except the Buyer who was pouring a refill) immediately looks up.

Gliding smoothly across the ceiling was the Major. He paused and deliberately let go with three of his four legs until he was hanging by one foot, and made some calculations.

Altitude: Check
Crosswind: Check
DZ. No go.

The Major clamped all four sets of toes back on the ceiling and moved left about six inches, then pulled three sets loose again.

Altitude: Check
Crosswind: Check
DZ: Check.

The Major popped the last set of digits loose and, graceful as a leaf, HALO’d into The Buyers fresh whiskey-and-soda. Not wanting to see our gecko get swallowed by an overly-obnoxious fat guy, I opened my mouth to mention to the oblivious idiot that he ought to get another drink when Dad waved a finger at me: “Son, mind your manners. The grown-ups are talking.”

This had never been been an issue before, so I said, “Dad…”

The Buyer waved his drink at me, not noticing the small pink lizard holding firmly onto the far side of the glass. Dad held up a finger in gentle reproof.

Raising his glass in salute to Paternal Wisdom, The Buyer then moved the glass to his lips, thus allowing the Major to clamp all four mitts (plus tail) on the idiots nose before firmly attaching his jaws to the afore-mentioned proboscis.

Having an ambush sprung upon you from the depths of your drink by an enraged gecko must be awfully hard on the old nervous system, because The Buyer promptly sprang to his full and complete height, wheezing like a bellows, staring cross-eyed at this inch-and-three-quarters-length reptile who is attempting to Death Roll his nose right off his face — and passed out.

Mom gently detached the Major from the Snout and replaced him on his lamp, where the little lizard furiously bobbed his head, throat pulsing madly, for a good five minutes before stomping pugnaciously back up into his lamp.

One of the Usual Suspects blinked owlishly at Mom. “Commando brigade. Sneaky blighters. Getcha when you isn’t looking.” The rest nodded in alcohol-fueled affirmation, then raised their glasses to the honour of the Major.

The Buyer was revived and ushered firmly into a cab back to his bungalow.

That little lizard was still whacking bugs when we left there. I hope the folks who moved in after us valued him as much as we did.

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15 thoughts on “It ain’t the lizard in the fight, it’s the fight in the lizard.”

  1. We never named our house geckos when we lived in the Philippines, but once the geckos and I got over startling each other every time I opened a drawer or cabinet, we got along quite nicely.

  2. ‘Dog,
    I had an acquaintance offer me a beautiful 5 sided tererrium, about 3′ tall and 4′ across. It also came with an Anole lizard and a Tokay Gecko. That gecko got out Memorial day weekend. We’d see him from time to time, but mostly we knew he was still around b/c if I left a skillet of cornbread out, the top would be nibbled away the next morning.
    When we would would see him we’d put on oven mitts and try to grab him [he bit like a son-of-a-bitchin’-gun]. Unfortunately he had the ability to out jump a kangaroo, we finally caught him Labor Day weekend.
    Really enjoyed your story, but then I usually do.

  3. Long live Major Gecko…Geico…Gecko…Geico…ChitChat. I would have loved him if he had just stopped at killing cockroaches.

    Kiki B.

  4. We have two that hang around our apartment in Houston. My wife thought it cute to name them after Star Wars characters. The one out by the front door is C-3PO, and the other is Yoda.
    I am convinced that your Major is not regular army. In fact, after reading, I believe he may be SAS. He obviously got the motto right: “He who dares, wins!”

  5. Cherry troops in Thailand very quickly “Don’t mess w/t Geckos”. I remember falling asleep every night to the crunching sound of the gecko vs bug war.

  6. That was a GREAT story. People don’t give other animals enough credit for brainpower and personality. That sounds like a heck of a lizard. 🙂

  7. After 9 years in Asia, Philippines, Okinawa and Vietnam I a very glad happy to see a bit of your blog dedicated to the little fellas. I have a couple in my house in Houston(kingwood) and am very glad to have them. Asians believe they are good luck. I don’t know, but I don’t have many bugs in my house.

  8. Geckos have these incredibly fine hairs on their feet. They stick to things like they’ve been super glued, but can let go at will.

  9. On both Okinawa and in the Philippines 40 years ago messing with the geckos living in the barracks was a strict no.

  10. We are virtually overrun with Geckos and Skinks down here in South Texas. We love them. Innocuous creatures that certainly do keep the roaches and mosquitos in check.

  11. I'm in Georgia and have seen anoles, skinks and fence lizards for years, but saw my first gecko in the kitchen sink recently. Seems they are non-native but have been around awhile.

  12. Hi "Lima Delta!!,
    Down here in the "Boot" S/E Louisiana "Swamps!!!" We Got Geko's and all kinds pf "Lizards!!"..from 'as big as yer' pinky finger as you say to a thousand pounds plus!!…. Get my drift?? Besides the "ground bound" variety we also have "Airborne" version… "DRAGON FLY's!!!!" We also call them "Mosquito Hawks!!!!" On "High ground" they grow about 3 inch wing span max but down in the swamps they get "BIG!!" 6 inchers are not uncommon!! Lots of fun to watch when a "Squadron" of Mosquito Hawks attacks a swarm of "Flyin' Bugs!!!!!"

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