One test of a citizen science project’s success is the ability to produce scientific results – and sometimes that’s a case of connecting the right people. This excellent story involves exactly that – and a gecko.
On August 14, 2013, Glen Yoshida snapped a photo of a lizard clinging to a wall on his front porch. He uploaded the photo to iNaturalist, a website and smartphone app that allows users to submit photos of animals and plants. “This Indo-Pacific Gecko lives somewhere on my front porch. She comes out usually after it gets dark outside and when the weather is on the warm side,” wrote Yoshida, an IT specialist at a nursing home, who lives in Torrance. The photo caught the eye of Greg Pauly, a herpetologist at LA’s Natural History Museum.
As their name suggests, Indo-Pacific geckos, Hemidactylus garnotii, aren’t supposed to be found in Torrance, or in the Americas at all. They’re native to Southeast Asia, India, the Philippines, Australia, and parts of Polynesia. But the species reproduces asexually. Females lay eggs and they hatch without male fertilization. That makes it amazingly easy for the lizards to settle in a new home. All it takes is one individual to stow away in a potted plant or to escape from a pet store, and if she can find a safe place to live, she can found her own little gecko family.
Thanks to iNaturalist’s commenting feature, Pauly was able to ask Yoshida to record some additional information. “Great observations Glen,” he wrote in a comment on a photo taken in October 2013. “It would be great if you could also include the high temp for that day.” By providing that data, a photo Yoshida took of a juvenile in March of 2014 allowed Pauly to discover that the geckos’ eggs could successfully incubate and hatch during the colder winter months, and that the geckos were active at temperatures into the mid-50s. That was something of a surprise for a tropical species. “A single photo told us, oh my gosh, this tropical gecko is breeding over the course of our southern California winters,” he says. “It’s not what anybody would have predicted.”
Photo Credit: Photo in article, © Jason Goldman.