I suppose I could have called this post ‘a gecko’s nightmare’ and left out the question mark, but people often assume the worst about ‘parasites’. Certainly, this small, red Pterygosomatidae lives between the toes of the Asian House Gecko (Hemidactylus frenatus), pierces its skin, and feeds on the lizard (note hunk of skin wrenched off with the mite). Since the gecko needs its toes to keep a firm purchase on the walls of buildings, you would think a discerning parasite would find another spot, one less likely to result in a too slow dash away from a gecko-eater or in a long fall. Gecko mites don’t seem to care, though.
The Asian House Gecko might appreciates the fact their mites, unlike other mites on the ‘native’ Australian gecko Heteronotia binoei, do not attach around their eyeballs. Again you might think that having bulbous red skin-suckers dangling from your eyeballs might lead to a less alert lizard more likely to end up in something else’s stomach along with its mites, but I guess for a gecko mite, finding thin skin that it can pierce is more important than any existential angst.
Unlike most vertebrates, but like many mites, Heteronotia binoei is parthenogenetic. Craig Moritz and his group have some interesting research on the ongoing and past evolution of geckos and their mites. My student Anna Donahoo’s and my project on Geckobia bataviensis, however, was an attempt to be proactive about a potential future evolutionary interaction. Pterygosomatid mites are known to vector blood parasites among lizards and we wondered if the introduced and spreading Asian House Gecko was a threat to Australia’s gecko diversity. We found no evidence that the mites had crossed to ‘native’ geckos in the Brisbane region, and the local geckos have their own fearsome looking mites. So, so far, no worries.
Although introduced fairly recently to the Brisbane region, and successfully spreading only even more recently, the Asian House Gecko seems to have taken off and likely will become a permanent feature of Australia’s gecko diversity. I can’t say that I minded that much – my house was infested with them and they were welcome to stay (and the cats welcomed them even more than I). Sitting on the balcony in the evening and listening to the ‘chuck, chuck, chuck’ call of the male, is one of the things I miss in lizardless Edmonton. Actually, we aren’t personally lizardless, because we inherited a leopard gecko from a graduate student who left town. The leopard gecko is attractive, but like most geckos, silent. We’ve been feeding him crickets and fortunately he is a clumsy and inefficient hunter, so we have a nightly serenade from the crickets that breed fairly well in the terrarium in our living room. I wonder if there are any mites in there?