Clearing up ambiguous amphibians
Becky Choquette was disturbed when the Honolulu Lite Department of Geckos seemed to suggest recently that geckos are amphibians.
"I know there are, maybe, five people on the island who care whether a gecko is a reptile or an amphibian, but hey, we need to make our voices heard!" Becky wrote me.
Becky knows a thing or two about geckos. She is an animal keeper in the reptile section of the Honolulu Zoo.
And she's right. Geckos are reptiles, lizardish reptiles. The thing is, I never actually said geckos were amphibians. I said "experts who know a lot about amphibious creatures" know that female geckos don't need males to procreate. I bet there are amphibious experts who know a lot about geckos even though geckos aren't amphibians. I'll bet there are amphibious experts who know a lot about Lloyd Bridges, even though he's not an amphibian either. At least, I'm pretty sure he's not. Now, Jacques Cousteau was definitely amphibious.
Becky blames the continuing confusion about geckos on a certain insurance company with annoying TV commercials. "I think it was that stupid Geico commercial which first called them the 'Hawaii State Amphibian.' But geckos are actually lizards, and lizards are reptiles."
As much as I detest the Geico gecko (why doesn't he speak pidgin instead of the Queen's English?), he can't take all the blame. Newts and salamanders look a lot like geckos, albeit geckos who have been airbrushed by Earl Scheib on LSD. They've got the little lizard-looking heads, sleek bodies and long tales, and four lizardlike legs right where you'd expect them to be - in each corner - but salamanders and newts aren't reptiles. They're amphibians. For the record, aside from being garishly colored, salamanders and newts also don't have scales like lizards and crocodiles and lay soft, jelly-coated eggs, not the little hard ones geckos scatter all over our houses.
But the person really to blame for the confusion over whether Hawaii's geckos are reptiles or amphibians is Bruce Hale. Bruce has put out a series of books featuring Moki the Surfing Gecko. I know and respect Bruce as an artist and writer, but he has really messed things up in the gecko world. What would a nonamphibious lizard be doing on a surfboard? Geckos hang from ceilings, they don't hang 10 (or however many toes they have). But you can't go into a bookstore in Honolulu without seeing a shelf full of surfing geckos staring back at you. Bruce has seared it into our heads that geckos are water creatures.
I suggest Becky and her four other amphibious experts sit down and have a little chat with Bruce. There's a real danger that he'll keep publishing books about surfing geckos or, even worse, water creatures that do stuff on land, like "Jacques the Baseball-Playing Trout," "Barney the Skateboarding Squid" or - brace yourself, Becky - "Freddie the Certified Public Accountant Frog."
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