Tokays rely on their sticky toes

Have your say

This week we’re welcoming a slightly smaller new 
arrival than usual! We’ve just taken delivery of a 
juvenile Tokay gecko from Marwell Wildlife near Southampton – a bit of a distance to come for an animal so small! We’re expecting some more to arrive soon, so he won’t be on his own for very long, and when his enclosure is finished he’ll be moving in to the Reptile River with the rest of our scaly residents.

Geckos are fascinating creatures, perhaps best known for their excellent climbing abilities. About two thirds of gecko species have adhesive toe pads which allow them to cling to almost any surface! Each square millimetre of toe pad is covered in around 14,000 setae, which are arranged in overlapping lines. You could fit about 24 setae onto the end of a human hair! And if that wasn’t small enough, each seta in turn is tipped with between 100 and 1,000 spatulae. Each of these is just two millionths of a metre long! These spatulae generate the forces needed to stick the toe pads to surfaces, and because there are so many millions of them, the toe pads of an average adult gecko could support a weight of up to 133kg on a vertical surface! You might be wondering how they unstick themselves, and in fact they are able to bend their toes backwards (similarly to double-jointedness in humans) to peel themselves off again.

Tokay geckos are one of the largest gecko species, at around 50cm long when fully grown. They are commonly offered as pets but have a particularly nasty bite, so aren’t suited to inexperienced keepers! In the wild they are found in rainforests across Asia, from India to Indonesia. Although they are quite abundant across most of their home range, they are quickly becoming a threatened species in the Philippines, China and Vietnam, as they are hunted for use in traditional medicine. This is a problem for many of the animals we keep in the zoo, including our Sumatran tigers and white rhinos, and it would certainly be a shame to lose such striking animals from our planet.