Geckos vs lizards

Ever looked at the little creature who wiggles his way up the wall, or over the paving, at the speed of light, and wondered exactly what he is? Is he a gecko or a lizard? There are over 200 species of lizard and 61 species of gecko in South Africa, and some of them inhabit our gardens and homes. This article will highlight the differences between the creatures.

Gecko facts

  • Nocturnal – out at night.
  • Hides in wall cracks, crevices, trees, rockeries and garden walls.
  • Large eyes with no eyelids.
  • The tongue is used to lick the eyes clean.
  • Oviparous – two hard-shelled eggs are laid.
  • Toes have adhesive pads (scansors) which help them to ‘stick’ to smooth surfaces.
  • Geckos make complex sounds – squeaks, clicks, growls and barks.
  • Mobile tails make curling movements in territorial fighting.
  • Grows from 7.5 to 15cm and lives up to five years.


Lizard facts

  • Signals to intimidate rivals or attract mates with body postures, mouth gaping, tail wagging and push-ups.
  • Lizards live in a wide variety of places – from treetops to places below ground.
  • Some are brightly coloured.
  • Lizards are diurnal – active by day.
  • A skink is a common garden lizard.
  • Sit-and-wait hunters – carnivorous (meat-eaters). Smaller lizards are insectivorous (insect-eaters).
  • Lizard skin is shed in pieces as they grow.
  • These ‘ecotherm’ reptiles must bask in the sun to gain heat to be fully active.
  • Their tongues can be extended outside the mouth.
  • The skin is covered with overlapping scales to reduce dehydration.
  • Lizards are found in deserts, near the ocean, at the Arctic Circle or equator.

Unusual survival trick

Both reptiles can shed their tails to distract a predator and make an escape. The tail writhes for a short time after detaching. A new tail will grow over a few weeks. They both rely on camouflage and some lizards play dead to fool a hunter. Both run for cover to places of safety.

Garden-protecting benefits

Both eat many common garden pests and keep them under control. Geckos eat moths, termites, crickets, beetles, mosquitoes and fish moths. Lizards eat ants, crickets, moths, cockroaches, grasshoppers, caterpillars, flies, snails, slugs, millipedes and isopods.

Be a buddy

Avoid the use of chemical sprays, as both geckos and lizards are very sensitive to them. If absolutely necessary, only spot spray the affected plant. If a poisoned insect (killed by insecticide) is eaten, it will poison and kill the lizard too.

Cats and dogs can catch them, so discourage this when you are home to save these little garden protectors.


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