Geckos and Mosquitos

For an illustrated version, see pages 16-17 in The EnvironMentor, Feb-Mar 2016, vol. 4 no. 4.

Geckos and Mosquitoes

One morning, Gecko came angrily to talk to the chief. "You've got to do something about those fireflies! All night long they flashed in my eyes! I couldn't sleep a wink!"

The chief was a reasonable man. "Gecko," he said, "I think you should settle this yourself. Go talk to the fireflies and find out why they were flashing all night."

Angrily, Gecko went to the fireflies. "Why did you keep flashing all night? Nobody can sleep with all that light!"

"Sorry to disturb your sleep," the fireflies replied politely, "but we were just doing our best to light up all the cow pies in the road so that people wouldn't step in them."

"Cow poop! That's disgusting!" said Gecko. "I'll go tell the cows to drop their manure someplace else!"

But when he scolded the cows, they explained, "We were just trying to fill in the potholes that the rain makes in the road. We don't want people to stumble in the holes."

"So it's Rain's fault!" exclaimed Gecko. "I'll get to the bottom of this!" and he stormed off to tell Rain to stop.

Rain listened patiently. "Are you sure you want me to stop falling around here? No rain means no puddles. No puddles means no mosquitoes. No mosquitoes means-- what will you eat then, Gecko?"

"Oh," said Gecko. "Well. I guess I can find a dark place to sleep."

And Gecko went home to bed.

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I chose this folktale because Gecko learns the important connection between rainwater and mosquitoes, one of his favorite foods.

No standing water = no mosquitoes. And that will be important this summer, as we try to deal with yet another mosquito-borne disease, Zika fever. Zika's symptoms are usually mild, but if a pregnant woman gets it, the virus can harm her baby's development. In some tropical countries, Zika is recognized as a public health emergency.

Oklahomans are already familiar with West Nile virus and several kinds of encephalitis virus that can be carried by mosquitoes. A hundred years ago, pioneers thought malaria (literally "bad air") was caused by the bad smell of swamps, but malaria parasites were actually being carried by the mosquitoes who lived there. When Laura Ingalls' family lived in a Little House on the Prairie, their malaria was treated by Dr George A. Tann, an African-American doctor whose office was in Bartlesville.

In tropical countries, Zika virus is spread mainly by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. In Oklahoma, the vector will more likely be A. albopictus, the "Asian tiger" mosquitoes that have arrived here in recent years. You may have noticed their black&white-striped legs! They are small but pesky, flying not just at night but all day long and happily living near our homes, not just in swamps.

A tablespoonful of water is enough for baby tiger mosquitoes. The drainage in a potted plant's saucer; rain caught in a discarded toy or tire; a blocked gutter; a stagnant bird bath can all populate our yards with mosquitoes, and we have no geckos to eat them!

Birds, bats and dragonflies, however, devour huge numbers of mosquitoes. Goldfish and guppies can keep decorative ponds mosquito-free. We will in any case need to be careful this summer to check our yards frequently for even small amounts of standing water. Where else should you look?

If we spray insecticides to kill the tiger mosquitoes, what additional insects and other animals will be affected?

What other precautions can we take to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes?

More about geckos. In tropical countries, geckoes often live in people’s houses. The lizards climb the walls and even cling to the ceiling, devouring mosquitoes and other insect pests. I have heard their strange "tcch tcch tcch" call coming from the ceiling panels of a classroom at the Singapore Zoo. "That's okay," the zookeepers told me, "they work for us."

Scientists study the amazing ability of geckos' velvety footpads to cling to any surface, even polished glass. Experimental materials mimick this ability, clinging like glue but without any adhesive.

Geckos do not have eyelids. No wonder the fireflies bothered them! But most species are nocturnal, so probably Gecko in the story can catch up on his sleep during the day.

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SOURCES

Folktale: "Gecko Can't Sleep" -- Bali.

  • see Margaret Read MacDonald Earth Care: World Folktales to Talk About. (August Hosue, 1999), and her picturebook Go to Sleep Gecko! Illus. Geraldo Valerío. (August House, 2006).
  • Other versions: Gecko's Complaint with a lion as chief.

Facts: Zika and mosquitoes