House Gecko up close

House Gecko (Mabouya): Helpful Horror In West Indian Homes

You can keep Frankenstein. Dracula, Freddy Krueger, and Jason too. For me, and just about every other West Indian I know, there’s nothing scarier than a House Gecko.

Originally from central/south Africa, House Geckos arrived in the Caribbean via slave ships and quickly spread all over the place. In the process, they adopted several names.

Scream and Run!

Some call them Woodslaves. During our childhood years in Saint Croix, my brothers and I knew them as “Sticky Lizards.” In other parts of the Caribbean, they’re known as Mabouya, or Mabuya, a nod to the lizard’s scientific name, lizard Hemidactylus mabouia. 

Hemidactylus mabouia
Hemidactylus mabouia inside his favorite habitat – YOUR HOME! | Photo by Mark Yokoyama

During my childhood, though, these were names that you wouldn’t so much say as scream if ever you saw one. Screams would be followed by frantic scurrying to a safe haven as far away from the sickly-looking creatures as possible!

Noisy, Harmless In-House Exterminator

West Indian House Geckos, though, are 100% harmless to humans. In fact, they help us out quite a bit in pest control. Roaches, spiders, moths – these ugly guys eat ’em all.

As its name suggests, the tropical House Gecko species loves to make its home under our roofs. While most appreciate the yeoman’s work they do keeping bugs at bay, it still frightens many to see them slithering across ceilings and up/down bedrooms in search of insects.

Woodslave blending in some wood | Photo by Mark Yokoyama

This is especially so as the lizards are nocturnal. You know, when it’s dark, there are shadows, and legends of West Indian duppies, jumbies, and spirits might have you on edge…

Oh, and they also make noises. Weird, sort of eerie noises, like a series of sharp chirps or squeaks. Think bats, rats, or other icky things you’d rather not host inside your house. Scary, indeed!

Sticky Lizard Legend from Trinidad

My own personal fear of House Geckos, though, originated with my Mom and Dad. The Mabouya myths that they used to share from their childhoods in southern Trinidad were positively terrifying to little boy me!

Mom and Dad would often say that House Geckos were so sticky (and evil) that if one ever landed on our skin with its perfectly adapted toe pads, it would be almost impossible to get it off! The only remedy was to place a steaming hot iron atop the lizard while it was affixed to your skin.

Sure, the iron would burn you severely, but that was a small price to pay to get that nasty lizard off your body!

House Gecko Love/Hate

In later years, I learned that Mabouya are considered a bad omen in Trinidad. Elsewhere in the Caribbean, though, they’re much more welcome. Some West Indians even consider them to be good luck.

Either way, the House Gecko’s huge, vertical pupils and sickly light brown skin will forever freak me out… No matter how many insects it eats! 


*Photo credit: All images by Flickr user and longtime UC fan, Mark Yokoyama, quite obviously a man with no fear!

Last updated by Steve Bennett on .

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