LAWRENCE, Kan. – There's a new creature crawling around Kansas.
Herpetologists have confirmed that the Mediterranean gecko is taking up residence in the state, spreading north from the southeast United States over the past decade.
"We knew it got as far as Norman, Oklahoma, in the early 1990s," said Joe Collins, University of Kansas herpetologist. "Well, it's here."
And one is now on display at the Prairie Park Nature Center in Lawrence, feeding on crickets.
"Ours has been hiding under rocks in its cage since we got him," said Marty Birrell, the center's director. "They are nocturnal, so we don't usually see them in the daytime."
Collins said there were sightings late last year in Johnson County. He was asked in May about the gecko after someone caught the lizard, which Collins had previously seen and caught in Texas and Florida.
Just to make sure it was a gecko, Collins took a picture of the lizard and sent it to Walter Meshaka Jr., the state herpetologist for Pennsylvania and a renowned expert on geckos.
Meshaka confirmed it was a Mediterranean gecko.
In late June, some of Collins' students conducted a search for the geckos at the Johnson County location and found them on and around manufacturing and warehouse buildings. They found dozens and caught a few, one of which was given to the nature center.
The geckos were around the buildings because the night security lights were attracting insects. They use their sticky, padded feet to climb the walls.
"They'd go up and hang around the lights and eat dinner," Collins said. "It's sort of a smorgasbord for geckos."
The geckos are generally about 4 inches long and can blend in with their surroundings. Common in southern Europe and northern Africa, geckos probably arrived in Florida by way of ships, then migrated or hitched rides aboard vehicles to other states, Collins said.
"I didn't think they would make it this far north because it's too cold," Collins said. "Apparently, the little fellows learned how to live outside during the summer and run inside during the winter and live off whatever spiders and cockroaches they can find in buildings."
Geckos are friendly creatures and make good pets, Collins said.
"They are fairly easy animals to keep, and that's probably why they naturalize to a lot of different areas," she said.
The Mediterranean gecko is the third "alien" gecko to migrate to Kansas, Collins said.
The other two are the Italian wall lizard and western green lacerta, both found around Topeka.
The wall lizard also can be found in Lawrence, he said.