Opening today and running through the first week of January is a new exhibit at National Geographic. “Geckos: Tails to Toepads” features just over 15 species of live geckos of different colors, stripes, shapes, and sizes. While there are also interactive displays and a kids-oriented area, the main attraction are the self-contained terrarium-style displays with all sorts of geckos.
Some of them are pretty tough to spot, like the Satanic Leaf-tail Gecko. (There are four in the enclosure, of which I found only two.) Some are pretty “obvious” geckos, similar in appearance to the animated one on television shilling insurance. And some are just downright ugly. But all in all, they are fascinating to watch and most (if not all) are pretty darn cute – for a reptile.
The farthest north geckos can be found in the United States is Maryland; curiously, the exhibit doesn’t feature any of the species from North or South America. The ones here at NatGeo are primarily from Africa, Asia, and the Pacific islands. Therefore, nearly all of them are exotic in shape and texture to us here in the Western hemisphere. You’ll see some big ones, like the New Caledonian Giant Gecko, which can get up to 16″ long, or the Tokay Gecko, which can be quite aggressive and loud when provoked.
The Giant Day Gecko probably fits the stereotypical mold of a gecko with its emerald skin and not-too-shy antics in the case. (I had one try and make friends with my camera!) The Fan-fingered Gecko resembles more of a chameleon with its “pudgy” feet and large eyes. And the Giant Leaf-tailed Gecko resembles a baby alligator in its general shape – though it does hang upside-down from bamboo.
There’s a lot of information about the species scattered throughout the exhibit, discussing topics from skin color to diet to eye shape. A very informative and intriguing video discusses a gecko’s molecular grip, which allows it to cling and walk across pretty much anything. And the displays have a lot of room around them, so you can sneak a peak even with kids crowding around the glass.
The Tails to Toepads exhibit does require tickets for entry. Tickets are $7 for adults and $4 for kids ages 2-12. An unlimited access pass is available for $20, though you need to purchase that at NatGeo’s box office. There is also free admission to the exhibit on Wednesdays. Keep in mind the exhibit is only open 9-5 daily and will run through January 5, 2011.
The National Geographic Museum is located at 1145 17th Street NW; tickets can be purchased online or by phone (202-857-7588).