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A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California


Moorish Gecko - Tarentola mauritanica

(Linnaeus, 1758)
Click on a picture for a larger view




Reported locations in California: Red dots

These are just the locations that I know about.
There are probably more. If you see a lizard that looks like this living in the wild anywhere in California - one that is not shown on the map above or the county list below - please contact me and send a picture if you can for verification.

List of Alien Herps in California


observation link






This is an alien species that has been introduced into California. It is not a native species.

Moorish Wall Gecko
Adult, Hanford, Kings County © Monte Lininger
Moorish Wall Gecko Moorish Wall Gecko Moorish Wall Gecko
Adult, San Diego, with a completely re-generated tail. © Teal Michaelis Adult, San Diego County © Karen Holman
Moorish Wall Gecko Moorish Wall Gecko Moorish Wall Gecko
Adult, Kings County
© Patrick Briggs
Adult, Hanford, Kings County © Victor Calderon
Moorish Wall Gecko Moorish Wall Gecko Moorish Wall Gecko
Juvenile, San Diego County
© Tim Valentine
Adult, San Diego County © Tim Valentine
Moorish Wall Gecko Moorish Wall Gecko Moorish Wall Gecko
Two adults (one missing its tail), Santee, San Diego County Adult with regenerated tail, San Diego County © Tim Valentine
Moorish Wall Gecko Moorish Wall Gecko Moorish Wall Gecko
Moorish Wall Gecko Moorish Wall Gecko Moorish Wall Gecko
The above photos are all views of a single adult gecko found on a building in Hanford, Kings County.
All © Patrick Briggs
xGreat Basin Collared Lizard xGreat Basin Collared Lizard xGreat Basin Collared Lizard
Adult, Spring Valley, San Diego County.
The pictures on the left show the gecko hanging upsided down attached to a gass surface by its specialized toes.
Moorish Wall Gecko xGreat Basin Collared Lizard xGreat Basin Collared Lizard
Tiny juvenile about 2 inches long including tail, El Cajon, San Diego County. © Marc Hawkins This adult found in El Cajon has red mites on its body and between its toes.
© Laura A.
Moorish Wall Gecko Moorish Wall Gecko  
This adult Moorish Gecko, a nocturnal species, is sometimes seen basking in the daytime in a yard in San Diego County. It often basks next to an adult Western Fence Lizard, but only briefly - not as long as the fence lizards bask. Juvenile fence lizards appear to avoid basking near the larger gecko.
© John Nalevanko
Moorish Geckos have small granular scales with intermittent large tubercles.  
   
Description
 
Size

Adults grow to 4.5 - 6 inches in total length (11.4-15 cm). The maximum head-body size is 3 & 5/16 inches (8.4 cm).
(Powell, Conant, & Collins, 2016)

Appearance
A robust-bodied lizard with a flat head, prominent tubercles on the upper surfaces, large bulging eyes with vertical pupils and no eyelids, and elongated toe pads.
The tail is easily detached, but it will regenerate. Regenerated tails do not grow tubercles.
Color and Pattern
Color is brownish, grey or sandy with dark and light markings.
Color changes from dark during daytime to light phase at night.
The underside is white to yellow.
Young
Young geckos have dark bands.
Similar Non-native Geckos Found in California
Ringed Wall Geckos are larger with less wrinkled skin with less prominent tubercles, and they have white spots on the shoulders.
Mediterranean Geckos are smaller with fewer large tubercles and lack the white spots on the shoulders.
Peninsular Leaf-toed Geckos are smaller, with fewer tubercles and no white spots and in California are only found on rocks in the Colorado Desert in the extreme south-central part of the state. They are not found in urban or suburban areas.

Life History and Behavior

Activity
Nocturnal, but also known to bask in the sun during cooler parts of the year.
A good climber.
Territoriality
Males defending territories make squeaking calls.
Defense
The tail is easily detached and when detached will wriggle for a few minutes which may distract a potential predator from the gecko long enough for it to escape.
Diet and Feeding
Eats small invertebrates and possibly small vertebrates.
Often seen foraging for food under artificial light sources.
Reproduction
In its native habitat, 2 - 3 clutches of 1 or 2 eggs are laid around April and June.
Moorish Wall Geckos take several years to reach sexual maturity.

Habitat
Found in its native habitat on stone walls, boulders, and piles of wood in warm, dry, lowland coastal areas.
Alien populations are typically found on inside and outside walls and cinderblock fences.

Geographical Range
The species is native to the coastal Mediterranean area of Europe and Africa.
It has been established in Florida, California, Argentina, and Uruguay.

Moorish Geckos in California probably originated as escaped pets but some of them could have been transported from wild populations, probably from Florida originally, and then they could have been transported from already established California populations to new locations.

The first published report of this species being established in California was a 1998 Geographic Distribution Note in Herp Review that puts the introduction as most likely in or before 1995:

"TARENTOLA MAURITANICA (Common Wall Gecko).
USA: CALIFORNIA: SAN DIEGO Co: 1.5 km S El Cajon city limits in a private residential community ... 200 m. 8 September 1997. Mike Sloop. San Diego Natural History Museum (SDSNH 68675). Verified by L. L. Grismer. An adult female 56 mm SVL (5.5 g) with ovarian eggs in right ovary. Several individuals were detected by the property owners in March 1996, one month after moving to the neighborhood. On the evening of 23 September 1997, I counted 10 individuals (7 adults, 3 hatchlings). Adults were extremely wary and observed near lights at the top of stucco walls and rafters on two buildings. Geckos were found on residential buildings 0.2 km from the core area, and populations >20 individuals have been observed. A resident said that a local pet shop sold this species and other exotic reptiles. It is unclear when the introduction occurred. The colony has survived at least two successive winters (1995-1996). This lizard is expected to expand its range from this localized site in San Diego area. Previously introduced in New Jersey via cork bark shipments from the Mediterranean region, but attempts to colonize were unsuccessful (Conant 1945, Copeia 1945:233). New state record and first record of a breeding population in the United States."

(Clark R. Mahrdt, Herpetological Review 29(1) p. 52, 1998)



Below are locations where this species has been found in California,
based on museum records, published information, and emails to this web site. There are mutliple locations reported in some of the cities listed, especially in El Cajon where they appear to be most common and where they may have been introduced in or before 1995. It is undoubtably present at other locations that I do not yet know. This is not meant to be a comprehensive list. If you see this species at a location not listed here, please let me know.


Fresno County
Clovis (Reported as T. mauritanica, but not confirmed, could be H. turcicus)

Kings County
Hanford

Los Angeles County
Los Angeles
San Pedro

San Diego County
Carmel Valley
Chula Vista
El Cajon
Lakeside
La Mesa
Mission Bay
Mission Valley
Near the University of San Diego
Pacific Beach
Rios Canyon
San Diego
Santee
Solana Beach
Spring Valley

Ventura County
Simi Valley

Full Species Range Map
Elevational Range
In its natural habitat this gecko is usually found at elevations under 1,300 ft. (400 m) but it can be found as high as 4,600 ft. (1,400 m.)

Notes on Taxonomy
None

Conservation Issues  (Conservation Status)
None
Taxonomy
Family Gekkonidae Geckos Gray, 1825
Genus Tarentola Wall Geckos Gray, 1825
Species

mauritanica Moorish Gecko (Linnaeus, 1758)
Original description
Linnaeus 1758

Meaning of the Scientific Name
Tarentola = Taranto (a city in Italy)
Mauritanica - Latin - "Mauritanian" - from Mauritania

Alternate Names
Moorish Wall Gecko
Common Wall Gecko
Salamanquesa
Crocodile Gecko
European Common Gecko
Maurita Naca Gecko

Related or Similar California Lizards
Hemidactylus turcicus - Mediterranean Gecko 
Tarentola annularis - Ringed Wall Gecko

More Information and References and Pictures
Robert Powell, Roger Conant, and Joseph T. Collins. Peterson Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America. Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016.

Stebbins, Robert C., and McGinnis, Samuel M.  Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of California: Revised Edition (California Natural History Guides) University of California Press, 2012.

Bartlett, Richard D. & Patricia Bartlett. A Field Guide to Florida Reptiles and Amphibians. Gulf Publishing, 1999.

Arnold, E. Nicholas. Reptiles and Amphibians of Europe. Princeton University Press, 2002.

Conservation Status

The following conservation status listings for this animal are taken from the August 2019 California Natural Diversity Database (CNDDB) Special Animals List and the CNDDB 2019 Endangered and Threatened Animals List, both of which are published by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The status listings here might not be the most current. Check the CDFW CNDDB website to see if there are more current lists: https://www.wildlife.ca.gov/Data/CNDDB/Plants-and-Animals

If no status is listed here, the animal is not included on either CDFW CNDDB list. This most likely indicates that there are no serious conservation concerns for the animal. To find out more about an animal's status, you can go to the NatureServe and IUCN websites to check their rankings.

There are no significant conservation concerns for this non-native animal in California.

Organization Status Listing  Notes
NatureServe Global Ranking
NatureServe State Ranking
U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) None
California Endangered Species Act (CESA) None
California Department of Fish and Wildlife None
Bureau of Land Management None
USDA Forest Service None
IUCN

 

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