News | 20 February 2023
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Wellington’s hidden reptile: Moko Kākāriki Green Gecko

Wellington is home to the biggest population of Moko Kākāriki Green Gecko – a striking native reptile with unique characteristics, including a bright blue tongue that comes out when they feel threatened.

While we are lucky to have Green Geckos in our city, their populations are declining rapidly. Wellington Zoo reptile and invertebrate keeper Ben Volpicelli has given us a rundown on how special these Geckos are and how we can look after them.

Green Gecko.

There was little to no information about Green Geckos in Wellington city until about 20 years ago. This was due to their cryptic nature – they are tricky to find based on their quick movements and colours, even if you have them in your garden. 

Over the years, there has been extensive research into the importance of these little green reptiles that are predominantly found in the Lower North Island, but their growth was being stunted by predation.

These Geckos are often hard to find with the human eye, but they are easy targets for household animals and common pests, says Ben.

“Green Geckos are ectothermic. This means they need the heat to move. So, on a winter’s day these guys could be snuggled up in a burrow or something of that nature, but something like a mouse or a rat could sniff them out. Because they’re so cold, they won’t be able to move and get away.

“The camouflage geckos have is specifically adapted to prevent predation against their main natural predators, birds. But the camouflage is ineffective against introduced mammalian predators such as rats and cats.”

Gravid Gecko.
A gravid (pregnant) Gecko from the Wellington Zoo breed for release programme. Image from Wellington Zoo.

With declining populations, Wellington Zoo began a breed for release programme in 2016, which provides an insurance population where they breed the geckos before releasing them into the wild. 

All geckos that are released are monitored closely by the Zoo Conservation Team, who head out on yearly trips to check that they are adapting well to their new environments. 

At the Wellington Zoo, you can see Green Geckos in a special habitat by HeroHQ, where you can often see pairings of the geckos as part of the programme and learn about what makes them special, Ben says.

Zoo enclosure for Geckos

“Male geckos tend to get blue flanking down the sides of their body as they get older. Geckos have long fleshy tongues that they use to drink dew off plants and to get pollen and nectar out of flowers. They are important to native plants as they also pollinate - a lot of New Zealand plants have adapted to be specifically pollinated by Geckos and Skinks. Not many people know about how important they are!

“We have amazing wildlife in New Zealand, our reptiles are special because they give birth to live young instead of laying eggs, likely due to the unpredictable weather. We need to protect them.”

To keep these Geckos safe, there are ways you can adapt your garden to help them thrive.

One way is to plant native shrubbery which will give Geckos a place to hide and make it harder for pests to get through to them, says Ben.

“You can provide a safe place by planting more native vegetation like mānuka, kānuka and coprosma.

“We also advocate for Safe Cats, Safe Wildlife. We want to protect cats as well as our native wildlife. Cats can live an enriched life by staying indoors and being given plenty of toys. Or, you can keep them inside at night to minimise hunting.

“Small steps can really help to protect our Gecko population and help them thrive.”

For more information on Green Geckos, you visit the Wellington Zoo website.