The Splat Heard ‘Round the World (And How Geckos Walk on Ceilings)

By Dave Fox
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

There’s an unmistakable “splat” sound, a sound unlike any other sound in the universe, that occurs when a gecko falls off the ceiling and lands on a tile floor.

In Phnom Penh, Cambodia, I visited a restaurant that covered its walls with testimonials from happy customers. One note contained a drawing of a gecko that reminded me of a crime-scene outline. As I was reading it, a real gecko came to investigate,

I first experienced this phenomenon in the summer of 2012, in a hotel room in Vientiane, Laos. I heard the splat and spun around to see a gecko scampering for cover behind the mini-fridge.

This was a confusing moment in my life. I’d been living for the past year in Singapore, in an apartment where geckos roamed freely. I was well versed in the gecko superpower of walking on walls and ceilings. Never in my Southeast Asian explorations had I seen one lose its grip.

“It couldn’t have slipped from the ceiling,” I thought. “Geckos never fall. They’re like Spiderman, only cuter.”

But what had made that noise then?

Later that evening, I was getting ready for bed when I heard the sound again.

And again.

My back was turned during these subsequent splats. Twice again, I did not witness the falls.

Finally on my third day in Laos, I saw it happen: Gecko splat four. I watched the poor little guy drop. He hit the ground hard, rolled to his feet with a dazed expression, and gave his left eyeball a comforting slurp. Then he noticed me and ran off in a panic.

Geckos fear me – not because I’m any more fearsome than the average five-foot-four bald guy, but because geckos fear all humans. They don’t understand that I’m benevolent and would do them no harm – that I’m actually on their side.

I like geckos, you see, because geckos eat mosquitos. Mosquitoes are jerks. They regard me as an all-you-can-eat buffet. They transmit tropical diseases through their fangs. They also like to buzz in my ear when I’m falling asleep — a soprano squeal that’s nearly as annoying as Kenny G’s saxophone.

Kenny G or a mosquito: Whose sting is worse? 
(Mosquito photo: CC BY 3.0 by Alvegaspar. Kenny G photo: CC BY 2.0 by Micah Sittig.)

So I welcome geckos into my kingdom, wherever that might be on any given day, because they gobble up the mosquitoes before the mosquitoes can gobble me up.

In the temporary kingdom of my Laotian hotel room, I was now growing concerned. I’d never seen geckos rain down from the ceiling before. I worried for their wellbeing.

I did some research and learned from that geckos can walk on walls and ceilings thanks to hundreds of tiny hairs on their toes. Each hair splits into hundreds of even tinier hairs. This creates an electromagnetic attraction to the wall contours. That’s how the magic happens.

So what was up with the Laotian Geckos? Were they suffering from toe baldness? I wasn’t sure. What I was now sure of was that the sound of the gecko splat on a cool tile floor is distinct. There exists no similar squishy thud. From now on. I would instantly recognize it, anywhere I went.

I’ve been living in Southeast Asia for nine years now. Here in Vietnam, where I currently reside, the geckos in my apartment had never shown signs of toe baldness, until last night. I was up past my bedtime, watching TV on my living room sofa, when … splat!

This time, I did not see it. I did, however, feel it  – on my head, which is shaved, and therefore produces similar acoustics to a tile floor when a gecko splats down upon it.

The lizard landed smack-dab in the center of my noggin. Had I drawn a target on my scalp, he would have hit a bullseye.

His aim seemed perfect. Had he lost his hairy-toed grip by accident, or was he training for the Gecko Olympics? Perhaps I was in the presence of a future gold medalist. And if there was a budding celebrity in my apartment, I wanted to at least get a peek at him. But where was he?

You’d think if a gecko fell on your head, you’d see the creature as it skittered away, but no. I looked in every direction. There was no gecko in sight.

Then I lifted one of the sofa pillows and there he was: An adolescent-sized dude who pounced down to the floor and darted under a chair when I blew his cover. Mystery solved, I left him in peace.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You are thinking, “Dave! That sounds like the most amazing adventure ever! I’m going to shave off all my hair and go to Laos so I too can experience the sensation of a gecko splatting on my shiny head.”

Please don’t do that.

I mean … shave your head and go to Laos if you want. They are both valuable life experiences. But don’t treat the bald-toed geckos of Vientiane like freaks in a sideshow. They are suffering and they need your help.

Rogaine is now available in Laos, but the geckos there earn an income too meager to afford hair restoration products. So if you go, please bring them a bottle, and help rehabilitate the superpower of these suffering, bald-toed creatures who keep you safe from dengue fever and smooth jazz.

Published on Thursday, October 29, 2020

One Response to “The Splat Heard ‘Round the World (And How Geckos Walk on Ceilings)”

  1. Joan Lindsay Kerr
    October 30, 2020 at 1:14 AM

    You learn something new everyday, but I never expected that my lesson today would be how geckos cling to ceilings. I, too, appreciate them for their mosquito-eating prowess…and their cuteness.

    Did you ever discover why some of them do fall?

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