Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Call to Herp Breeders!

Have you ever seen the Gecko gecko? The common name is Tokay Gecko. I used to own one a long time ago. It has long since died, but that gecko has traumatized me for life. It was nasty, and always snapping at me when I was trying to clean it's tank. In truth, it has bitten me more than once.

I originally brought it because it was beautiful and big. I figured that as long as I kept it well fed, it would be happy. This is not the way things have turned out. The more I fed it, the bigger it got, and the more unhappy it was!

For those of you who have no idea of what I am talking about, here is a picture of a Tokay Gecko:

While it does look beautiful and elegant, I have to admit, it was meaner than a picked on pit bull with a thorn in his ass and a score to settle. Many other animals seem to be domesticated just fine. Tokay Geckos are not in this category.

However I am not losing hope. I know that recently, the silver fox has been bred to be domesticated. You can read about it on wiki here. On the bottom of the wiki article, there are also links to the primary literature dealing with this issue. It is amazing that the fox was domesticated! I really want one, not only because they look cute, but because the implications of "wildness" seem to be directly correlated with genetics. In other words, a domesticated fox, with a differing genome than the foxes in the wild is a direct test of the evolutionary theory. Without evolution, this would have never happened. Of course, natural selection played little role in the domestication of the fox, but selection from a human hand, or from nature, go hand in hand. Here is a page from Cornells website about fox domestication, with more primary literature as references.

So now for the challenge. I am asking for herpetologists to undergo a similar experiment. Tame the wild beast! Gecko gecko with it's current aggressive phenotype is not suitable as a pet. While it may be a voracious eater, it needs to be tame to be in the homes of human beings! If it can be done with a dog, it most certainly can be done with geckos. It may be difficult at first, because so many individuals seem to display an aggressive phenotype. However, if a "not so aggressive" phenotype does exist, it needs to be exploited! These are the individuals that we need to mate with others, so that we can select amongst the most tame.

Of course an experiment of this nature will be difficult at first. For example, choosing non aggressive adults does not necessarily mean that their tameness is due to genetics. It can be that those individuals have acclimated to being handled by people. For these reasons, the offspring of these experiments need to be handled as little as possible so the true genotype can be determined. On a side note, it might do breeders well to select for individuals who are not only tame genotypically, but contain the right genetic code so that they have the ability to "learn" to be tamed easily. This second point is important also. We need geckos which can learn the way in which their handlers handle them. People treat their animals differently, so this ability will make Tokays more acceptable as pets for more people.

As for me, if I ever get a gecko, it will be a species that is calm and docile. Like those Ptychozoon Kuhli: