A Parenting Lesson From A Gecko

Dr. John Kaya
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Wednesday - July 07, 2010
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Although veterinary medicine can be difficult, it pales in comparison to fatherhood. I can speak from experience as my wife and I have recently added a second child to our family. Don’t let anyone fool you, two children is not twice the amount of work. It’s approximately five times the amount of time and energy.

As I contemplate fatherhood and all the difficulties associated with the title, I can’t help but wonder if I’m raising my children correctly. The pressure to do the right thing is incredible. Which led me to wonder if animal parents worry about rearing their young properly?

The following story from a family barbecue is true:

It was a warm but comfortable summer’s eve and the family was over for a gathering. The ladies enjoyed the air-conditioned comfort that the living room offered while the men reveled in the breezy trade winds of the great outdoors. The smell of marinated meat and fresh vegetables grilling on the hibachi caused my salivary glands to work in overdrive. Yes, wisps of smoke occasionally brought about irritation and mild tearing, but it was nothing that a cold beer couldn’t cure.

As the night wore on, the local wildlife started to appear. A large “B-52” cockroach scurried across the rock wall, a mongoose dove into a nearby bush en route to the comfort of her den, and a family of geckos emerged from the garage rafters in search of a meal. The floodlights surrounding the exterior of our house attracted a wide variety of insects, and as we enjoyed our smoky delicacies, the geckos feasted too.

Finished with our manly duty of grilling over a flaming hibachi, and deep in conversation, “da boyz” did not notice my brother Marcus, a chemistry teacher at Punahou, peering into the night. After a few beers, he made what seemed like an odd observation.

“Hey, check this out. The large gecko intercepted the smaller gecko and prevented it from eating that metallic green-and-black bug. I think it’s trying to teach the little gecko a lesson on what to eat,” mumbled Marcus as he gazed at the feeding frenzy on our garage wall.

For a moment “da boyz” paused to contemplate this revelation. Then the patio erupted in laughter and gibes like “Good one, Marcus” and “You’re killing me” surrounded the joviality.

“I’m serious. Take a look,” Marcus insisted.

Sure enough, the metallic green-and-black insect landed on the wall amid the family of geckos - quite a bold feat considering the countless bugs that had already fallen prey to the predators known in the scientific world as Hemidactylus frenatus. The larger geckos ignored the juicy morsel, but one of the smaller ones approached the bug only to have its path cut off by a bigger family member. “Da boyz” sat with jaws agape as this scene repeated itself several times. Eventually the younger lizards avoided the metallic green-and-black bug altogether.

The geckos taught me something that night: Parenthood is a universal concept. Do animals teach their young? You bet. Even the mo’o (gecko in Hawaiian) takes the responsibility seriously. On the wild side, it could mean the difference between survival or death from a metallic green-and-black bug.

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