Sunday, October 31, 2010
The call of the Tokay Gecko is loud and distinctive and the source of their name. A healthy, happy male gecko will bark out mating calls several times a night. They ‘bark’ almost as loud as a dog but in a parrot-like voice - the call coming in short rounds of two or sometimes three parts - first a growling frog-like wind up, followed by a well pronounced ‘toh-kay, toh-kay, toh-kay…’ repeated anywhere from a couple times up to 10 or more, and sometimes capped by a final little 'er-er-er-er-er' trailing out like a noisy gear grinding to a stop. Some people hear the call as 'geh-ko' instead of 'toh-kay.' See what you think... *Mating call of a male Tokay Gecko*
When my daughter was a young toddler a talkative Tokay Gecko lived just outside the door down the hall. She was fascinated by the sound of the gecko's call and would stop whatever she was doing to listen whenever it started up. Just learning to speak at the time, she learned to speak Tokay, repeating the call exactly as the gecko barked, with the same rising tone at the beginning, pause in the middle, and trailing end. She had animal book with a picture of a Tokay and would point at the photo and say "toh-kaaay" with a perfect Tokay Gecko accent.
I think of Tokays this evening because we have one living in the house again, somewhere in the eves upstairs. He's quite a loud and generous barker, letting fly long and often. My maid, a 50 year old Khmer woman, was just going on rather excitedly about our new guest, thrilled with his presence as she says this is very good luck for the house, especially this particular gecko who barks a lot.
On traditional wisdom she tells me that the amount of luck derived from a Tokay is tied to the number of times the gecko barks in a single round. An odd number of barks is much better than an even number. A round of 5 barks is average. Less than 5 is not good. More than 5 barks is good luck, even more so if it is an odd number. The more barks the better.
Then she paused and said warningly,
"Not everybody believes the next part, but I know it is true. I have seen it with my eyes - the Liver Snake."
The Tokay Gecko's ability to bark is determined in part by the size of his liver, she told me. Barking less than 5 times is a sign that the gecko has a swollen liver, putting pressure on his innards and impeding his barking ability. This condition can be relieved with the symbiotic cooperation of the "Liver Snake," an animal rarely seen by people and one in which "not everyone believes."
She explained, "when a Tokay with a swollen liver sees a Liver Snake it will approach carefully, stay still and open its mouth wide and invitingly. The Liver Snake will then enter the gecko's mouth, stretch into his abdomen and eat part of his liver," thereby presumably relieving pressure on his barker. The snake then departs, better for the meal of liver, leaving the Tokay also in an improved condition, now able to bark longer and stronger.
Supporting the validity of these claims she first offered two forms of evidence: authority and personal experience. First, she said in a serious tone that she learned about the Tokay from her parents who were very knowledgeable of such things. But more importantly, that she had actually once witnessed a Liver Snake engaged in the act with a Tokay. She described how back when she was a teenager she saw them doing it in a tree near a pagoda in Battambang.
I must have looked skeptical because she quickly added, "But if you don't believe, there is a way to prove it." Appealing to my bias for the scientific method, she offered up an experimental means of verifying the story.
She laid out the protocol. First catch a Tokay Gecko alive and tie him to a board. Then cut a long piece of a papaya leaf stem. Apparently a papaya stem is about the same color and size of a Liver Snake, green and as thick as finger. Then you poke the stem at the face of the restrained Tokay Gecko which, when confronted with this faux Liver Snake, will open his mouth widely just as he would for a real Liver Snake thereby demonstrating the Tokay's behavior around Liver Snakes and by extension, the existence of Liver Snakes. QED
* The photo of the gecko is not mine. I shamelessly lifted it from from this website. He looks as though he may have seen a Liver Snake.