One of the most beguiling creatures on earth, the Namib dune gecko, otherwise known as the palmato gecko or web-footed gecko, is a lot tougher than it appears to be.
The skin of this gecko has a translucent look, with some of the internal organs almost visible beneath its surface, creating an illusion of ghostlike fragility, while delicate salmon undertones and light brown markings add to its visual appeal.
This small desert reptile, which only grows to about 13cm long, is in fact supremely adapted to its arid environment – so specialised that it only occurs in the Namib Desert.
The most outstanding feature of the Namib dune gecko are its big, appealing, unblinking eyes which are lidless, like those of all geckos. As a nocturnal animal, these large eyes give it a panoramic view of its surroundings, all the better for spotting prey in the dim light of the star-spangled desert night.
Having the longest legs in the line of geckos and fully webbed toes, enable the palmato gecko to move at speed over the shifting sands of the Namib, and the adhesive pads underneath the feet make short work of steep sand dunes.
Crickets, grasshoppers and spiders are its usual victims, and the gecko is able to extract every bit of moisture from them, which is a key survival skill along the harsh Namibian Atlantic Coast.
The gecko has also learnt to take advantage of the constant fog in these parts, harvesting water from the atmosphere by allowing moisture to condense on its large eyeballs. Once a few drops have accumulated, the gecko licks its eyes clean with its tongue to claim this precious liquid as its own.
When daytime temperatures in your neighbourhood can reach in excess of 40 °C it’s a good idea to make yourself scarce during office hours. The Namib dune gecko achieves this by burrowing up to a metre deep into the sand, with the aid of its paddle-like feet, where it waits for the cooler evening temperatures before emerging on its solitary foray into the desert.
Namib dune geckos remain loners for most of their life, except during breeding season.
After a successful union, one or two hard-shelled eggs are laid in warm, moist sand, where they will hatch after an incubation period of 8 weeks. Born almost full size, at 10cm, the hatchlings can feed themselves after just four days, and are ready to embark on their desert adventures.
The best way to see these charming creatures is to book a desert safari, which usually includes transfers to and from your Windhoek accommodation.