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Can Geckos Smell? (And How They Use Their Smell to Their Advantage)

Can Geckos Smell? (And How They Use Their Smell to Their Advantage)

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The purpose of this blog is to share general information and is written to the author's best knowledge. It is not intended to be used in place of veterinary advice. For health concerns, please seek proper veterinary care. In addition, as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

A gecko is a fascinating type of reptile that sometimes people keep as a house pet. Geckos have interesting characteristics about them, such as how they stick to almost any surface, or their ability to adapt to different environments.

In general, geckos have heightened senses. For instance, they have excellent vision that allows them to see even in dark conditions. However, since it’s not obvious whether or not geckos can smell, many people ask the question: Can geckos smell?

The answer is yes, they can! In fact, geckos have an incredible sense of smell that they utilize in many ways and that helps them survive.

So how does a gecko’s sense of smell work, and how good is it? Keep reading to find out the answers and more surprising facts about geckos’ smell sense.

How Do Geckos Detect Smells?

Geckos can indeed smell, but interestingly, they don’t do it with their nostrils. Geckos use their nostrils for breathing, but they depend on their tongue to detect smells. Sometimes a gecko might use a mix of both (nostrils and tongue) to smell, such as the Tokay gecko.

The Science behind how geckos use their tongue to smell things is simple yet remarkable. Geckos have a special organ inside their mouths called Jacobson’s organ. This organ has several nerve endings that can sense odors.

Many lizard and snake species use the same mechanism for smelling. The way the process works is that a gecko first sticks out its tongue to detect moisture-borne particles. Then, the gecko flicks its tongue around to collect those particles.

After the gecko gathers enough particles on its tongue, it puts it back in its mouth. Afterward, the gecko pushes its tongue to the palate, where Jacobson’s organ is located.

The receptors in the organ’s nerve cells send signals to the gecko’s brain. The brain processes the signal and then interrupts the type of odor.

How Good is a Gecko’s Sense of Smell?

You know now that geckos have an unusual way of smelling things, but you must be wondering how good their sense of smell is.

Geckos actually have a fantastic sense of smell. In fact, geckos can differentiate between odors, including their own, and other members of their species.

Geckos Can Distinguish Between Scents

In a study published in the Animal Cognition Journal, researchers experimented on geckos’ smell sense by giving them cotton swabs with different scents.

The researchers presented each gecko with swabs containing odors from other geckos, as well as their own scent. The swabs had other odors too, such as peppermint.

The results of the study were fascinating; they showed that the geckos compared each scent they took in with their tongue to their own.

This shows that not only can geckos distinguish between scents, but they can also recognize their own, and they use it to set themselves apart from their surroundings.

How Geckos Use Their Sense of Smell

Geckos depend on their smell sense in many day-to-day activities, and their survival highly depends on it. They use their developed sense of smell to hunt for food, communicate, find a mate, and escape their predators.

Let’s take a closer look at how geckos utilize their sense of smell.

Finding Prey

To find food, geckos use their sense of smell. They can detect the scent of their prey from several feet away. They can also distinguish between different prey species according to their scent.

They stick out their tongues to detect and locate potential food such as crickets or flies. When a gecko locates its prey, it stalks it for a while, and then, when the time is right, it uses its tongue to capture it.

Escaping Predators

Geckos also rely on their sense of smell to know when predators are nearby. The predators that hunt for geckos include snakes, birds, and spiders.

Geckos can detect the odor of those predators and then use different mechanisms to escape them. Some geckos run very fast, and some stay still, camouflaging themselves with their surroundings.

As such, geckos’ smell sense helps them stay safe by detecting the scent of predators and avoiding them.

Finding a Mate

Another way geckos use their smell sense is to find potential mates. Typically, male geckos release pheromones that the females can detect to show their interest in mating.

Through their sense of smell, females detect these pheromones and decide if they’ll let the male approach them or not.

Final Thoughts

Overall, geckos are fantastic creatures that have unique characteristics. They have a strong sense of smell and can even distinguish between different scents.

Geckos rely on this strong smell sense for different life aspects, like finding food, avoiding their predators, and finding potential mates.

Moreover, Geckos can distinguish between different scents and tell themselves apart from other objects or species in their environment.

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