Why Do Geckos Lick Their Eyeballs?

Even if you don’t own a pet gecko, we’re willing to bet that nearly all of you have visited a reptile house at a zoo at some point. By chance, did you happen to see a gecko inside that reptile house that was licking its eyeballs? Ever wonder why some species of gecko lick their eyeballs?

This blog article is dedicated to answering the question of why geckos lick their eyeballs. We’re willing to bet you’ll learn a thing or two!

why do geckos lick their eyeballs
This little guy is preparing to lick his eyeballs. He is a crested gecko (Rhacodactylus ciliatus).

First of all, we should tell you that there are two types of geckos – those with eyelids and those without eyelids. Gecko species with eyelids are all grouped taxonomically into a family called Eublepharidae. This family includes leopard geckos (Eublepharis macularius), fat-tailed geckos (Hemitheconyx caudicinctus), and banded geckos (Coleonyx sp.) to name a few.

It’s important to distinguish between species of geckos with eyelids and species without eyelids because species without eyelids are the type of geckos that will lick their eyes. Because they have no way to stop debris from entering their eye or even washing away any detritus that accumulates on their eye, lidless geckos must in fact use their tongues to clean their eyes.

The Eublepharidae family, which we’ve already established does possess eyelids, can and will still lick its eyes, but because geckos in this family have the capability to blink, it’s not as common of a behavior. Most geckos with eyelids will only lick their eyes if they have something irritating on or near it.

super snow leopard gecko
Pictured is a super snow morph Leopard Gecko (Eublepharis macularius). Leopard geckos belong to the family of geckos that possess eyelids and can blink. In fact, if you look closely, you can even see this gecko’s eyelids.

The gecko species that can’t blink have fixed, immovable eyelids. Examples of species of gecko with these types of eyelids are Tokay geckos (Gekko gecko), crested geckos (Rhacodactylus cilliatus), 52 species of day geckos (Phelsuma sp.), and house geckos (Hemidactylus ssp.). These types of geckos have what is called a spectacle, or a clear scale over their eyes instead of an eyelid. It is often said that a gecko’s tongue is like a windshield wiper and the spectacle is like a windshield. We think this is an apt simile and when children ask us why geckos lick their eyes, that’s pretty much our straight-forward, simple answer.

Williams Blue Cave Gecko female
This green beauty is a Williams Blue Cave Gecko (Lygodactylus williamsi). The males of this species are bright blue, while the females are more green in color. Williams Cave Geckos are unable to blink and are therefore geckos that lick their eyes.

Many geckos have very elaborately patterned eyes with vertical slit pupils. The vertical pupils are a way for the gecko to protect itself when basking in the sun. Because geckos can’t wear sunscreen on their eyes (or anywhere else for that matter!) and they can’t close their eyes to squint against the sun even if they wanted to, the vertical slit pupils help keep out damaging sun rays.

If you’ve ever taken the time to look closely at a gecko that can’t close its eyes, you might have noticed that the eyes are very detailed with intricate patterns and often beautiful flecks of metallic. It’s commonly thought that these patterns act as camouflage since these types of gecko’s eyes are forever open.

Besides keeping their eyes clean, geckos also need to keep their eyes moist. Have you ever tried to go without blinking for a period of time? Imagine how you would feel if you physically couldn’t blink. That’s what geckos live with on a daily basis, so licking their eyes also helps to keep their spectacles from drying out and serves the same function as when we humans blink.

ashy gecko
Ashy geckos (Sphaerodactylus elegans) like the one shown, are included in the larger group of geckos that cannot blink.

So take note next time you visit a reptile house in a zoo. Check out the geckos and watch how often they lick their eyes. Hey – wouldn’t that make for a fun children’s science project? Something along the lines of comparing how many times geckos lick their eyeballs per minute to how many times people blink per minute?

If you think you might be interested in a pet gecko of your own, whether it be of the variety that can blink or the type that licks its eyes, Backwater Reptiles has got you covered. We sell many species of gecko and we think all of them make captivating pets.