The world’s most popular gecko may be the one starring in countless Geico television commercials. Although that gecko was not the discovery of Villanova Biology professor Aaron Bauer, PhD, it may be one of the few he hasn’t described. You see, Dr. Bauer—who also serves as the Gerald M. Lemole Endowed Chair in Integrative Biology at Villanova—has described more new species of reptiles than any other living scientist, including over seven percent of the more than 1,800 living geckos.
To learn more about Dr. Bauer’s research, how he got interested in this field and what’s next for him, we asked him a series of questions.
Q: How did you first become interested in studying reptiles, especially geckos?
Aaron Bauer (AB): I grew up on Long Island, N.Y., where my grandfather was the caretaker of a large private estate. As a child I spent my days looking for and catching amphibians and reptiles in our ponds and meadows. I also took many trips to the American Museum of Natural History and read everything I could about reptiles. By the time I was five years old, I knew I wanted to be a herpetologist (the study of amphibians and reptiles).
I think I gravitated towards lizards because they weren’t native to Long Island, whereas there were plenty of turtles and snakes. Geckos intrigued me because they were more exotic – almost no native species in the U.S. and none closer to me than south Florida. I also became interested in anatomy and recognized that geckos exhibited many unique structures, like their toepads, and that basically sealed my fate.
Q: What is it that fascinates you about these creatures?
AB: Geckos are ideal animals for asking any number of evolutionary questions. The group is at least 150 million years old and there are almost 1,800 living species. With that age and diversity one can ask questions about everything from the physical relationships of ancient landmasses to one another to current thermal responses to climate change. Geckos have many unique features. Many can climb using intermolecular forces, they are the only mostly nocturnal group of lizards, they are the most vocal of all reptiles, some give live birth, some are all-female species. The list goes on and on. As an evolutionary biologist, anatomist and systematist they offer almost endless opportunities for study.