Geckos and skinks are both lizards, although they have been classified into separate families. Geckos are one of the largest groups of lizards, with several different families, while skinks fit into just one family. These two types of lizards differ in body shape, skin texture and eye physiology, while being similar in longevity, the ability to grow back a tail and highly acute vision and hearing.
The body of a skink is much more streamlined than that of a gecko, and some legless skinks appear snakelike. A skink's head is much narrower than a gecko's. Geckos have a distinct narrowed neck with a flattened body, while skinks have necks that appear to be the same thickness as their heads, and their bodies have a longer, tubular shape.
Skinks can blink, while geckos cannot. Skinks have full eyelids that enable them to blink to keep their eyes moist and clean. Geckos have fused eyelids and use their long tongues to lick their eyes, which adds moisture and removes debris. Since most geckos are nocturnal, they tend to have narrow, vertical pupils to block light. Skinks have round pupils for natural daytime activity, such as basking on sun-warmed rocks.
Geckos have loose, velvety skin, while skinks have tight, smooth skin. A gecko's skin is covered with tiny scales that give its skin a soft appearance. Skinks have larger, shiny scales. Geckos will shed skin as a whole piece or in large sections, while skinks shed small bits of skin in patches. Additionally, many geckos have brighter colors than the dull browns and grays of most skinks.
A more streamlined body shape allows skinks to move faster than geckos. Legless skinks can slither quickly like snakes. Even though geckos move more slowly, they have the ability to climb up objects using the adhesive digits on their feet. Tiny rows of hooked foot bristles allow geckos to grip smooth surfaces during climbing. Sometimes geckos will cling to ceilings and windows, while skinks do not have this climbing ability.
Geckos tend to be hardy and easy to maintain in captivity. With so many different species, you are likely to find a good match. Skinks have not garnered the same popularity, although the blue-tongued skink is seen in the pet trade. With the exception of the egg-laying skink, all skinks and geckos give birth to live young. Often geckos give birth to twins and skinks will have three to six young.
- Animal-World.com: Lizard Classification
- The Natural Heritage Collection: New Zealand Lizards
- Animal-World.com: Gecko Lizards
- New Zealand Department of Conservation: Identifying Lizards
- New Zealand Herpetological Society Inc.: What Are the Differences Between Skinks and Geckos?
- New Zealand Department of Conservation: Skinks and Geckos [PDF]
Based in Michigan, Keri Gardner has been writing scientific journal articles since 1998. Her articles have appeared in such journals as "Disability and Rehabilitation" and "Journal of Orthopaedic Research." She holds a Master of Science in comparative medicine and integrative biology from Michigan State University.