Why gas-sniffing lizards?

By Steve Estes

Strictly Drivel

I have come to the conclusion that there isn’t anywhere a gecko can;t get to if they want to bad enough.

My lovely wife bought me a classic sports car last year after she made me give up my Jeep for a Jeep SUV of the four-door variety. So for the first time in three decades, other than my brief four years living overseas, I am not tooling around every day in a Jeep of some kind.

Of course, there’s still one in the driveway, but that’s her car. I get to drive it once in a while just to whet my appetite.

But my new/old car has a rear deck gas intake. I lift the lid on the rear deck and there is the gas cap to put fuel (lots of it unfortunately) in the tank. Yes, that means I don’t have a trunk. All I have is a rear deck inside the passenger compartment that passes for a trunk, and storage cubbies in that rear deck inside to store small items.

The lid is well sealed, and the gas tank, since it rides just behind the passenger compartment, is also in a well sealed compartment. There are no rain issues, and I figured that if water couldn’t get in, neither could lizards.

Boy was I wrong.

It was about two months ago I found the first lizard inside the gas door compartment. I raised the lid and there was a sun-dried gecko lying on the tank deck. I just figured that the little guy had sneaked in there during a gas fill at some time in the past and the heat from our midday sun baked his little butt into oblivion.

I picked up his dried carcass and tossed it in the trash can.

A few weeks ago, I found another, larger lizard in the gas cap compartment. He wasn’t yet completely dead so I picked him up and put him gently on the ground. He scampered under the car, weaving across the asphalt like a New Year’s partier a half hour after midnight.

Last week, I found another little guy in the gas cap compartment. He couldn’t have been in there long because we had seen a few warm days, and the tank sits over the exhaust pipes, so I know it gets warm in there when I’m driving. He wasn’t shriveled at all.

But he wasn’t very active. He didn’t even scamper away when I went to pick him up and toss him down on the concrete at the gas station. He hit the ground, twisted around in circles for a few seconds, and then weaved off across the parking lot.

He wasn’t as lucky as his predecessor. A boat trailer proved to be his demise. For some reason the normally astute and agile gecko that he should have been had been replaced by this unfocused lizard that seemed to have no idea where he was or where he needed to go. He scampered right under the wheel of the boat trailer.

One squished gecko.

I filled the tank and drove off. I love animals (except for cats) and wish none of them harm, but neither was I going to waste any tears for a lizard.

New Year’s Eve, it was time to fill the gas tank again. I shut off the car, went inside to pay for my fuel and returned to the car, lifted the gas fill compartment lid and there was another gecko.

This couldn’t be a coincidence…not four in the space of a few months.

So I realized they must be getting in from somewhere. The chances that I didn’t see a lizard jump into that small compartment while I stood over it filling the gas tank are extremely slim.

I wasn’t going to crawl around the car on the ground (It’s too low to the ground anyway for me to get my fat arse underneath it) to look for possible entry locations.

This guy was way more active than any of his predecessors, however, and actually avoided me when I tried to corral him and remove him from my car.

But he only went to the opposite side of the gas fill nozzle.

And then he did something I found to be rather amazing.

He propped himself up on the lip of the gas fill and began taking deep breaths.

The gecko was sniffing gas for a cheap high.

I was floored.

As humans, we are well aware of the damage huffing can do to the body, particularly when huffing gas. Only really stupid people huff any product, and only the dumbest of those choose gasoline as the huff of choice.

I guess lizards haven’t yet learned the damage that huffing gas can do to the body.

I reached in to try and grab the little critter. He jumped out of the way.

But he must have been addicted because he went straight back to the lip of the gas fill nozzle and stuck his little head right over the now-open fill hose.

I tried one more time to grab his little behind, but he was much quicker than I, and ran off under the rear deck.

I figured the heat would get him if he didn’t want to be removed and stuck the gas nozzle in the fill hose and turned on the flow.

That must have been something like free beer to an alcoholic for this lizard.

He reappeared out from under the deck and made a beeline for the gas fill hose. He stuck his head so far into the assembly that I thought he was going to get caught in the fuel flow from the nozzle and wind up inside my gas tank.

It took only seconds until the gecko was higher than Mt. Kilamanjaro, nearly unable to stand on his own four feet, and weaving around on the gas tank deck in a drunken stupor.

He was easy to catch at that point. I did so and tossed him unceremoniously onto the asphalt of the parking lot.

He didn’t move right away and I thought I had stunned him with the drop.

When he rolled over on his back I was afraid the drop had killed him.


Now I’m not very adept at reading gecko sign language, and I sure don’t speak whatever language it is they use to speak to one another.

But there was no mistaking this gecko’s message.

From his back, he rolled into a semi-fetal position and I swear he tried to put one of his front feet behind his head like a sunbather ready for a nap.

And just before a stiff wind gust blew him across the parking lot, he raised the other front foot in what I would have to swear under oath was a thumbs up signal.

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