Commensalism between a gecko and White-crowned Wheatear in Algeria

By MaghrebOrnitho | 7 February 2019

A new example of commensalism between geckos and birds reported from Algeria. A Common Wall Gecko laid eggs on White-crowned Wheatear’ nest.

The White-crowned Wheatear (Oenanthe leucopyga) is a very good representative of desert birds. In North Africa, you know you are almost in the desert if you start seeing this species near the roads.

White-crowned Wheatears can be seen in their natural habitats as well as near human habitations, petrol stations, camel caravans and modern roads. They are bold enough to nest in houses or near humans in general (e.g. a nest with 5 eggs built in a kitchen bowl). They have also learned to feed on insects killed on cars’ fronts.

In March 2018, a White-crowned Wheatear nest was found in a staircase of an inhabited house at El-Golea, Ghardaïa Province, Algeria. [You remember the name? It’s the northernmost area where you can found the Red-billed Firefinch (Lagonosticta senegala) in Algeria]. Note: Hassi El-Gara is the small town adjacent to El-Golea Oasis. The town of El-Golea is much bigger and located a few km to the north.

Apart from showing the boldness of the bird, the most interesting thing about this observation is the discovery of two eggs of Common Wall Gecko (Tarentola mauritanica) on the bird’s nest. This is known as commensalism, where the interaction is beneficial for one species but it doesn’t bother the second. This new example of commensalism between geckos and birds was reported by Chedad and his coauthors in the Alauda journal.

The authors advanced a possible interpretation of this gecko behavior: nest incubation by the White-crowned Wheatear could offer an ambient temperature necessary to the gecko’ eggs hatching.

The authors also cited another gecko-bird interaction: the presence of two gecko species in the nests of Common Swift (Apus apus) in southern France (Gory 2011). In this case, if the geckos are regulating the blood-sucking parasite Crataerina pallida, then the interaction is probably closer to mutualism than to commensalism.

References:

Chedad, A., Guezoul, O., Benjoudi, D., Souffi, I. Horo, A. & Tir, I. 2018. Commensalisme entre la Tarente de Mauritanie Tarentola mauritanica et le Traquet à tête blanche Oenanthe leucopyga leucopyga en Algérie. Alauda 86: 315-317.

Gory, G. 2011. Des geckos commensaux du Martinet noir Apus apus dans le Sud de la France. Alauda 79: 233-236.


Thanks to Abdelwahab Chedad for sharing his observation and photos.

White-crowned Wheatear / Traquet à tête blanche (Oenanthe leucopyga) near it’s nest, Ghardaïa Province, Algeria (Abdelwahab Chedad).
White-crowned Wheatear (Oenanthe leucopyga) near it’s nest, Ghardaïa Province, Algeria (Abdelwahab Chedad).
Nest of the White-crowned Wheatear built in a staircase of an inhabited house, Ghardaïa Province, Algeria (Abdelwahab Chedad).
Nest of the White-crowned Wheatear built in a staircase of an inhabited house, Ghardaïa Province, Algeria (Abdelwahab Chedad).
Common wall gecko (Tarentola mauritanica), Ghardaïa Province, Algeria (Abdelwahab Chedad).
Common wall gecko (Tarentola mauritanica), Ghardaïa Province, Algeria (Abdelwahab Chedad).

Here is an old article about the Maghreb Wheatear and its phylogenetic relationship with the Mourning Wheatear.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.