The gecko who reached out and touched someone. Picture: Courtesy of Claire Simeone/Marine Mammal Center

Washington - Veterinarian and seal expert Claire Simeone was just about to settle down and enjoy her lunch when her cellphone rang.

Work was calling, and as director of the Marine Mammal Center's Ke Kai Ola Hawaiian Monk Seal Hospital in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, Simeone picked up immediately.

"As a veterinarian, I'm really on call for any type of questions or emergencies that come through," she told The Washington Post, noting that the hospital is administering care to four endangered Hawaiian monk seals.

But when Simeone answered her phone on Wednesday, she was greeted not by a member of her staff calling with an urgent seal-related question. Instead, she was met with complete silence. No breathing, not even a crackle of static.

In the span of 15 minutes, Simeone's phone rang nine times, each call identical - all from the same number, and all eerily silent.

"The first thing I thought was that there was some kind of an emergency because I started getting call after call in really rapid succession," she said.

There was no seal emergency at the hospital. Just a tiny emerald green gecko with dexterous feet and access to a landline phone with a touch screen.

In a now-viral Twitter thread, Simeone detailed Friday her hunt for the source of the mysterious calls, delighting thousands with what has been described as "100% the most 'Hawaii' story."

"You are not going to BELIEVE this story, Dr Simeone tweeted on October. 5. "It's one of the best things I've experienced this year. Hold on tight for this roller coaster."

After receiving the barrage of bizarre calls, fearing something had happened to one of the seals, Simeone tweeted, she abandoned her lunch plans and raced back to the hospital as quickly as she could.

"More calls," she tweeted minutes later. "NINE calls in 15 minutes. I start to panic a bit, and drive back to the hospital. Seal emergency? I am on it."

Arriving at the centre and expecting to see staff members in a frenzy, Simeone told The Post, she found everyone outside on the patio eating their lunches, completely calm.

"I was like, 'Guys, what's up? What's wrong?' " she said, telling her staff she had just gotten a handful of calls from them. "They said, 'Well, nobody's inside.'"

Then, Simeone said, her phone rang again. The call was definitely coming from inside the hospital.

"Everybody was really confused about what could have been going on," she said.

Soon, other people started calling the hospital wondering why they were being called "incessantly," Simeone wrote on Twitter. That's when she and the rest of the staff realized there must be something wrong with the phones:

"Very nice @HawaiianTelman says it might be an issue with one of our phones, or some of the software. He confirms that, yes, a bazillion calls are coming from one line. But I look at our office line. It's not that one. He asks me to look around to find the problem line."

Searching for answers, Simeone sought help from Hawaiian Telcom, the hospital's phone service provider.

"They were like, 'Maybe one of your lines is on the fritz,' " Simeone said.

A company representative confirmed that "a bazillion calls" were coming from one line inside the hospital. Thus began Simeone's hunt for what she believed to be a glitchy phone.

Was it the main office line? Nope. Nor was it the phone in her personal office or the hospital's "fish kitchen."

"Meanwhile I'm receiving calls this whole time," Simeone said.

Finally, Simeone entered the hospital's laboratory, and there it was - the phone responsible for all the calls.

Only upon closer examination of the phone did she discover the true culprit:

"THERE IS A GECKO SITTING ON THE TOUCHSCREEN OF THE PHONE, MAKING CALLS WITH HIS TINY GECKO FEET!!!" she tweeted. "This gecko has called me 15 times, and everyone in our recent call list." She posted a picture of the gecko on her phone, captioning it "* Actual photo of telemarketer*"

Caught red-handed - green-footed? - in the middle of a call, the mischievous critter scampered away, turning on the landline's speakerphone in the process, Simeone said.

"I had no idea that a gecko would be heavy enough to work the touch screen," she said. "Every time he shifted his foot, he would call somebody else on our recent call list."

Geckos, found on every continent except Antarctica and particularly abundant in the Hawaiian islands, usually weigh about 3.5 ounces and vary in length from one to 12 inches. Simeone said the phone-obsessed reptile, which was not a patient at the hospital, was about six inches long, including its tail. She added that the gecko was probably attracted to the warmth of the phone's touch screen.

The Hawaiian Telcom representative was equally surprised when Simeone explained the situation, remarking, "Well, I haven't heard that one before," according to her tweet.

The wily interloper, however, wasn't done with the games just yet.

Simeone said she got another call and went back into the lab to find the gecko once again perched on the touch screen. This time, she said, she managed to catch the gecko and return it outside to a much more suitable leaf.

"He is all good," Simeone said with a laugh.

In fact, the gecko is more than good. It's employed at the hospital.

"Well he's definitely not in telecommunications," Simeone said, when asked to elaborate on the gecko's new job. "He is one of our guest-experience specialists now."

This is a real position, Simeone said - part of the hospital's education team dedicated to making sure everyone who comes for a visit has a great experience.

"I'd say he's thriving at that now," she said.

On social media, each of Simeone's tweets has been liked thousands of times.

"This is hilarious," tweeted @lunasnargle later that day, "and 100% the most 'Hawai'i' story I've heard in a long time. (I say this as someone who lived in Hawai'i for 4 years. Gotta love those geckos!)"

And some couldn't resist the brand association: "He wanted to tell you that you can save 15% or more by switching to Geico obv", tweeted @ItMeCP.

"I'd totally answer the phone if a gecko was calling me," another person tweeted.

Simeone said "it totally tickles" her to see all the responses, adding that many people can relate to receiving random calls - albeit largely from telemarketers or wrong numbers, not geckos.

"People really connect with that experience but also find it totally ridiculous that this happened," she said.

The Washington Post