With more than 80 species inhabiting all warm continental land masses and hundreds of intervening continental and oceanic islands, Hemidactylus geckos are one of the most species-rich and widely distributed of all reptile genera. They consequently represent an excellent model for biogeographic, ecological, and evolutionary studies. A molecular phylogeny for Hemidactylus is presented here, based on 702 bp of mtDNA (303 bp cytochrome b and 399 bp 12S rRNA) from 166 individuals of 30 species of Hemidactylus plus Briba brasiliana, Cosymbotus platyurus, and several outgroups. The phylogeny indicates that Hemidactylus may have initially undergone rapid radiation, and long-distance dispersal is more extensive than in any other reptilian genus. In the last 15 My, African lineages have naturally crossed the Atlantic Ocean at least twice. They also colonized the Gulf of Guinea, Cape Verde and Socotra islands, again sometimes on more than one occasion. Many extensive range extensions have occurred much more recently, sometimes with devastating consequences for other geckos. These colonizations are likely to be largely anthropogenic, involving the 'weedy' commensal species, H. brookii s. lat, H. mabouia, H. turcicus, H. garnotii, and H. frenatus. These species collectively have colonized the Mediterranean region, tropical Africa, much of the Americas and hundreds of islands in the Pacific, Indian, and Atlantic oceans. Five well-supported clades are discernable in Hemidactylus, with the African H. fasciatus unallocated. 1. Tropical Asian clade: (Cosymbotus platyurus (H. bowringii, H. karenorum, H. garnotii)) (H. flaviviridis (Asian H. brookii, H. frenatus)). 2. African H. angulatus and Caribbean H. haitianus. 3. Arid clade, of NE Africa, SW Asia, etc.: (H. modestus (H. citernii, H. foudai)) (H. pumilio (H. granti, H. dracaenacolus) (H. persicus, H. macropholis, H. robustus, H. turcicus (H. oxyrhinus (H. homoeolepis, H. forbesii))). 4. H. mabouia clade (H. yerburii, H. mabouia). 5. African-Atlantic clade: H. platycephalus ((H. agrius, H. palaichthus) (H. longicephalus, H. greeffi, H. bouvieri, Briba brasiliana))). Cosymbotus and Briba are synonymized with Hemidactylus, and African populations of H. brookii separated as H. angulatus, with which H. haitianus may be conspecific. Some comparatively well-sampled widespread species show high genetic variability (10-15% divergence) and need revision, including Cosymbotus platyurus, H. bowringii, Asian H. brookii, H. frenatus, H. angulatus, and H. macropholis. In contrast, most populations of H. mabouia and H. turcicus are very uniform (1-2% divergence). Plasticity of some of the morphological features of Hemidactylus is confirmed, although retention of primitive morphologies also occurs.