Tokay Gecko - Gekko gecko - Care, Feeding and Breeding
This article is a part of our "exotic pets series", thus not dedicated to fish, but instead to Gekko gecko's in this case! You're welcome to share your experiences with this species at the bottom of this page!
Gecko lizards are numerous in their own natural habitats and they have also learnt to mingle with our lifestyles and can often be seen around human dwellings on a regular basis. They are found in almost all countries with warm climates around the world and there are over 2000 different species that all belong to the family of Gekkonidae, each species displaying different markings and colourations, indeed there can be a large size difference between the species as well.
Many dwellers encourage their presence around the home as they act as a natural predator of insects and flies, thus easing the irritation that these can cause to humans, this also has its disadvantages as many races believe that the Gecko lizard have healing properties which has led to a lot of them being used in the medicinal trade.
One big difference that separate the Gecko from other species is the noticeable lack of eye lids, their eyes are covered with a thin membrane and they clean this by simply passing their tongue over it. Their toes are covered with pads that give then extraordinary climbing skills, they are often observed running across ceilings upside down, a remarkable feat in itself.
This article concentrates on the Gekko gecko which is commonly known as the Tokay Gecko, one of the larger species available for keeping in our homes. This species of Gecko are found naturally on the Caribbean islands as well as India, South East Asia, New Guinea and the Philippines, unfortunately they are classed as an invasive species in some states of the US where populations have been introduced such as Texas and Florida.
Their natural habitat are the tropical rain forests where they can be found in the trees and on cliffs , they are very opportunist, as mentioned above, they do dwell around buildings inhabited by us.
They are the second largest of the Gecko family, females can reach a length of up to 100 inches, the males will be a couple of inches larger, they are not fast developers, it can take them up to 2 years to reach full maturity.
The males display a brighter colouration than the drab females, although both sexes will display the spotted markings, the males background colours tend to be a blue colours, with the females this takes on a more greyish appearance. Captive geckos will live longer than wild specimens of cared for properly, 20 years has been reported while wild specimens will only live for half of this time.
Due to their lifespan, they are a long term commitment so always make sure that you have the time and money to care for these lizards properly before you obtain a specimen, research always pays as you will know that you are providing the correct care to keep your Tokay gecko happy and healthy.
They are cold blooded reptiles so you will need to provide equipment to maintain their body temperature, budget carefully when setting up their terrarium.
Many pet owners like to handle their pets, this may not be the right species of Gecko for you if this is the case as they are one of the more aggressive species and can give out a nasty bite when handled , some specimens are more docile than others but there is always the chance that they will nip at you as always be on your guard. You will need to learn how to handle these lizards correctly and this will be covered later in this article.
Housing your Tokay Gecko
When planning to keep one of these lizards, you’re planning has to start with choosing as suitable enclosure to keep your pet inside and to keep it happy and healthy. The number of Geckos that you are keeping will also affect the size of the enclosure as each specimen will need their own space, overcrowding can lead to problems between the lizards so bear this in mind when first setting out on this hobby. A small group of the Tokay Gecko should be housed in a container that is no smaller than 36 inches in length and a depth from back to front of 25-18 inches, this size will also be required for the height of the enclosure as you will need to add some décor that allows the Gecko to climb. Hiding places will need to be added as the Tokay Gecko tends to hide away in the daytime, they re at their most active from the evening hours and through the night. Many keepers will just house them in a glass aquarium or a commercially made terrarium, I tend to think the latter is the better choice as aquariums can be tricky to clean out with the only access being from the top, many terrariums have access through the front via sliding doors or even hinged doors giving you more room for cleaning etc., the choice is still yours so think before you purchase.
Substrates for your enclosure can include reptile sand, newspaper or even paper towelling, some areas can even be covered over with sphagnum moss for a distinct aesthetic look. Make sure that there are plenty of access points for the hides that are placed into the enclosure, place the hide away from the glass sides as this restricts the lizards from entering the hide. Branches or dowelling can be added to create a climbing frame and the odd artificial plant can be added to give a realistic effect.
Always add a water bowl to the enclosure and make sure that the water is always kept clean, this may involve changing the water up to twice a day but prevention of infections and disease is a lot easier than curing them if your lizard is unlucky enough to protract one. Make sure that the water bowl is not too deep, there are water bowls available from pet stores that are shallow and wide to prevent them from toppling and also to prevent your lizard from actually drowning. The water in the bowl will also help to maintain humidity levels and reduce the need for constant misting of the enclosure with a misting spray bottle.
It is also a good idea to add moss to floor the hide and keep this moist but not wet, simply mist inside the hide once a day to create a perfect hiding place for your lizard. As mentioned above these lizards come from warm tropical climates, if you live in a cooler climate then the warm atmosphere needs to be artificially replicated inside the enclosure. You do have the option of using a heat mat placed underneath the enclosure, if you are taking this route then the mat should only be placed halfway underneath so that there is a warm area and a cooler area for the lizard to retreat to if it wishes. Nowadays the most common method used is to place a light bulb inside the enclosure to provide the heat, do not use a high wattage bulb or this could overheat the enclosure plus make your Gecko skittish, a lower wattage of bulb is fine, the optimum temperature that you are aiming for is 31°C (88°F), this should be slightly lower through the night hours thus replicating nature. To achieve this the light fitting can be connected to a thermostat or use a dimmer switch to operate manually. Place a reliable thermometer inside the enclosure to monitor the temperature at a glance incase the enclosure overheats or the temperature drops too low. To prevent your lizard from burning itself, it is very important that you place a guard over the front of the bulb to prevent any access except for yourself.
UV lighting is not required for the Tokay Gecko, they are classed as nocturnal so in their natural habitat they do not bask in the sunlight during the daytime.
Mist the enclosure at least once a day to keep the humidity levels at the correct level and keep the enclosure clean by replacing the substrate on a regular basis plus physically clean the enclosure at regular intervals as well as the décor.
Feeding the Tokay Gecko
Providing the correct diet for your Gecko is important, it is also important that you only feed the correct amount of food with each meal, juveniles will require more regular meals of a smaller portion while older specimens will only need feeding once a day. The most common live food fed to these Geckos has to be live crickets, these will need to be gut loaded before feeding to provide extra nourishment but this is simply a matter of feeding the crickets with greens or fruits 12 hours prior to feeding them to the Geckos. Every other day the crickets can be dusted with calcium supplements to aid growth and strengthen the bones of the Gecko, alternative meaty foods can be meal worms or wax worms although these are not as nutritious. Commercial foods are also available but these should not be offered as the staple diet, always use these as a variation to the meaty foods. Some keepers will even provide newly born pinkies to adult specimens of this Gecko, this is an accepted practice and if you have a breeding colony of mice, you are always supplied with free food for your Gecko. Hunting for the food is an important aspect to keeping your Gecko healthy!
The Gecko family have various traits and unusual abilities that make these lizards stand out, many of these traits make these lizards especially appealing to their keepers. Each specimen will have their own odd habits, some like to emerge just prior to the night time hours and have a look around as well as soaking in some of the daylight while others may not emerge until total darkness. The feeding section above is just a general guide, you may find that your Gecko will have different eating preferences to others so may have to experiment initially until you find the perfect diet for your pet. You will need to be careful when handling, they are aggressive but they also have another unusual trait that they will perform if suddenly stressed or if they feel threatened. They have the ability to lose their tails, picking them up by the tail is a definite no, no! This is their way of fooling predators as the tail will still show some movement after it has been detached thus confusing any attacker allowing the Gecko to escape. When first handling your Gecko the lizard will feel threatened until it gets used to you, only handle for short periods of time to start with. Support the body of your Gecko when handling and be confident with your pet, as mentioned right at the start of this article, the Tokay Gecko is not the best species for handling but they do get to know their owner eventually.
Geckos are capable of emitting audible sounds, these can range from hissing to clicks and are part of their communication with themselves and to ward off predators, tail movements also play an important part of their life, the tail too can be used as a communication device and this is noticeable during the breeding process. They also have a keen sense of smell and different smells can mean different things between the Geckos, do not be surprised if they emit a foul smell during handling, this usually means that they have had enough attention and wish to be left alone and replaced back into the enclosure.
Over time you should be able to recognise different signals that your Gecko may give to you and these will help to allow you to get to kn ow your pet better and understand its needs.
Breeding the Tokay Gecko
The Tokay Gecko are surprisingly easy to breed but undertaking this project will involve more expense as it is best to set up another enclosure purely for this purpose, the reasons for this will become obvious as you read on.
Sexing the Tokay Gecko is not that difficult if you have two mature specimens. Some specimens will become sexually mature at 12 months of age, others may take a little linger but to sex the lizards, have a look under the tail near the anal pore. The males will develop lumps at either side of the base of the tail, these are known as hemipenile lumps and are the glands for reproduction. Mature males should also be larger than the females with a stockier appearance, comparing the two sexes together will make this more obvious.
Encouraging the Gecko to breed can be accelerated by lowering the temperature, lighting periods and humidity slightly for a few weeks. After this time return the levels to normal and the lizards will be fooled into thinking that it is now breeding season and the female should start to swell, the male will show an interest in her and emit a mating noise to attract her. When they do mate it can be a bit disturbing to watch as the males will be rough with the female but this is normal and she may suffer a few minor scratches etc., if it gets too rough you may wish to separate them and try again at a later date. One session of mating can produce several batches of eggs as the females do have the ability to store sperm for later use. The females will normally lay two eggs with each batch and as these harden they become very sticky, trying to move them can result in damaging the shell thus destroying any change of producing young so this is the main reason that it is better to use a separate enclosure for this purpose, easier to move the parents rather than risk moving the eggs. The gestation period is approximately 1-2 months and once the eggs are laid, remove the parents and keep the temperature of the breeding enclosure at a range between 27-30°C (80-85°F) and mist on a regular basis to maintain humidity levels. The hatching period can range from 2-3 months but once the young have hatched and consumed their yolk sacs they can be fed on the same diet as their parents but on a smaller scale. Only feed with pinhead crickets and chop other food down to allow the young to consume the food easily. The levels of the nursery enclosure can be set the same as the parent enclosure and growth should be quite quick.
Cleanliness is very important when raising the young, they are more prone to diseases and infections than their parents so keep the nursery clean and the water changed every day without fail.
Keeping the Tokay Gecko is a pleasure if they are cared for properly and respected, don’t forget they can deliver a nasty bite, always wash your hands after any form of handling to prevent any possibility of diseases being passed onto yourself.
Do not keep these lizards unless you have the time and funds available to care for them properly, any shortcuts can lead to early deaths of your pets and is not worth taking the risk.