Gecko (Gekkonidae): An Introduction to These "Cute" Lizards

Almost all the members of this family have adhesive lamellae on the undersides of their toes; the leopard gecko is one of the few exceptions. Geckos pay special attention to the toes during molting. The hook cells of the lamellae are unable to function because of the residue of old skin, so the geckos can no longer climb as they are accustomed to. You as caretaker must be sure that no old skin is left on the toes during molting. (Rule out the possibilities for emergencies.) Molting problems result from too low a humidity and as a consequence of metabolic disturbances. Many geckos will accept fruit nectar or fruit puree; a small amount of multivitamin-mineral supplement can be added to these food items to enhance the overall nutrition of these lizards.

Gecko on Hand

Almost all species of the genus Phelsuma are named in WA II C2. Fortunately, however, many survive in terrariums.

Differences between the sexes: All gecko males differ from the females in having a shorter, broader head, preanal pores, and the sheaths with the hemipenies.

Reproduction: Geckos lay as many as two hard-shelled eggs up to three times a year, mostly on wood. They are especially fond of places where bark is missing from a trunk or woody plant fibers are lying on top of each other, for example on a palm trunk. These eggs must be transferred to the incubator wood and all so that none of them will be lost. The exception is the leopard gecko, which lays its soft-shelled eggs on the damp floor of its hole. The maturation time in the incubator is about 45 to 60 days at 79° to 90°F (26°-32°C). It is advisable to use the lower temperature for a longer maturation period. The young are then hardier and grow more quickly than lizards matured at the higher temperature. The sex of leopard geckos is influenced by the temperature at which their eggs are incubated.

Social behavior: Almost all geckos live in loose groups. Every animal has its own defined territory but also needs the nearness of other geckos, which it greets on the border, threatens, or courts. The caretaker can easily observe this lively communication. General advice for maintenance: If a gecko must be caught, the animal should be grasped carefully but firmly by the torso and held fast.

Caution: Never grasp the tail, because the gecko may cast it off. As soon as you have caught a gecko, it will try to turn in your hand, which — especially with Madagascar geckos — may quickly lead to skin injury. A firm grip will hinder this. If, in spite of all caution, the skin does tear, it must be smoothed and spread back with gentle pressure. Usually after a few days it will have grown back again and only a small “seam” remain.

Warning: If you must handle a tokay in the terrarium. be particularly careful and grasp it firmly if you want to catch it. The tokay can bite. Once it has bitten, it holds on tight. The mouth can only be opened with a lever; or you can hold the tokay under water until the animal lets go.

Asiatic house gecko

Hemidactylus fremitus (Dumeril and Bibron, 1836) Total length: 6 inches (15 cm).

Head-torso length: 3 inches (7 cm).

Distribution and Description: Originally Southeast Asia, but subsequently it has spread to almost all tropical continents.

Habitat: Woods, thickets, cultivated land, human settlements.

Identifying characteristics: Slit pupil. Adhesive lamellae do not reach to tips of toes, so the genus is also called the “half-finger gecko.”

Behavior: Nocturnal. Lives in loose groups.

Maintenance: High terrarium, 12 x 12 x 16 inches (30 x 30 x 40 cm) for one male and two females.

Decoration: Branches and bark in the background; they must be removable because eggs will be attached and portions of the decorations must be easy to transfer to the incubator. Plants are not absolutely necessary.

Temperature: By day 73° to 86°F (23-30°C); by night 68° to 77° (20-25°C).

Humidity: 70 to 90 percent.

Food: Insects, spiders, baby mice. Drinking water will be licked from the decorations or from flat saucers.

Striped Madagascar gecko*

Phelsuma lineata (Gray, 1842)

Endangered species designation: WA II C2 Total length: 5 inches (12 cm).

Head-torso length: 2 inches (6 cm).

Distribution and Description: Madagascar.

Habitat: Woods, bush country, cultivated land.

Identifying characteristics: No slit pupil. Adhesive lamellae.

Behavior: Diurnal. Lives on trees and leaves. Lives in loose groups.

Maintenance: High terrarium. 12 x 12 x 16 inches (30 x 30 x 40 cm) for one male and one female; for every additional animal add 2 inches (5 cm) more to each measurement.

Decoration: Branches and a number of plants from Africa and Madagascar. Sunning places and UV lighting.

Temperature: By day 79° to 86°F (26-30°C); by night 64° to 73°F (18-23° C).

Humidity: 60 to 80 percent.

Food: Insects, spiders, fruit nectar or puree. Drinking water will be licked from plants; spray them with water once daily.

Gold dust Madagascar day geckos

Phelsuma laticauda (Boettger, 1880)

Endangered species designation: WA II C2

Total length: 5 inches (12 cm).

Head-torso length: 2 inches (6 cm).

Distribution and Description: Eastern Madagascar, Nossi Be, Comoro Islands.

Habitat: Woods, bush country, cultivated lands.

Identifying characteristics: Pupils without slits. Adhesive lamellae.

Behavior: Diurnal. Lives on trees and leaves. Lives in loose groups.

Maintenance: High terrarium, 12 x 12 x 16 inches (30 x 30 x 40 cm) for one male and one female; for each additional animal add 2 inches (5 cm) to each measurement.

Decorations: Branches and a variety of plants from Africa and Madagascar. Sunning places UV lighting.

Temperature: By day 79° to 86°F (26-30°C); by night 64° to 73°F (18-23°C).

Humidity: 50 to 70 percent.

Food: Insects and spiders; fruit nectar or puree.

Drinking water is licked from plants: spray them with water once daily.

Large Madagascar geckos

Phelsuma madagascariensis (Gray, 1831)

Endangered species designation: WA II C2

Total length: 10 inches (25 cm).

Head-torso length: 5 inches (13 cm).

Distribution and Description: In numerous subspecies on Madagascar, Nossi Be, and other small neighboring islands and on some of the Seychelles.

Habitat: Woods, bush country, cultivated land.

Identifying characteristics: No slit pupil. Adhesive lamellae.

Behavior: Diurnal. Lives in trees and on leaves. Lives in loose groups.

Maintenance: Terrarium, 24 x 16 x 16 inches (60 x 40 x 40 cm) for one male and one female. More animals should only be kept together in a very large terrarium or in a greenhouse.

Decoration: Branches and
plenty of plants from Africa and Madagascar. Sunning places and UV lighting.

Temperature: By day, 79° to 86°F (26-30°C); by night 64° to 73°F (I8-23°C).

Humidity: 60 to 80 percent.

Food: Insects and spiders; fruit nectar or puree. Drinking water will be licked from the plants; spray them with water once daily.

Tokay gecko

Gecko gecko (Linnaeus, 1758)

Total length: 14 inches (356 cm).

Head-torso length: 1 inches (17 cm).

Distribution and Description: From northeast India across Indochina eastward to western New Guinea.

Habitat: Rain forests, human settlements.

Identifying characteristics: Slit pupil. Adhesive lamellae.

Behavior: ‘Nocturnal. Lives on trees, also on beams of houses. Solitary. Calls loudly and resoundingly in the evening hours “to-kay, to-kay.”

Maintenance: Cube-shaped terrarium, 16 x 16 x 16 inches (40 x 40 x 40 cm) for one animal. If you want to have several (all the same species), you need a terrarium 32 x 16 x 16 inches (80 x 40 x 40 cm) with sliding separators or gates.

Decoration: Branches and bark in the background so that eggs can be transferred to the incubator without difficulty. Plants are not absolutely necessary.

Temperature: By day 77° to 86 F (25-30°C); by night 68° to 77°F (20-25°C).

Humidity: 70 to 90 percent.

Food: Large insects, baby mice, and rats. In the natural habitat reptiles and bird nestlings also. Drinking water will be licked from the decorations or from shallow saucers; spray plants with water once daily.

Leopard gecko

Euhlepharis macularis (Blyth, 1854)

Total length: 8 inches (20 cm).

Head-torso length: 5 inches (12 cm).

Distribution and Description: Asia Minor to northwestern India.

Habitat: Dry areas.

Identifying characteristics: Slit pupils; movable eyelid. No adhesive lamellae but claws. Juveniles are still unspotted, with broad, dark-brown horizontal stripes.

Behavior: Nocturnal. Spends days in cool holes. Ground dwelling. Lives in loose groups; holes are inhabited commonly.

Maintenance: Shallow terrarium, 20 x 20 x 16 inches (50 x 50 x 40 cm) for one male and two females; for every additional animal add 2 inches (5 cm) more to length and width.

Decoration: Stones, sand, gravel. Caves, which should be kept moderately damp.

Temperature: By day 86°F (30°C); by night 68°F (20°C). Pseudo-winter rest from November to February: constant 68°F (20°C; heat lamp not turned on).

Humidity: 50 to 70 percent.

Food: Insects, spiders, baby mice. Drinking water will be licked from the decorations or from shallow saucers; spray plants with water once daily.

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