By Julie Bergman
What is an ultimate gecko? A gecko that fascinates the keeper. This gecko is beautiful, a pleasure to keep and has a long life expectancy, one that frequently outlives the family cat or dog. We are in luck. This gecko is within our grasp! Today, we can obtain some really sensational geckos from breeders and pet shops. We can also get captive-bred specimens, so they are healthy to start out with and are used to being in captivity. Wild-caught lizards do not offer these advantages and should be avoided.
Photo credit: Gina Cioli/BowTie Studio.
The ultimate geckos that are great choices for a gecko enthusiast are:
- The eublepharine (eyelid) geckos: the leopard gecko (Eublepharis macularius) and the African fat-tailed gecko (Hemitheconyx caudicinctus)
- The diplodactyline geckos from New Caledonia: the crested gecko (Rhacodactylus ciliatus), the gargoyle gecko (R. auriculatus), the mossy prehensile-tailed gecko (R. chahoua) and the giant New Caledonian gecko (R. leachianus)
- From the wide-ranging Gekkonidae family: the Tokay gecko (Gekko gecko); the Madagascar ground gecko (Paroedura picta); and the day geckos from Madagascar, the giant day gecko (Phelsuma grandis) and the beautiful neon day gecko (P. klemmeri).
Let’s begin our adventure with one of the easiest geckos to keep. The leopard gecko (E. macularius) is the gecko gold standard in herpetoculture, with a long list of reasons why it is an ideal beginner gecko. Many of the basic principles of keeping leopard geckos apply to all of our ultimate geckos, so we will discuss them in detail here.
Gina Cioli/I-5 Studio
A snow leopard gecko.
Ranging from western India to Afghanistan and Iraq, the sturdy leopard gecko is recommended as a first gecko because of its sturdiness and the ease of care that is necessary to keep it healthy. It is a nocturnal, terrestrial lizard of considerable size, measuring up to 10 inches (though 7 to 8 inches on average) and weighing up to 150 grams (with an average of about 50 grams). Males are typically larger than females and are heavier boned. A leopard gecko’s life span is long, ranging from 15 to up to 30 or more years in captivity!
The leopard gecko’s size, tolerance of handling, and gentle disposition makes it an ideal pet for children ages 8 years old and up. There is a dizzying array of morphs available, exhibiting many colors, patterns and even different eye colors (with red eyes appearing in the RAPTOR/APTOR strains by Ron Tremper). Leopard gecko tails do come off when exposed to stressful situations, such as an aggressive terrarium-mate or rough handling. They do regenerate in a typical “turnip” shape that is plump, yet different looking than the original tail.
Leopard gecko setups can consist of a glass terrarium with a screen top or well-ventilated plastic tubs, such as those manufactured by Sterilite. Terrariums should be 10 gallons or larger and need to be at least 1 foot tall. Plastic tubs should be at least 16-quart capacity, with a well-fitted lid (solid plastic lids that may come with the tubs should be modified to allow proper ventilation). Setups of this size can house an adult combination of a male and two females, or three adult females as long as they are of similar size. As with most geckos, males cannot be put together because they may fight to the death. Greater numbers of juveniles can be housed in these setups as long as they, too, are of similar size.
Each gecko should have its own secure, close-fitting hiding place (a good rule of thumb for all geckos). At least one hide must be available in the warm area of the setup and another in the cool area (see below). Also provide at least one moist hide, with moist vermiculite and/or moss inside to assist the gecko with shedding. Terrarium furniture may consist of rocks or pieces of wood, anchored as necessary with glue to prevent tipping and crushing of the geckos. Small live or plastic plants may also be used. Substrate can be simple, such as newspaper, paper towels or reptile carpet. Avoid ingestible substrate, such as sand and pea gravel. Leopard geckos are curious and may ingest more than they can digest.
The leopard gecko terrarium should have a basking site at one end that reaches 86 to 88 degrees Fahrenheit, with a cool area at the other end in the 70-degree range. Temperature can drop into the low 70s at night. Several options are available to heat the terrarium. Infrared or low-wattage incandescent lights are good choices for heating as well as UTHs (under-tank heaters).
Ultraviolet lighting is optional for this nocturnal lizard, though it can be used if live plants are in the terrarium. Lights should be turned off at night.
Leopard geckos are exclusively insectivorous. They should be fed a diet of commercially available insects, such as mealworms, super worms and crickets. Crickets should be 90 to 95 percent of the gecko’s head size — an adult should be fed an approximately 3-week-old or 3/4-inch cricket. Wax worms should be given only occasionally because of their high fat content. Insects should be gut-loaded (fed nutrients) and supplemented with a reptile-specific supplement containing calcium, vitamin D3 and other essential vitamins and minerals, such as phosphorus and vitamin A (or the pre-cursors to make vitamin A). Provide a shallow water dish for drinking.
African Fat-Tailed Gecko
The African fat-tail(H. caudicinctus) may be considered the leopard gecko’s cousin from Africa. They share many characteristics, such as size, shape, weight, terrestrial and nocturnal behaviors, and a long life span of 15 or more years. The fat-tail’s natural wild form is a banded or striped-and-banded morph. In recent years, morphs have increased to almost as large a number as their leopard gecko cousin’s, including albino, patternless, white-out, Zulu, zero, oreo and ghost, to name a few.
Photo credit: Gina Cioli/BowTie Studio
African fat-tailed geckos.
Fat-tails, too, are easy to keep and it’s fairly easy to find captive-bred specimens. They are also mild-mannered and tolerant of handling.