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Choosing a Fat-Tailed Gecko

By: R.D. and Patti Bartlett

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This large and pretty gecko is second only to the closely allied leopard gecko in popularity. Once acclimated (and as long as its basic care criteria are met) this is a very hardy and easily kept lizard. It is considered an ideal lizard for hobbyists who are experienced but not necessarily sophisticated.

Because of their nocturnal activity patterns, the quiet antics of fat-tailed geckos may be enjoyed by owners who are at home in the evening. Primarily insectivorous, fat-tailed geckos are members of the family Eublepharidae, a group of geckos that have functional eyelids and lay soft-shelled eggs. The scientific name of the African fat-tailed gecko is Hemitheconyx caudicinctus.

The species name caudicinctus refers to the distinctive whorls that this and all other members of this gecko family have on the original tails.

How did the fat-tailed gecko get its name? Its tail is an effective fat-storing organ and does get very heavy, but it is probable that the common name actually refers instead to the regenerated tails of some specimens.

The tails of fat-tailed geckos autotomize, or break off, quite easily, and although the broken portion of the tail regenerates quickly, it is often bulbous, rounded and truly fat.

Origin and Life Span

Although a few fat-tailed geckos are still collected from the wilds of tropical Africa and imported for the pet trade, most that become available are captive bred and hatched. Relatives of the fat-tailed gecko may be found in Asia, North and Central America, and Malaysia.

Fat-tails have lived in captivity for more than 17 years.

Appearance

To use a simile, an African fat-tailed gecko looks much like a dark and strongly banded leopard gecko. Fat-tails are chunkily built and moderately sized (7 to 9 inches). They have no bright colors but are attractively patterned in quiet tones of tan and brown.

One variation has a broad white vertebral stripe bisecting both the band and ground color. Breeding programs of albinos, leucistics, and other enhanced colors are firmly established.

There are several well-established color variations. Albino specimens are white and gold with light eyes. Leucistic examples are almost pure white with dark eyes. Some breeders of fat-tails have enhanced or brightened the ground color, the band color, or both and refer to their geckos as khaki, orange, or hypomelanistic. An interesting new variation is almost completely black in coloration. When the genes from this phase are incorporated into other breeding programs, new and exiting colors may appear. Albinos, leucistics, and other colors may cost from several hundred to $1,000 or more.

The fat-tailed gecko has heavy, fully functional eyelids. The legs are short but are well developed and strong. The belly is white. A healthy fat-tailed gecko will have a heavy, thickened tail.

Behavior

The African fat-tailed gecko is persistently nocturnal in its activity patterns. It will sleep all day in a hidebox, emerging to hunt as light intensities lower. This gecko may move quickly for a short distance if threatened, but more often moves slowly and deliberately.

When the gecko is active, its tail is often curled upwards, and may be wriggled or writhed from side to side. The raised and writhing tail signifies an elevated state of excitement, such as during a territoriality display, hunting, or courtship.

Captives may occasionally become quite tame. Exceptionally tame specimens may actually allow some handling, but most will always try to escape, often attempting to bite, if restrained.

The fat-tailed gecko is a terrestrial species that may injure itself if it falls from any considerable height (such as from your hand or a tabletop).

Housing

The minimum floor space for from one to a trio should be 12 by 30 inches (the floor space provided by a 20-gallon long aquarium). Provide cage furniture such as corkbark hides but be sure these can't shift or topple and trap, injure or kill your lizards.

Place hides on both the cool and warm end of the terrarium. A substrate of non-aromatic mulch has proven ideal. Dampen the mulch on one end of the tank very slightly.

Fat-tails do not bask. Heat one end of the terrarium with an undertank heating pad but allow the other end to cool to room temperature.

A shallow dish of fresh water must always be available.

Feeding

Fat-tailed geckos are primarily insectivorous and will eat roaches, crickets, mealworms, king mealworms and silkworms. These insects should be healthy and gut-loaded.

Occasionally dust the food insects with a good quality vitamin-mineral supplement. Ovulating females and fast growing babies will require these supplements more frequently than other geckos.

Fat-tails may also lap a vitamin fortified honey-pureed fruit mixture. To make this mix 1/3 water, 1/3 pureed apricot (or papaya) baby food, 1/3 honey, add a little powdered calcium-D3 additive and mix well. Refrigerate what is not immediately used.

Many fat-tailed geckos will eat an occasional pinkie mouse. Because of the pinkies high-fat content of these, they should be limited to no more than one weekly during most of the year, but can be increased to two weekly during the breeding season.

Fresh drinking water should always be present. These geckos will drink from a dish.

Handling

Any creature with teeth can bite. A carelessly restrained fat-tailed gecko not only can bite, but often will. Adult males can pinch painfully hard. The claws are harmless.

A lizard's adverse reaction to being restrained is understandable, when you realize that in the wild restraint is usually by a predator and is followed by injury or death.

The tail of a fat-tailed gecko will autotomize (break off) readily if it is grasped or damaged. Although the tail will regenerate, the new tail is never as neatly scaled or mobile as the original. Never, repeat, never, grasp a fat-tailed gecko by its tail!

To avoid possible problems with Salmonella or other bacteria, it is best to always wash your hands after (both before and after handling is better yet!) handling your lizard or working in its terrarium.

Common Diseases and Disorders

Fat-tailed geckos are quite hardy and once acclimated should present few problems. Captive bred and hatched specimens are almost invariably hardier than wild-collected examples.

Imported fat-tails may harbor quite substantial colonies of debilitating parasites.

If dropped, a fat-tailed gecko may sustain broken limbs or a broken back.

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