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Choosing a Tokay Gecko

By: R.D. and Patti Bartlett

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The tokay gecko is an inexpensive, abundant, hardy but feisty, nocturnal, arboreal lizard. This large tropical Asian lizard grows up to a foot or so in length, making it among the largest of geckos, and has been a mainstay in the pet trade for more than 30 years.

Named for its loud territorial call of "toe-kayyyy," the tokay gecko is frequently released in human homes to hunt down roaches.

Known scientifically as Gecko gecko, tokay geckos are not overly active, and should be provided a cage of reasonable size (20 gallons or larger for a pair). They do not tolerate handling well and will bite the hand that holds them. Males are very territorial and cannot be kept together.

Most specimens that are available are adults collected from the wild. Captive bred and hatched babies are occasionally available.

Origin and Life Span

There are more than 800 species of geckos. The vast majority of these lizards are contained in the family Gekkonidae. Many, but far from all, have expanded toepads that aid them in climbing smooth surfaces, such as glass, or even inverted surfaces such as ceilings.

Tokays are considered a forest species, but they also colonize human habitations. Those now established in Florida are found in the ornamental trees that are planted along the rights-of-way from Miami southward as well as on nearby houses. Longevity may exceed 20 years.

Appearance

Although somewhat variable, the tokay gecko's color theme is an easily recognizable pattern of orange spots on a blue gray to slate gray background.

The eyes of this gecko are proportionately large and lidless, and have intricately scalloped pupils that narrow to tiny pinpoints in bright light. The head is broad and the jaws are very powerful. The toes are broadly flattened and provide non-slip footing on most horizontal and vertical surfaces.

The sexes vary little in appearance, except that females are slightly smaller than males, have a proportionately smaller head and smaller preanal pores (a chevron-shaped group of scales in front of the anal opening).

To provide an escape mechanism, the bones of this gecko's tail are provided with fracture planes – a weakened area at which the tail can easily break free if grasped. The broken tailtip wriggles for several seconds, drawing the attention of a predator and allowing the gecko to escape. The gecko will re-grow (regenerate) a tail, but it is never quite similar in appearance to the original.

Behavior

Tokay geckos hide by day, but may perch in the open after nightfall. These lizards are persistently arboreal, and often station themselves in a head-down position on a tree trunk or wall. You're likely to find a captive on the glass near the top of the terrarium or on vertical cork bark.

Males are very territorial (especially during the breeding season) and will spar incessantly. Female tokay geckos form domination hierarchies with other females, but generally do not squabble too much. Males usually get along well with females, but will fight savagely with other males. House only a single male to an enclosure.

As they move, the geckos deliberately curl their toetips upwards to disengage the thousands of bristle-like setae that nestle in the lamellae (the crossgrooves on the underside of a gecko's toe) and enable the geckos to climb up even the smoothest of vertical surfaces.

A tokay frequently cleans its brilles (eyecaps) by extending its tongue out of the side of its mouth and upwards. This will be done if beadlets of moisture or any other foreign matter are present on the eyecaps.

Housing

In the wild tokay geckos establish home territories and defend them. Males allow females to encroach on their territory, but will skirmish with male interlopers. Provide these lizards with the largest possible, well-ventilated terrarium – a 20-gallon high terrarium for a pair, at minimum.

A wire cage of similar size is equally good and has the advantage of better ventilation, which will not allow a buildup of humidity or water at the bottom of the cage. To make geckos feel more secure, include both diagonal and horizontal limbs about the diameter of the lizard's body (or larger), as well as cork bark hides.

Illumination and full spectrum lighting do not seem to be necessary for these nocturnal lizards. The terrarium temperature should be maintained at 86 to 94 degrees Fahrenheit. If one end is slightly warmer than the other, and if hides are provided at both ends, your gecko will select the temperature most suitable for it. Nighttime temperatures can drop by a few degrees.

A substrate of leaves or finely shredded mulch (of some non-aromatic form) is fine.

The tank should be misted once or twice a day sufficiently to create pendulous beadlets of water for your gecko to drink. Alternatively, provide a shallow dish of water with its surface roiled by an airstone. It is important that you do not allow the tank to become saturated or to hold water as a result of the mistings.

Feeding

These lizards are primarily insectivorous, and have a very healthy appetite. A wide variety of non-noxious insects (roaches, king mealworms, silkworms, crickets, waxworms) as well as an occasionally pinky mouse (not more than a single pinky mouse weekly) should be offered. Baby tokays will require insects of smaller size than the adults.

Fast growing babies and ovulating female tokays should have periodic supplements of D3-calcium. Twice weekly supplementation is suggested. For adult males, provide vitamin-mineral supplements about once every two weeks. This can either be provided by dusting the insects with a vitamin-mineral supplement or by incorporating the vitamins-and minerals into a fruit-honey mixture.

Your gecko will eagerly lap at this honey-fruit-vitamin mixture. This consists of 1/3 pureed apricot baby food, 1/3 honey, 1/3 water, a few drops of Avitron liquid (bird) vitamins, and a very little amount of calcium-D3 powdered vitamins.

These geckos seldom drink from a dish unless the surface is roiled by an aquarium airstone attached to a small vibrator (or other) pump. Geckos prefer to drink the pendulous droplets when their cage is misted.
Handling

A word of caution: if you insist on handling your tokay, prepare to be bitten!

These lizards do not like to be restrained and will become moderately stressed if grasped. Some specimens will learn to accept food insects from forceps or from the palm of your hand. Geckos readily break off their tail. Do not grasp them by that appendage.

Common Diseases and Disorders

These geckos are hardy and almost trouble free. Providing ample hydration may be the single greatest challenge, but is really not difficult.

Because of their lifestyle, healthy feet and toes are of particular importance to these arboreal geckos. Be certain that the skin is shed from these. If skin stubbornly adheres to the toes, it may be necessary to mist them several times and manually -- but very gently -- remove the skin.

A tokay gecko's tail is very easily broken off. An autotomized tail will re-grow and the break needs no medical attention. To prevent this problem do not grasp your gecko by its tail.

Metabolic bone disease can occur if too little calcium is available or if available calcium is improperly metabolized. Calcium should be given in conjunction with vitamin D3.

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