African Fat-Tailed Gecko

(Hemitheconyx caudicinctus)

Native Range:

Most of the African Fat-Tailed Geckos in captivity originate from stock collected in Togo and Ghana in Western Africa. They inhabit dry areas of desert scrub-land and savannahs, preferring sandy areas which provide burrows for cover. They spend daytime underground, where conditions are cooler and moist, emerging at night when conditions are suitable to hunt. Numerous specimens are still being imported from these regions each year. As with all imports, they are generally heavily parasitized and badly stressed. It is recommended that keepers purchase healthy captive-bred specimens to avoid the headaches accompanying such imported specimens. This will also serve to reduced the collecting pressures needlessly put on wild populations.

Size:

Approximately three to three and one-half inches long at birth, they average about eight inches in length as adults. Occasional specimens may exceed ten inches in length, and there are a few records of larger specimens!

Handling:

African Fat-Tailed Geckos rarely attempt to bite, although they may do so if restrained. Handle gently, without pinching or squeezing. Remember that the tail may break off if handled roughly, and although it will regenerate, it will not appear original. Until accustomed to handling; the gecko should be handled inside the cage or while sitting on the floor. A frightened gecko may leap out of the keepers’ hand and take a fatal fall if held while standing.

Caging:

Just about anything can be used, with a ten gallon aquarium being adequate for a pair. African Fat-Tailed Geckos cannot climb smooth surfaces, so a screen cover is not needed – although it may keep out the family cat!

Substrate:

African Fat-Tailed Geckos will ingest particles of substrate to use as grit, similar to birds. Therefore, use caution in choosing a substrate or impaction may result. Commercial breeders prefer to maintain their specimens on plain paper, plastic or tile flooring.

Food:

A variety of small insects and arthropods are eagerly accepted by African Fat-Tailed Geckos. Hatchlings will feed on two to three week crickets and wax-worms. As they grow, provide larger crickets, wax-worms, and mealworms. Adult specimens will take an occasional pinkie mouse. Dust food with a calcium powder about twice a week to provide additional calcium for growing bones. Adults may be supplemented once weekly, unless females are producing eggs. This uses huge amounts of calcium, and supplements should be made daily.

Humidity & Water:

Provide clean water in a shallow dish, about the same height as the gecko. While care is outwardly similar to Leopard Geckos (Eublepharis macularius), humidity should be kept somewhat higher, or shedding problems and dehydration can result. Due to the variance in cages and home environments, some geckos may experience shedding problems, particularly the toes. If this is noticed, provide a small plastic container with lid (cut an access hole in the side) filled with damp sphagnum moss. This will allow the animal to shed properly. Stuck sheds on toes may harden and constrict the blood flow to the toes, causing loss of the toes.

Heating & Lighting:

Provide a thermal gradient by placing a heat pad under one end of the cage. This should allow the gecko to choose from higher temperatures (about 90F) at the warm end, and cooler temperatures (about 75F) at the cooler end. Provide suitable hiding areas at both warm and cool areas, so the lizards can feel secure at any temperature. Temperatures below 75F should be avoided. No special lighting is required for these nocturnal animals.

Reproduction:

Males are larger than females, and can be distinguished by the presence a V-shaped row of pre-anal pores and a pair of prominent hemipene bulges. Do not keep more than one male per cage as they will fight. Eggs are laid in pairs, usually every three to four weeks. This will continue until the females’ fat and calcium reserves are depleted. Some females lay up to twelve eggs in a season, although most produce six to eight. Incubation can take from 45 to 65 days, depending on temperature. Interestingly, the sex of the hatchling is dependent upon temperature, with more males being produced at over 89F, and more females at under 85F.

Color and Pattern Phases:

African Fat-Tailed Geckos are patterned with bold dark bands on a pale tan or pale brown background. Some specimens exhibit an orangish background color, and many breeders are selecting for this trait. Additionally, wild specimens sometimes exhibit a wide white stripe down the length of the back. Originally thought to be a simple recessive trait, our research has shown the actual method of inheritance of this trait to be somewhat more complex. While more study is needed, it is likely that this trait will prove to be incomplete dominant in nature, or perhaps that there are several loci involved, or even a combination. Juveniles are banded in dark brownish black on yellowish tan. Juveniles of the white-striped form show only faint evidence of the striping on the head and pelvic regions, with full striping developing quickly over the coming months. Over the years, breeders have selected for various traits, and a wide variety of color and pattern types are being produced. Many of these are not yet firmly established genetically and the buyer is advised to select carefully. Amelanistic albinos are being produced, and several other mutations are just entering the hobby. Needless to say, breeders are already hard at work combining the various color forms and pattern types, including the white striped morph, into what will prove to be a veritable palette of colors for the hobbyist to choose from. Many pattern types are not genetic, or are at least difficult to reproduce consistently, and such herpetoculturists are on the cutting edge of our hobby.

© 2001 VMS Professional Herpetoculture (http://www.vmsherp.com)