African fat-tailed geckos are often confused with leopard geckos, but they are actually a different type of gecko. African fat-tailed geckos are almost as popular as leopard geckos due to their increased availability and ease of care. If you're interested in these small lizards, knowing what they need to thrive as a pet is of the utmost importance.
Common Name(s) African fat-tailed gecko
Scientific Name Hemitheconyx caudicinctus
Adult Size Usually 7-9 inches in length but may be as small as 4 inches or as large as 11 inches
Lifespan 15-20 years in captivity and the wild
African Fat-Tailed Gecko Behavior and Temperament
African fat-tailed geckos are docile, don't make much noise, and are not known to bite. These small geckos are great for beginner reptile enthusiasts because they don't require much taming to be able to be handled. They are also nocturnal reptiles which means they are active at night and hide during the day from the hot sun.
African fat-tailed geckos have the ability to drop their tail when they feel threatened. This can be very traumatizing to an unsuspecting gecko owner but is a natural defense mechanism of the lizard. The tail will regrow but won't look quite the same. Avoid holding it too tightly, startling it, or scaring it to help prevent it from dropping its tail. Additionally, never house two males together to avoid territorial fights. Finally, if you see your gecko shaking its tail rapidly, it is getting ready to strike at prey or something else, so keep your hands away from it.
These lizards are small compared to other pet reptiles. Female African fat-tailed geckos only grow to be around 7 inches long, but males grow to be slightly larger, typically maxing out at around nine inches, including the tail. Some African fat-tailed geckos do get slightly larger though and have been recorded to be nearly 12 inches in length. But the length of these geckos is not what makes them special. Instead, the tail of an African fat-tailed gecko is what sets them apart from other similar geckos since it can grow to be over an inch wide at its widest point. This fat tail is what gave these geckos their name.
African fat-tailed geckos do not require a lot of space. One or two geckos can happily live in a 10 or 20 gallon aquarium with a mesh or screen top. This type of enclosure will allow for easy cleaning, safe placement of heat lights on the lid, and security from other pets and children that could injure the geckos. Be sure to provide multiple hides, both a dry hide and a humid hide, whether it's a rock cave or half log to sleep in the tank. Temperatures should be around 90 degrees Fahrenheit on the hot end and in the high 70s to low 80s on the cool side of the tank. Humidity should be between 40-60% on average for this species.
Specific Substrate Needs
Since African fat-tailed geckos are native to Africa, these lizards are found in dry habitats naturally. They don't burrow or climb, so all you need alongside the hide to make them happy is some basic substrate. Paper towels, newspaper, butcher paper, etc. are popular choices, but if you want a more natural look, there are a variety of reptile soils that can also be used. Repticarpet is a great option for safe substrate that is easy to clean and not able to be digested by the lizard when eating its prey. It is recommended to avoid sand though to avoid the opportunity for an impaction to occur.
What Do African Fat-Tailed Geckos Eat and Drink?
These little geckos are primarily insectivores so crickets, mealworms, waxworms and other easily obtained insects are popular options. These insects should be fed to your African fat-tailed gecko after they have been gut-loaded, and dusting with a reptile calcium powder should be done every other feeding. Talk to your exotic veterinarian about multi-vitamin options for your gecko as this supplement provides essential vitamins and minerals but is given on a daily basis. Adult African fat-tailed geckos should eat about two dozen crickets a week with feedings of eight or nine crickets every other day. Worms can be placed in a shallow dish and left in the tank. A shallow bowl of clean water should always be available.
Common Health Problems
Like other reptiles, if an African fat-tailed gecko isn't properly cared for, a variety of health problems can occur. Metabolic bone disease, dysecdysis (retained shed), malnutrition, and other issues are often seen in geckos that are not receiving proper care. Additionally, intestinal parasites like cryptosporidium, injuries, impaction, and more can occur and may require veterinary attention.
African fat-tailed geckos require very minimal upkeep costs. The largest expense will be the ongoing food costs, but if you choose to raise your own crickets or mealworms, even that expense will be minimal. Aside from food, lightbulb changes are needed to maintain an appropriate temperature in the tank and keep your gecko warm.
Pros and Cons of Keeping an African Fat-Tailed Gecko as a Pet
African fat-tailed geckos are nocturnal so they will be most active when most people are sleeping. If you want a pet that will be active during the day, a diurnal species may be a better option. If being nocturnal doesn't bother you though, African-fat tailed geckos are hardy pets for beginner reptile enthusiasts. They don't require fresh veggies be chopped everyday, take up minimal space, and are usually docile. Alternatively, they are fragile lizards due to their small size and have the ability to drop their tail, so adult supervision and careful handling is necessary to keep them safe.
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Purchasing or Adopting Your African Fat-Tailed Gecko
Some pet stores sell African fat-tailed geckos, but most people purchase them from breeders online or at reptile shows and expos. As these lizards continue to grow in popularity, their availability will increase, but they may also then start showing up at reptile rescues since they may live longer than some people plan expect.
If you are selecting an African fat-tailed gecko from a breeder, it is always best to personally see the lizard before you purchase it. Your best chance of this happening is usually at a reptile show or expo where numerous breeders are present with multiple reptiles. This way you can ask questions about the gecko and make sure it doesn't have any obvious signs of illness before purchasing it.
If you house a male and female gecko together, they may breed and lay eggs but that doesn't necessarily mean the eggs will be viable and hatch. Special conditions are needed to incubate eggs and extra care will need to be paid to the female to prevent calcium depletion and egg binding. If you want to prevent the potential of eggs and decrease the likelihood of egg-related illnesses in a female but want more than one gecko, opt for two females instead of one male and one female.
Does an African fat-tailed gecko make a good pet for kids?
African fat-tailed geckos can make great pets for kids as long as the kids know what to expect. These small geckos are good for kids that can gently hold a lizard and enjoy watching a pet inside a tank. Additionally, they are great for kids with allergies to pets with fur and dander.
Is an African fat-tailed gecko hard to take care of?
African fat-tailed geckos don't require daily feedings, handling, or even cleaning. They are great for someone who needs a low-maintenance pet without noise and mess. Offering food a few times a week, occasional spot cleaning of the tank, and providing fresh water are the biggest care requirements.
How much does it cost to buy an African fat-tailed gecko?
Prices will vary depending on the color mutation of the African fat-tailed gecko but you can usually expect to pay around $50-$75 for a regular morph. More exotic patterns can cost a couple of hundred dollars and rare patterns can cost nearly $1,000.
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