Tokay geckos aren't as common as pet leopard geckos, but they are just as interesting as their cousins. As the second-largest type of gecko, they're known for their vibrant colors and spots. They're usually a blue-gray color with bright orange and blue spots. They do have a reputation for being somewhat aggressive and aren't recommended for beginners. But once you have their tank set up, their care needs are fairly straightforward.
An arboreal species living in trees and on cliffs, tokay geckos are native to parts of Asia and some Pacific Islands. They're vocal animals, making a unique croaking noise that sounds like "To-kay! To-kay!" This is how they received their common name. According to some myths, they're said to bring good luck. However, they're also unfortunately frequent targets of poachers in the wild, because they are used in some medicinal remedies. People will dry their bodies to be boiled into tonics or ground into powders that claim to treat various conditions, including asthma, diabetes, cancer, and more. If you're looking for a captive-bred tokay gecko, first educate yourself about its needs.
Common Name: Tokay gecko
Scientific Name: Gekko gecko
Adult Size: 15 inches long
Life Expectancy: 10 years on average
Tokay Gecko Behavior and Temperament
Tokay geckos are nocturnal, meaning they're most active at night. During the day your gecko will sleep in a head-down position. In the wild, these geckos are known to be highly territorial. Males especially will attack any animals, including other tokay geckos, that they perceive as a threat. Moreover, tokays are excellent climbers and have relatively big heads compared to other geckos. They also have strong jaws and prehensile tails (tails capable of grasping onto things). And they're able to detach their tails to escape a predator.
Furthermore, tokay geckos have a reputation for being pretty feisty, and they can deliver a painful bite. With regular interaction, they can become less aggressive, but they generally aren't good for handling. Thus, this is not a pet for the novice herpetologist or a home with young children. These geckos are clever and will bite if they feel threatened.
Housing the Tokay Gecko
Never house male tokay geckos together. It's also best not to house your gecko in your bedroom, because its vocalizations might wake you up.
Because these are large geckos, a 20-gallon tank is the minimum size suitable for their housing. Provide sturdy branches, as your gecko will spend much of its time climbing. And add reptile-safe potted plants if you wish. (Artificial plants can also be used.) Plus, provide some hiding spots using cork bark, half logs, or caves.
Be sure your tank has a secure lid. Tokay geckos are strong and might attempt to escape if the opportunity presents itself. This can lead to a dangerous situation both for the gecko and for anyone in your home if the gecko feels the need to defend itself.
Aim for 80 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit (27 to 32 degrees Celsius) during the day and 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (21 to 27 degrees Celsius) at night. An incandescent bulb can be used for heat during the day. But a nocturnal reptile bulb or ceramic heat element must be used at night to mimic the day-night cycle. Heat provided from above the tank is preferable over a heating pad because tokay geckos are climbers.
UVB-emitting bulbs generally are not necessary because tokay geckos are a nocturnal species, though some experts believe a low level of UV light can benefit their overall health. A red nighttime bulb will allow you to see your gecko at night when it's most active without interrupting the animal's natural day-night cycle.
Tokay geckos prefer a high humidity level of around 70 percent. Don't let it drop under 50 percent. Maintain humidity through misting, a substrate that retains water, and a bowl of water. But also make sure the tank has good airflow, because an environment that's too damp can lead to health issues. Measure the humidity level with a hygrometer.
Substrate is the material that lines the bottom of your gecko’s tank. It helps to maintain humidity, and certain substrates can mimic the look and feel of a gecko’s natural environment. Orchid bark or coconut husk-based substrate are good choices for their moisture-retaining qualities. When the gecko is shedding, you can even use paper towels, which helps with cleanup. Select paper towels that have not been bleached and are free of ink designs.
Food and Water
Tokay geckos are usually voracious eaters and can be fed a variety of insect prey, including crickets, superworms, mealworms, waxworms, grasshoppers, and cockroaches. Larger tokays might even take pinky mice. Prey should be gut loaded (fed nutritious foods, which then pass to the gecko) and dusted with a vitamin supplement containing calcium. Juveniles can be fed every 24 hours; adults typically are fed every other day. Consult your veterinarian for how much to feed your gecko, based on its age and size.
As they would in the wild, tokay geckos often drink from the moisture droplets that land on the climbing branches in their enclosure from misting. But you should also include a shallow water dish on the bottom of the tank, so they always have a source of hydration.
Common Health and Behavior Problems
Like many lizard species, geckos are susceptible to mouth rot, or stomatitis. Symptoms include a reddish appearance around the mouth or a cheesy-looking ooze. Excess saliva can indicate a respiratory infection.
They're also prone to parasitic infections on the skin as well as internally. A skin infection can look like a rash. And if your gecko is having difficulty shedding completely, this is another symptom of a skin problem. Moreover, internal parasites can cause sluggishness, changes in appetite, and unusual fecal deposits.
All of these conditions are treatable if caught early. Consult a veterinarian who specializes in reptiles. Don't attempt to treat these ailments with home remedies.
In terms of behavioral issues, tokay geckos aren't cuddly pets. Handle them carefully and only when necessary to prevent injury. When they bite, they are known to clamp down and not want to let go.
Choosing Your Tokay Gecko
If you feel you can handle the feisty temperament of a tokay gecko, choose a captive-bred animal from a reputable breeder or animal rescue that can tell you about its origin and health. Expect to pay around $20 to $50. Choose a gecko whose ribs and pelvic bones aren't visible. You also shouldn't see any bumps on its skin, which can indicate an infection or a broken bone.
One way to determine whether a tokay gecko is healthy is to pick it up. A healthy gecko will dislike this and will vocalize or attempt to bite you, so be sure your hand is behind its head. If the gecko opens its mouth, it's getting ready to bite.
Similar Species to the Tokay Gecko
If you’re interested in similar pets, check out:
Otherwise, check out other types of reptiles and amphibians that can be your new pet.
Providing a Home for a Reptile. Merck Veterinary Manual.
Bacterial Diseases of Reptiles. Merck Veterinary Manual.
Parasitic Diseases of Reptiles. Merck Veterinary Manual.