Tokay Gecko Care

Gekko gecko

Tokay gecko

Tokay gecko by 'brian.gratwicke' (flickr)

Tokay Geckos (Gekko gecko) are rather charming little arboreal geckos with a fierce reputation. Originating from Northeast India and Bangladesh, throughout Southeast Asia, the Philippines to Indonesia and western New Guinea, the tokay gecko is the second largest gecko in the world second to the New Caledonian Giant Gecko (Rhacodactylus leachianus). Males of the colourful Tokay Gecko species are the larger of the two sexes, growing to 11-13 inches (sometimes up to 16inches) with females reaching a somewhat more modest 8-11inches.

As previously mentioned, tokay geckos have something of a fierce reputation in captivity, being warmly referred to by hobbyists as the pitbull of the gecko world. They have a reputation for being very territorial and aggressive. Even more fun than that however, is their habit of refusing to let go when they bite, I have seen tokay geckos hold on to their loving owners arms for more than 40 minutes, often supporting their own body weight with their jaws.

Don’t let this put you off tokay geckos however! They are charming, fun and interesting to keep, plus they keep you on your toes! They make great “look but don’t touch” animals and can be a great talking point. It should also be said that there are plenty of tame tokay geckos around too, if you purchase them from a breeder you can often get one which has been handled since it was young, in which case they tend to be rather tame.

Sadly, a recent increase in demand for these geckos as Chinese medicine (those darn Chinese, if its common it is food, if it is rare its medicine, and who needs evidence if it works eh?) has caused concerns about the numbers left in the wild (particularly in the Philipines), so I urge you to only ever buy captive bred specimens (generally this means buying straight from a breeder as you can never truly be sure in a pet shop – particularly if the gecko is an adult).

Tokay gecko housing

Tokay geckos are large as geckos go and their enclosure should reflect this. I wouldn’t keep a single individual or a pair in an enclosure smaller than 60x45x45cm (Height x Length x Width), height is more important than width in this species as they are avid climbers. I prefer to use glass vivariums such as the exo terra glass faunarium range. The reason for the preference of glass over wood is that tokay geckos require a degree of humidity which can, over time, warp wooden vivariums ruining them. I maintain it is better to spend a little more initially to get a glass enclosure than to have to replace your wooden one every few years.

Tokay geckos are communal but when housing individuals together it is important to remember a few key rules, 1. Never keep males together as they will fight 2. Never house specimens together which differ in size by more than an inch or two 3. Always monitor newly introduced individuals for sign of conflict and 4. Ensure there are enough hides available to allow individuals to escape from each other. A couple of hides per specimen isn’t a bad guide however more are better.

Decor wise, remember the tokay gecko is arboreal and comes from rainforest areas and design your enclosure to reflect this. Offer lots of branches, sticks and plants to create perches, hides and crevices of many sizes and elevations. Offer branches and climbs which are of variable diameter so your tokay gecko has a choice between them. Also take extra care to make sure everything is stable and secure as these are heavy bodied animals which can be a little delicate (particularly their feet). Consider making a fake rock wall to increase the available surface area for the gecko to roam on. Cork bark tubing makes great natural looking hiding places especially when used in conjunction with real or fake plants.

Go wild and get creative, you’ll probably be as pleased with the results as you gecko (perhaps more so, they’re often just as content with a toilet roll tube as a nice cork bark tube...).

Water bowl

Make sure you offer a water bowl for your tokay gecko to drink from, I personally like to have mine elevated in the tank as I feel it offers something more natural (I build them in to fake wall plans). You will also find that your gecko drinks water droplets off the leaves when you mist the tank.

Substrate

Substrate wise I like to use coconut fibre (the stuff that comes in bricks which you need to soak in water) or peat, these two offer a natural look, good moisture retention, low impaction risk and plants are able to grow in them well. For juveniles and quarantined animals you are better offering tissue paper as it is sterile and carries little to no impaction risk.

Gekko gecko

Tokay gecko by 'joeks' (flickr)

 

Temperature, humidity and lighting

Tokay geckos are from tropical regions so need warm humid enclosures. Ambient air temperatures should be approximately 75-80f with a warmer basking spot (created using a light bulb or ceramic heater) of approximately 90-95f. You can allow for a drop in temperatures at night with no ill effect. Make sure you use all heating equipment in conjunction with a thermostat. See our thermostat guide for more information.

Humidity within the tokay gecko enclosure should be kept at 60-80% which you can achieve by keeping substrate damp and giving  a light misting of water in the morning or evening. Make sure you offer good ventilation so that the moist air does not stagnate allowing moulds and fungi to grow (can be a common problem with damp, fertile substrate).

Being nocturnal, the general consensus is that no supplementary (ie UVB) lighting is required, however UVB lighting and nocturnal lighting is a hot topic in the hobby which isn’t really within the scope of this article. The short end of it is that it is probably not required, but the jury is still out and it may carry some small benefits. Personally I like to include some live plants in my vivariums which do require UVB lighting, and I quite like the aesthetics of a well lit vivarium in the day, so I usually include low power (2.5%) lighting in my vivariums even for nocturnal animals like tokays.

Feeding tokay geckos

Tokay geckos are insectivorous and do well on a diet of crickets and other insects in captivity. Make the staple of the diets from crickets, locusts and cockroaches (Lobster roaches and Blaptica dubia roaches are a good choice). If money is an issue stick with crickets or perhaps consider breeding cockroaches as locusts can be rather expensive.

You will want to supplement your tokay geckos diet with other foods to keep things interesting. Offer waxworms and waxmoths (go easy on the waxworms as they are quite fattening, waxmoths encourage exercise so are ok), as well as mealworms, silkworms and butterworms. Purchase maggots from a fishing tackle shop and leave them in a warm place in order to pupate in to flies and add them to the vivarium for some entertaining hunting from your tokay gecko. From personal experience I would advise putting the flies in the fridge for an hour or so before transferring them to the vivarium (thats unless you enjoy having flies in your house for company of course).

Make sure you gutload your livefood before offering them to your tokay gecko. This is much easier to do in crickets, locusts and cockroaches which is one reason why they are recommended as a staple live food.  You can purchase a pre-prepared gutload from any good reptile shop which is perfect if you only have a small collection. If you have a larger collection you might want to consider making your own with a combination of oats and cereals, cheap dog food and a pinch of calcium and vitamin powder. Offer some sliced carrot, potato or apple (or similar) to provide moisture and keep mortality down.

In terms of frequency of feeding, tokay geckos prefer to feed more often and will take food with much aggression on a regular basis. Feed hatchlings once (or even twice if they are particularly  ravenous) a day, juveniles should also be fed once a day and adults somewhere in the region of 5 times a week. Once you get used to your tokay gecko you will get used to the amount and frequency of feeding it prefers.

Hatchlings should be fed 8-10 appropriate sized food items per sitting, with adults eating 4-7 appropriately sized items. Appropriately sized most often means no larger than the gap between the geckos eyes; anything larger reportedly creates impaction risk.

Use common sense when feeding your tokay geckos, if they seem ravenous at every sitting you should probably feed them more, if food regularly goes uneaten you should feed them less.

Supplements

Supplements are important in order to have a healthy gecko. For hatchlings, juveniles and breeding females you should dust their food with a good multivitamin such as nutrobal 2-3 times weekly. Adults should receive the same supplement powder once a week. I personally dust every other meal with calcium powder as calcium is very important and reduces any risk of MBD. To clarify, by this I mean every meal which isn’t dusted with multivitamins gets dusted with calcium powder. I also leave a little pot of calcium (a little bottle cap works fine) in the enclosure as it is not unheard of for geckos to supplement their own calcium intake by consuming calcium powder from such a source.

A quick note regarding calcium, due to the fact calcium is water soluble it is very easy for the body to control the amounts of it in the cells and blood, this means calcium carries very little risk of overdose (unless you go really mad with it of course) so you don’t need to worry about overdoing it with calcium powder. The same cannot be said for other vitamins and minerals of course, so use more caution with them.

Tokay gecko

Tokay gecko by pixelplastic (flickr)

 

Breeding tokay geckos

Firstly, you need to be able to sex your tokay geckos. I know this is obvious but it becomes even more important when you consider males will fight, sometimes even to the death, particularly when there are females in the proximity.  Adult tokay geckos are easy to sex much in the same way that other geckos are sexed. Look for a bulge by the cloaca (anal ‘vent’) along with a V row of defined anal pores in males. Females lack the bulge and the anal pores are much, much less pronounced.

Tokay geckos also show signs of sexual dimorphism, ie where one sex looks physically different to the other (think birds of paradise, they have sexual dimorphism down to an art). Males are much larger than females, they have wider heads and generally a more stocky appearance. Males often have brighter colours too.

Remember as a rule of thumb sexing tokay geckos is much easier to do when you have multiple specimens which you can compare.

Tokay gecko

Tokay gecko couple by Mr. T in DC (flickr)

 

On to the breeding.

Luckily for us, tokay geckos breed quite happily when conditions are correct. All you need to do is ensure you have a pair of happy tokay geckos and they should do the rest. Tokay geckos breed in spring so providing your geckos receive a natural photoperiod (amount of time it is exposed to daylight, or indeed artificial light) they should be stimulated to breed in spring. If using artificial light you can stimulate breeding any time of the year providing the tokay gecko hasn’t bred too recently. Simply increase the duration of daylight by a few hours and up the temperature by a few degrees to get them in the mood. Playing Barry White can help too but isn’t essential.

Tokay geckos lay two small (three quarter inch) eggs at a time which they attach to a surface in the vivarium with some strong adhesive. As such it is not recommended that you remove them from the enclosure and that instead you simply incubate them in the enclosure. Multiple clutches of eggs are often laid in one season. Eggs should be incubated at 80-85f which incidentally is the temperature you will find in the enclosure. You will also find that crested geckos tend to lay them in a good spot – ie where they will receive optimum temperatures for incubation so you don’t really need to do much other than maintain temperature, humidity and a sense of patience. At optimum temperatures the eggs will take about 90-120 days to hatch.

Upon hatching the babies should be separated from the adults and reared on a diet similar to that which the adults eat (with the appropriate size adjustments, obviously). Hatchling tokay geckos are rather ravenous and consume alot of food. They are however a joy to raise particularly when you take the time to get them tame and used to handling (something which is far more difficult in adult geckos).

Tokay gecko handling

Tokay gecko handling by 'mcwetboy' (flickr)

Summary

Tokay geckos make fantastic little pets, don’t let their aggression put you off. With time and patience they can be tamed down, however they also make fantastic “look but don’t touch” animals. Keep them in a tropical set up with an ambient air temperature of 80-85f, a hotspot of 90-95f, humidity of 60-80% and feed them a varied diet of insects. If keeping a pair expect to see eggs around spring time. Eggs are easy to incubate and best left with the adults. Enjoy!

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