African Fat-Tailed Geckos (Hemitheconyx caudicinctus) are mid-sized, nocturnal, terrestrial geckos native to dry and moist savanna areas of west Africa. Adults are generally 8-10” long, and they can live 15-20 years with good care — sometimes longer.
They are typically patterned in broad, alternating bands of light and medium brown, sometimes with a white stripe that runs from nose to tail. Selective breeding in captivity, however, has resulted in a wider variety of patterns and colors (“morphs”). Unlike most other geckos, African fat-tailed geckos have eyelids, and don’t have sticky feet.
African fat-tailed geckos are generally docile, tolerant of humans, and fairly hardy. This makes them a good choice for beginners or people looking for a lizard that doesn’t mind handling.
How much space do African fat-tailed geckos need?
A single African fat-tailed gecko should be housed in no smaller than a 36” x 18” x 16” enclosure, or a 40 gallon tank. Many sources recommend 20 gallons, or even as small as just 10 gallons, but these recommendations are based on outdated standards. 36” x 18” x 16” are the minimum dimensions recommended by experts, although some take it further and recommend 36” x 24” x 24” instead.
In other words, 40 gallons is the minimum, but if you can provide a larger enclosure, do it!
Cohabitation (keeping multiple African fat-tailed geckos in the same terrarium) is not recommended, and may result in fighting if attempted.
Do African fat-tailed geckos need special lighting?
African fat-tailed geckos are crepuscular, which means that they are most active at night, particularly around dusk. Lights should be on for 6 hours/day during winter, and 14 hours/day during summer to simulate seasonal changes in day length. For best results, adjust day length gradually over the course of the year.
Although African fat-tailed geckos can survive without UVB lighting, they can’t thrive without it. Aside from helping provide a day/night cycle, UVB is also good for your gecko’s health. It’s best to provide low-strength UVB lighting as part of its enclosure. The best UVB bulbs for African fat-tailed geckos housed in a 40 gallon terrarium are:
The UVB bulb should be housed in a reflective fixture and placed on the basking side along with the heat lamp. The basking area should be 9-11” below the lamp to give your gecko the right amount of UVB.
UVB is blocked by glass and plastic, so you can’t give your gecko UVB by placing its terrarium in front of an open window. Also make sure that the fixture your UVB bulb is in does not have a clear plastic bulb cover.
What basking temperatures do African fat-tailed geckos need?
African fat-tailed geckos should have a basking temperature of 90°F, as measured by a digital probe thermometer with the probe placed on the basking surface. There should be a cooler area on the opposite side of the enclosure that stays between 72-77°F. For best results, the basking surface itself should be a large, flat piece of rock. The rock also creates a natural source of “belly heat”.
Provide heat for your gecko by imitating the sun with a halogen heat lamp placed on one side of the enclosure. Do not use ceramic heat emitters (CHEs), red bulbs, or blue bulbs, as these are not as effective. Place the gecko’s warm hideout/cave below the heat lamp.
Alternatively, you can use a heat pad. The heat pad should be about ⅓ of the enclosure’s length, placed on the bottom of the terrarium, and connected to a thermostat for safety. Place the thermostat probe on the basking surface to accurately control temperature. Note that heat pads do not work well with thick layers of substrate.
The heat source should be turned off at night. Nighttime temperatures can drop as low as 62°F.
What humidity levels do African fat-tailed geckos need?
African fat-tailed geckos need a moderate- to high-humidity environment for best health. They should have a “wet season” of high humidity, and a “dry season” of lower humidity. From April-October, humidity should be 70-80% during the day. From November-March, humidity should be around 50%.
Use a digital probe hygrometer to track humidity, with the probe in the middle of the terrarium. You will also need to provide a humid hideout lined with moistened substrate or sphagnum moss and placed in the middle of the enclosure.
Misting your gecko’s enclosure every night with a sprayer will help create the right humidity levels. During the wet season, mist the enclosure every morning as well.
What substrate is good for African fat-tailed geckos?
Substrate covers the floor of your gecko’s terrarium and helps make the enclosure more attractive, but it also helps maintain higher humidity levels and provides something for your gecko to dig in. Solid substrates like slate tile and terrarium mats are popular because of the common myth that geckos will get impacted if housed on a “loose”-type substrate (this only happens when the animal is already unhealthy due to poor husbandry). If you’re nervous, you can certainly use a solid substrate, but they have some significant disadvantages:
- Solid substrates need to be scrubbed frequently
- Solid substrates don’t cushion your dragon’s joints
- Solid substrates offer no enrichment value
It’s ideal to use a substrate that imitates the “substrate” that the reptile naturally lives on in the wild. For African fat-tailed geckos, that means it should resemble the sandy soil found in semi-arid environments. It should have small particles, hold moisture well, and be loose enough to dig in.
We recommend the following substrates for African fat-tailed geckos:
- Zoo Med ReptiSand
- Exo Terra Desert Sand
Layering clean, chemical-free leaf litter on top of the substrate can also help with humidity.
Substrate should be at least 4” deep and completely replaced every 3-4 months. Remove poop and urates daily, along with contaminated substrate.
What décor can you use in an African fat-tailed gecko terrarium?
It’s terribly boring for a gecko to be stuck in an enclosure with nothing in it except substrate and food/water bowls. It doesn’t matter how big the enclosure is if you don’t put things in it for your pet to use and interact with.
At bare minimum, you will need three “caves” for the gecko to hide in. However, it’s best to include other items, such as:
What do African fat-tailed geckos eat?
African fat-tailed geckos are primarily insectivorous, which means that they need to eat insects in order to get the nutrition that their bodies need. How often these geckos need to eat depends on age: Juveniles should be fed daily, and young adults fed every other day/every 3 days. Adults whose tail is fatter than their neck can be fed every 5 days.
One meal should be 2 appropriately-sized bugs per 1 inch of your fat-tailed gecko’s length, or however much they can eat in 15 minutes.
You will also need calcium and vitamin supplements to prevent your gecko from developing a deficiency. We recommend Repashy Calcium Plus LoD, lightly dusted on all of your gecko’s feeder insects.
Of course, don’t forget a small water bowl for your gecko to drink from! Change the water daily and scrub the bowl with a reptile-safe disinfectant weekly, or whenever it becomes soiled.
Do African fat-tailed geckos like to be handled?
Few reptiles actually “like” to be held, but African fat-tailed geckos tolerate it well. Don’t grab the gecko from above — instead, approach from the side and scoop from below. Support as much of its body as possible, especially its feet. Start with very short handling sessions in the beginning, then gradually make them longer as your gecko becomes more accustomed to you.
*This care sheet contains only very basic information. Although it’s a good introduction, please do further research with high-quality sources to obtain additional information on caring for this species.
Photo credit: CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=673230