African fat-tailed geckos (Hemitheconyx caudicinctus) are 8-10” long, nocturnal geckos native to west Africa. They prefer tropical rainforest and tropical savanna habitat, and are primarily terrestrial (ground-dwelling).
African fat-tailed geckos are stout lizards with a blunt head, large eyes, a robust body, segmented tail, and long toes. Unlike most other geckos, they have eyelids, and they do not have sticky feet. Their pattern is typically composed of bands of light and medium brown, sometimes with a white stripe that runs from nose to tail. Captive breeding projects have expanded this species’ range of colors and patterns.
African fat-tailed geckos generally make good pets due to their docile temperament and high tolerance of humans. With good care, a pet African fat-tailed gecko can live 15-20+ years.
Minimum terrarium size for African fat-tailed geckos:
The minimum terrarium size for an African fat-tailed gecko is 36”L x 18”W x 16”H, or a 40 gallon breeder tank. Of course, larger is always better — if you provide, they will use it!
Housing multiple African fat-tailed geckos in the same terrarium is not recommended, and may result in fighting and injuries if attempted.
Do African fat-tailed geckos need UVB?
Technically they can survive without it, but they are healthier when it is provided. UVB lighting helps provide a clear day/night cycle, provides all of the vitamin D that your gecko needs, strengthens the immune system, facilitates better digestion, and other benefits.
The best UVB bulbs for African fat-tailed geckos in a 36x18x16 enclosure are:
For best results, house the UVB bulbs in a reflective fixture. Position the lamp on the same side of the terrarium as the heat lamp, 9-11” above the basking area.
UVB is blocked by glass and plastic, so placing the terrarium in front of a window isn’t “free UVB” — in fact it can make your terrarium too hot due to the greenhouse effect. Don’t forget to replace your bulb every 12 months!
Best temperature for African fat-tailed geckos:
African fat-tailed geckos should have a basking temperature of 90°F, cool side temperature between 70-77°F, and nighttime temps should be no lower than 68°F. Heat sources should be turned off at night.
You can provide heat for your gecko with a heat mat (no larger than 1/2 of the floor space) or halogen heat bulb. Halogen heat bulbs are better at imitating sunlight, and considered to be a superior form of reptile heating by experts. Do not use ceramic heat emitters (CHEs), red bulbs, or blue bulbs, as these are not as effective.
For best results, place a hide box under the heat lamp, covered with a flat piece of stone to act as a basking surface. Measure temperatures with a digital probe thermometer, with the probe placed inside the warm hide.
Best humidity levels for African fat-tailed geckos:
African fat-tailed geckos do best in an environment with 40-60% average humidity, as measured by a digital probe hygrometer with the probe in the middle of the terrarium. It’s also important to provide a humid hideout lined with moist substrate or sphagnum moss.
Mist your gecko’s enclosure every night (and morning, if necessary) with a sprayer to help maintain the humidity.
Best substrate for African fat-tailed geckos:
Solid substrates like slate tile and terrarium mats are popular with African fat-tailed geckos because of the myth that geckos will get impacted if housed on a “loose” substrate. However, this is only a danger with unhealthy animals. If you’re nervous, you can certainly use a solid substrate, but it’s best to use a naturalistic loose substrate.
“Loose” substrates that mimic a reptile’s natural environment present a low impaction risk, cushion the animal’s joints, and offer a place where they can exercise natural burrowing behaviors. These substrates also help maintain humidity.
We recommend the following substrates for African fat-tailed geckos:
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.
How to decorate an African fat-tailed gecko terrarium:
An empty terrarium leads to a bored gecko. Keep your gecko entertained and engaged with its environment with the strategic use of décor items that encourage it to exercise natural behaviors.
At bare minimum, you will need at least three hides/“caves” for the gecko to use. However, it’s best to include other items, such as:
What to feed to an African fat-tailed gecko:
African-fat tailed geckos are insectivores, which means that they need to eat a variety of insects to get the right nutrition. Juvenile African-fat tailed geckos should be fed every day, young adults should be fed every 2-3 days, and adults should be fed every 3-5 days depending on body condition.
Offer 2 insects per 1 inch of your gecko’s length, or however much they will eat in 15 minutes. Insects should be roughly the size of the space between the gecko’s eyes.
You will also need calcium and vitamin supplements to help keep your gecko healthy. We recommend Repashy Calcium Plus LoD, lightly dusted on all of your gecko’s feeder insects. It’s okay to occasionally skip a dusting.
How to handle your African fat-tailed gecko:
Reptiles generally don’t appreciate petting and handling in the same way that dogs and cats do. That being said, African fat-tailed geckos tend to tolerate human interaction well. Here are some tips for success:
- Don’t grab the gecko from above. Instead, scoop from below.
- Support as much of its body as possible, especially the feet.
- Start with short handling sessions at first, then gradually make them longer.
- Put the gecko back in its enclosure only when it’s calm.
*This care sheet contains only very basic information. Although it’s a good introduction, please further your research with high-quality sources. The more you know, the better you will be able to care for your pet!
Photo credit: CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=673230