African fat-tailed geckos are the lesser-known cousins of the popular leopard gecko.
This gecko species is native to the humid grasslands of West Africa. They often spend their day hiding in burrows before emerging at night to hunt for insects.
Fat-tailed geckos are named for their large, soft tails that store nutrients and fat. Along with their fat tails, they also have long bodies, short legs and moveable eyelids.
Thanks to their adorable looks and charming personalities they are quickly gaining fame as pets! They are a fun, manageable species for any beginner.
Think this might be the pet lizard for you? Continue reading for our complete beginner care sheet.
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African Fat-Tailed Gecko
The African fat-tailed gecko (Hemitheconyx caudicinctus) is a small species of gecko native to several countries in the western and central regions of Africa. These geckos are nocturnal and solitary. As pets they are calm, slow and tolerate being handled well.
They are very closely related to the leopard gecko. In fact they are cousins and have shared characteristics like clawed feet, moveable eyelids and vertical pupils. Both species also have a fat-storing tail that helps them survive drought and famine in their harsh native environments.
These geckos are rarer, more expensive and have a slightly different appearance than the more popular leopard species.
They may not be as well-known as other lizards, but they are rapidly gaining popularity as a calm and loveable species. They are loved for their cute faces, which always appear to be smiling!
They make great pets for people who want a more unusual species with simple husbandry. We highly recommend this species to an adult beginner who wants a unique pet lizard. If provided with a proper diet and enclosure these geckos are quite hardy and rarely develop health problems. They have an exceptionally long lifespan with some individuals living for 20 years!
Due to their small size and ability to drop their tails if startled, they may not be the best pet for children who do not know how to gently handle reptiles.
They also won’t make good pets for people who don’t like feeding live prey. African fat-tailed geckos are insectivorous which means they only eat insects and other invertebrates. As pets they should be fed a diet made up primarily of crickets and dubia cockroaches.
African fat-tailed geckos are native to West Africa and range from southern Mauritania to western Cameroon. In the wild they are found in the Sahel. Sahel is a transitional zone between the Sahara Desert and sub-Saharan grasslands.
Some populations are also found in Central Africa where they may occasionally be found in forests.
Their natural habitat has dry and wet savannas, tall grasses, shrubs, sparse trees and boulder outcrops. These lizards are well-adapted to the rocky habitat they call home. They have sharp claws and are very good at climbing over rockpiles and rough terrain.
|Common Name||African fat-tailed gecko|
|Scientific Name||Hemitheconyx caudicinctus|
|Range||Western and central regions of Africa in countries like Senegal, Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana and Guinea|
|Size||7 to 9 inches|
|Color||Orangey brown with dark brown bands|
|Lifespan||15 to 20 years|
|Tank Size||20-gallon long|
|Temperature||76 to 94°F|
|Humidity||50 to 70%|
|Price||$50 to $100|
African fat-tailed geckos are similar in appearance to their leopard relatives, but with shorter tails and rounder features. African geckos are naturally plump and stocky, with short limbs, a long body and a round head.
Their most noticeable feature is their large, teardrop-shaped tail.
This tail is used to store energy in the form of fat, which helps them survive periods of food scarcity in the wild. This species can also detach their tails as a distraction if threatened by a predator. Their tail will eventually regrow, though it can take up to six months and will not look the same as the original.
Unlike other species, fat-tailed geckos have closeable eyelids to protect their eyes from dust and debris. They are members of the family Eublepharidae, also known as the “eyelid geckos”.
They also do not have the typical adhesive toe pads of most geckos and instead have sharp claws. These claws help them clamber over the rocks and branches commonly found in their natural habitat.
African fat-tailed geckos are dusty brown or tan with a white belly and dark brown spots and bands. Some individuals have cream and white spots as well, which are especially common on their thick tails.
Through captive breeding some designer morphs with different colors have also been bred. The most common morphs are oreo, albino and ghost. Oreos are white or cream with round black spots. Albinos are orange with pale pink markings. Ghost African fat-tailed geckos are grayish lavender with a single white dorsal stripe and no other markings.
These geckos hatch at just 2.5 to 3 inches long, weighing less than an ounce. Once they reach adulthood the full grown African fat-tailed gecko size is usually between 7 to 9 inches and 45 to 80 grams. They are very similar in size to their leopard siblings!
This species of gecko has noticeable differences between males and females. Males are generally larger than females, have a wider tail and have a row of preanal pores that females do not.
African Fat-Tailed Gecko Care Sheet
African fat-tailed geckos are easy and rewarding to keep as pets.
The hardiness and undemanding nature of these little lizards make them an excellent choice for a first-time owner. However, like all reptiles they require an appropriate tank setup to remain healthy and happy. Once their temperature, humidity and diet needs are met they will thrive.
This species is terrestrial so tank floorspace is more important than height. An African fat-tailed gecko enclosure should be 20-gallons, long and made from glass. 30”x12”x12” is an excellent size for an adult.
We recommend only housing one gecko per tank as males can be fiercely territorial. In the wild males will warn off rivals with a combination of vocalizations and body language. This display can then develop into biting, scratching and other defensive acts.
Substrate is one of the most important aspects of an African fat-tailed gecko setup. A mixture of vermiculite, sand and organic potting soil will help you to mimic their natural habitat. For beginners reptile sand mats or ceramic tiles are an excellent alternative.
These lizards are excellent climbers so adding in some sturdy rocks, tiles or bricks is a good idea.
These geckos prefer warm temperatures and moderate humidity. Their enclosure should have a warm side and a cool side to create a temperature gradient, which allows them to regulate their body temperature as needed.
The warm side of their tank should be between 88 and 90°F.
Temperatures should be between 76 and 80°F on the opposite side of the tank. At night temperatures can dip 2 or 3 degrees lower.
Use a combination of a ceramic heat bulb and an under-tank heat mat to warm their enclosure. The under-tank heat mat should cover roughly one third of their tank. Build a basking spot above this heat mat and setup the ceramic heat bulb to maintain a basking spot at around 94°F.
They need warm surface temperatures to digest food. After eating you may see them flatten out on a warm rock to soak up the heat. Having a heat source both above and below the tank is critical.
Keep tank humidity levels between 50 and 60% by misting the tank twice weekly and providing a water dish on the cool side of the tank. They need a slightly more humid setup than Leopard Geckos as they are native to a more humid environment and are not as drought-tolerant.
A 5% UVB bulb (T5 to T8) set to a cycle of 10 hours on and 14 hours off is more than enough for calcium absorption. Remember you will also need a ceramic heat bulb on the hot side of the tank in addition to the UVB lamp.
In their habitat setup they do not need a high-output UVB bulb.
Most Geckos are crepuscular and are rarely out during the day. In the day these geckos hide in humid burrows and termite mounds to avoid predators and the hot sun. In the late evening and early morning they emerge to hunt for insects once the temperature cools and daytime predators are no longer active.
Décor can be kept simple with repurposed cardboard boxes and Tupperware, or you can go for a more natural look with live plants, rocks (secured so they can’t fall) and driftwood. Decorate the tank with plenty of hiding spaces to make sure they feel safe and provide lots of options for climbing.
African fat-tailed geckos should also have a humid hide on the warm side of the enclosure to help with shedding.
These geckos are named for their thick tails which store extra energy in the form of fat. African fat-tailed geckos can go up to two weeks without eating.
The African fat-tailed gecko diet is fairly simple. They are entirely carnivorous and feed on insects and other small invertebrates. In the wild they eat lots of locusts, beetles, crickets, isopods, and worms, which they hunt with their great eyesight.
As pets these geckos should be fed a mix of adult insects like crickets or dubia roaches. They can also be fed soft larvae like hornworms, waxworms and mealworms as treats.
All insects should be gut-loaded with nutritious fruits, vegetables and a source of protein like dry dog food or powdered insect diet. Insects should also be dusted with a vitamin supplement powder with vitamin D3 just prior to being fed.
Juvenile and hatchlings grow quickly and need to eat frequently. Aim to feed your baby 5 to 6 small crickets every day, making sure they are no larger than the space between your lizard’s eyes.
As they mature they also eat less. Adults should eat 6 to 8 large crickets three times each week. Once a week, you can offer your gecko hornworms, mealworms or waxworms as a treat.
Remove any insects that are not eaten after a few hours.
These lizards are nocturnal and begin hunting after dark. The best time to feed them is one hour after the lights have gone off. This gives them time to wake up and transition into hunting mode.
|Hatchling (under 4 months)||5 to 6 small crickets every day|
|Juvenile (4 to 12 months)||3 to 4 medium crickets every other day and 2 small mealworms once a week|
|Adult (12+ months)||6 to 8 large crickets three times per week and 3 mealworms weekly|
As with any reptile keep a bowl of fresh, clean water available in their tank at all times. This species is very good at extracting water from prey, but they should still have the option to drink directly from a bowl if they want to.
African fat-tailed geckos are an especially long-lived species of lizard. With good care and husbandry it is possible for them to live for 15 to 20 years. Wild individuals do not live this long because of the threats of predation and disease. It is important to carefully consider their long lifespan prior to buying one. 20 years is a long-term commitment.
These geckos are hardy and rarely develop health problems when fed the right diet and given a good setup. There are several things you can do to increase the lifespan of an African fat-tailed gecko:
- Never feed wild-caught insects because these can host parasites and disease.
- Only buy captive-bred geckos that are born and raised in captivity. They are healthier, tamer and live longer than wild-caught lizards who are subjected to stress from collection and handling.
- Set up their tank two weeks early to monitor day/night temperatures and humidity levels before introducing a lizard. This reduces their stress and ensures a shorter, smoother acclimation time.
- Make use of a reptile vet as regular exams can catch diseases or other health problems before they become serious.
These geckos are naturally shy and reclusive lizards who prefer to hide during the day in rocky crevices and burrows. In the wild and as pets they are mostly active at dawn, dusk and during the night.
Males are solitary and become territorial when confronted by other lizards. Two males when faced with each other will squeak, chirp and slowly wave their tails to assert their dominance. Females are generally quieter and more tolerant of the presence of other lizards.
Though they are a more secluded species, they are docile, quiet and can enjoy gentle handling. They are easy to hold and only bite or scratch if severely threatened.
A healthy and happy African fat-tailed gecko will be shy but not lethargic. Do not be alarmed if you rarely see him out during the day. As long as he is active and eating after the lights go off then there is no cause for concern.
Where Can I Buy An African Fat-Tailed Gecko?
African fat-tailed geckos are not found at most pet stores because they are still relatively new to the world of reptile keeping. You will only find African fat-tailed geckos for sale at exotic pet stores or reptile expos. It may be necessary to search for online vendors and do plenty of research before you find a breeder.
A healthy gecko will have all fingers and toes intact, have bright, alert eyes and no retained shed. They should also be full-bodied, but not obese, with a healthy appetite.
As pet lizard species go fat-tailed geckos are not expensive. A normal, captive-bred African fat-tailed gecko hatchling will sell for $50 to $100. Rarer more complex morphs like Oreos can cost $700 or more, but they are not recommended for beginners.
You will also need to budget $200 to buy and setup their enclosure. A 20-gallon glass terrarium with a sliding mesh top costs around $50. A 5% UVB bulb and dome lamp fixture can also cost another $50. For substrate a gravel/sand/soil mixture will cost $10-15.
Natural décor like rocks, logs and sticks can be gathered yourself! Just make sure they are sterilized with a bleach solution, boiling water, or in the oven.
African Fat-Tailed Gecko vs Leopard Gecko Differences
The biggest differences between an African fat-tailed and a leopard gecko are their native habitats and ranges. Leopard geckos are native to the arid semi-deserts of Afghanistan, Iraq and northwestern India. These habitats get very little annual rain and are dry for most of the year.
African fat-tailed geckos live in a naturally humid environment that is more tropical. This results in them requiring a higher ambient humidity of 50-60%, compared to 40% for leopard geckos.
Another factor that sets these two lizards apart is their popularity.
Leopard geckos are more popular and entered the reptile hobby earlier and so have had more time to become popular. They are also more commonly found for sale in pet stores and through private breeders.
Finally there are some subtle differences in the appearance and behavior of these two geckos.
African fat-tailed geckos tend to be less bold and outgoing than their gregarious cousins. Fat tails also have smoother skin and more rounded features, which gives them a traditionally ‘cuter’ look.
Despite their differences both geckos are easy to care for and make excellent pet lizards.
Frequently Asked Questions
Where Do African Fat-Tailed Geckos Live In The Wild?
They are found in the humid grasslands of West Africa and the forests of central regions of Africa. They live in rocky burrows and abandoned termite mounds.
How Big Do Fat-Tailed Geckos Get?
Fully grown they usually weigh 45 to 80 grams and measure 7 to 9 inches long, including the tail. On average males grow slightly larger than females.
Do They Make Noise?
Both male and females will hiss, squeak and chirp to warn away rivals and predators. When threatened or upset hatchlings can also emit a high-pitched squeal.
How Much Does An African Fat-Tailed Gecko Cost?
Hatchling prices can range from $50 for a wild-type individual or over $500 for a specialty morph like the Oreo.
Do They Lay Eggs?
Yes, African fat-tailed geckos lay eggs. The temperature at which they incubate determines the sex of the babies. 83-85°F produces mostly males, while 88-90°F produces mostly females.
The African fat-tailed gecko is a great pet lizard for owners who are new to the hobby and want a unique species. They are loved for their adorable looks as well as their simple care. Their docile temperament also makes them fun to handle.
These geckos are plump, stocky and grow to a maximum of 9 inches long. Their most noticeable characteristic is their thick tail, which stores fat and gives this species its common name. They also have thin, clawed toes for climbing and moveable eyelids to keep debris out of their eyes.
African fat-tailed geckos are beige with a creamy white underbelly and a pattern of dark brown bands. Specialty morphs can vary in color and pattern, from black and white to patternless with a white dorsal stripe.
To get started keeping this gecko expect to pay around $200 to setup their enclosure and between $50 to $100 for a hatchling.
What do you think about the African fat-tailed gecko? Leave a comment below.