Choosing a pet gecko
There are about 1500 different species of geckos, lizards in the suborder gekkota. They are fascinating reptiles that are able to climb, even smooth surfaces, like glass and walk on ceilings, because of adhesive pads on their toes. These have been the subject of much scientific study, each pad is covered in thousands of hairs, known as setae, each of which is subdivided into hundreds of spatulae, which are 0.2 micrometer long. It is thought that the incredibly strong adhesive forces of the gecko's foot is produced by Van der Waals forces between the spatulae and the surface.
They are also the only lizards that can vocalise. In fact the name gecko comes from sound the sound the tokay gecko makes. A pair of the reptiles will interact with each other by making chirping sounds, as well as bobbing their heads or wagging their tail.
Geckos can easily lose their tails as a form of defence. The tail will grow back, although often it will not look the same as the original tail and will not have the same colour. Therefore when keeping these animals it is important to make sure they do not drop it. Never catch a gecko by its tail, and avoid touching it.
Out of all the species of geckos found around the world, several species are bred in captivity. The following is a description of the different types of geckos commonly available for people who want to keep them as pets.
The Leopard Gecko
The leopard gecko, Eublepharis macularius ,is the most common gecko kept as a pet. Native to the deserts of Pakistan and NorthWest India, it is very hardy and easy to care for. Leopard geckos are unusual differ from the majority of geckos, in that they are ground dwelling and do not climb. They are nocturnal, spending the hot days hidden under rocks or in holes in the ground, and when kept in a terrarium appreciate hiding places.
Through selective breeding a huge variety of colour morphs is now available. These range from albinos, to lizards with patterns that are different from the wild type bands, known as jungle, lizards that have a large amount of orange pigment, ones with one long band running from the head to the tail, and many others.
Leopard geckos are fairly docile and can easily get used to being handled by their keepers.
The Crested Gecko
These remarkable geckos, are only found in the forests of New Caledonia. They were once thought extinct, and were only discovered again in 1994. Now, through a program of captive breeding in the United States and Europe, they are one of the most popular reptile pets, and they are very easy to find by hobbyists looking to keep them.
The common name of Rhacodactylus ciliates derives from the hair-like skin projections above each eye, and running from the eyes to the tail. This has also given it the name 'eyelash gecko'. These lizards are nocturnal and arboreal. Their adhesive toes end in little claws which help them to cling to surfaces. The tail is also semi-prehensile and ends in an adhesive pad.
These are fairly hardy geckos, that are easy to keep and tolerate being handled by their owners. As well as insects, they feed on fruit, and can be maintained on a commercial diet, rhapashy, sold as a powder. They require a tall vivarium with many branches to climb, and preferable live plants.
The Day Geckos of Madagascar
Phelsuma day geckos are endemic to Madagascar and surrounding islands. They are very brightly coloured, often green with red markings, although the neon day gecko, has a yellow head and two neon blue lines running down its side. Blue markings are also present on other species such as the amusing blue eye shadow that the gold dust gecko uses.
Unlike the majority of species, Phelsuma geckos are diurnal, active during the day. They love sunning themselves on a branch, and need strong UV light to allow them to absorb calcium and bring out their best colours. They are more sensitive to errors in their husbandry than the previous species, but with careful research and set up they can do very well in the terrarium and are fairly easy to breed.
They tend to be very aggressive, but only towards each other, and are usually kept as a pair. Two males housed together will fight to the death of one of them. A male and a female will usually co-exist well, but when a pair is introduced to each other they must be watched carefully to make sure they are getting along. They tend to be quite shy, and need to get used to their keeper before they allow themselves to be observed. Because of their very fragile skin they should not be handled.
To help them feel at home, their tall terraria should be well planted and furnished with a variety of bamboo tubes, in which they hide and sleep. If you cut some small wholes in the bamboo, you will be rewarded with the sight of the little geckos sticking their heads out, after the lights switch on to survey their surroundings.
The Electric Blue Gecko
Lygodacylus williamsi geckos definitely deserve their common name of electric blue gecko, although it is only the males who sport the brilliant blue colour, females range from drab brown to green. These small lizards were discovered in the Kimboza forest of Eastern Tanzania in the 1950s and it appears to be the only place on earth where they can be found.
Unfortunately their natural habitat is being destroyed by logging, so their numbers in the wild are likely to diminish alarmingly. As of March 2012 export of wild caught lizards has been completely banned, so all future pets will have to come from captive breeding the small number of lizards already exported. After the ban their prices have soared, however as more are bred they might well fall down again.
Overall this is a rather welcome development since captive bred geckos are far more hardy and easy to keep than wild caught animals.
The electric blue gecko is often referred to as a day gecko, but it does not belong to the genus Phelsuma, so is not a true day gecko. However its care is very similar to Phelsuma geckos, it is also active during the day, requires a tall, planted tank, and eats insects and nectar. Males are territorial and only one should be kept in an enclosure.
The geckos communicate through a series of chirps, inflating their throats, bobbing their heads and wagging their tails. They are bold geckos, easily tamed, and although too small and fragile to be handled, will learn to climb onto their owners hands and take food from it.