African Fat-tailed Gecko (Hemitheconyx caudicinctus) Caresheet
by Richard Brooks
African Fat-tailed Gecko Taxonomy
African Fat-tailed Geckos (AFT's) are very similar to Leopard Geckos in both size and shape.
Like the leopard gecko, they belong to the subfamily Eublepharinae. These are the eyelid geckos. They are the only group of geckos with functioning eyelids that can close. All other geckos possess eyelids that are fused open and are unable to blink. The eyelid geckos are the most primitive reptiles within the gecko family.
Aft's are native to West Africa, stemming from Nigeria, Senegal and up to Northern Cameroon.
Though these geckos are not as widely bred as the leopard gecko, they have become a favorite amongst gecko enthusiasts because of their hardy and adaptable disposition.
A single gecko can be housed in a ten-gallon aquarium though a longer enclosure is always suggested.
Since Aft's are not arboreal, they do not require enclosures that are "tall/high". A longer, shallower enclosure would suit them best.
Many people own and house multiple geckos. This can be done individually or accumulatively. Female aft's can be housed in groups so long as the space is permitted. A 20-gallon aquarium would be sufficient for three females. Males must be housed separately. They will fight over territory and some cases of fighting have lead to death of one or both of the geckos.
Adequate substrates to use include paper, unprinted newspaper, paper towel, slate, tile, linoleum, etc.
Coconut fiber is also a widely used substrate material, as is peat moss, for this species. You can also combine the two materials to create your own substrate material.
Unlike the leopard gecko, this species requires slightly elevated humidity levels. Some substrates, like the coconut fiber and the peat moss, will help retain moisture better than others.
If using a substrate like slate, tile, etc., you will need to add a moist hide. Moist hides will create a humid chamber for your Aft, and will also double as an egg laying box for your gravid females if you will be breeding these wonderful lizards.
A great medium to use in the moist hide would be vermiculite. Vermiculite can be purchased at almost all garden centers and retains moisture very well.
As with all granular substrates, impaction can be an issue, so base your decision off knowing that the vermiculite could be ingested resulting in an impaction. It is a very widely used medium for egg laying boxes/ humid hides with this species.
The most common and often the most preferred method of heating an enclosure for Aft's is with the use of an under tank heater (UTH).
Under tank heaters adhere to the bottom of the glass aquariums and should be placed on one end of the enclosure. The spot in the enclosure that has the uth under it will be considerably warmer than the rest of the enclosure. There should be a hide spot/spots placed over this location. This is where the geckos can receive the warmth required to aid in thermo-regulation and digestion. The use of a rheostat will allow you to change the amount of heat that is emitted by the uth.
Other methods of heating an enclosure are ceramic heat emitters, basking lights, etc. Never should you use a "heat rock" with ANY reptile. There have been a number of reported cases where heat rocks have malfunctioned and caused thermal burns.
The ideal temperature range to house an Aft at would be 85-88 degrees in the "basking spot". (That would be where the uth is located.)
The cooler end of the enclosure should not fall below 74 degrees but should also not exceed 78 degrees. There should be a hide spot located on this end of the enclosure as well.
The purpose of having this type of setup is to allow the gecko to thermo-regulate its body temperature. Unlike humans, geckos are cold blooded. They depend upon external heat sources and cool spots to adjust their bodies core temperature. If a proper heat gradient is not supplied, the gecko could become too cool and/or hot and become ill or die.
Heating (night time)
In the wild, evening temperatures differ from those during the day. This has to be duplicated in captivity as well.
The ideal evening temperatures would be between 74-78 degrees. Do not fall below 74 degrees.
Under tank heat emitters are never turned off unless your household temperature exceeds 80 degrees. This allows the geckos a place to warm themselves in the evening.
If you are using a ceramic heat emitter for your enclosure, it should be left on. This will allow the gecko to have an end of the enclosure that is warmer than the other.
It is crucial that you monitor your Aft's enclosure. This can be done with the use of thermometers. There are many different types to choose from and one for every budget. The use of two thermometers is recommended so that each end of the enclosure can be monitored.
The best thermometers, by opinion, are digital inddor/outdoor thermometers with a probe.
These thermometers are very accurate and allow you to monitor both the cool end of the enclosure, as well as the warm end, with a single unit.
The radial thermometers found at petstores have been known to be inaccurate by as much as 5-10 degrees!
Aft's come from a climate where humidity is often present. Unlike the leopard gecko, these geckos should have a slightly elevated humidity level within the enclosure.
Misting the enclosure every 2 days will help keep the humidity elevated slightly. You can also use a moist hide to ensure that your aft has constant access to a humid area if he so desires.
A moist hide is designed to aid with shedding and to double as an egg laying box for gravid females.
Since african fat-tailed geckos require a higher humidity than the leopard gecko, these are ideal for allowing a centralized location where the humidity is substantially higher than the rest of the enclosure.
By providing this humidity chamber, your aft will be equipped to decide what type of humidity it requires at any given time.
Instructions for creating a humid hide can be found here:
Simple Moist Hide - Humidity Chamber Creation
Like all living creatures, aft's require what is called a photoperiod. This can be established by providing 12 hours of light as well as 12 hours of darkness.
A simple household bulb can be used for this purpose. The light cycle that you provide will help the gecko to determine night and day.
While UV is not essential, nor required for this species, low level UV exposure will not harm the gecko.
A shallow dish of clean water should be made available at all times. Aft's will readily drink from standing water.
The water should be changed daily and the water dish should be cleaned at least every 2 days.
African fat-taied geckos are insectivores and require a diet consisting of healthy insects. They will also consume small pinky mice on occasion.
The most common insects available and used are crickets, mealworms, wax worms, and super worms. Each of these insects make up an entire diet with crickets or mealworms being the staple of the diet.
Wax worms are high in fat and are not fed on a regular basis.
The feeding of pinkie mice should only be done with robust adults. Their frequency should be maintained at 1-2 pinkies per month. The average owner does not need to use pinkies as part of their diet. Pinkies are most commonly used by breeders as a means to help increase the fat intake in gravid or recently gravid females.
The rule of thumb to follow is that the prey you feed your aft should not be longer than the space between the eyes.
This ensures that you are feeding prey that the gecko can easily consume and digest.
Items larger than the space can pose an impaction risk and can also deter the aft from eating.
Slightly larger insects are safe. You want to use the space as a guideline.
When feeding or offering pinkie mice, you should offer the smallest pinkies you have access too.
This process requires you to feed your insects healthy foods. By supplying your feeder insects with fresh fruits and vegetables, they will be adding nutrients to their contents. This will aid your gecko with their nutrient consumption because they will be eating insects that are healthy and nutritious.
Never feed insects directly from the pet store. They should be gut loaded first. Most pet stores do not take the time to feed their feeders because they are never in the store long enough for them to do so.
The health of your reptile is depicted by the diet they consume. Unfortunately, not all feeder insects are balanced enough nutritionally to accommodate the needs of the animal.
Your aft will benefit from calcium and vitamin dusting 2 times per week. To do this, simply sprinkle a small amount of calcium powder, and a vitamin supplement like herptivite into a sandwich bag. Toss in a few of your aft's feeders, and lightly shake the bag.
The insects will become coated in the calcium and vitamins, and should then be fed to your aft. As your aft consumes the coated prey, he will be also consuming the added nutrients you are supplying.