My wife and I have always been fascinated by Tokay Geckos from the moment we began reading up on lizards. Maybe it was their startling light blue and red colouring, maybe their reputation as both songsters and aggressive captives. Sooner or later we meant to get one or two, and finally I received a pair in the form of a birthday present from my spouse.
Tokay Geckos are quite easily sexed, like many geckos, by their femoral pores. Often the males are slightly larger, although this isn't true in the case of our two. Both sexes are fairly pugnacious, so don't look primarily for behavioural clues. Major tip: make sure you're wearing thick gloves when you try picking one up to sex it!
Unhappily most tokay geckos seen for sale are still wild-caught and imported, understandable in one way given their robust nature but in another very ecologically unsound. Given that they breed readily in captivity, tokay keepers should really try to get more captive-bred young onto the market, especially given the sometimes unstable situation in SE Asia (politics and geography, plus the threat of deforestation in some areas). Furthermore, experience of breeding these geckos would surely help with breeding the rarer members of the genus Gekko, some of which are very beautiful, less aggressive and unfortunately more at risk than the ubiquitous Tokay.
Nevertheless, it is fairly easy to choose one or two good specimens, especially if you are prepared to try more than one shop or outlet. Though their popularity has possibly peaked (due partly to their "hands off" attitude!), they are still available in most places. Ours were purchased via a friend working in a local shop, who had one very healthy-looking female for sale plus one smaller male that he owned himself. We named them Tick and Tock respectively.
When looking for a tokay gecko, the obvious things apply. The tokay should not look emaciated nor have any open wounds, missing limbs, etc. The tail (unless obviously just regenerated) should not be too scrawny. When at rest tokays normally have their gaping mouths shut: a tokay with its mouth persistently open is probably suffering from some respiratory ailment or parasite infestation. (The same goes for most lizards, in fact). If you move a hand towards it and/or try to pick it up, it should react fairly rapidly, even violently. If it hardly moves at all it is not tame, it is sick. The shop should allow you to examine it, either by picking it out of the cage themselves or letting you do so, possibly subject to your own risk if you do not wear gloves. An examination of the vent, handily situated just behind the hind legs and in front of the tail, should not show caked faeces or anything similar - caked faeces or streaking down the tail are again often a sign of sickness. If the shop can show you the tokay's healthy appetite by offering it something to eat like a cricket or other moving prey item, so much the better.
Arboreal lizards such as Tokays are best housed in tall rather than long vivaria to allow natural behaviour: indeed, a low vivarium can stress such lizards, whether small geckos or large iguanas. We opted for an all-glass one which allows excellent observation but which, we soon discovered, is a brute to move. In fact it took a neighbour and myself considerable effort and strain to get the tank out of the car (luckily we have an estate), into the house and onto the heavy coffee table where it has sat since. If you are not well-endowed with muscles or live on your own, please think twice about an all-glass structure as they are very difficult to move.
The other disadvantage of glass is that as it is a reasonably good conductor it allows efficient heat transfer, ie the heat can soon escape from a glass tank once the light is off. Although ours is not too bad in this respect, partly because the glass is so thick, it is worth bearing this in mind, particularly if you live in a cold climate.
Although Tokay Geckos are renowned for their pugnaciousness it is important that they have considerable cover in their cage as they are used to the close terrain of the jungle and forest. If you like plants and botany then this is a good motivation to use an interesting selection of living plants in the cage. I confess that I am not knowledgeable about botany or the husbandry of living plants, and so we opted for a wide variety of plastic plants and arranged them within the cage to create the desired effect. Nowadays plastic plants are reasonably realistic looking (although don't expect to fool all of the people all of the time), and they have the added advantage of being virtually indestructible to both lizard behaviour and the rigors of a warm, dripping moist tank. In addition to the plants (real or plastic), a specific hide place for each gecko is very desirable, even if they end up sharing one. We used a couple of large hollow cork bark sections, propped up against the back of the tank, one in each corner, and the tokays utilise these a lot, especially during the day. For substrate we used a layer of bark mulch, which retains moisture and also looks quite natural in a forest-style vivarium.
One final consideration with the setup of the tank is that it helps to have one side opaque to give the inmates an added sense of security. With an all-glass tank this can be simply and easily achieved by sticking an appropriately-sized piece of "backdrop" paper sold in pet shops to the outside of the glass. We used a tasteful-looking sheet that showed a sort of rock wall formation which not only looks natural but blends well with the plants. Certainly the geckos use this wall more than any other.
Tokay geckos (and indeed most of the genus Gekko) are creatures of the SE Asian forests and jungles, which means that humidity is as important as heat. To warm themselves, one would expect arboreal geckos to warm themselves on branches (or rockfaces) more exposed to the sun. This effect can be reasonably recreated by having the heat source at the top of the tank, preferably on a timer to allow regular light cycles. In the tropics the light cycle does not alter much over the year: in equatorial parts the difference may be about three hours between summer and winter day lengths, and in tropical areas possibly even less (compared with the six hours or more between European and North American summers and winters). Our timer works from 8.00 to 21.00 at the moment, but will probably be decreased by an hour in the winter. We use a blue light bulb since the light is relatively unintrusive to a tokay and indeed to a human sitting nearby! It is also worth having a heat mat at the bottom of the tank to provide a constant steady but gentle warmth, especially in the colder months if you live in northern latitudes when the temperature may drop considerably during the early hours of the morning. Remember that the temperature probably never drops lower than the high sixties in the Tokay Gecko's natural habitat.
Humidity is easily achieved by using a plant spray to liberally mist the tank. We do this twice a day, once in the early morning before work and once last thing at night. Enough should be sprayed so that the leaves are dripping. Here glass vivaria have an advantage in that glass is waterproof and allows the drops to remain for a while, whereas wooden cages unless properly constructed or treated will inevitably start to suffer after a while. If you are worried about having to spray manually every day there are a number of "drip devices" that can be used: these are simply filled with water and the outflow adjusted so that water continually drips into the cage, keeping up a certain dampness and humidity. Finally, a largeish dog bowl of water placed in the tank will also contribute to the humidity levels, especially if placed over a heat mat.
This is one of the easy parts of keeping Tokay Geckos, since they are voracious and very catholic in their tastes, apparently being willing to try anything they can overpower and/or swallow. We feed ours three times a week with crickets at night, usually after 21.00. The crickets themselves are "gut-loaded", ie fed nutritious food 12-24 hours at least before being offered. Adult Tokay Geckos will take the larger sizes of cricket. I am not so sure about offering mealworms, nor about dead pinkie mice since it is uncertain whether the Tokays need a lot of movement on the part of their prey to trigger the hunting reaction. In the future I will experiment with waxworms that have reached the moth stage. Our favoured method of feeding is to take a bag full of crickets and tip half the contents down into each cork bark section, since that is where the tokays are often sitting. If they are "at home", then often we hear a series of thuds as the lizards realised what is happening and attack the insects accordingly. I have also seen Tick move from one of the non-covered glass walls towards the cork bark and then start feeding on those crickets which had fallen outside the bark. From what I have seen Tokay Geckos tend to lunge with their whole bodies, much as Leopard Geckos do.
Water is primarily obtained from the drops of water that have accumulated on the leaves or sides of the tank. It seems that most if not all Tokay Geckos will not drink from a water bowl, but we have the dog bowl full of water at the bottom of the tank in case they need to or want to, as well as to keep up the humidity level.
I suppose the first thing to be said on the subject of tameness is that you don't buy Tokay Geckos in the expectation that they ever will become tame! This particular species (Gekko gecko) is noted for its aggressive behaviour, including towards long-standing human keepers. They are not recommended for handling and indeed seem to resent it. Funnily enough, it is at times when I have tried to handle them that they have given their famous vocal noises, which sound like a cross between a chuckle and the noise that the Soup Dragon in the Clangers used to make, and it sounds both angry and amused, like a rebuke. Other than this I have not heard them make any vocalisations.
On the other hand captive Tokay Geckos should get used to the presence of humans after they have been kept a while. Ours were shy at first but improved noticeably when we added the backdrop and put the light on a timer, giving them a regular cycle. Of the two, Tock (the male) is the smaller and the more nervous. Although he comes out and sits on the glass, sudden movements startle him and usually send him racing for his hide bark. Tock on the other hand, possibly due to her greater size, is comparatively laid back and will often spend time outside her cork bark, sitting (if that's the right word) with her head pointing downwards during the day which implies that she is asleep. She will also go around the other sides of the tank, resting halfway up the glass.
Tokay Geckos have a reputation for being good breeders in captivity, the female laying two hard-shelled eggs per clutch. The eggs are normally "glued" to the side of the tank or some other surface, in which case it is normally difficult or impossible to move them without breaking them. In this case most authorities recommend sticking some sort of protection around them, eg a small plastic pot with holes for ventilation, preferably allowing the viewer to see inside. Incubation periods vary: one source cites 65-200 days (McKeown and Zagorski), another three to six months (Walls and Walls), so it does seem to be a case of wait and see, and be patient if nothing seems to be happening. The hatchlings should be removed and placed in their own cage, although there have been some suggestions that the mother does show some signs of maternal protectiveness towards the eggs at least.
The main problem with imported Tokay Geckos is that they may be carrying a fair load of endoparasites (worms, etc), as well as being stressed from the journey and the sometimes poor facilities at importers or holders. Some authorities suggest a visit to a good reptile vet once the lizard is acquired to have precautionary worming done. Once this is done, Tokays seem to be hardy lizards that have a long lifespan (20 years or more). The best way to prevent mishaps is to house them singly or in male-female pairs: this species is fiercely aggressive amongst its own kind, even more than other geckos, and inappropriate numbers in the vivarium will inevitably lead to injuries, stress and even death.
Tick and Tock seem to coexist quite harmoniously together and during the day can often be seen sitting together on the side of the glass underneath the light, both pointing in the same direction. While I have not yet seen evidence of mating there is no reason to suppose that they will not do so eventually. They also often share the same piece of cork bark together.
If you want a beautiful lizard "pet" that is not shy and are content with just a "spectator" rather than a "hands-on" approach, then I cannot recommend Tokay Geckos too highly. They are attractive, easy to look after and long-lived. It is also worth noting that there are other members of the genus that are similarly attractive, although perhaps not quite as striking as the Tokay: Gekko vittatus, the White-Lined or Skunk Gecko, and Gekko ulikowski, the Vietnam Golden Gecko, spring to mind. See the Gekko page for more information.
|Vivarium size:||A tall rather than long vivarium is necessary. Dimensions should be in the region of 2' x 2' x 3' for a pair of Tokays.|
|Heating:||Heat during the day should reach a maximum of 90-95 directly under the heat source at the top of the tank, obviously decreasing towards the bottom. McKeown and Zagorski recommend enclosure temperatures of 75-86 deg F, but I have found that the Tokays will sit for short periods near the heat bulb even when the temperature near it is over 90. At night this should be allowed to drop a few degrees (McKeown and Zagorski recommend a level of 65-78 deg F). This can be achieved by having an adjustable thermostat on which you decrease the heat levels accordingly, or by simply by turning the main heat source off but leaving a heat mat on at the bottom (of the tank) to ensure that levels do not drop critically. The main thing is to keep a track of temperatures by having thermometers (the stick-on kind are the best in this situation) to monitor the heat levels at various times, and adjusting your heat levels or methods as required.|
|UV Light:||Not necessary as these geckos are nocturnal. Photoperiod, however, is important and is best done by having the main heat source on a timer.|
|Food:||Crickets and other arthropods, occasionally mealworms. It may be worthwhile experimenting with pinkie mice and smaller-sized locusts. All live food should be fed nutritiously 12-24 hours or more before being offered and then dusted with a calcium/D3 supplement. Feed the geckos three times a week.|
|Water/humidity||Keep a large bowl of water in the bottom, mainly to keep the humidity levels up, and spray the tank twice daily. The Tokays will usually lap water from the surfaces in the tank (leaves, walls) rather than drinking from the bowl itself. In the bowl itself yo may also wish to place a few large stones which any insects in the enclosure can use to climb onto: otherwise you may end with a lot of drowned insects, which are wasted food as far as the Tokays go.|
|Handleability||Very little: unlikely to tame down. Use gloves if you need to pick one of these geckos up as they have a hard bite.|
|Health||Fairly robust once established. Unfortunately virtually all specimens received in the UK are wild-caught, with the problems attendant on this situation. A precautionary visit to a reptile vet may be worthwhile.|
|Initial outlay (excluding the lizards themselves)||About £100 for the tank/vivarium and the heating and lighting equipment, or as much as you would pay for a similar sized lizard habitat. Tokays themselves normally cost £15-£25. If you can find captive-bred ones, so much the better, although these are rare. Buy from a reputable shop or dealer as wild-caught imports do vary in health.|
In November 2003 I had an E-mail from Jeff The Gecko Guy. He kindly gave me permission to use the picture at the top of the page and supplied the following comments:
I have been keeping all types of geckos as pets since I was a kid, and my favorite has always been the Tokay. They actually make great pets once you get them tame, which is no easy task. But once they get tame, I've found that they're comparable to Leopard geckos as far as being docile and friendly. They will eat out of your hand or sit atop a
computer monitor for hours at a time.
Melissa Kaplan also noted in her care sheet that she had attempted to tame hers, and it had gone to the stage where it did stop to think before gnawing her knuckles!
The only book dedicated to the care of the Tokay Gecko and some of its relations is the excellent General Care and Maintenance of Tokay Geckos and Related Species, by Sean McKeown and Jim Zaworski, 1997, in the Herpetocultural Library series. I heartily recommend this book if you are interested in the lizards in this genus, ie Tokays, White-Lineds or Golden Geckos.
Other information can be found in the following sources:
Geckos, Keeping and Breeding Them in Captivity, Jerry G Walls and Maleta Walls, 1997, TFH. Quite useful section on the Tokays as well as a few other members of their genus, plus other species.
Keeping and Breeding Geckos,, John Coborn, TFH. More expensive hardback book that covers more species and genera than the Walls' book but otherwise similar. Again, quite useful: this is actually one of Coborn's better books.
Echsen [Lizards] Vol I,, Manfred Rogner, 1992, Ulmer. This is an expensive book so don't buy it if you are just interested in keeping geckos! Rogner does have a useful section on Gekko gecko. An English translation is available from Krieger Publishing, I believe. See also Keeping and Breeding Lizards, Chris Mattison, Blandford Press, and Lizard Care from A to Z, R D and Patricia Bartlett, Barron's.
Tokays are mentioned in most if not all books on lizard keeping in general, although some writers seem now to mention them in passing. Unfortunately the expression "needs no introduction" also seems to denote a lack of information for those readers who do want to keep these lizards, even if they are "common".
Steve's GeckoCam is well worth a visit as it shows pictures and movies of a tokay gecko. This is a good idea and I hope more herpetologists will take it up in the future.
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