This is a comprehensive guide to keeping the African Fat Tailed Gecko (Hemitheconyx caudicinctus) as a pet. I’m going to cover everything you need to keep African Fat Tailed Geckos in captivity, including housing, heating, lighting, substrate and decor, breeding and more. If you’re familiar with other geckos you’ll find that the care of the African Fat Tailed Gecko is almost identical to it’s related cousin, the Leopard Gecko. In fact they’re so similar, you’ll find a section below on the differences between Leopard Geckos and Fat Tailed Geckos so you can make the right choice for you.
Meet the African Fat Tailed Gecko
|Common Name||African Fat Tailed Gecko, Fat Tailed Gecko|
|Scientific Name||Hemitheconyx caudicinctus|
|Size||7 – 9″|
|Lifespan||10 – 25 years, average 15 years|
|Housing||Terrestrial, 24x18x18″ enclosure or larger|
The African Fat Tailed Gecko is a medium sized (7 – 9″) nocturnal lizard from West Africa. This is a slow and sedate lizard that breeds well in captivity, although some individuals may still be found wild caught. The natural colour form of Fat Tailed Geckos is dark brown to black and yellow bands that grow darker as the Fat Tailed Gecko Matures. Some individuals have a natural white stripe running from the head down to the tail (photo above). Fat Tailed Geckos are long lived, on average 15 years, but with some reports of 25 years in captive bred individuals.
African Fat Tailed Gecko Housing
One or two African Fat Tailed Geckos can be housed in a 24x18x18″ enclosure but these lizards can be quite active during the night and will appreciate any additional space you give them, so we recommend a 36x18x18″ setup or larger, especially if keeping more than one in the enclosure – see Social Needs below for more information this.
We favour wooden vivariums due to the ease of using them and sizes available. Glass terrariums can be used if they offer adequate floor space, are secure and have good ventilation, but you may find it more difficult to maintain the temperatures you need, whereas wood holds heat better.
As the care for Fat Tailed Geckos is the same as Leopard Geckos, our Leopard Gecko Setups offer a full setup with everything you need.
We can also upgrade to a 48x18x18″ Setup for an additional £20 on the three foot prices. Don’t forget all our setups collected from our store or delivered within the local area come with free assembly, sealing and wiring!
Your geckos will require heating to a temperature of 90F under the spotlight/hottest part, with the ambient in the tank being 82-86F. The night time temperature can drop as low as 70F.
There are some different options you will come across for heating your tank.
Heat Mat – Heat mats are cheap and simple. They should always be controlled with a thermostat. In glass tanks the heat mat goes outside the enclosure whilst in wooden ones it goes inside. Heat mats can usually raise temperature enough for the night time temperatures, but can often not provide a good basking spot in the tank, so can be used in combination with another form of heating if needed.
Ceramic Bulb – Ceramic bulbs are non light emitting bulbs that are now available from 40w up to 250w. They can be left on 24 hours a day and can be used with an on/off or a pulse thermostat. Ceramic bulbs do provide enough heating for both day and night temperatures and we strongly recommend using a Ceramic bulb where possible over heat mats now.
Basking Light Bulbs – Basking light bulbs (light emitting) can provide intense basking heat but must be turned off at night and controlled with a dimming thermostat. For nocturnal species we personally recommend a ceramic bulb and then UVB to provide your natural light photoperiod, see below.
Whatever your method of heating, ensure that it is controlled by a thermostat and that you have a good way of reading it to make sure the tank is at the right temperature – I’d recommend a digital thermometer for the best accuracy.
In addition to these heating elements, we recommend that you use a low wattage white bulb (if not using a basking bulb) for a rise in daytime temperatures and that you use a low level UVB.
Whilst Fat Tailed Geckos are nocturnal, it has now been proven that nocturnal reptiles in the wild will often be active at dawn and dusk, getting low levels of UVB which help health, appetite, growth and colour. We use the species specific Arcadia Lighting Guide when setting up our reptile tanks, and you can read more about why UVB is important even for nocturnal animals here.
These Geckos require a UV Index of 2-3 in the basking zone. The basking zone is wherever your lizard is likely to stand to bask, which may be the bottom of the tank, or a raised platform. The UVB you want if this basking zone is 10-15″ from the ceiling of the vivarium is the Arcadia T5 7% Shadedweller, or an equivalent T8 bulb such as a 6% Forest bulb. In a larger tank, if your distance is 15-18″ or higher from the basking location (so if your tank is 24″ or higher in total), you can upgrade this to a T5 6% Forest bulb or a T8 12% Desert bulb.
Substrate and Decor
For young geckos or new acquisitions you might want to use a non-loose substrate such as cage carpet. This is not a natural substrate, but it allows you to monitor the gecko and double check that they’re feeding and pooping well. Hatchlings in particular can be prone to ingesting substrate which can cause impaction, but as they grow and learn to hunt with precision they can be moved to a more natural, loose substrate.
You can be quite flexible with creating a natural substrate for the Fat Tailed Geckos. They like to dig, but also like to have some humidity in the enclosure. A substrate that holds humidity well would be Orchid Bark, or Arcadia EarthMix. However, you can keep them on Leopard Gecko Bedding mixed with a Coir block or EarthMix as well.
Hides and Decor – You will want at least two hides in the enclosure, one on the hot end and one on the cool end to allow your gecko to thermoregulate. Additional decor such as plants, low lying sturdy branches, rocks and accessories will help to both make the enclosure aesthetically pleasing, and provide a stimulating environment with lots of cover. African Fat Tailed Geckos are not particularly agile climbers and are terrestrial, but will traverse rocky terrain in the wild.
- Cork Bark – Round, Flat or Tubes£2.00
- Exo Terra Buffalo Skull£17.99
- Exo Terra Dinosaur Egg Fossil Hide Out£18.99
- Exo Terra Gecko Cave£14.99 – £29.99
- Exo Terra Reptile Cave£4.99 – £16.49
- Exo Terra Reptile Hiding Cave£4.99 – £28.99
- Exo Terra Silk Hanging Plants£5.49 – £12.99
- Zoo Med Plastic Plants£4.99 – £9.99
Moss Box – A Fat Tailed Gecko will dig a burrow and the humidity in this burrow will be higher than outside, and this is where they will shed. In captivity they will benefit greatly from a moss box or damp hide to enable them to shed. This is also essential if you have a female who may have eggs, as if she cannot find somewhere suitable to lay them, she may end up being eggbound.
Water Bowl – A small shallow water bowl should be provided and changed daily.
Humidity should be around 50 – 60% but can tolerate up to 70%. This can be achieved by having a substrate that holds humidity as discussed above, and placing your water bowl on the hot end of the tank. You may need to occasionally mist the tank, but may find that the tank maintains this humidity without needing much misting – perhaps only once or twice a week. If your natural humidity in your geographic area is particularly low, you may need to mist daily, but this is unlikely in the UK.
You will need a humidity reader to check the humidity.
Social Needs and Housing Together
Fat Tailed geckos have no social needs to live with their own species and they will live a happy solitary life. In fact, it’s better for them to live alone, so we would recommend keeping one to an enclosure generally.
Sexually mature males are territorial and will fight. Males and females will mate readily which can result in health problems if you don’t separate them. If you do breed, we recommend multiple females to one male, as in a single male to female ratio the female is likely to be chased and harassed by the male. Males will mate earlier than females; so a female should not be placed with a male until she is at least 50g in weight or there could be serious health problems with egg laying as well as stunted growth. Overall for the healthiest animals it is best to either keep them alone, or with two females.
You should never mix Fat Tailed geckos with other species. Sometimes people think they are so similar to Leopard Geckos that they can be mixed – they absolutely cannot live with Leopard Geckos. These two species would not meet in the wild and will be extremely stressed by co-habiting.
Fat Tailed Gecko Diet
Fat Tailed Geckos will eat a variety of livefood in captivity – crickets, locusts, mealworms, roaches and waxworms. Waxworms should be fed in very small quantities as they have a high fat ratio. Livefood should always be gutloaded first; either by feeding with a variety of fresh greens or by using any of the powder or gel food available. Juveniles should be fed every day, as many as they will comfortably eat. Adults can be fed every other day.
Your livefood should be supplemented with a multivitamin and D3 supplement twice a week and straight calcium once a week.
Handling Fat Tailed Geckos
Fat Tailed Geckos are generally calm and docile. Wild caught individuals can be defensive and may bite if they feel threatened, but captive bred individuals are generally slow, sedate and happy to be handled. Babies may be jumpy at first, so you’ll need regular handling to get them used to you. When handling, ensure you’re sitting on a low surface in case they move quicker than anticipated, for example sitting on a sofa, bed or sitting on the floor rather than standing and holding them up.
Never hold them by the tail. This can be dropped if they feel threatened and although it does grow back, it doesn’t look the same and takes a lot of their resources.
Should I get a Fat Tailed Gecko or Leopard Gecko?
I often get asked this question. Although these two geckos live in different places, they are related and have a lot of similarities. The biggest difference is the look of them. Fat Tailed Geckos are very different in appearance to leopard geckos, whilst leopard geckos are available in a massive array of morphs. Fat Tailed Gecko morphs are quite rare, and not drastically different to the normal colouration.
|Leopard Gecko||Fat Tailed Gecko|
|Bright colours||Fairly dark colours|
|Lots of varied morphs||Few morphs that look fairly similar|
|Slightly larger (9 – 12″)||Slightly Smaller (7 – 9″)|
|Slightly faster, especially as babies||Generally calm and docile, fairly slow|
|Temperatures same||Temperatures same|
|Enclosure size same||Enclosure size same|
|Humidity slightly lower||Humidity slightly higher|
|Social needs same||Social needs same|
Ultimately if you’re umming and ahhing over which one to get, I can’t help you choose. Why limit yourself to one? They can never be housed together – but you can easily stack two vivarium setups on top of each other and enjoy both in their own enclosures!
Fat Tailed Gecko Breeding
Fat Tailed Geckos breed well in captivity is kept correctly. It’s very important your adults be healthy and mature before breeding and that you have an incubator for the eggs, as well as multiple setups at the correct temperature for the hatchlings, who should ideally be housed separately. Females should weigh at least 50g before breeding, whilst males can be slightly less.
Fat Tailed Geckos are seasonal breeders and in the wild will breed from November to March. This may be different in captivity, but they will generally settle on a 5-6 month breeding cycle. A very short cooling cycle helps them to breed. Stop feeding for 10 days, then you can take your hot spot down to about 82F and keep the cool side at 70-75F for a month and then raise the temperature again. Do not feed them at these lower temperatures. After 4 weeks, raise the temperatures and begin feeding. Two weeks later, introduce the males to females.
A single male can be left in with a group of females – reports from breeders suggest a single male can be left in with up to eight females and all will produce fertile eggs, but you may want to keep a single male to three females as the perfect ratio.
You will need to provide a large egg laying box, similar to a moss box. Females will lay two eggs at a time, and three to five clutches during the season.
Eggs should be removed into an incubator, in a perlite or vermiculate substrate. For female hatchlings incubate at 83-85F, for males incubator at 88-89F, or for a mix, incubator at 86F. Incubation time is 43-50 days for males, and 55-70 days for females.
Hatchlings will emerge and we recommend housing them in individual small enclosures, with the same temperatures as adults. Like adults they will need access to fresh water, a moss box and hides. After about 6 weeks they will have grown and you’ll know their healthy, allowing you to sell them to their new homes.