African Fat-tailed Gecko Caring Guide

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African Fat Tail Geck
From Getty Images

Hemitheconyx caudicinctus
(aka Fat-tail, AFT)

General Information
While they don’t enjoy the same level of popularity as their more striking cousin, the leopard gecko, African Fat-tails can make wonderful pets for both new and experienced reptile keepers.

African Fat-tails, as their name implies, are from the continent of Africa. More specifically from the western portion of the continent from Senegal south to northern Cameroon. Their habitat includes both woodlands and grasslands, in areas ranging from near desert to almost tropical in humidity.

The body of a fat-tail is similar to that of a leopard gecko with a standard length around 8 to 10 inches total length. The toes of the feet are slightly different with the fat-tails having shorter, stubbier “fingers” than the leos. Normal AFTs are generally banded in chocolate brown and tan coloration and can have a dorsal stripe. Several morphs have been bred for including jungle, albino, leucistic, patternless, and hypomelanistic, with many others believed to be possible. Tempermentally, they tend to be mellow, moving around less when handled than leopard geckos. It’s estimated that they can live from 15-25 years.

Captive Care Guidelines

It’s possible to keep a single Fat-tail in a 10 gallon tank, though it can be difficult to get the correct temperature ranges in this small of a tank. A 20 gallon long aquarium may prove easier and can house a pair. A trio or even a quartet may be housed comfortably in a 40 gallon breeder. AFTs can be kept in quintets, but the tank they would need is often prohibitively large, needing at least 2 square feet more than the 40 breeder. Never under any circumstance, should you house two males together. Fighting is a guarantee if you do, with one or both of them risking serious injury and even death. A tight fitting screen lid is recommended to prevent escapes (though generally they don’t climb) and injuries from other household pets.

For substrate you can use ground coconut husk products like Bed-a-beast, ground walnut shells, aspen, reptile bark, clay, cypress mulch or a combination of any of these. While they can also be kept on calcium sand, play sand, newspaper, reptile carpet, or paper towels, the humidity that they need can cause problems when these are used.

There should be at least two hides or caves in the enclosure, one at the cool end of the tank, and one at the heated end. One of the hides should have damp moss in it to provide a shedding spot. The habitat should be kept between 30 to 60% humidity. This can usually be maintained by misting the cage once or twice a day. A shallow water dish should be kept filled and available at all times. While it isn’t necessary to dechlorinate the water for your gecko, it is recommended and isn’t difficult to do. Many water companies are turning to a new product, called chloramine, which, unlike chlorine, does not evaporate if the water is left sitting overnight. However, there are many products available at pet shops that can be added to the water to remove the chlorine, cloramine, and heavy metals. These products usually include added electrolytes and vitamins as well.

It’s been debated as to whether nocturnal geckos, like the African Fat-tail, need a UVB light, however, with an animal that lives 15+ years, it is usually better to be safe than sorry. Either a heat lamp or an under tank heater (UTH) is a necessity in order to provide a gradient heat range for these ectothermic animals. The heated side of the tank needs to be around 85-95 degrees with an ambient air temperature of around 80 degrees, though it can go as low as 70 degrees without causing issues.

AFTs are insectivores, meaning their primary source of nutrition comes from insects. These insects should be sized appropriately to your gecko. They should be no longer than your gecko’s head is wide to prevent choking and impaction. Crickets, roaches, mealworms, and/or pheonix worms should be used as the primary food source with waxworms, hornworms, silkworms, and other feeder insects used as occasional treats. For adult geckos that need to bulk up or breeding females, pinky mice can be fed for extra protein and fat. Any insects fed to your fat-tail should be dusted with calcium at every feeding when they are growing and tapering off to once a week when they are adults. It’s also a good idea to keep a small dish of vitamin powder in the gecko’s cage. Most will occasionally lick at this powder, and they seem to enjoy the taste.

Due to the nature of the substrates in their cage, it may be necessary to feed in a separate enclosure. This serves two purposes. First, it keeps your gecko from swallowing any of its substrate, preventing the chance of impaction, or blockage of the intestines. Secondly, any uneaten food can be removed easily, leaving no risk of your pet being chewed on later by leftover prey. An inexpensive and easily cleaned Critter Keeper or similar cage works idealy. Some geckos may prove too shy for this way of feeding and it may be necessary to feed in the main enclosure.

Sexing can be difficult with these geckos as both males and females look exactly the same until they are around 8 months of age, although some develop earlier, and some later, than others. Males will develop hemipenal bumps at the base of their tail which house the hemipenes or sexual organs. They also have a V-shaped row of femoral pores that run between their hind legs. Females lack both of these signs.

Prior to breeding season, Fat-tails should be brumated or cooled for a period of four to six weeks. Temperatures during this time should be between 70-75 degrees; humidity should also be lowered. Be careful not to get the geckos too cool, or they may develop respiratory infections, which will cause you to miss all or most of the breeding season. Because they are going into a semi-hibernatory state, food should not be offered. The geckos will be living instead off of the stored fat in their tails.

After the brumation period, the geckos should be brought back up to normal temperatures over the course of a week. Begin feeding again, and, if they are not already housed together, introduce the male to the female(s). Breeding behavior should start almost immediately, with the male nipping at the female’s neck, eventually ending with copulation. Inexperienced males will usually begin by trying to overpower the females, but this usually doesn’t work and he will then begin to court them instead. After mating and depending on the temperature of the enclosure, it takes from 10 to 35 days for the female to lay her first clutch. Clutches usually consist of two eggs and a healthy female can lay up to 10 clutches per season.

It’s usually a good idea to place an egg-laying box into the cage. This can be made up from a shoebox sized plastic container filled with damp moss, vermiculite, or perlite with an access hole cut in the side. After the females lay their eggs, they can easily be remove and placed in a hobavator/incubator to hatch.

The eggs should be half-buried in a container filled with a 1:1 ratio of water and vermiculite or perlite. Sex can be predetermined by the temperature you incubate at. 85 degrees will give you a mix of male and female, below 83 degrees will give you females, and above 87 degrees will give you males. Higher temperatures mean they will hatch out quicker. Be careful not to let the temperatures go below 80 or above 90 as this will kill the eggs.

It should take between 60 and 75 days for the eggs to hatch out. The baby geckos won’t eat until after their first shed, usually at around 3 days of age. Feed appropriately sized food to them at this time. It’s usually better to house the babies separately. This creates less competition for food and tends to reduce the amount of melanin created. The more melanin, the darker the gecko and less distinct the pattern.

Health Concerns
Although AFTs are sturdy animals, as with any animal there are certain health concerns you can watch for and prevent.

Upper respiratory infections (URI): Usually caused by stress due to low temperatures, too much humidity, or other enviromental factors. Symptoms: Runny nose, discharge at nose, mouth, and eyes, trouble breathing, lethargy. Treatment: Increase temperature, decrease humidity, see veterinarian as soon as possible for antibiotics.

Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD): Lack of vitamin D3 usually caused by insufficient UVB light. Although uncommon in AFTs, it is not unheard of. Symptoms: Bowed legs, “soft” bones, swelling at joints and jaw, tremors, jerky movements, constipation, lethargy. Treatments: High doses of calcium and vitamin D3 supplements, balanced diet (high calcium, low phosphorus), proper temperatures and lighting, in moderate and severe cases veterinary assistance is necessary.

Bad sheds: Low humidity can cause your gecko to have a bad shed. Usually the feet are where this problem occurs. Retained sheds can cut off circulation causing tissue death in the affected area. Symptoms: Retained shed. Treatments: Soak gecko in shallow warm water for 5-10 minutes. Gently peel the dead skin off. If necrotic tissue is present, see veterinarian.

Internal parasites: African Fat-tails have a lower resistance to internal parasites than Leopard Geckos do. Captive bred animals can get these from feeder insects, though this is rare. Many of the Fat-tails in pet stores are wild caught and carry parasites with them. Symptoms: Increased appetite coupled with weight loss, lethargy. Treatments: Veterinarians can provide you with deparasitizing treatments. Have your vet do a fecal exam if you suspect parasites.

African Fat-tailed Gecko Caring Guide 1
Normal African Fat-tailed Gecko male.

African Fat-tailed Gecko Caring Guide 2
Normal stripe African Fat-tailed Gecko male.

African Fat-tailed Gecko Caring Guide 3

This image shows both the hemipenal bulges and femoral pores of an adult male Fat-tail.

Reptiles, Amphibians, and Invertebrates: An Identification and Care Guide by Bartlett, Griswold, and Bartlett
The Leopard Gecko Manual: Includes African Fat-tailed Geckos by Viets, De Vosjoli, Klingenburg, and Tremper

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