Tokay geckos are bright, beautiful lizards. You can encounter them both in the wild and in a home terrarium. In parts of Southeast Asia, they’re considered a sign of good luck. But you should think carefully before bringing one home — tokay geckos do best with experienced owners.
What Are Tokay Geckos?
The scientific name for the tokay gecko is Gekko gecko. They’re naturally found in many countries, including:
Human activity has spread these lizards around the world — including to the U.S., where you can find tokay geckos in both Florida and Hawaii.
Tokay geckos are arboreal creatures. This means that the tokay gecko habitat is in the trees and on the cliffs of tropical rainforests.
What Are a Tokay Gecko’s Physical Characteristics?
The exact color of a tokay gecko depends on the lighting. In darker, shaded areas, they have pale gray bodies with distinct blue spots. In the light, their bodies take on a darker gray color and the spots appear reddish. This color variation makes it easier for them to blend into the background.
The tokay gecko size is larger than most gecko species. They’re about 2 to 3 inches in length when they hatch and grow to an average of 12 inches long. The males are slightly larger and brighter than the females.
The adult bodies are essentially squat cylinders that are slightly flattened on top. Their four limbs are well-defined, and their heads appear large in relation to their bodies. The skin that covers their bodies has a granular appearance and velvety texture.
Their prominent eyes have vertical-slit pupils. Tokay geckos also have a roughly formed third eye in the center of their foreheads that senses light.
A tokay gecko's ears are two open holes, one on each side of the head. Look through one, and you should be able to see straight through the gecko's head and out the other ear.
The tokay gecko lifespan is an average of 10.5 years. Be prepared to spend about a decade with this pet if you bring one home.
What Unique Traits Do Tokay Geckos Have?
Tokay geckos — and geckos in general — have several intriguing adaptations that have allowed them to survive and thrive in their native environments. These include:
- Lamellae on their toe pads. These are tiny filaments that are small enough to fit into the slightest imperfections on an object’s surface — even something as smooth as glass. The lamellae allow them to walk around on vertical surfaces and ceilings.
- Detachable tails. Like most lizard varieties, tokay geckos can detach part or all of their tails. This allows them to escape from predators. It takes them three weeks to grow a new tail. But it comes back shorter than the original.
- Jacobson’s organ. This is a special organ that some lizards have that allows them to detect scent particles in the air with their tongues. Their tongues transfer the scent particles to their palates. The particles enter Jacobson’s organ through holes in the palate.
What’s the Tokay Gecko Personality?
Tokay geckos aren’t particularly friendly pets. Most geckos become stressed with human contact and like to be left alone. This is particularly true for tokay geckos.
Tokay geckos have powerful bites and sharp teeth. Once they clamp on, you won’t be able to get them off until they want to let go. These bites can:
Despite these potent bites, you can attempt to tame tokay geckos. First, handle them in the tank. Then start taking them out for short periods.
They have individual personalities. You could have an easy time taming one and absolutely no luck with the next — even if you treat them the same way. Before adopting one, make sure that you’re capable of managing a difficult individual.
In the wild, tokay geckos are solitary animals that only come together during mating season. The males — and sometimes the females — can be very territorial and will battle others of the same sex.
These animals are nocturnal, so they only like to come out at night. You’ll rarely see them out in the tank in the daytime.
Even if you don’t see them, you might still hear them. When they’re distressed, tokay geckos emit loud barks that sound like their name — "tokay" — and trilling sounds.
What’s the Tokay Gecko Diet?
Tokay geckos are insectivores, which means that they eat insects. In the wild, they eat a wide variety of insects that are found in their natural habitat. Humans near their territories like them because they eat pests, like cockroaches and locusts.
In captivity, you should feed your gecko daily. Live crickets are an available, affordable option. It’s best to feed them gut-loaded insects. This means that the insects were fed recently and have full stomachs, which means more nutrients for your gecko.
Small ones also like mealworms. Large ones can eat pink mice.
You can find local sources of live food at pet stores. You can also order supplies of insects online.
Keep your pet hydrated as well as fed. They don’t drink water from bowls. Instead, they need to lap up condensation or dripped water, like they do in the wild. To keep them hydrated, mist a particular part of their tank every evening. You can also leave ice cubes on top of the screen lid. These will melt and mimic raindrops inside the tank.
Basics of Tokay Gecko Care
Before taking a tokay gecko home, make sure you’ve created an appropriate environment for your pet. They need at least a 20-gallon tank. It should be full of potted plants and branches to give your gecko places to hide. These objects also help keep your tank humid.
Tokay geckos don’t need special UVB lights, but they do need a consistent temperature gradient across the tank. During the day, it should be between 75 degrees Fahrenheit and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. It should drop down to between 70 degrees Fahrenheit and 80 degrees Fahrenheit at night.
If you need a lightbulb for night heating, it should be a non-white light source. Nocturnal reptile bulbs and ceramic heating elements are useful alternatives.
Tokay Gecko Health Concerns
Many of the tokay geckos found in pet stores are caught in the wild and imported to the U.S. This can leave them:
If you have any health concerns, find a veterinarian who’s familiar with geckos. They can give your pet a thorough checkup. Or you can bring fresh stool samples for the vet to test for worms and certain other parasites.
Tokay geckos are a beautiful species, but caring for one comes with certain challenges. Budding herpetologists may want to consider an easier species before taking on this fierce commitment.