African Fat-Tailed Gecko Care Sheet
Also known as the African Fat Tail Gecko or Fat Tail
African Fat-Tailed geckos (Hemitheconyx caudicinctus) are nocturnal ground dwelling insectivores that originate from savannah and scrublands of West Africa. They are not a tropical gecko, with their natural habitat dry and arid. They are often found buried down inside moist logs or burrows to obtain the humidity levels they need to stay hydrated and shed properly. They contain no lamellae on their feet like some gecko species and have movable eyelids. Their natural wild type body colors range from light to dark brown with very smooth and soft skin. Some wild types display the white striping from the top of their head to the bottom of their back. Many other color and pattern mutations have now been created by selective captive breeding. Babies hatch out around 2” and can reach 9” or more full grown. Their lifespan in captivity can reach over 15 years of age.
WHAT DO FAT TAILS EAT?
Fat Tails are insectivores meaning they eat a diet consisting of various insects. In captivity the most common form of feeders are mealworms, crickets and roaches. Fat Tails can be very picky with their food at times and I have found that crickets and roaches stimulate their appetite the most. This is especially true during the colder months of the season as well as under new stress such as adjusting to a new home or change in husbandry.
We offer our Fat Tails about five appropriately sized crickets every day or so until they reach about 12g. Keep in mind that as geckos go in and out of shed it can be quite common for them to go off feed during this process. As the Fat Tails grow you want to adjust your feeding habits to the size and growth rate of your particular gecko. Since Fat Tails are often more lazy than other geckos they can gain weight fairly quickly and you want to make sure they don’t become overweight. I try to keep most of my breeders around the 40g range.
If you feed mealworms to your geckos it’s very important to dust them with a high quality calcium and vitamin supplement since they are high in fat and lacking in nutrition. We use Repashy Calcium Plus either dusted on our feeders or left in the mealworm bowls. The mealies crawl all around it coating themselves in the powder which works very well. You will also want to make sure you gut load your feeders.
WHAT IS GUT LOADING?
Gut loading is simply feeding your feeder insects a high quality diet which in turn transfers to your geckos when they are consumed. This is a critical component to long term success and breeding of your Fat Tails. You can use fresh fruits and vegetables or commercially available gut loads. We use Professional Reptile’s Pro Gutload for all of our insects. We use apples of sweet potatoes to provide moisture to the worms. It’s very important whatever is left after a day or so is removed to prevent mold outbreaks. It is especially important to make sure this is fed 24 to 48 hours prior to feeding your geckos to maximize the nutrition they receive.
DO I NEED TO USE ANY TYPE OF SUPPLEMENTS?
It’s very important to dust your feeders with a high quality calcium and vitamin supplement. Insects by nature do not provide the proper levels most geckos need to maintain a healthy life. We use Repashy Calcium Plus during each feeding to maintain proper levels. There are many other options available out there but we have found this one to work the best for our needs. I would personally stay away from many of the commercially sold products at big box chain stores.
DO FAT TAILS NEED SPECIAL LIGHTING?
No. Fat Tails are nocturnal and do not need any UVA/UVB bulbs. Normal exposure to a 12 hour day/night cycle is completely fine for them.
WHAT TYPE OF SUBSTRATE SHOULD I USE?
In our opinion a paper substrate such as paper towels work perfectly for keeping Fat Tails happy. They are cheap, easy to clean and replace, and will help keep your gecko happy by providing a warm and dry substrate to move about on. Having said this, it is absolutely *CRITICAL* that you provide your Fat Tail with at least one warm side moist hide box for proper humidity control.
If you are looking for a more natural substrate Exo Terra makes a neat Sand Mat that can more closely relate to their natural habitat. You can also use pieces of ceramic tile or stone cut to size. Stay away from many of the lose substrates available such as gravel, fine sand, cypress mulch, wood chips, etc as they can become very dangerous if ingested and cause impaction or mouth abrasions.
WHAT IS A HUMID HIDE BOX?
This might be the most overlooked and important piece of decorum absolutely critical to the health and success of your Fat Tail. This is especially true for anyone using dry substrates. A humid hide box is simply any type of container that traps humidity allowing your Fat Tail to self-regulate how much humidity they need at any given time.
We simply use plastic containers with a hole cut in either the side or top filled with a safe substrate that is misted as needed to keep it wet and the humidity high. For hatchling and smaller Fat Tails we use small round containers with a hole cut in the side and a damp paper towel sprayed with water as often as needed to keep wet. For our larger and breeder geckos we use a larger plastic container with a hole cut in the top filled with moss. By placing these containers on the warm side you increase the humidity tremendously and also provide them a safe and secure hide spot over the warm side where you know they will get the proper heat they need to stay healthy.
DO I NEED TO SPRAY DOWN THE ENTIRE ENCLOSURE?
No. As long as a proper humidity box is used on the warm side of the enclosure it will be fine. Remember, Fat Tails are not a tropical species. Many people keep their geckos way to wet. Provide a small shallow bowl for water.
WHAT TEMPERATURE SHOULD I KEEP THE ENCLOSURE AT?
I would suggest providing a hot spot of 90F on their warm side with a moist hide and a cool area in the mid to upper 70s or lower 80s for optimal activity and feeding.
DO I HAVE TO USE A RACK SYSTEM FOR MY FAT TAILS?
No you don't.
WHY DO PEOPLE USE RACK SYSTEMS INSTEAD OF AQUARIUMS?
Rack systems offer a lot of advantages over aquariums for all levels of hobbyist and breeders. They allow you to efficiently keep and house a large number of geckos, as well as neatly and safely organize and keep your collection in good condition. They provide a very secure and stable environment that many terrestrial geckos adapt very well to.
WHAT SIZE ENCLOSURE SHOULD I USE?
Juvenile and small adults do well in standard 10g aquariums. Fat Tails are not as active as some other types of geckos and do well with the privacy and security of smaller homes. Once the gecko reaches adult size you may switch it out to a larger aquarium if you like, but remember any change in husbandry can cause stress on your Fat Tail. Some Fat Tails will appreciate a tank like a 20g Long where as others who are not as active or explorative would probably prefer to remain in a smaller home. Exo Terra makes a nice looking enclosure. I would recommend the 24"w x 18"d x 18"h for a single adult gecko.
HOW DO I HEAT MY ENCLOSURE?
For home use I suggest using a heat pad such as Zoo Med ReptiTherm Under Tank Heater if you are going to use a glass aquarium. More advanced hobbyist can use Flexwatt heat tape or heat panels. Make sure any heat source is connected to a proper thermostat such as a Spyder Robotics Herpstat EZ1 or even better a Herpstate 1. Overhead bulbs can be used as an additional heat source to help keep the ambient cage temps up, but I would not use it as the primary source of heat. If you do use an overhead bulb, make sure you use a ceramic or red bulb as Fat Tails are nocturnal and a bright light will cause them stress and throw off their day/night schedule if used constantly.
DO I NEED TO COOL DOWN OR BRUMATE MY FAT TAIL?
No. During the cooler months of the year your Fat Tail may notice a change in seasonable temperatures naturally and go off feed and be less active for several weeks to several months. Closely monitor your Fat Tail during this time. As long as it is not losing a lot of weight this is nothing to be concerned over. As seasonable weather heats back up, your Fat Tail will resume normal activity.
CAN I KEEP MULTIPLE FAT TAILS IN THE SAME ENCLOSURE?
Yes you can. I don't personally suggest or recommend doing so, but there are many people that do so. Try to introduce them at the same time if you can, and at least introduce the same sized females. Do not house a shy female with an aggressive territorial female as this could cause many problems. Additionally, never house two males together and we strongly do not suggest housing a male and female together long term. The male can and will stress your females out by trying to breed.
QUARANTINE! QUARANTINE! QUARANTINE!
I really cannot express this enough. Yes, even if you buy geckos from me and only me, quarantine! I suggest at least 60 days if not longer. Shipping and adjusting to new setups and homes and feeding schedules can cause Fat Tails a lot of stress. Sometimes this can cause problems to occur. Getting a fecal from a local vet is always a good idea at least every other season. The cost in my area is about $25 per fecal plus medicine.