Acquired: Bred animal myself
Congleton, Cheshire, United Kingdom
Posted Sep 05, 2012
This is one of the easiest of all lizards to keeps and this cute little animal hails from West Africa (its native range is from Nigeria to Senegal). It likes damp sites in arid places and in the wild you will often find them, in the wild, near the irrigated margins of fields.
They are nocturnal insectivores and, apart from dogs, they are some of the few pets that you will find in West African villages. They are typically very docile and are one of the few lizards you can hold and which seem to enjoy it. They tend to have a light orange/brown back with dark, thick, brown bands running along the body, the underside is white. The body is covered with small bumps and they seem to have a velvety appearance. They are gregarious (which may be why they like to be handled) and tend to live in groups with one male and several (up to 10) females. However, males do not play well together and will fight to the death.
Naturally they live in temperatures of about 30ºC (88ºF) and they spend much of the day basking (so they will need an UV lamp to remain healthy). They also need a more humid environment than other lizards (if you use a vivarium then spraying with water twice a week will provide sufficient moisture).
For African village pets they are typically gathered as hatchlings from wild nests and rearing them from very young ensures that they are used to being handled by humans. If you are buying from a pet store either buy when young or by from a store where you know that the owner handles the pets.
On a warm sunny day they will happily lie on your belly or shoulder to bask if you sit in the sun.
Typically they grow to about 20cm (8 in) in length and can survive to 15 or more years of age. They are ground dwellers and live in burrows, so they need much more horizontal than vertical space to be happy. In a vivarium provide plenty of hidey-holes. Also ensure that you never use sand or similar as a substrate. They will try to dig through it to form a burrow and because they will ingest some, it may well become compacted inside them.
Never hold them by the tails as, like other geckos, their natural defence mechanism is to lose the tail. They like being stroked on top of the head or tickled on the throat, but hate being squeezed. They rarely bite, but will jump if frightened or roughly handled, so never handle them far above the ground, just in case.
They are insectivores, but in captivity can be fed insects, pinkies (baby mice), crickets, small earthworms, mealworms and wax worms. Woodlice can be added to their vivaria, both to help keep their environment clean and to keep the geckos active, giving them something to hunt.
Their most fascinating anatomical features are their tails. In the wild, they look like normal gecko tails. But in captivity the tails, when well fed, the tails will swell up almost to the size of a second head. Primarily this is a storage space for fat which they keep as an energy source and a water source for lean times. It is also part of their defence mechanism, as a predator is not certain which is the real head... the head or the tail.
Often, I have seen that captive breeds can be dull. Wild specimens are often brighter with some of the bands being an intense, almost orange colour.
If you want a lizard as a pet, then I would definitely recommend the African Fat Tailed Gecko.