Tokay geckos are native to Southeast Asia, the Philippines, and Indonesia. While they are indeed beautiful lizards, tokays have a nasty bite to beware. Tokay geckos love and prefer the rainforest but have adapted to thrive in many types of conditions. They are nocturnal, arboreal, and have the ability to examine every inch of the terrarium you give them with the help of their amazing toe pads.
Tokay geckos don’t make a good beginner reptile thanks to their not-so-sweet personality and their special terrarium requirements, but they do make a beautiful display animal that can be watched at night chasing its prey under a red light. Tokays can be difficult to hand-tame, but not impossible, as long as you’re patient and willing to earn their trust.
Tokay geckos, or more precisely Gekko gecko (those scientists really tried hard with that scientific name, didn’t they?), can be found online all year long. Always purchase your reptiles from a reputable breeder who has captive-bred animals. These breeders will have tokay geckos that are parasite-free and eating well, and the breeders take excellent care of the animals because they really care about the animals, and not because it’s a paycheck, like at the big box-type pet stores.
You can find breeders in online forums, fan-based websites, and breeding community webpages. There may be a local breeder you can contact, too, which would be ideal.
If you decide to buy online or if it really is your only choice (believe me, I understand), make sure the seller has an “arrive alive” guarantee, which should be listed somewhere on their website. This way, you’re guaranteed an animal that will show up alive, healthy, and ready for its new home. You don’t want to open a beaten-up box that has some sort of rotting smell coming out of it, I promise you that.
Female tokay geckos grow to be 8 to 12 inches long, tail included. Males grow to an average of 13 to 15 inches long, including their tail.
Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD) can be an issue for nocturnal reptiles as they don’t receive any beneficial sun light, so you must use supplements to make sure tokays get all the vitamins and calcium they require.
If their terrarium is too wet and doesn’t get proper ventilation, tokay geckos can have respiratory issues, and the terrarium can grow molds and bacteria, which could also create health issues. Other health issues include parasitic infections on their skin, mouth rot, and internal parasites. You shouldn’t be able to see the pelvic bones or ribs at all. There should not be any lumps or bumps along a tokay’s sides, which could be a sign of broken bones or some type of infection.
Make sure you have a quality exotics vet near you or know where the closest one is located in case of an abnormality or emergency. Choosing a tokay that has been captive-bred by a reputable breeder will go a long way to preventing these and other health issues from the start.
If proper husbandry is used, there are records of tokay geckos living 10 to 15 years in captivity.
You may not want to place the tokay’s terrarium in your bedroom. These are nocturnal lizards, and when they are active, they like to vocalize to warn males this is their territory or to attract a mate. It kind of sounds like they are saying “to-kay to-kay”, which is how they got their common name.
A single tokay gecko or a female-male couple will be able to live just fine in a 20-gallon tall-style terrarium. The taller the better. Tokays are arboreal foragers after all and will explore every inch of the enclosure you give them. Make sure to keep the lid on tight or have a locking front-opening door to prevent escapes. Trying to catch a gecko that is running straight up a wall or across your celling while you jump up and down grabbing nothing but air will make for a lot of comedy online if someone is recording you but will be really frustrating for you.
Never put 2 male tokay geckos together. They won’t be friends. You can house a female and a male together and they will be fine, and 2 females are good together, but the 2 boys can’t seem to get along in the same space.
For enclosure decorations, if tokays can climb on it or hide in it, it’s perfect, so use large tree branches, sticks, rocks, leafy vines, and your choice of fake or living plants, depending on if you prefer a more natural habitat. Live plants and sphagnum moss also help with the humidity level. Just be careful with live plants because some can be toxic to reptiles. Here’s a short list of some plants that are safe to put in your gecko’s or other reptile’s enclosure:
- African violets
- Spider plants
- Snake plants, specifically Sanseveria sp.
When in doubt about a plant that you are interested in putting inside your reptile’s enclosure, always look it up to see if it is toxic to your particular type of animal.
Tokay geckos also need safe hiding places to cool off and sleep in during the day. Things like cork bark, driftwood caves, or overturned plastic tubs with an entry hole cut out of one side work well. Place one of the hides in the cooler side of the enclosure and one near the warmer side, and let the gecko decide where it wants to be. If you are housing more than one gecko at a time, make sure to provide more hides in different areas so all tokays in the enclosure feel safe enough to sleep.
Tokay geckos like higher humidity ranges, so use substrate that will help out as much as it can. The preferred substrates for tokays are cypress mulch, orchid bark, or coconut husk fiber. Add some sphagnum moss in patches on branches or on top of hides to give the environment a natural feel and, again, to help raise the humidity level.
The substrate needs to be between 3 and 5 inches deep, whether it’s mixed or layered. The substrate, and anywhere else you see gecko poop, needs to be spot cleaned daily, and all the substrate needs to be replaced and the terrarium and everything inside of it, except the living plants if any, needs to be taken out and completely cleaned with a reptile-safe cleaner every 6 to 8 weeks.
Lighting and Temperature
Tokay geckos are nocturnal, so you don’t necessarily need to have any special UV lighting for them. If you have live plants in the tokay’s terrarium, then yes, make sure to have full-spectrum lighting for the plants’ health. Low-wattage florescent bulbs work well to provide enough light and UV for plants to live pretty well. If you want to watch your gecko as it moves around at night, use a nighttime red bulb, so it won’t mess up the lizard’s sleep/wake cycle (circadian rhythm). For all lighting, you can use digital timers for peace of mind that the lights will turn on and off when they are supposed to.
Daytime enclosure temperatures should stay between 80 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and nighttime temperatures should be between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Use an incandescent bulb during the day, unless you have live plants, to help with the heat and day/night cycle regulation, and at night, use a ceramic heat emitter to help maintain the higher temperatures. Always provide heat from above the terrarium and not below. It’s what is natural to all animals.
The humidity level should stay between 60 and 80 percent all year. If the level falls too low, below 50 percent, it can lead to heath issues, and if the level gets too far above 80 percent, it can lead to other health issues. Please keep an eye on your hygrometer to know how the humidity level range in your terrarium.
Tokay geckos are very opportunistic feeders. In captivity, they will easily eat prey items like mealworms, waxworms, crickets, hornworms, roaches, and silkworms. As adults, you can give tokays a pinky mouse to help balance their diet. Make sure to dust the gecko’s gut-loaded cultured feeder insects with a vitamin D3 and calcium supplement 5 times a week for babies and juveniles and twice a week for adults. Vitamins and supplements are common for nocturnal animals because they don’t get the benefits of the sun and its UV light rays. These supplements will help prevent health issues like Metabolic Bone Disease.
Baby and juvenile tokay geckos need to be fed every day, and adults need to be fed every other day. Quite a few keepers raise or culture feeder insects for their geckos. It’s a great way to make sure you always have plenty of various types of insects on hand and ready to go for your tokay and you know exactly what the insects have eaten and how good they are for your lizard because you fed the insects yourself. Crickets can be a little noisy, so if you culture crickets, make sure they are somewhere you and others in your house won’t be bothered by their chirping all night.
Tokay geckos seem to really like baby food, mostly fruits. Put a small shallow dish in the terrarium just before lights out for the night with a few teaspoons of banana, apple, strawberry, or whatever fruit baby food you can find, and watch how your lizard eats. Is it fast or slow? Does your lizard attack its food or is it more cautious? What does your tokay go after first, the baby food or the feeder insects? Enjoy staring.
There should always be a water dish inside of the enclosure filled with clean water. The tokay gecko will most likely ignore it, but it’s always good to have a source of water just in case, and it will help raise the humidity level. In the wild, and in your terrarium as well, tokay geckos will mostly drink the water droplets from the plant’s leaves or the sides of the terrarium. Mist the terrarium with a hand-held spray bottle as often as necessary, or you can purchase an automated mister system or reptile fogger system to keep up the humidity level and provide tokays with places to drink.
Handling and Temperament
Can you hand-tame a tokay gecko? Yes, you can, though it can be a long process, depending on what approach you feel comfortable taking. Some say their approach takes days; others say another approach can take months. The entire timeline depends on your specific gecko’s personality and temperament and how much time you can or are willing to take to hand-tame your tokay.
Which is why most people say to handle your gecko only when necessary. If you do plan to hand-tame your tokay, please read more about it before buying this gecko. Keep track of what you do with accurate, detailed notes and observations of how you did it and what the geckos’ reactions were along the way. It may help you understand your gecko and its moods or personality more and better your relationship with your gecko.
Will your gecko bite while hand-taming? Expect it to try. No matter your approach, your tokay gecko does not want to or like to be held. It is not a Bearded Dragon. Wear thick cotton gloves. First, the gloves will provide your hands a small amount of protection, and second, they will help the gecko keep some or most of its teeth. When these lizards bite, they really mean it. Tokay geckos have very strong jaws and a mouth full of sharp teeth. They have been known to lose some teeth because of their tight grip, and they sometimes shake or twist while hanging off of your finger or hand. Yay.
When tokays do bite, they have been known for hanging on for up to an hour. When the gecko does let go, if you weren’t wearing gloves, wash the bitten area with soap and warm water, and apply some antibiotic ointment or cream to the affected skin. Handling your tokay gecko can be, at the very least, a bit scary, and at the worst, a painful experience.
Happy healing, I mean handling!
This care information is a brief overview of a subject that has been covered in many books by respected authors and on many breeder forums. For more information, please consult a specialized book, visit one of the breed-specific forums/message boards, or contact an expert in that particular field. Your new animal will thank you for it.