Tokay geckos (Gekko gecko) are native to Southeast Asia. They’re the third-largest gecko species in the world and can reach a foot in length!
Many reptile enthusiasts keep tokay geckos because of their stunning appearance and quirky behavior.
They also have relatively simple husbandry requirements, though trickier than more common species.
Many pet stores stock tokay geckos and assure buyers that they’re great beginner reptiles. This fallacy leads to frustration and disappointment as they are not a good choice of lizard for beginners.
Tokay geckos move quickly and are known to be aggressive. Improper handling can cause harm to the animal, along with a nasty bite for the keeper!
Other geckos, such as the leopard gecko (Eublepharis macularius), make far better choices for novice keepers.
Still, an experienced or intermediate keeper should have no problem with tokays. They can be a highly rewarding species.
Table of Contents
What You’ll Learn
- How to buy a healthy Tokay gecko
- Tokay gecko dietary requirements
- Information about gecko handling
- How to choose the best foods for your gecko
- Species-specific environmental requirements
- How to create the perfect enclosure for Tokay geckos
- …and much more!
Fun Fact: Both the common name “Tokay” and the Latin name “Gecko gekko” are based on the sound Tokay geckos make during the breeding season.
Tokay Gecko Background Information
Tokay geckos are true geckos in the family “Gekkonidae.”
They’re native to Southeast Asia, ranging from India to East Timor. Introduced populations have also become established in parts of the United States.
Tokay geckos are nocturnal, meaning that they’re most active at night.
Like many geckos, they’re also arboreal. This means that they spend most of their time in trees.
Tokay geckos are excellent climbers and can grip virtually any surface. This ability is thanks to the presence of specialized pads on each toe.
Fun Fact: Gecko toe pads work due to their complex surface texture. Each pad contains millions of hair-like structures called setae. Each seta is covered in thousands of microscopic structures called spatula. These structures attract atoms on the surface of a given material, allowing the gecko to cling on.
Though forests are their natural habitat, tokay geckos frequently inhabit urban environments.
Their natural climbing ability has allowed them to adapt to human habitations with ease. They’re often spotted prowling along ceilings and walls, searching for bugs.
The diet of a Tokay gecko in the wild consists primarily of insects.
They also feed on fruit and vegetation, as well as other small animals such as mammals and other reptiles.
Wild tokay geckos also fall prey to other predators. These predators include birds, snakes, and humans!
Tokay geckos can shed their tails when threatened. Their tail will then slowly regenerate over a period of up to 30 days.
They’re rather vocal reptiles, making a bark-like sound throughout the night to ward off potential rivals. Tokays also use vocalizations to “woo” potential mates.
Tokay geckos are among the largest geckos. Adult males can reach 16 inches in length. Females are slightly smaller and rarely exceed 12 inches.
Tokay geckos are usually grey with a striking pattern of orange or red spots. They possess a (somewhat limited) color-changing ability. When stressed, they appear darker in color.
Some specimens have been bred to exhibit unique color variants or morphs. These variations include an array of colors as well as melanistic (mostly black) and leucistic (mostly white) varieties.
Males tend to have brighter coloration than females.
Tokay geckos are sturdily-built lizards and possess a large head with powerful jaws. They also have large, lidless eyes with vertical pupils.
Tokays have a long lifespan, sometimes exceeding ten years in captivity.
During the breeding season, males will vocalize to attract mates. Geckos also secrete a pheromone-rich substance from their femoral pores.
Tokay geckos are oviparous, meaning that they lay eggs.
Females can lay several clutches of eggs throughout the breeding season. These eggs are then fiercely guarded by both parents until hatching.
Tokay Gecko Conservation
The IUCN Red List currently classifies the Tokay gecko as a species of “Least Concern.“
This designation means that data do not currently suggest that the species is vulnerable to extinction. Current population trends (stable, in decline, or increasing) are unknown.
Some evidence suggests that the species may be a complex – containing many different species. If true, this would mean that each new species must be assessed separately.
Tokay geckos are killed for their meat and used in traditional medicines by some cultures.
They’re considered an endangered species in China. This is primarily a result of excessive hunting pressures.
Populations in the Philippines are also believed to be in severe decline.
Large numbers of geckos are exported annually from countries within their native range. Thailand alone exports around 2.5 million geckos each year.
Geckos are shipped to China and other Asian countries as well as the United States.
The pet trade is also partially responsible for the export of wild-caught Tokay geckos. Indonesia, for example, allows for the export of around 50,000 animals each year for the pet trade alone.
Thankfully, plenty of captive-bred specimens are now available in most countries.
Buying a Healthy Tokay Gecko
When purchasing a gecko, look for signs of health such as:
- Round, fat tail
- Bright, responsive eyes
- Overall alertness and activity
- Healthy skin (without wounds or lesions)
Also, check to ensure that the tank is not overcrowded or dirty. Avoid purchasing if any other animals in the tank show signs of disease.
When purchasing reptiles, it’s vital to be a responsible consumer. Avoid wild-caught animals at all costs. There are a few reasons behind this, as follows:
- Wild-caught animals can bring parasites and diseases into your home
- Removing geckos from the wild harms native populations, causing declines
- Behavioral issues (such as high levels of aggression) are more common among wild-caught specimens
It’s easy to avoid accidentally purchasing a wild-caught Tokay. Adults are more likely to be wild-caught, so purchase younger animals wherever possible.
Purchase directly from a breeder to ensure your animals are captive-bred.
Purchasing directly from a reputable breeder has numerous other advantages.
In addition to knowing that animals are captive-bred, you’re also buying from somebody who knows their care requirements well.
Breeders are more likely to provide accurate care information than other sources. They’re also usually willing to stay in touch and answer your questions.
Another advantage is that breeders may be connected to an exotic animal veterinarian in your area. This resource could come in handy later on.
Tokay Gecko Diet
Wild tokay geckos feed on invertebrates, such as crickets, moths, spiders, and grasshoppers.
Due to their large size, they may also eat vertebrates – small mammals and reptiles – on occasion.
In captivity, this diet can be recreated using a range of feeder insects, along with a small amount of plant-based foods and pinky mice.
You should select feeder insects based on nutritional contents. They should also be gut-loaded before being fed to your gecko.
Gut-loading is a term for feeding a specially formulated, nutrient-rich feed to your insects. This practice makes them a better source of food for your Tokay gecko.
Gut loading should be carried out 24-48 hours before placing insects in your lizard’s enclosure.
Choosing Feeder Insects
Most keepers feed their Tokay geckos on a diet of crickets, mealworms, and cockroaches.
Such a limited diet will have consequences for your pet. A highly varied diet promotes good health.
As a general rule, gut-loaded crickets, grasshoppers, and roaches (such as dubia roaches) can make up most of your pet’s diet.
These foods have a high Ca:P (Calcium to Phosphorus ratio) and are high in protein but low in fat.
For added diversity, introduce moths, katydids, and houseflies wherever possible.
Capture wild insects with a specialist insect trap. Only collect wild insects from a safe area, free of pesticides or other pollutants.
Avoid toxic insect species such as stinkbugs, ladybugs, and fireflies.
Expert Tip: If you are unsure whether an insect is toxic, avoid feeding it to your gecko.
Canned insects are a great alternative if wild-caught bugs are not available to you. These options are available online or from specialist pet stores.
Waxworms and mealworms are higher in fat than other insects. Offer them as an occasional treat or to help animals regain weight.
Avoid offering these foods too regularly. They can cause obesity.
Expert tip: Some Tokay geckos are reluctant to eat grub-like prey and prefer adult insects. Be sure to tailor your pet’s diet based on its individual needs.
Silkworms are another excellent feeder choice. They’re high in calcium and low in fat.
Silkworms trigger a strong feeding response in most reptiles. This reaction makes them a good choice for animals that are reluctant to feed.
Some keepers supplement their Tokay geckos’ diets with dark, leafy greens, fruits, and vegetables. These foods are rarely appealing to geckos.
Most will ignore plant-based foods altogether. If your lizard isn’t too picky, they can be a good source of vitamins.
Offer fruits and veggies in a mashed form, if possible. This presentation makes them easy and appealing for your gecko to nibble on.
Surprisingly, baby foods are popular with some geckos.
Expert Tip: Including leafy greens, fruits, and vegetables in your gut-loading formula is a far easier way to incorporate them into your gecko’s diet.
On the other end of the spectrum, mice are another food you may want to consider for your gecko.
Large tokay geckos readily eat pinky mice, but they are not an essential part of their diet.
If you choose to feed mice to your lizard, fully thaw them beforehand. Don’t feed “fuzzies” or other mice with hair to geckos. Hair can lead to impaction.
Expert Tip: Neither plant-based nor rodent-based diets are sufficient for Tokay geckos. Geckos are primarily insectivorous. Inappropriate diets can cause serious health issues.
Feeder insects don’t provide all of the nutrients required by your pet. Supplements are a vital part of the diet of captive reptiles.
Apply a powdered calcium supplement to foods at least once per week to ensure proper bone growth.
Place a shallow bowl of powdered calcium in the enclosure, as well.
If your tokay gecko is not exposed to UVB lighting (see “lighting” section below), a vitamin D3 supplement will also be necessary.
Combined calcium-D3 supplements are available from all good reptile stores or online.
As arboreal lizards, Tokays prefer to obtain moisture from plant surfaces. Mist their enclosure daily to provide drinking water.
Keep a shallow, non-tippable water bowl full at all times to allow your geckos access to hydration.
Feed adults every two to three days. “Staple” foods include most hard-bodied insects, such as crickets, roaches, moths, and grasshoppers.
Offer high-fat insects such as mealworms or waxworms once per week (or less) if your lizard will take them.
You may also offer pinky mice and plant-based foods up to once per week (optional).
Feed juvenile lizards once per day. They tend to do well on smaller crickets, roach nymphs, and grasshoppers. They can also take waxworms on occasion (no more than once per week).
Avoid feeding mealworms to juvenile geckos as they’re difficult to digest.
Creating the Perfect Tokay Gecko Enclosure
Tokay geckos have specific environmental requirements. To ensure the health of your lizard, set up an appropriate habitat BEFORE purchasing.
The most crucial elements to your gecko’s enclosure are as follows:
- Other geckos (tank-mates)
Tank Size and Shape
The minimum enclosure size for an adult Tokay gecko is around 20 gallons. 30 gallons is optimal.
If you’d like to house a couple of geckos together, you’ll need around 60 gallons.
You may house younger tokays (up to around six months) in a ten-gallon terrarium. Note that they will outgrow it quickly.
In any case, tanks should be a vertical shape to facilitate climbing. Hexagonal aquariums are ideal.
Newspaper is a cheap, easy-to-maintain substrate for your tokay terrarium. It may not be aesthetically pleasing, but it is easy to replace.
Other popular substrate options for tokay geckos include cypress mulch, orchid bark, or coconut husk. These can help to retain moisture and create a natural-looking terrarium.
Add a thick layer of sphagnum moss to prevent the substrate from sticking to your gecko’s skin. This layer will keep things neat and tidy while also helping to retain moisture.
Long-fiber moss is best for this purpose, as it’s harder for geckos to ingest accidentally. Mist this layer daily to help maintain humidity levels.
Expert Tip: Always keep substrate slightly damp to the touch, but don’t allow it to become waterlogged. Waterlogged substrate can rot and cause disease.
Decorations and Enrichment
Tokay geckos should not be kept in barren, empty cages. As rainforest animals, they appreciate cover and climbable objects. They also like to shelter during the day.
Provide sturdy branches to offer a perch for your arboreal geckos. Rocks, driftwood, cork tubes, or other structures can also provide shelter.
Ensure that your gecko has shelter options in warmer and cooler parts of its enclosure. Provide as many options as you can!
Reptile-safe live plants – or sturdy artificial ones – can also make good climbing and shelter structures. Adding live plants to a terrarium can be a great way to complete your beautiful lizards.
Our list of reptile-safe vivarium plants includes several examples that are beautiful, common, and easy to care for.
Lighting and Temperature
Tokay geckos require a constant temperature range of 27-32 degrees Celsius (80-90 degrees Fahrenheit) during the day.
Reduce temperature to 21-27 degrees Celsius (70-80 degrees Fahrenheit) at night.
Due to the arboreal nature of the species, overhead heating (using an incandescent bulb) is typically better than a heat mat.
12-hour day-night cycles are essential for Tokay geckos. This schedule allows plenty of time for nocturnal activities, such as foraging and vocalization.
If you’d like to be able to see your geckos at night, use a red reptile bulb.
It’s not certain whether Tokay geckos require UVB exposure. As they are nocturnal lizards anyway, many keepers opt to skip the UVB and feed vitamin D3 supplements instead.
Tokay geckos require higher humidity than many other lizards. Aim to keep the humidity of your terrarium at around 70%.
Never allow humidity to drop below 50%.
You should also mist your terrarium daily to provide adequate drinking water. The addition of a water bowl will aid in maintaining humidity.
Keeping Tokay Geckos in Groups
Never house adult male Tokays together.
These geckos should also never coexist with other species. Both situations are recipes for disaster, as they are a highly territorial species.
You may house your male individually or with one female. All-female groups can co-exist peacefully.
Ensure that all lizards in a shared enclosure are of similar size. Be prepared to separate them if they begin to fight.
Expert Tip: Try to introduce tank-mates to a new enclosure simultaneously rather than adding animals later.
Tokay Gecko Health Concerns
Tokay geckos, like any reptile, have specific health needs. Geckos can quickly develop health problems with improper husbandry.
Infectious diseases are relatively common (and sometimes unavoidable).
In this section, we’ll discuss common health issues, their symptoms, and what to do if your reptile appears to be sick.
With all reptile health disorders, prevention is the best strategy. Ensure that your reptile is appropriately fed and housed to ensure the best possible chances of survival.
Mouth Rot (Stomatitis)
Mouth rot is a condition common among lizard species. It’s caused by bacteria but usually only occurs when an animal is stressed.
Symptoms include reddish inflammation around the mouth and a milky discharge.
To prevent mouth rot, avoid stressing your animals. Attempting to handle tokay geckos can cause stress.
It can also be caused by incorrect environmental conditions (such as low or high temperature/humidity). A poor diet or malnutrition can also stress your pet.
Treatment of mouth rot ranges from antibiotics to surgery. Consult a specialist vet if your animals exhibit symptoms.
Skin conditions can be a result of bacteria, fungi, or ongoing irritation. Look for persistent inflammation on the skin, as well as discoloration or lesions.
Dysecdysis, or failure to shed, is a common skin condition among geckos. This issue occurs when skin isn’t sloughed entirely.
Leftover skin can build up and constrict blood flow – leading to tissue death (necrosis).
Due to the feistiness of Tokay geckos, it can be challenging to remove shed skin manually.
In other species, dysecdysis is treatable by soaking the area in warm water and gently teasing dead skin away using a cotton bud.
If you notice skin is left over after a shed, or any other signs of a skin condition, consult your vet.
Internal parasites – such as helminths – are another common issue. They’re obtained from foods and may be present in newly-purchased animals.
Parasites – like bacteria – begin to thrive when your animal is stressed because stress inhibits the immune system.
Symptoms of parasitic infection include diarrhea, loss of appetite, severe weight loss, and slow growth.
Treatment is usually possible using oral medication prescribed by your vet.
Metabolic bone disease
Metabolic bone disease (MBD) is a condition caused by severe calcium deficiency.
Symptoms include bone fractures and deformities, along with reduced appetite.
Prevent MBD by providing plenty of calcium and vitamins for your pet during feeding.
Mild cases may be treatable using supplements. Vets will usually recommend euthanasia for severe cases of MBD.
Handling Your Tokay Gecko
Tokay geckos are better left alone and do not enjoy handling.
Some keepers can handle their geckos as a result of careful acclimation. Acclimation entails slowly introducing an animal to handling from birth or early age.
Eventually, these lizards learn that handling is nothing to fear.
These species are among the best reptiles for beginner keepers and tolerate handling exceptionally well.
Another reason to avoid handling this species is their nasty bite.
Tokays are not dangerous to humans, but their jaws are powerful and can break the skin.
If a tokay gecko does bite you, avoid pulling away. Instead, place the animal on a flat surface and wait for it to let go.
Is a Tokay Gecko Right For You?
As we mentioned, Tokays are a poor choice of pet for keepers looking to handle their reptiles.
They’re also more challenging in terms of husbandry than other more common species.
Potential depletion of wild populations also means that it’s vital to seek out captive-bred specimens instead of wild-caught.
On the other hand, a healthy, captive-bred tokay gecko can possess stunning coloration.
Tokay geckos can also be active, entertaining, and intelligent, making them highly rewarding lizards to keep.
Overall, Tokay geckos are an excellent choice for more dedicated hobbyists. Put in the effort to keep them well, and your hard work will undoubtedly pay off.