Geckos are one of the easiest lizards to keep and make great pets for older children and adults.
Queensland veterinarian Dr Danny Brown has a special interest in reptiles (and birds) and has been keeping and breeding geckos for 30 years. He is also author of A Guide to Australian Geckos and Pygopods in Captivity plus numerous articles and regular columns in reptile magazines.
“I love geckos because they are easy to care for with no expensive housing needed and there is plenty of variety,” he says. “However, they are passive pets, meaning they prefer not to be handled so they are less suited for small children.”
There are about 1500 colourful species of geckos worldwide with approximately 140 native to Australia. The most commonly kept are the Velvet geckos, Knob tail geckos, Spinytail geckos and Leaftail geckos. They are nocturnal in nature (night time animals). Smaller species of geckos live three to five years while the larger species can live from four to up to 10 years of age.
Geckos are unique for many reasons, says Dr Brown.
“They are the most species-rich group of lizards and come in various patterns and colours. Some are amongst the most colourful lizards in the world. Some species will often change their colour intensity to match the background colour,” he says.
Also, most geckos have adhesive toes that can adhere to smooth surfaces – in fact, 90 per cent of species in Australia do.
“Geckos shed their skin – how often depends on their feeding rate and growth. Growing juveniles can shed monthly whilst adults may shed only twice a year,” he says.
Some female species of geckos are capable of reproducing without copulating with a male (called parthenogenesis) – only recorded in two Australian species but most notably the Bynoes Gecko, explains Dr Brown.
Geckos are also unique when it comes to vocalisation as some species use chirping sounds in social interactions with their kind. “Most Australian species only vocalise when stressed. It is the introduced Asian House Gecko that chirps,” he says.
Some geckos illegal to own as pets. Geckos are a protected species therefore a license is required to own one. It is also illegal to own gecko species not from Australia, such as the Leopard gecko. Australian geckos belong to the families Diplodactylidae, Carphodactylidae and Gekkonidae.
For information on how and where to get a licence, you need to check with your state/territory authority as the requirements are different in each area.
Geckos are available for sale through pet stores, breeders and reptile events/shows. You can get a list of pet stores from the PIAA (www.piaa.net.au) and a list of breeders from your local herpetological society. Also check out advertisements in Facebook groups and reptile magazines, suggests Dr Brown.
Most common species of geckos cost between $70 – $120 each but some may sell for $7,000 each. They require a suitable enclosure (vivarium) and a source of heat, such as a heat cord or mat, as geckos are cold-blooded. It can cost as little as $50 if you use a plastic tub or may be as much as $300- $400 for a purpose-built vivarium, he adds.
“As long as the appropriate temperature is maintained, geckos have very simple needs – some privacy, food at least twice a week and a source of water,” says Dr Brown.
You need to feed your gecko live insect prey, such as crickets and cockroaches. Feeding your food items on a quality diet will ensure they are nutritious for the gecko, he adds.
“Most diseases in geckos are associated with poor nutrition, over or under heating, or inappropriate humidity. Most of these problems are avoidable with proper housing,” he says.