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The Yellow Head Gecko
The Yellow Headed Gecko
Robert George Sprackland, Ph.D.
Yellow Headed Gecko Gonatodes albigularis fuscus (Hallowell, 1855)
Family: Gekkonidae, the geckos, subfamily Sphaerodactylinae, the round-toed geckos. This subfamily contains the smallest lizards in the world, and is entirely confined to the New World.
Comment: "Gonatodes" is a reference to the knees, "albigularis" means "with a white throat," and "fuscus" means "dusky." The status of this species as a "subspecies" is debatable.
A similar looking species, Lygodactylus picturatus, is often imported from central Africa. It is distinguished from the American gecko in having dark lines through the face and body, well-developed toe pads, and a dark belly. You can find additional information in the web of life section of curator.org on the Internet.
Appearance: A tiny lizard that rarely exceeds 3 inches in total length, but may approach 4 inches. The head is large, pointed, and distinct from the neck. The eyes are large and round, with round pupils. There are no movable eyelids. The ear opening is tiny. The body is covered in small granular scales. The tail is cylindrical and a little longer than he snout-vent length. Each limb ends in five moderately long, thin toes that lack adhesive pads. Each digit has a tiny claw that is not retractable. There are no femoral or preanal pores.
Coloration: Males and females have very different coloration, a phenomenon known as sexual dimorphism. It is males that have a dusky mustard-yellow head and neck, often with a small partial whitish collar. The body may be gray-green, brownish or slatey, the tail darker. The tip of the tail is white. Females and juveniles are mottled pale brown with darker brown and gray markings. The throat of all specimens is light grayish-white, as is much of the belly of females and young.
Distribution: Cuba, several Caribbean islands, parts of northern coastal South America and Central America, and Key West and Miami, Florida (where it is an introduced species). This species thrives near human dwellings, and is common in urban areas.
Habitat and Habits: Yellow headed geckos are most common around subtropical towns, villages and other human settlements. Unlike most geckos, this species is active during the day and early evening. Human activity no doubt stirs the small insects and other arthropods that the geckos consume. Though more terrestrial than most other geckos, yellow headed geckos can climb well, and are frequently encountered on palmettos, palms, fences, and walls.
Like the distantly related day geckos, yellow headed geckos are fiercely territorial, and both sexes will repel other individuals. However, field observations have been made of communal egg-laying sites, with s many as ten eggs in the same location.
Breeding: An egg-laying species that produces a single hard-shelled egg per clutch, but may reproduce year round. In any given year, a female may lay 7-9 eggs. If incubated at 80º F, young hatch in 55-63 days, and measure1-1.5 inches in length. Young can be kept with adults until males begin to show male coloration. Afterwards, the dominant male may attack young.
Availability: Spotty availability from commercial sources. They were seen I many pet shops in the mid 1970s and again in the mid 1990s, but supply is irregular at best. When sold, they are typically offered in pairs, and may cost $4-$12 each.
Care: This is a hardy species if housed as a pair, and may live in excess of 6 years. They may be safely kept in one of the commonly available plastic terrariums (about 2 gallon size), but thrive best if given the room of a ten-gallon terrarium. Use fine beach sand as substrate, and provide pieces of bark and leaves as shelter. The lizards get water from mist, so spray the terrarium lightly each morning, and provide a small shallow water dish.
These lizards are common in beach locales where temperatures vary considerably, so the use of heat pads or heat lights is not necessary. Never use a hot rock with geckos! The best lighting may be a full-spectrum fluorescent tube. Keep the air temperature between 70-80º F, allowing a slight nighttime dip. Humidity should be in the 75-80% range.
Yellow headed geckos do climb so a few branches may be added to the terrarium. However, this species is primarily terrestrial, which is why floor space is the most important consideration.
Feed these geckos small mealworm, 1-3 week old crickets, and wingless fruit flies. It is advisable to dust all insects with calcium powder first, as geckos have fairly high calcium requirements. Feeding should occur every second day. Juveniles will need a diet of wingless fruit flies, offered daily.
These lizards are fairly quiescent in captivity, but their tiny size makes them extremely delicate, so avoid handling them. The tail is especially fragile, and is easily dropped if the lizard is startled. A new tail takes months to grow, and never looks as good as the original.
Pet Potential: Good, if you can find specimens. The lizards are not native to the U.S. so are not protected by any laws. In most cases if you buy your animals from a pet shop, you will need to ask the shopkeeper to make a special order.
Dr. Sprackland is a herpetologist and Director of The Virtual Museum of Natural History at http://www.curator.org/. His latest book, Giant Lizards, Second Edition, is scheduled for release in October 2008.