Three to Get Ready: Sphaerodactylus
It was touch and go as to whether I would find three experts to share their experiences with keeping the somewhat rare genus of tiny geckos, Sphaerodactylus. Imagine my surprise when I ended up with no less than five contributions from the United States, Canada and Europe. I guess you would call this edition of our monthly column “Five to Get Ready”.
With so many contributions, the reader should be able to engage in a practice I recommend when researching a new potential pet: note the advice that all caresheets have in common and assume that this is likely to be correct.
As always, the contributors have responded to these questions:
1. What species are you keeping?
2. What got you interested in this species and where did you get your first one(s)?
3. How are they set up? Describe your enclosure
4. What do you find most interesting about them?
5. What do you find to be the biggest challenge?
I keep nigropunctatus ocujal, dimorphicus, macrolepis mimetes and fantasticus. Keeping Gonatodes initiated my interest in the dwarf geckos however seeing an ad on a forum classifieds for Cuban Ashy Geckos led me to begin research into Sphaerodactylus. Sphaerodactylus are kept by few in Canada and bred by even fewer. After more research and much time spent on google translate, it turned out that the best place to find a variety of Sphaerodactylus was in Germany. This is where I picked up my first pairs of the genus, and by picked up, I mean exported from Germany and flown into Canada.
Species are kept in pairs in a 8″ by 8″ by 12″ Exo-terra glass vivarium that has a foam background, live plants, cork bark and a substrate of coco fiber and sand mixture. Heat and light is provided by a 5.0 uvb fluorescent tube.
The most appealing quality of Sphaerodactylus is that their pattern and colour varies so greatly between both species and sex. The spotted male nigropunctatus subspecies are all incredibly beautiful, yet the striped females are equally beautiful.
The challenge of keeping Sphaerodactylus is finding the eggs in the vivarium as well as feeding those hatchlings with small enough prey items. Adults feed on 1/8″ and 1/4″ crickets and can comfortably fit on a quarter so having food that is readily available and small enough for hatchlings can be difficult.
In the genus Sphaerodactylus which includes about 100 different species, I have specialized in the species from Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico (not including the small islands around it) is inhabited by 12 species and subspecies: Sphaerodactylus macrolepis guarionex, Sphaerodactylus m. grandisquamis, Sphaerodactylus m. mimetes, Sphaerodactylus m. ateles, Sphaerodactylus m. Spanius and a new undescribed macrolepis subspecies. Also included is Sphaerodactylus roosevelti, Sphaerodactylus klauberi, Sphaerodactylus townsendi, Sphaerodactylus nicholsi, Sphaerodactylus parthenopion and Sphaerodactylus gaigeae.
I am currently keeping and breeding S. roosevelti, S. macrolepis guarionex, S. macrolepis mimetes, S. townsendi and S. macrolepis ssp. (the new undiscribed subspecies from the central Highland). An outlier is Sphaerodactylus argus – my girlfriend felt in love with them at the Hamm show and I couldn’t say “No!”
Initially I was keeping and breeding Pogona and Terrapene (Boxturtles) but after the move into a smaller apartment without a garden I didn’t have a lot of space, so I needed to find a smaller species. I also wanted diurnal and nicely colored animals so I did some research and after some reading and consideration this was the genus that I chose to work with. After some
e-mails I got my first ones from Dennis Hluschi, one of the leading Sphaerodactylus specialists in Germany
I am using 30s cubes for one pair. Both sexes of the macrolepis subspecies are quite aggressive against other adults so you can only keep one pair in one tank. The substrate is a coconut humus/sand mixture and houses small isopods. I have created hiding places by laying pieces of cork and climbing plants, such as Philodendron spec. or Ficus pumila around the enclosure. To provide the animals with climbing opportunities, I angled pieces of bark and stem segments of Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) around the terrarium walls. Holes in the knotweed serve as nesting sites for the females. A small shallow water bowl completes the set-up.
The required daytime temperature of 26-28°C (79-82°F) is achieved by a 30 watt fluorescent tube. During the spring and summer months my tanks are illuminated for 12 hours daily. In the winter months I reduce it to 10 hours.
I mist the terrarium every 2 days, thus achieving the relative humidity between 60-70%.
The breeding of Sphaerodactylus from Puerto Rico is problem free. When the female is fed abundantly, a single egg may be laid every 20-30 days. The adult geckos don’t chase after the hatchlings, therefore the eggs do not have to be transferred to an incubator.
I raised the young in 1 liter household containers with a similar setup to the adults’ enclosures. The young can be raised in small groups with other representatives of the genus Sphaerodactylus. I feed them springtails, micro crickets, small woodlouses and cockroach nymphs.
After their acclimatization my Sphaerodactylus were way more fun than I ever expected. They are very active and – I don’t know why – especially the species from Puerto Rico become very tame. Although small, they are very inquisitive: They will come to the front of the enclosure to watch the human activity happening in the room and take their food from my hand. Also very interesting is the behavior of S. roosevelti: They are communal and do well in groups – very extraordinary and different than other Sphaerodactylus species, which are mostly aggressive. For such a small gecko, they have great big personalities. Moreover I love their colors and patterns.
There are two big challenges in keeping Sphaerodactylus. The first is that you have to breed a certain variety of small insects which sometimes could be more complex than breeding Sphaerodactylus. Because of their small size, handling and feeding the hatchlings can sometimes be especially challenging. You need to have always a steady supply of tiny nymphs, because the most pet shops don’t have such little insects in stock.
The second challenge is to find enough buyers for all the hatchlings. Unfortunately Sphaerodactylus are often overlooked in the hobby – maybe because they are not a gecko that sells for a lot of money, maybe because they are not so impressive or dangerous like snakes or monitors, maybe because they are just unknown. Anyway, there simply aren’t a lot of people yet who want to keep them. I hope that if people knew how much fun they are, they would be a lot more inclined to work with them. Maybe this article will make a small contribution in changing this situation.
I work with S. argus, S. difficilis diolenius, S. macrolepis guarionex, S.nicholsi, S.nigropunctatus “granti”, S. nigropunctatus “ocujal”, S. notatus atactus, S. sputator, S.townsendi and last, but not least, S. vincenti.
I’ve always had a liking for all things mini, so when I saw them in a book I was reading about Phelsuma, Lygodactylus, Sphaerodactylus and Gonatodes I knew I liked them. However I did not fall in love with them until I saw them on a table of a breeder (Dennis Hluschi) that I got one of my Lygodactylus kimhowelli females from. I started out with two single males and from there I could not stop. They are much like potato chips, you cannot have just one! Lucky or unluckily for me, I have now run out of room for adults, or else I would work with a whole army of Sphaerodactylus.
My Sphaerodactylus are kept in tanks ranging from 5-10 gallons. All of my Sphaerodactylus enclosures contain; cork backgrounds, cork tubes, dried tubes of Fallopia japonica (Japanese knotweed) for egg laying, substrate, small creeping plants, Tillandsia or bromeliads, calcium & water dishes. Each terrarium is illuminated by two bulb: the first is a very low output UVB bulb and the second a cool white bulb. On my larger enclosures I also use a heat lamp. Younger Sphaerodactylus are kept in small plastic enclosures that have been modified to allow for proper ventilation. Other than this not much differs between their setup and the adults.
I guess I find their behavior the most interesting. You have some that can be extremely shy and then you have some that are so bold you could boop their noses and they would not even move. The majority of the Genus is diurnal, but then you have a few which are night active.
The biggest challenge I have faced so far with Sphaerodactylus is that I used to have horrible luck with the females, I actually felt like the black widow of Sphaerodactylus. However strong determination, lots of reading and contact with other breeders helped me solve the issues I was having (unfortunately, it was a little bit of everything) and now not only do I have little Sphaerodactylus all over the place, but I have healthy females.
If you are looking for a nice pet gecko, one that is easily handle-able, common/easily obtainable in the hobby, and one with a plethora of care sheets and featured YouTube videos, then Sphaerodactylus is NOT for you. They are not the cuddly little critters that crested geckos are, nor the type of gecko that will nestle into the palm of your hand like a leopard gecko. These uncommon, dare I say rare, geckos seldom are listed on the common reptile classified sites and even less often written about. When you find tidbits of information (like you will find here from my fellow hobbyists), you should treasure them!
Species of the genus Sphaerodactylus have been found in our facility since the 2011 NARBC show in Tinley Park where, out of the thousands of animals, I found one deli cup with a ‘pair’ of 1 inch long S. torrei. I was hooked! If you have not seen photos of these animals, Google view them right now (go on, look them up, I’ll wait). The diverse colors of the genus have a common description- ‘glowing incandescence’- with the S. torrei being the most spectacular to my mind. The two animals came home with me and soon settled into their new enclosure- a 5 gallon cube with screen mesh (this is so important) top, sand/peat substrate mix with magnolia leaf debris, cork bark hides, a couple of climbing branches, and a fake plant or two. The mesh screen is a must as these scamps are tiny, tiny geckos that LOVE looking for escape routes. Atop the screen is one canister holding an incandescent bulb of about 15 w off to the side. Simple setup but very functional for these little grown geckos. Add two small water bottle caps, one for water and the other for small foods, and the enclosure is set.
Since my initial S. torrei pair, I’ve since added two additional species- Sphaerodactylus nigropunctatus and Sphaerodactylus dimorphicus (back to Google view with you to look up these two). Even though these animals are tiny, the male S. nigropunctatus just glows orange-yellow. The female has an attractive sexually dimorphic yellowish background with bold tan striping. The S. dimorphicus are basically a yellowish brown with one sporting a head littered with tiny black dots. Very interesting.
The ‘pair’ of S. torrei turned out to be two females, normally an ideal situation for most gecko breeders. For me, I am relying on the person known to have some of the rarer animals around- Jon Boone who will be finding a male for these two lovely ladies any day now.
As securing the small mesh screen top is one challenge, the other will be finding small foods to feed your ‘Sphaeros’. Of course they love dusted week-old crickets, mini-mealworms, and fruitflies. As they are a true ‘day’ gecko with a non-stop metabolism, keep a few mealworms constantly in the dish.
Sphaerodactylus, given these few requirements (floor space with plenty of hiding spaces, small foods and constant supply of clean water, and a tightly sealed enclosure) are very easy to maintain. They can be very shy if not provided with enough cover but provide constant entertainment during the day when they are most active.
I am currently keeping 7 species. Sphaerodactylus difficilis diolenius, Sphaerodactylus nigropunctatus “intermedius”, Sphaerodactylus fantasticus karukera, Sphaerodactylus argus, Sphaerodactylus marcolepis “Blue Eye”,
Sphaerodactylus notatus atactus, Sphaerodactylus sputator. Of these 7, I am currently breeding 5 of them. I’m considering acquiring some more species in the future.
I got into reptiles only two years ago. When I was considering what species I would keep, I was willing to keep Phelsuma species. A friend of mine that lives in Belgium told me about a German guy that was breeding an uncommon and rather colorful small gecko species. He could only remember the name of the website: www.zwerggeckos.com!! So when I got home I went to the site and
contacted Dennis to ask him what species I could consider for my tank. Dennis was very helpful answering any questions I had. Geckotagung (a German meeting where experts come to talk about geckos) was about to happen and Dennis asked me if I was coming. Unfortunately I couldn’t attend, but Dennis managed to find someone from Switzerland that could bring me back the geckos. And a few days later, the difficilis and nigropunctatus were at home and this is how it all started. Since then I started to get more and more interested in keeping the species of this genus and all this has become very addictive.
I have several tanks for my Sphaero. The substrate is constitued from humus and sand, and the tanks’ walls are constitued of pieces of bark glued to the glass. I have quite a lot of bark tubes and pieces in the tank with some plants. The female usually lays the lone egg in these pieces. Basically most of my tanks have the same sort of set up. A normal light is on 10 to 12 hours a day, depending of the season.
At first I was interested in their rather uncommon nature, and the fact that they are not a species that is found easily. Their small size was also a factor that was favouring my interest. This is a species rich genus, and most of them are unknown in captivity. The variety of size, colour, and behavior is something I find very interesting nowadays. Each one has its own personality: some are rather secretive while others don’t mind being touched or will even walk on a finger. Also eggs can be left in the tank to incubate naturally, although it still can be tricky to catch an inch long baby when you spot it. Young can be left with the adults for some time. Another important point for me is the fact that these are not (yet?) subject to morph or color selection. Keeping a species that resembles what you’ll find in the nature is something important to me. Preservation of a wild strain in captivity is surely an interesting challenge.
The biggest challenge is finding food small enough to fit their mouths and it is quite important to make sure you have your own production of live food. They are strictly insectivorous and not all shops have insects small enough. Another challenge could be finding a breeder from whom to purchase your stock; these are not so commonly imported and most of the individuals are captive bred. Like I said before, keeping these animals morph free is my biggest challenge and also what got me into keeping these instead of other common beginners’ geckos.
Ryan Brennan has kept reptiles for over 15 years and finds rare geckos and colubrids most enjoyable to keep. He keeps a variety of leopard geckos, as well as a number of species from the genus gonatodes, strophurus, pachydactylus, crytodactylus, lygodactylus, paroedura and lizards from the genus egernia. Ryan just launched his facebook page under the name Empire Reptiles Canada. He lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Yann Fulliquet: I got into reptiles 2 years ago, so I am rather new to this, although I had wanted to keep one for a long time. But I do have extensive experience with keeping animals. I have been into fish keeping for 18 years now with a special interest in rare cichlids and catfish. Even if I am rather new to keeping geckos, I keep quite a good number of them and it might surely grow in the future. Besides my 7 Sphaerodactylus species, I also have 2 Phelsuma species, one of Tribolonotus and Mniarogekko and two island population of Rhacodactylus leachianus henkeli. My latest addition was a lizard: Takydromus smaragdinus. I am breeding most of them so far. I have several additional projects in mind for the future with geckos and lizards. The more I am into this hobby the more I discover and the more I get interested.
Wally Kern is the owner of Supreme Geckos. Known for his leopard, crested, and pictus gecko breeding he enjoys maintaining many of the ‘odd ball’ geckos as well. He can be found at many of the Midwest reptile shows as well as the main social media sites. Computer business analyst during the day, and husband/father of 3 young men/gecko keeper at night. His focus has always been on educating the hobbyist first and foremost.
Jens Lindner lives in Frankfurt, Germany. He is 45 years old and has been working with reptiles, fish, cats, mice, horses and other animals since childhood. Moreover he is also interested in orchids. Now he has started to collect, keep and breed all Sphaerodactylus species of Puerto Rico.
Born and raised on Long Island, New York, Maureen Winter has been keeping reptiles and amphibians on and off since the age of 7. Her first reptile was a Red Eared Slider. Later on she kept various amphibians ranging from Hyla cinerea to Litoria caerulea and was quickly hooked. Eventually Maureen moved to Münster, Germany and longed to have her beloved amphibians once again. She began with Litoria caerulea and her hobby grew to keeping various species of dart frogs. After a year of owning dart frogs Maureen desired to have some geckos and soon her first geckos, Phelsuma klemmeri, were purchased. Shortly after, she began keeping many different geckos. She currently works with various Phelsuma, Lygodactylus, Sphaerodactylus, and Lepidodactylus lugubris, alongside her many frogs.
A huge thank you to Ryan Brennan, Wally Kern, and Yann Fulliquet for the photography used in this article.
Aliza is a home care speech therapist living in the Boston area. She has been breeding leopard geckos since 2005 and has also been successful in breeding Coleonyx, African Fat Tail and Gargoyle geckos. Other interests which she pursues in her copious free time include work in ceramics, practicing aikido and surfing the internet.