Three to Get Ready: Hemidactylus
The publication last month of a “Three to Get Ready” focusing on viper geckos, Hemidactylus imbricatus, sparked a desire from one reader for us to do an article focusing on the entire Hemidactylus genus. Your wish is our command! Hemidactylus is a genus of over 90 species, many of which go by the common name “house gecko” because of their ability to flourish in human occupied space, and, as you’ll read below, new species are being discovered all the time.
As usual, the three Hemidactylus gecko keepers have responded to the following questions:
- What species are you keeping?
- What got you interested in this species and where did you get your first one(s)?
- How are they set up? Describe your enclosure
- What do you find most interesting about them?
- What do you find to be the biggest challenge?
Hervé St. Dizier
I keep Hemidactylus tanganicus and 3 unknown and unnamed species, obviously members of the Hemidactylus genus, but still to be scientifically described. I use the country of origin for now to name each species: Congo, Ghana and India. The latter looks much like H. frenatus but glues eggs on rocks, glass or wood, something ordinary frenatus never do. The Congo species is the most spectacular of the three, and the Ghana species is generally dark brown with black spots, but may become dirty yellow at times. The latter like to spend some time on the ground. I have even repeatedly observed them hiding in loose substrate, completely buried in it. These new species have already been checked with DNA samplings and are indeed new to science. A paper about them will be published as soon as the implications on the genus are known. All of them are typical Hemidactylus -middle-sized geckos (from 4” full length for the Ghana species to nearly 5″ for tanganicus and the Congo species), fast-moving, able to climb glass with great speed, voracious eaters, nocturnal and shy. None of them would make a good candidate for handling.
Hemidactylus species are often underrated in the hobby. Yet, there are many species hardly or even not at all bred in captivity. My explanation is that they are neglected by the average hobbyist both because of the lack of information on how to keep members of the genus and because they are “cheap” geckos. Contrary to a well-known principle, what is rare is not necessarily expensive when one talks about Hemidactylus geckos. Generally speaking, they are hardy species, easy to keep and breed. My first step with them was a complete coincidence at the Hamm show in Germany, around 2007 or 2008, with a trio labelled as H. brooki which turned out to be H. tanganicus after some research and qualified identification. Then, I found the idea of working with members of this genus interesting, and I had the opportunity to purchase unknown species from an US well-known breeder. I simply love to work with species that pose some challenge or seem poorly understood in the geckophile circles. With enough money, for example, you can assemble a collection of pricey and spectacular Australian geckos in no time. Try the same with many Hemidactylus species! Of course the monetary investment –and the prices at which juveniles are sold– are much lower, but you simply don’t find them or only through a handful of amateurs…that’s a whole different story.
I have described at length my set-up for H. tanganicus in my GGA article from October 2012. The 3 other species are in 8″x8″x12″ enclosures for each pair. This space is enough for them to thrive and breed. I keep humidity high, even very high for the Congo species. They all have a substrate of Coconut fiber covered with dead leaves. A few vertical pieces of cork bark oak, an artificial plant and that’s it. Room temperatures at night work well, I keep them rather warm during days with a 82-92°F range.
I knew nothing of the 3 unknown species when I got them, except their country of origin. It was somehow a challenge to try to figure out what were the right captive conditions for them. And, of course, the excitement of breeding new species and contributing to a future paper about them also counts a lot for me.
I feel that the biggest challenge is to get gecko people to take more of an interest in them instead of walking away at shows as soon as they can see “Hemidactylus” somewhere. Isn’t it paradoxical that it’s hard to find buyers with serious motivation for one tenth the sum they would spend, for example, on Nephrurus species or leachies, whereas you can find the latter quite easily through shows or on the Internet? There is an educational challenge here, as modest as it can be. They are not just what is vaguely called “house geckos” but cover a whole variety of habitats. Hemidactylus aren’t likewise only food for some rear-fanged snake species, though I completely understand breeders of the said snakes who use them as feeders. As with complex genera holding many species, many more are yet to be described, and a lot of them should attract more hobbyists so that they are no longer treated as “geckos about which no or little information is available”.
Currently, I am keeping a very limited number of Hemidactylus that includes H. ruspoli, H. tanganicus, H. squamulatus. I would like to add 1 or 2 additional species in 2014. One species that I will be on the lookout for is Hemidactylus prashadi. Someday I may even try my hand at H. taylori, if I get brave.
Like many of my gecko beginnings other than crested geckos and leopard geckos, my interest in Hemidactylus came from Jon Boone. Looking for a different oddball gecko one day, Jon suggested I take a look at Hemidactylus ruspoli. I fell in love immediately with the contrasting dark body background, lighter striping, and stark white tubercles. Very beautiful animals. Although a bit pricey, I took the leap and have been working with them since. Oh, the babies are even more stunning than the parents!
The enclosures are extremely basic. I have all my Hemidactylus set up in standard 10 gallon glass tanks with screen tops with both florescent tubes (low UVB) and incandescent bulbs (heat) on them. I live near Lannon, WI which is famous for its lannon stone- a softer, lighter stone found in thinner sheets. Half the enclosure is set up with stacked lannon stone- the geckos love the spaces between the stones. One large sheet of stone is set up leaning against the back of the enclosure as a type of wall. I find the geckos behind this wall about 50% of the time. A half inch to ¾ inch layer of sand covers the entire bottom of the enclosure. Included in the setup is a water dish, a food dish, and a couple of overturned, notched out, terra cotta colored flower pot saucers. I do mist at least a couple of times a week as well. Very basic. They are kept at around 82-83 (F) during the day (with a warm spot around 90) and at night, temps drop back to about 72-74. Finally, I feed medium sized gut loaded, dusted crickets and normal sized mealworms in mealworm dishes.
What do I find most interesting about them? Well, other than Jon Boone convincing me that I would enjoy them? They are super easy to care for, easy to set up, and fairly easy to breed. They do hide most of the time but when feeding will scoot around the enclosure without care. One cannot compare their colors with other small geckos’ colors like Gonatodes or Sphaerodactylus but, again a species like H. ruspoli, and its jet black night background with starry night highlights will WOW you.
The challenge I have is finding good information on the different species. While I am finding their care to be very similar, finding individual information on the differences between each species is not easy. Also, there are examples of a few different Hemidactylus floating around the hobby, it is nearly impossible to find available animals (unless you contact Mr. Boone).
The genus Hemidactylus, or “leaf-toed geckos,” is in the family Gekkonidae (True Geckos) and at the time of this writing there are 123+ species. They inhabit every continent except Antarctica (introduced to Europe, North America and Australia), and are typically found in tropical, sub-tropical or semi-arid habitats, although some species are quite at home in temperate climates. The genus is comprised of mainly bi-sexual species, but there at least one uni-sexual, or parthenogenetic species in the genus (H. garnotii). For those unfamiliar with parthenogenesis, this is a form of asexual reproduction where no male is necessary for fertilization.
At one point I kept several species of Hemidactylus, including, angulatus, prashadi, subtriedrus, tanganicus, triedrus triedrus, and turcicus. All of these species are heavily keeled, or rough scaled and stout bodied. Prashadi is one of the larger species in the genus and sizes of 7”+ are not unheard of. I was forced to cut back on my collection drastically about 4 years ago and the Hemidactylus were let go. Hopefully at some point in the near future I can pick a few more back up.
I received my first Hemidactylus about 7 years ago, a young pair of triedrus triedrus, from my one time friend and ‘gecko mentor,’ Bobby Ryce. I had never really looked into this wonderful genus before his encouragement. I still remember him asking me one day, “Hey dude, do you keep any Hemidactylus?” and answering that I wasn’t really into ‘house geckos.’ I couldn’t have been any further off and poorly educated on them and immediately fell in love with the triedrus he gave me. They were more like little miniature monitors than any gecko I had ever kept – voracious and inquisitive, I was immediately hooked! I sourced the rest of my Hemis from other hobbyists that I met on forums, including Jon Boone.
I kept my Hemis in vivaria that was representative of their natural habitat. Hemidactylus are typically arboreal, terrestrial, or rupicolous (rock dwelling). For example, prashadi live on trees and rocks in the Western Ghats of India. I kept them in upright front opening vivaria on a sand/soil substrate with vertical slabs of flagstone placed securely in the vivarium along with live Dracaena and branches. My triedrus, on the other hand, were kept in more terrestrial type enclosures with securely stacked pieces of slate and flagstone with a sand/soil substrate and no plants. With any new species I encourage doing extensive research into the species, including their natural habitat so that you can best recreate it for them in captivity. Again, I cannot emphasize enough how careful one must be when using stone in an enclosure. It should be either securely wedged in place (and tested for shifting) or permanently fixed, using aquarium grade silicone.
I found Hemidactylus extremely rewarding and interesting to keep. Please understand though, that these are geckos that you watch, and do not hold. Their voracious appetites, curious and inquisitive personalities and active behavior make for entertaining vivaria occupants. I especially loved my triedrus and subtriedrus. They reminded me more of little pitbulls or monitors than geckos.
The only thing I found challenging about Hemidactylus is their flighty nature. When startled they will run and hide, FAST! If they escape they can be difficult to capture – especially in a herp room full of racks! They also will not hesitate to bite or drop their tails. All in all though, they are awesome geckos that really deserve more attention in the hobby.
Kevin Cantrell’s life with reptiles started at a young age. As soon as he could walk he was following around his father’s desert tortoises (Gopherus agassizii) and catching fence lizards (Sceloporus occulatus ssp) in the fields near his house. He started keeping reptiles on his own at age 7 and started breeding geckos at the age of 12. Kevin has worked with many reptiles over the years including many agamids, iguanids, chameleons, tortoises, snakes and over 75 species of gecko.
Kevin has been focusing primarily on geckos since 2006 and founded Passport Herpetoculture in 2008. He currently maintains a collection of around 30 species of gecko from all over the world and comprising over 10 different genera. He also has a strong interest in Caudates. Outside of herpetoculture he is an avid hiker and rock climber and vintage car enthusiast. For more information on Kevin, his collection, available offspring and surplus geckos, please visit his website: www.passportherp.com
Hervé Saint Dizier was born in 1971. He is a French breeder with about a hundred species over 16 years of experience, former editor of the regretted Global Gecko Association, now specializing in uncommon species, particularly from Southern Africa and Asia. He is also a moderator on Geckos Unlimited forums. He lives in Lower Normandy and his private gecko project is called Thorr Geckos.
Wally Kern: Founding Supreme Gecko a few years ago, my focus has been on customer service and quality animals. Our policy from the start has been on education- from our extensive on-line library and Blog to the time we spend with EACH customer at reptile shows to timely, detailed Emails answering every question we receive. While we take pride in our reputation for producing some of the highest quality leopard geckos and
crested geckos around, we enjoy the opportunity to provide the first time owner just the right pet for their needs.
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 tai chi and surfing the internet.