Geckonia chazalia - Helmeted Gecko
Introduction (click on pictures below for larger view)
Geckonia chazalia get their common name, "helmeted gecko", from the row of enlarged scales lining the back of the head. This gives the appearance of a "helmet". They are a small, but sturdily built terrestrial gecko, with the females being noticeably larger and heavier bodied than the males. I have kept this species for several years and enjoy them immensely. They are fearless little geckos that have learned to associate my presence with food. When I enter the room, they come out and pace along the front of their tanks, waiting for handouts. I find them to be very vocal geckos, with lots of quiet little "chirps" and "grunts" whenever they are active. Their helmeted heads may appear to give them a constantly angry or stern expression, but I find them highly personable and entertaining.
Helmeted geckos are found in a fairly narrow strip along the Northwest coast of Africa, primarily in the arid, rocky deserts of Morocco. In their native habitat, these geckos are usually found under rocks or other debris during the day that creates a slightly cooler and more moist microclimate. Rainfall is quite rare, but the areas in which these geckos are most commonly found receive heavy fogs which roll in off the ocean. This is the primary source of moisture that life in this desert relies on.
These are hardy little geckos that will thrive if given the proper care. Like most geckos, they require a temperature gradient which allows them to choose a location with a temperature to their liking. I use an undertank heater which creates a warm end of approximately 85º F. The cool end is room temperature and ranges from 68º - 75º. I allow a slight night time drop. A 10 gallon tank can easily house a pair or a trio of these small geckos. I have witnessed little or no aggression among members of this species, although I have never tried to keep more than one male in an enclosure. I use a substrate sand for adults and paper towel for new hatchlings. Some keepers feel that UV light may be beneficial for this species, especially for babies. I have raised all of my animals without UV and have had no problems.
When I first acquired this species I was told that hydration was the key, and I have found this to be true. Even though they come from a desert environment, the moist fog which is a regular occurrence in their habitat creates a more humid condition than one might at first think. I give my helmeted geckos a light misting daily, and give the cool end of their enclosure a heavier misting approximately once a week so that the lower layers of the substrate retain some moisture.
These geckos are active and aggressive feeders. I am often surprised by how much they eat for their size in comparison to some of my other geckos. They are not shy about feeding and soon start to associate my presence with feeding time. They aggressively chase and consume prey as soon as it is place in their tank. I feed them lateralis roaches, small crickets, and mealworms (sparingly). I dust insects at every feeding with Repashy Calcium Plus. It is also important that breeding females are offered food often and have access to extra calcium as they are prolific egg layers and may have health problems if they aren't fed and supplemented properly.
I have found my females to be prolific egg layers. Even before I had any males to go with my 3 females, they began to lay eggs like clockwork. I must have thrown away at least a couple dozen eggs before I was able to locate a male to add to the group. Once the male was added to the group in 2008, I began to get some eggs that were fertile. I had some issues with incubation and had a number of eggs that went bad late in the developmental process, as well as a couple of newborn hatchlings that failed to thrive and died soon after hatching. I made some changes to my incubation methods, and late in the season had some success in producing my first CB babies. I have put my breeding groups together and have begun to get eggs in 2009. I have high hopes that I will produce a nice number of CB helmeted babies in 2009.