The Helmeted Gecko (Geckonia chazaliae) is a monotypic specie inhabiting arid rocky regions along the coast of Morocco, extending slightly north and south into adjacent Senegal and Mauritania. There they can be found taking refuge under rocks under rocks and debris during the day. Their cryptic and variable coloration provides excellent camouflage amongst stony pebbles. Like other terrestrial geckos, the toe pads have been lost and they are unable to climb smooth surfaces.
Only about one and one-half inch in length at hatching, adult reach a total length of about four inches. Extremely thick bodied, and with a very short tail, they present the appearance of being considerably larger.
These lizards rarely attempt to bite, although they may do so if restrained. Handle gently, without pinching or squeezing, allowing for the small size and delicacy of the lizards limbs. Generally, they will rest quietly in the hand and present no handling problems.
Almost anything can be used, with a standard ten-gallon aquarium being large enough to maintain an adult pair. Due their secretive nature, be sure to provide adequate hiding areas. Rock cracks and crevices are preferred over larger, more spacious hide houses. Many keepers use small shallow pottery (plant pot drainage saucers) successfully.
A variety of substrates can be used. We maintained our specimens on paper toweling or newspaper, although others have reported using fine sand successfully. Keep the substrate clean and dry at all times.
Hatchlings feed readily upon small crickets. They grow quickly, adding larger and larger prey items to their menu. These little geckos are classic ambush predators and rarely spend much time chasing and pursuing food items. Instead, they sit and wait until the food items passes nearby. Undoubtedly, much of their food intake in the wild consists of insects which attempt to seek refuge under the same rock as the gecko.
Provide clean water in a small dish. Humidity should be relatively high, as the coastal regions they inhabit are surprisingly humid for what is otherwise a desert region. Pay extra attention to the humidity needs of these geckos when choosing a cage, as those providing too much ventilation may prove difficult to keep humid. We recommend providing a small plastic container with lid (cut an access hole in the side) filled with damp sphagnum moss. Place the cup in a suitable location in the cage to provide a secure retreat similar to the damp soil these geckos would find under rocks in their native habitat.
Provide a thermal gradient by placing a heat pad under one end of the cage. This should allow the geckos to choose from higher temperatures (about 85-90F) at the warm end, and cooler temperatures (about 75-80F) at the cooler end. Provide suitable hiding areas at both warm and cool areas, so the geckos can feel secure at any temperature. Temperatures at night can be allowed to drop several degrees without concern. There is some indication that UVB producing lighting is beneficial for these animals, as wild specimens are often encountered basking in the mornings. Many keepers have reported difficulty in raising neonates, and perhaps lighting is the answer. More study is needed in this area.
Examining the shape of the tail base can usually determine sex, as most adult males have very prominent hemipenile bulges. These bulges can become evident at an early age, with most six-month old specimens being readily sexable. Typical clutches consist of one or two eggs and are produced every four weeks for as many as six clutches per year. Incubation is quite variable, with records of 30 to 175 days! This is likely the result of this species ability to incubate at a wide range of temperatures, with successful hatchings taking place at temperatures from 79 to 95F. Temperature dependent sex determination is recorded for this specie, with greater numbers of females being produced at temperatures below 83F.
Thus far, no mutations of this specie have been reported. However, the numerous natural variations in pattern can range from patternless to combinations of spots giving the appearance of spotted, banded and striped patterns. When combined with the incredible variations in color (combinations of grays, browns, tans, olives, and even reddish tones), there is enough natural variation to keep enthusiasts busy for years selecting for interesting traits.
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