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Getting to Know the Bibron's Gecko
By Kevin Scott
NATURAL HISTORY AND NOMENCLATURE
The Bibron’s Gecko, Pachydactulus bibronii (formerly Chondrodactylus), was first described by naturalist Andrew Smith, and named after the French zoologist Gabriel Bibron. There is some debate between the identity and range of P. bibronii and P. turneri, which are very similar in appearance, particularly with imported specimens. Both species are typically found on cliffs, in rocky crevasses, steppes and savannahs. However, the new revision of P. bibronii states that it is restricted to South Africa while P. turneri also ranges into Angola, Zimbabwe and in southern regions of Namibia and Tanzania. Imported specimens that are referred to as Bibron’s geckos are likely P. turneri, since neither are currently coming out of South Africa. The following information is for the Bibron’s gecko, but is generally true for both species, and identification of imported species will be left to the reader.
With an adult length of 6-9 inches (15-22 cm), the Bibron’s Gecko is a medium to large, stocky-bodied gecko of the family Gekkonidae. The head is broad with large, yellow, grey or brown eyes that have vertical pupils and lack eyelids. The background dorsal color is a brown- to olive-gray, with black and white tubercle scales covering the head and back, creating a rough texture. Dark bands extend the length of the body and along the tail. Despite the lack of flashy colors, I find this a modest but quite attractive species. A life span of ten years can be expected.
This species is incredibly hardy and fairly common in captivity, but not extremely popular amongst hobbyists, perhaps due to their flighty nature and capability to deliver a relatively hefty bite. Males are usually aggressive toward one another, so no more than one male should be housed per cage. Females can also be aggressive toward each other, although to a lesser extent, so it is recommended to keep this species in pairs or alone. This species does not exhibit clear sexual dimorphism (e.g. femoral pores), although males have a broader head and thicker tail base because of hemipenes. Although the Bibron’s gecko is mainly arboreal, it will not hesitate to come to the ground to feed.
CARE IN CAPTIVITY
A terrarium measuring 45 x 45 x 60 cm is sufficient for an adult pair. Multiple hiding crevasses should be offered, and some great options include cork bark flats, shale flats and other flat stackable stones. When assembling cage décor, think of a cliff like habitat with tight but accessible hiding spots.
As a rule, the more hiding spots available the more secure the gecko will feel, and, in turn, the more it will be out and visible. This species will sometimes take advantage of terrestrial hiding places. Take care to ensure that individual pieces cannot shift and pin the gecko in a space where it cannot get out. Quartz sand is an acceptable substrate, although I prefer a mixture of sand and coconut for sanitary reasons, and also to help maintain humidity between misting. A terrarium planted with live plants is an appealing option, both for aesthetic and practical reasons. Pothos ivy, Sansevieria and smaller species of Phylodendron are hardy choices with broad leaves that can tolerate the geckos’ climbing upon them.
A basking lamp is sufficient for lighting, and ultraviolet lights are not necessary. An ambient temperature of 79-86° F (26-30° C) and night time temperature of 64-72° F (18-22° C) should be aimed for. Basking temperatures immediately under the light can reach 35-40° C. During the summer the diurnal photoperiod should be 12-14 hours, and during the winter the photoperiod can be reduced to 6 hours for about a month – these changes can be achieved either with a timer or manually, although the former is usually the more convenient option. Although this is a natural annual cycle for the gecko, it is optional in captivity, but suggested if breeding is a goal. Ambient humidity of 40-50% can usually be achieved by light to heavy misting three times a week, depending on the natural humidity in your region. The terrarium can be allowed to dry out between misting.
Bibron’s Geckos have a voracious appetite and will eagerly feed upon crickets, grasshoppers, mealworms and waxworms, and almost any other appropriately sized live food item. Canned food items (insects) can be fed as well, although I personally have never seen the Bibron’s gecko eat pre-killed prey. Calcium and vitamin supplements are not typically necessary, but it is recommended that feeder insects are gut loaded with calcium and other nutrients prior to feeding. The Bibron’s gecko hydrates primarily by licking water droplets from surfaces. Water is usually not taken from a dish, although a water dish should be offered. This ensures that water is available should it be needed, while simultaneously contributing to humidity.
If courtship is successful, the female will lay one or two eggs three to four weeks thereafter and up to six times per year. The eggs can be removed and placed into an incubator for a better success rate. Incubation temperatures of 81-86° F and humidity of 60% is sufficient, and eggs typically hatch after about two months of incubation under these conditions. Although it is not necessary, a nighttime incubation temperature drop to 68° has been witnessed to produce stronger young. Hatchlings are usually about five centimeters in length.
This article is only intended as a brief overview of the species in an attempt to increase its popularity. For further reading, the book Dickfingergeckos (Thick-toed Geckos) by Mirko Barts is a valuable, readily available, and inexpensive information source, although as far as I know it is only available in German. This book also covers other related species. The website www.pachydactylus.com is another good information source that is available in English.
 For more detailed physiological description see Field Guide to the Snakes and Other Reptiles of Southern Africa, by Bill Branch (page 267 in the 1998 edition).