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Western Banded Gecko Care Sheet

Scientific Facts

Common Name:Western Banded Gecko
Scientific Name:Coleonyx Variegatus
Life Span:6 to 8 years
Length: 4 to 6 inches
Clutch Size:2 eggs
Habitat:Deserts and rocky areas
Country of Origin:Southwestern USA, Northern Mexico 

Physical Description

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Western Banded Geckos are abundant in desert regions. Most geckos are small to medium in size. They are usually nocturnal, with soft skin, stout and short body, huge head, and limbs that features suction-padded digits. 

This species of geckos are now classified under the family Eublepharidae due to the common differences that they have between the eublepharids and gekkonids. They have moveable eyelids, with a lack of expanded toepads. These are among the most notable anatomical features of this gecko that sets it apart from the usual wall-climbing geckos. 

Their brown-banded, pale-pink translucent skin easily distinguishes these geckos from all other lizards living in the same desert regions. Their bodies and heads are speckled with some light brown spots. These brown bands are more visible among young geckos, then changing into spots or blotches as they age. The small scales on these geckos give their skin a silky-smooth texture. Unlike other geckos, they have very prominent eyes and movable eyelids, with vertical pupils. 

These geckos are terrestrial, ranging from 4 to 6 inches in length. The hatchlings usually measure 1 inch. The tail of this gecko is wide, perhaps due to stored fat and a constricted base. The underside of their bodies is white. Males feature prominent spurs on the sides of their tail base. 

Etymology 

The scientific name of this species, Colonyx Variegatus, means in Greek (Koleos) “a sheath” and (Onyx), which means “nail or claw”, while it means “variation” in Latin (Variegatus). This meaning may refer to the contrast in the elements of their color pattern. They belong to the Gekkonidae or the Gecko family. 

Related Subspecies

It is often challenging to distinguish the Texas banded gecko from the Western banded geckos. The former is only seen in the Chihuahuan Desert of Southeastern New Mexico, as well as in West Texas. Another variety, Mediterranean geckos, are seen on house walls and sidewalks of urban areas. They differ in appearance with their warty skin and the absence of movable eyelids. 

Habitat and Range

Western banded geckos are found in a wide range of habitats, including creosote bushes, rocky areas, deserts, sand dunes, woodlands, and more. 

Their range spread from the Southwestern United States and Northern Mexico, as well as in some islands off the coast of Mexico, California, and in the Gulf of Mexico. Their elevational range also extends from below sea level up to around 1,520 meters. 

These delicate looking lizards are capable of thriving even in harsh environments. They are also found in habitats that range from extremely dry and wind-blown sand dunes through hillsides and rugged rocky slopes, as well as barren high desert plateaus. 

Unique Features

These lizards are primarily active at night, usually crossing roads, especially during summer. It has been observed that their carriage and gait mimics that of scorpions sharing the same habitat. When disturbed, they waive their tails to divert the attention of their potential predators. 

Their tail features specialized fracture planes, which allow for easy breaking off. The blood vessels interestingly close off fast, thus preventing blood loss. The tail is left behind, writhing. This will allow the gecko to escape predation. The regenerated tail contains cartilaginous material that lacks fracture planes. It is also relatively shorter than the original tail, with different scales and color patterns. 

The tail of Western banded geckos serves more than just a way for them to escape possible predation. It also serves as their storage of water and food that they can use, especially during lean times, such as during winter dormancy. The regrowing of the tail is expensive, and its loss may put the gecko’s survival in jeopardy, especially if they lost it at the start of winter. 

Life Cycle

Breeding among Western banded geckos starts around April and May, just a few weeks after surfacing from their winter hibernation. Female geckos typically lay one to three clutches a year, with 2 eggs each. This happens from May to September. The hatchlings start appearing around 45 days later, from July to November.

Behavior

Just like other geckos, Western banded geckos are nocturnal. They usually avoid the heat of the day by hiding beneath the debris, logs, and within moist rock crevices. They also frequent some rodent burrows where they hunt spiders, insects, young scorpions, as well as other smaller arthropods. 

They stalk their prey within an inch, capturing it in the jaws before lunging. After eating, geckos clean their face with their tongue. They are also observed to eat their old skin after it peels off after the shedding process. 

When threatened or attacked, geckos stand tall on their legs, waving their tail over their backs. They usually store their fat in their tails. Since these geckos naturally reduce their metabolism at low temperatures, they use the stored fats in their tails to sustain them up to 9 months. Since they also restrict their activities at nights, they are rarely seen, usually silhouetted against desert roads. 

Threats and Conservation

As of the moment, Western banded geckos are classified as species of Least Concern. As such, they do not qualify for an ‘at-risk’ category. The abundant and widespread population has been observed with this species in their range. 

Also, these geckos are currently the subject of an ongoing mark and recapture study at the South Nevada Red Rock Canyon National Recreation Area. The goal of this study is to determine trends in population, as well as the densities in the area, comparing it with the other species within the same range.

Housing

In captivity, preparing for the housing of these geckos is easy. Due to their small size, and the tendency to stick to the ground, a 10-gallon terrarium with a secure top is a good choice. Bedding can also be included, which may come in the form of an-inch deep bedding consisting of ground coconut core, organic topsoil, terrarium carpet, coarse gravel, or Sani Chips. 

On one end of the tank, you can install a heating pad, providing a warm spot of around 85 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Depending on the need, you may also want to add a heat emitter, or a heat lamp over this setup in order to achieve this ideal temperature. 

Make sure that the heat lamp you selected is one of those black or red light varieties since these geckos are observed to be mainly active at night or in the dark. At the cooler end of the enclosure, you can also place a shallow water bowl which is large enough for your pet to drink from. 

You can install one hide at the cool end, and another at the warm end. There is no need to place too many hiding places for these geckos. It would also help to add damp moss beneath some of the hides as these geckos also love humidity, as it helps them during shedding. 

You can dampen the moss at least once a week, changing it once a month. In captivity, these geckos have been observed to scamper and move about their enclosure. Male geckos do not really like each other, which means that a tank should never have two of them together. 

A standard 10-gallon terrarium can serve as a good home for one male and up to five female geckos. They readily breed. They will usually lay their eggs on the damp moss hides that you have prepared. 

Feeding and Diet

In the wild, these geckos consume a wide variety of arachnids and insects. This is also observed for those in captivity. Among the readily available food options include mealworms, crickets, small roaches, waxworms, as well as other insects. You may also want to add a calcium supplement to the prey’s food every other feeding. They can be fed as much as they can three times a week. 

When it comes to foraging, the stalking behavior of these geckos is similar to that of the feline family. They fix their elliptical pupils on the prey, holding its undulated body and tail above the substrate, advancing slowly, and then vibrating their tail tip before attacking. This mode is a combination of active foraging and sit-and-wait style of predation. 

Detection of prey may also happen with or without flicking their tongue. It has been observed that with these geckos, volmerolfaction (tongue-flicking movements) when lizards were given swabs rubbed on the surface of crickets, is often a result of a strong stimulus. They primarily rely on olfaction, avoiding tongue flicking moves, which could increase the possibility of their prey escaping.

Physiology and Temperature

Geckos that are active in the field have an average of 28.4 degrees Celsius body temperature. Male geckos are active over a broader range of temperatures in the environment compared with females. Studies also examined the current evolution of some physiological character states among banded geckos. They have been observed to have a lower evaporative water loss, higher metabolic rates, higher preferred body temperatures, as well as derived features that are often associated with their active foraging behaviors. 

Humidity

 Make sure to keep your Western banded geckos at a place with humidity levels of 40 to 55%. Ambient humidity needs to be monitored accordingly using a digital hygrometer. For this species, a humid hide is recommended strongly. They also need to be misted lightly every day, or every other day in order to moisten a part of the substrate, while providing dew on the walls of the enclosure and cage items. 

Enough ventilation should also be provided in order to allow the cage to dry out after a few hours. You can provide a shallow water dish, though this may not really be necessary if you are adept in misting the enclosure regularly.

Reproduction

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Courtship starts when the male approaches the female from behind. The body of the male gecko is held close to the ground while waving his tail. He then makes an initial bite on the neck, flank, or tail of the female gecko. If the female remains motionless and receptive, he then advances forward with some jerking moves, eventually mounting and transferring his bite to the shoulder or neck. 

The female then raises her tail, and the male gecko entwines his body, bringing his cloaca beneath the female. The frequency of female geckos being gravid is observed to be at its highest during May and June, simultaneous with the male reproductive peak. This suggests the high likelihood of sperm storage occurring. 

Western banded geckos have an almost fixed clutch size of two eggs, while some females are reported to lay two or more females every year. The clutch size is slightly bigger than other varieties. Still, due to its multiple clutches in a year, they have a relatively higher rate of reproduction than other species, such as the Desert Night Lizard, which do not produce more than one clutch in a year. In some years, they do not even reproduce.

Breeding

Western banded geckos are among the so-called eyelid geckos, which are also closely associated with the leopard gecko subspecies. These two groups breed similarly. Even though the Western banded geckos are little, delicate-looking with very thin and almost transparent skin, they are sturdier than their actual appearance. Provided that they are given the right care, they can thrive really well in captivity.

These geckos would thrive well in a terrarium. Since banded geckos, in general, are wild-caught and sold at really low prices, only a few hobbyists breed them intentionally. They are not difficult to breed. They become sexually mature when they reach over 2 inches in length, tail excluded. 

The sexing of these geckos is easy. Young males have 8 to 10 pores in a line right in front of their cloaca – something which is not present among females. Mature gecko males also feature noticeable cloacal bones with pointed tips that project out and forward right from beneath the base of the tail. On the other hand, females have flaps of skin. Overall, females are larger, usually by an inch. 

Just like other geckos, these Western banded geckos breed at springtime, right after a winter of decreased activity. They are usually observed as more productive when cooled for about two to three months the previous winter. 

Around Thanksgiving, you can start reducing the feeding of these geckos, gradually dropping the temperature at the same time, to around 65 degrees Fahrenheit, letting it stay at this temperature for about two months. Also, reduce the length of daytime to less than eight hours every day. This change in schedule will help with the natural process of mating and breeding. 

The presence of water is very important. For this reason, it is essential to check the geckos at least each week for any signs of dehydration, or bacteria, and fungi build-up. Some geckos eat a little during this cooling period, though most of them survive with just the water and fats stored in their tails and stomach. 

Around mid-February, you can start warming the geckos up, increasing the length of the day, then allowing them to free feed. The cooling period makes the testes of the male geckos to enlarge and gather strong sperm. You can then place one male with around three or four females in March, and expect eggs starting from six weeks to two months. 

The behavior of these geckos during mating is also simple. The male gecko locates the female possibly by smell and sight. He then approaches her with his legs held straight and stiff. If the female response and is ready to mate, she will stand still, raising her tail slightly, as the male moves up to her, biting her on the neck, helping her move her body into mating position. The transfer of sperm is usually completed in a few seconds. Since mating usually occurs at night, it is not so noticeable. 

A gravid female gecko develops two white, large eggs in her stomach. Due to their translucent skin features, the eggs can be felt and seen through the skin. Many geckos lay two clutches in a year, and a female gecko can store the sperm from male geckos for several months. 

The moment that you detect the eggs, it is best to prepare a nesting box, such as a plastic sandwich box with a hole cut in the top or side, and a lid. Fill the nesting box with moist, but not wet, sphagnum moss and/or vermiculite. Make sure to check the box each morning, observing closely every female to see when they have already laid their eggs. 

When the eggs are already out, remove them and transfer to a simple incubator, or a separate container where the temperature is at 8 to 85 degrees, with at least 80% humidity. There is no need to prepare complicated incubators, as you can keep them on a moist layer of vermiculite in a small plastic container. 

You can then place the container in a large tank on top of an under tank heater that is adjusted in order to maintain the right temperature. You can add water to the vermiculite from time to time from the container sides, rather than wetting the eggs directly. The eggs are usually half-buried in the substrate. 

Sex among Western banded geckos is determined by genetics, not through the temperatures in incubation like other geckos. The usual incubation period at the right temperatures is at six weeks. The young geckos are usually 2 inches in length, requiring tiny spiders and insects as food during their first few months. 

The young geckos typically take their first meal when they are about 5 to 8 years old, right after their first shed. They may also reach sexual maturity at around 8 months of age. These live longer than the usual gecko lifespan, with 6 to 8 years on average, and a record of over 15 years. 

Defecation Behavior

These geckos deposit their feces repeatedly at a specific site, which is often called as the defecatortium. This location is then placed away from their favorite diurnal resting site and is prone to be detected by predators. They are observed to recognize the odor of their own feces, with it serving as territorial signposts. 

Defense Mechanism

A number of snake species have been listed as predators of this species of Geckos, though this is only primarily observed among specimens in captivity. In turn, these geckos also feed on snake and lizard eggs. The timing of their seasonal activity peak of snake species, including leaf-nosed snakes, further suggests that they are among the predators of Western banded geckos. 

Other potential predators of these geckos are night snakes, sidewinders, as well as coachwhip. The desert hairy scorpion is also observed to eat banded geckos, though this detail is only based on captivity observation. 

An important part of the defense strategy of this species is its tail autonomy. In fact, it has been found that up to 74% of adult geckos have regenerated tails. When they are threatened, they raise their tail, arching them over their backs at times. This serves as a decoy that deflects predator attacks from their bodies to the detachable tail. 

According to studies, there is a possibility that this is to mimic the actions of scorpions. When presented with a potential predator, such as a snake, these movements were commonly observed, especially with those with their original tails, and not much with those with regenerated tails. 

As seen in the high frequency of regenerated tails, this tail autonomy seems like an effective defense strategy, though it can be expensive energetically, and the tails which have been regenerated may also be less effective when it comes to courtship, mating, and in future defense. When they are captured, these geckos usually emit a squeaking sound. This function is still unclear, even with specimens in captivity. 

Benefits to the Ecosystem

Western Banded Geckos help in controlling the population of scorpions in the wild, as well as in urban areas. They especially love eating baby scorpions. They also have the capacity to mimic scorpions in the way that they run with their tails arched high over their backs. They use this capacity to fool potential predators, making them think that they are dangerous, even poisonous to approach. At times, they also squeak when threatened. 

Where to Get Western Banded Geckos

In most locations where these geckos are found, sale and collection of this species are prohibited. However, in other areas, such as in Nevada, they are available for the pet trade. This state is considered where most of the legally bred geckos come from. 

If you are planning to get one for your pet, it is best to do so from an actual breeder. There are some available, with some resources online. Breeding of this species is quite easy. The babies are smaller, with less possibility of seeing morphs for now. 

Despite being an amazing option for beginners in caring for desert geckos, captive-bred specimens are not really common. However, with the current fascination over this species, more and more breeders have become interested in making them more popular. 

FAQ Section

What do Western Banded Geckos eat?

In the wild, Western Banded Geckos eat a wide variety of arachnids and insects. They also eat the same in captivity. Their usual meal includes waxworms, mealworms, crickets, small roaches, as well as other insects that are easy to find. Every other feeding, it is suggested to add a calcium supplement on their prey items to take care of their health. 

How do you take care of Western Banded Geckos during shedding?

Western Banded Geckos go through shedding. If this is a problem for your pet, it may be helpful to keep the substrate surrounding their cave moist. This can be done by misting it with water or placing a damp paper towel inside. You may also add a separate hide in their cage. 

Where do Western Banded Geckos live?

These geckos are found in the Southwestern United States and Northern Mexico.

Do Western Banded Geckos bite?

Geckos, in general, are too small to bite. If they do, the dangers of humans are minimal. 

How long do Western Banded Geckos live?

It has been estimated that Western Banded Geckos live for about 10 to 20 years in captivity. The actual lifespan of these geckos in the wild is currently not known. 

What does a Western Banded Geckos look like?

Western Banded Geckos are delicate-looking, beautiful lizards with pale pink translucent skin with brown bands, thus the name. They are medium in size, growing up to 4 to 6 inches in length. The bands are most visible among juveniles. They turn into spots and blotches as they age. They have a supple skin with some uniformly granular back scales. They have slender toes and no pads. 

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