The Tokay gecko (Gekko gecko): feared by those who value their fingers, coveted and relentlessly peddled by Asian gecko hunters, beloved by keepers who want a large, brightly colored gecko. It will be clear from the information provided by the three Tokay keepers below how much they enjoy these active, occasionally aggressive reptiles. As always, each author responded to the following questions:
1. Which morphs are you keeping?
2. What got you interested in this species and where did you get your first one(s)?
3. How are they set up? Describe your enclosure
4. What do you find most interesting about them?
5. What do you find to be the biggest challenge?
The morph issue is a sticky question for me. The reptile industry has a propensity to name every reptile that is slightly different from the normal visual coloration. The issue I have is that so little has been proven out in Tokay genetics, that many of these different names might really be for exactly the same animal.
My favorite example is the ‘Calico/Leucistic’ group. And to this I’ll add pied and Granite/Melanistic. So far, in the last five years of breeding similar white Tokays together, (12 pairs) we’ve produced only normal looking progeny. This has been true for Granite to Granite, (4 pairs) as well.
I’m to understand that a German breeder was able to produce visual Granite offspring, but that is second hand information. I believe Kevin or his partner was able to produce a couple of what looks to be black eyed Leucistic, but I understand they died shortly after hatching. Again, second hand information, but I note these to illustrate that we are nowhere near proving any of these out.
I’ll take this one step further. From a pair of what I call pied, I produced several offspring where one started turning white after about 8 months. The Tokay were sold to me as Calico. One is high white with yellow patches and the other is yellow gold/moss green/dark green/white. I know that Morgan Weiss has had one of her hatchlings start to turn later as well. Her patternless line has the ‘Calico/Leucistic’ genetics mixed in.
These two follow in line with a “Progressive Pied” genetic trait where the hatchling is normal looking and changes over time. OK, now we’ve seen these white Tokay with black spots come in as imports that keep getting darker over time. They start to look like the ‘Granite/Melanistic’ imports that I’ve gotten in. The only hint on these Granite/Melanistic is the white ring around the eyes seems to be the last thing to turn.
So here’s the long way back to the beginning. My hypotheses is that maybe many of these ‘Calico/Leucistic/Pied and maybe some of these Granite/Melanistic morphs are really all the same genetics at different ages. Maybe they are Progressive Pied.
As to the original question, “What morphs do I keep, (proven or unproven)?”
Indonesian Type Normal, gray with orange spots and light blue dots.
Indonesian Type Normal, dark gray with orange or yellow spots, no light blue dots.
Malaysian Type Normal, blue with red/orange spots and little or no light blue dots.
Patternless Green, Olive.
Patternless Green, Emerald.
Patternless Green, with yellow feet and knees.
Patternless Powder Blue.
Patternless Powder Green, may have yellow feet and knees.
Aberrant Green, green with dark green spots and light blue dots but little or no orange spots.
Calico/Leucistic, white with black eyes and little or no solid black spots, purple feet.
Calico/Pied, white with hazel eyes and patterned spots, purple feet.
Pied, white with traditional normal, or Granite patches.
Pied/Multi gene, white with different patches of patterned or patternless color.
Leucistic, white with yellow patches and black eyes.
Granite, gray with black spots
Granite, gray with black spots and yellow knees, feet and or heavy sections of yellow spots.
Blue Granite, gray to blue with black spots.
Blue Granite, gray to blue with black spots and yellow knees, feet.
High Red, cream with very large red spots.
Super Red, brick red with red spots and turquoise dots.
Candy Dot, ‘scaleless’ gray or light blue with a grid pattern of orange spots.
Stripe, usually a light stripe down the center of the back on some patternless and Granite.
The funny thing about naming Tokay morphs based on their appearance, is that they change all the time with mood, season, temperature, day/night cycle and breeding. Patternless Olive and some Granite look completely black at times. But are they a true black Tokay?
Several years ago I saw Tokay being offered at a pet show that were gray and skinny and not very pleasing. That spawned an old desire to acquire one of those beautiful blue and red Tokay that I’d seen for many years at the National Zoo. They use them as clean-up in the small mammal enclosures.
My internet search eventually brought me to N.E.R.D.’s Tokay morph page. I’d never seen Tokay in so many different colorful forms and tried to purchase some from them. I was not able to secure a purchase and was left to understand that Kevin had sold most of the collection to another buyer.
What I did find was that other reptile importers had also followed his lead in collecting Tokay morphs. I ended up buying several of these collections within a month of each other totaling about 34 animals. Most of these were Granite, Calico, Patternless and a few ‘Fancy’s’.
The majority of my enclosures are custom glass with a screen top for good ventilation and UV exposure. Typically they are either 48″, 36″ or 24″ tall, by 24″ deep, by 15″ wide.
I also use various Exo-Terra and ZooMed enclosures for hatchling and juvenile Tokay. I’m not a fan of most plastics especially for large collections. Most plastics will harbor mold and bacteria much more easily in the high temperature, high humidity Tokay enclosure. Tokay have a difficult time sticking to some plastics and just slide down the sides. This is most stressful for Tokay and if the keeper is not able to keep the plastic enclosure free from bacteria, then they can lose their Tokay.
When Tokay are breeding, laying eggs and brooding their young, they really do not like having their nesting site and other ‘furniture’ moved around. They will stop laying if one needs to move these items all the time for cleaning. I don’t touch their nesting area from January through about June. This means I’m not cleaning parts of the sides and back panel for 5 months. There is no worry with bacterial buildup on open glass.
Each enclosure has an inch of expanded clay ‘Hydro’ balls covered with mesh and 3″ of cypress mulch on top. I lean roofing slate up against the sides of the enclosure and then lean a slab of cork bark about one to two inches off of the slate to create a vertical hide and nesting area. Magnetic water bowls are located on the lower third of any side and artificial plants are used to provide cover, hold moisture and water droplets.
These enclosures are on rolling metal kitchen (Metro) racks with fluorescent UV 2.0 lighting and an automated filtered water misting system. Lighting is on a 12/12 hour timer and the rooms have thermostatic controlled heating and exhaust. Extra heating is provided with heat tape, heat rope or heat pads placed under the enclosures. No heat lamps are used to create basking spots. Tokay live in a jungle. There are no hot spots. The temps very only a few degrees in a tropical rain forest. Tokay do not bask like desert reptiles.
I follow the typical rainfall and temps for Indonesia. You can use the weather channel to see what I mean. January through June is roughly the rainy season with a misting schedule of 3 to 4 times a day. As we get into the dry season, I mist twice a day. If we have rain locally I’ll mist more to match the barometer drop which will stimulate breeding.
As for the temps, again I use Indonesia as my guide. It is cooler during our winter, so 68 to 70 degrees for a low in the evening and up to 85 degrees during the day and then we move up to 78 to 82 degrees at night and 95 to 98 degrees during the day for the summer months. The rooms can get up to 104% when the local temps are in the hight 90’s or above.
I love the Tokay call, there size and colors and the fact they will not eat their own young.
One thing that’s challenging to me is that the genetics are still a very big mystery. If we could prove out more than just a couple of these color mutations then we would not have to contend with importing Tokay from the wild.
The idiosyncrasies of importing, competing with the insatiable demand in China for Tokay morphs and the relatively high expense for their enclosures versus their relatively low perceived value in the US market make it challenging to pursue this endeavor.
I am currently keeping 25 different morphs of Tokay. These include patternless morphs such as Blue Headed Greens, Powder Blues, Leucistics and also Calico’s, Granites, Melanistic, Pied and many other unusually coloured Tokays. Tokays appear to have a very wide spectrum of naturally occuring morphs and all of mine have their own unique traits that seperate them from each other. Because of this natural diversity, most Tokay breeders are focused on proving out the genetics behind them as opposed to doubling/tripling up genes through long term inbreeding.
It is worth mentioning that the names given by breeders to their morphs are very much open to interpretation and everyone has differing opinions
on what name particular morphs should go by. The morph I find most interesting (and infuriating!) is known widely as “Calico”. These animals are said to start out their lives with a “normal” phenotype and up to a year later go through a progressive change, losing their pigment altogether in certain areas and often displaying darkened pigment instead of the usual Blue/Orange. Eye colour also usually changes during this period. The thing that makes them so infuriating is that the genetics behind them are ambiguous and are proving to be a very complex puzzle. Couple this with having to wait up to a year for any change in the offspring and you have yourself a very long and probably disappointing waiting game!
I had just come back to reptile keeping after a long break. It had become apparent that a lot had changed since the 90’s when I was a lot younger, and husbandry had progressed massively. I was in my local reptile shop having a browse when I came across a pair of Geckos that looked incredible. One was a Calico male and the other a Blue & Yellow Granite. After talking to the shop owner about them he explained that he had started his own Tokay morph project back in 2007 (I think) and had since sold most of his collection. I later went on to purchase both of these Tokays and later a third (a Blue Granite male). Unlike many people. I didn’t own a “normal” Tokay until I had several morphs in my collection. My normals were purchased as a long term captive pair from another local reptile shop. I loved their ballsy attitude and bright colours. Almost as if they gave evolution the middle finger and said “screw you! I’m the toughest gecko in the world, make me…BLUE….WITH ORANGE SPOTS! I’ll take on any predator that sees me!”
I never intended on collecting Tokay morphs. It just sort of happened. Before I knew it I was finding morphs popping up from various people’s projects around the world and because of the unique traits most of these have, it is very difficult to say no!
Tokays needs are very easy to meet. Many people consider them a gecko for the more advanced keeper whereas I disagree. They are very hardy and very forgiving of husbandry errors which makes them great for beginners. This isn’t to say we shouldn’t provide them with a suitable set up though.
My Tokay set up’s are fairly basic due to the amount I keep. This makes maintenance much easier while still providing a suitable environment for the Tokay to thrive in. The enclosure size I typically use is 45cm wide x 60cm deep x 60cm tall . I use a 40w R63 spot bulb in the back left corner which is connected to a dimming thermostat on a 12 hour light cycle. I aim for a hot spot in the back corner of 95*F and the ambient temperatures in my reptile room range from 75*F- 80*F. Heat can be turned off at night providing your home doesn’t get too cold.
Humidity (and drinking water) is provided by a Mist King misting system. One nozzle per enclosure is sufficient and I generally place it in the front left corner and aim it at the back right corner (away from any electronic heat source!). This creates a humid environment (I aim for about 70% – 90%) and also allows water to collect on the back wall where the Tokay will be comfortable drinking from it. Most Tokays will excrete at the front of the enclosure when they feel safe at night so this helps keep their drinking water away from any fecal matter that may be on the front of the enclosure.
I keep decoration basic with a focus on vertical hides using mostly fake (for easy cleaning) hanging plants on the walls and cork bark/slate leant up towards the back wall. The hanging plants provide some cover towards the front whereas the cork bark/slate provides some cover at the back. It is very important that the Tokay feel safe and have comfortable access to the temperatures it needs so a nice large cork bark flat under the heat source is a must. I have a slightly different set-up for breeding pairs, one which was suggested to me by Michael Billewicz. A piece of slate is placed almost vertically on the side wall directly under the heat source. An arched cork bark flat is then placed over the top of it with a gap big enough for the Tokays to rest in between the two. There’s a 90% chance the female will lay in this gap which not only allows her to feel safe, but gives me a direct line of sight to keep an eye on them and the eggs.
Finally for substrate I use a simple 50/50 (ish) mix of cypress mulch and eco earth and have it about 1 1/2″ deep. I sometimes use orchid bark and eco earth but find the cypress mulch more attractive. I also introduce tropical spring tails and tropical woodlice to the substrate which keep it nice and clean. The bio active substrate must be kept damp (but not waterlogged) to keep these little critters alive and doing their job.
The thing I find most interesting about Tokays is that even though they are a typically defensive gecko, they are very paternal. Tokays are “egg gluers” and after laying their eggs they will continue to protect them while they incubate. Males will also protect their females and can often be seen standing guard near the laying site. When the eggs hatch, the parents can continue to live with the offspring. To this day I have never had a hatchling eaten. It is worth mentioning however that I do pull offspring and sex them at about 3 months of age. The males are separated to avoid any internal disputes.
The genetics behind Tokays are also of great interest and also huge frustration! Most of the genetics are not proving out as easily as we would all like but this just makes it a reward worth working for. Many of us are getting to a point now where we should be seeing results so watch this space!
I don’t find Tokays have been a challenge at all. They are an absolute joy to work with! They have given me stress and heartache however that comes with any breeding project regardless of species. It can be disappointing however when a gene doesn’t prove out the way you want but as we all know, persistence is key! In the mean time I will continue to breed them and try to replace a few of the wild caught ones being purchased, with healthier captive bred ones.
I have never kept multiple Tokay geckos, and in fact have only ever had 3: the first, a rescue in between, and the current one. At the moment I have one female who is about a year old. She was born to a pair of free-range Tokays living in the turtle room of a friend’s home. Erzebet is very much a normal in coloration, a lovely bluish-green offset with bright orange dots, and striping on her tail that is a lovely minty green. I do like a few of the granite morphs, but my personal favorite is really just a nice wild-type healthy Tokay.
I first became interested in Tokays many years ago when I was at a pet store picking up feeders. The store had a Tokay that had escaped and was roaming the store. The owner told me stories about this gecko’s intelligence, and showed his daytime “hide” behind a small fridge. I was enchanted with this gecko and began reading up and learning about the species and its care; I was intending to hit up a few local breeders at the next reptile show. Soon after this, a friend of mine picked up a pair on Craigslist. He only wanted the female, and gave me the male. I set him up in a planted 40T tank and he was happy as a clam. At that time, my intention was to “test-drive” the species and see if I wanted one long-term. I was very nervous about having feeder insects in my house. I enjoyed Mike for about 6 months, and then gave him to a friend who really wanted to get into Tokays. At that time, I didn’t want to deal with the bugs and was focused mainly on my small collection of pythons.
Erzebet, my current Tokay, is living in a planted 18”x18”x24” ExoTerra style cage. Against the back wall is a piece of cork tile. In front of it is planted some Sansevieria (snake plant) and a half-round of bark which she often hides in during the day. The substrate is a thin layer of hydroton covered by a mix of organic potting soil and peat moss. This is planted thickly with Pothos. High up on one side is a small Magnaturals ledge, where I put her feeder insects an hour or so after the lights go off in the evening. She eats primarily gut-loaded Dubia roaches, but occasionally gets wax worms and very occasionally gets a treat such as butter worms, silk worms, or horn worms. As she is just at full adult size and filling out, I am working on decorating a larger cage and will move her into it in the near future once the plants are better established. She has a 30W CHE (Ceramic Heat Emitter) on her cage top, augmented by a white light to give her a daytime cycle and encourage plant growth. Both bulbs are turned off at night. She is misted heavily at night right after the lights go off. Temps are checked regularly with an infrared temp gun.
I am most interested in Tokays because of their obvious intelligence. Having once had to catch one in the herp room, it is readily apparent that they are smarter than most herps I have experienced as pets. They are beautiful and robust, and observable at night in the herp room. They are fierce hunters and it is a joy to watch Erzebet chase her feeders. I also love that they bond so strongly as pairs. I don’t have immediate plans to get a mate for Erzebet, but will eventually do so. I also am fascinated by their defensive posturing and behavior. While many keepers might consider their somewhat aggressive tendencies when threatened, I find this to be appealing and interesting behavorially. Other gecko species I’ve kept include C. ciliatus, R. leachianus, L. williamsi, and P. m. madagascariensis; they are all lovely, but not as interesting to me in terms of behavior. The Leachie is really the only other gecko I own that seems comparatively intelligent, but she’s not as active.
For me, the biggest challenge is growing the roaches in my home. I know this seems silly to many people, but for me it was by far the biggest hurdle to jump before I was able to commit full-time to keeping a Tokay. I am so glad I was able to overcome my aversion; I first got Erzebet as a tiny baby about a year ago and she is a very enjoyable gecko to keep.
Michael Billewicz resides with his wife, Andrea, and two Dobermans in Northern VA, outside of Washington, DC. In the early 90’s he built a collection of over 50 snakes and lizards all before the internet. At that time housing 15′ to 18′ Retics and Burms was considered uncommon. His largest lizard was a 7′ male Burundi Nile Monitor. By 2003 all of the big snakes had been sold off for breeders and the last red Tegu passed away.
In 2008 he rescued a pair of Leopard Geckos and that started the collection again. Of course the internet has made collecting much broader and easier. Michael now keeps an average of 300 Tokay, in addition to another 200 other reptiles. Michael’s Tokay Hoard, (www.billewicz.com) is a long term breeding project built to see how many Tokay color morphs can be proved out for domestic captive breeding and to help others to further that endeavor.
His ‘day’ job is providing credit card processing services for business owners with Avant-Garde Marketing Solutions, Inc. “Something has to pay for the 20,000 crickets that come in every week, HA!”
Aimee Kenoyer is a research scientist in Seattle, WA, USA. She has been keeping reptiles over 7 years. Aimee was very active in the local herpetological society for several years as well, and has fostered many different species of reptile through their rescue program and penned many articles for their monthly newsletter. Her primary interests are in smaller python species and in “sticky-toed” geckos, and she has limited experience with breeding pythons and geckos. To the horror of her mother, Aimee was one of those children who spent her summers catching Garter Snakes, Painted Turtles, Bull Snakes, and various toads in Eastern WA; it was a foregone conclusion that once she discovered other reptile people she would soon be a keeper as well.
Tom Makinson at Tokay Gecko UK has been working with Tokay morphs for 3 years. He currently has almost 100 Tokays in his care and hopes that by
dispelling the myths and through the desirability of morphs there will
be a bright future for healthy captive bred Tokay Geckos within the hobby.
Photos from Tokay Gecko UK.