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Rusty Hinge Reptiles-Genus Coleonyx, Banded Geckos in the United States
by Petra Spiess

This article appeared in the October 1997 issue of Reptiles Magazine (with a different title-Trash Heap Treasures)
While traipsing through garbage dumps may not sound appealing to most people, it is one of the best places to find banded geckos (Coleonyx sp.). Upon capture, many species in this genus let out an amazingly loud squeaking sound similar to the noises that emanate from a rusty door hinge. Some members of this genus are very common across the Southwest, while others are very rare and only known from a few specimens. The genus Coleonyx has species across the Southwestern United States in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, California, Utah, and Nevada. Members of this genus can also be found in Baja Mexico, Mexico, and in Central America. Banded geckos generally fare well and reproduce readily in captivity. It is rather easy to collect desert banded geckos, but the laws regarding collection in each state within the home ranges of this genus differ. Do not violate state laws when collecting reptiles, besides risking a heavy fine, it also reflects poorly on herpers as a whole and can lead to restrictive legislation and a poor public image.

Collecting Laws for Coleonyx in the United States

There are no Coleonyx species listed under The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (C.I.T.E.S.), which means members of this genus may be exported from the United States without a permit. There are also no species of Coleonyx listed as threatened or endangered under the federal regulations of the Endangered Species Act. Some species however, are listed by their home states as either threatened or are protected by other legislation. In California, Coleonyx switaki (barefoot gecko) is listed as threatened and cannot be collected without a permit. In Utah, the Utah banded gecko (Coleonyx variegatus utahensis) is designated as a "controlled reptile" which means this subspecies cannot be possessed or sold without a Certificate of Registration from the state of Utah. In Texas, the reticulated gecko (Coleonyx reticulatus) is listed as threatened and collection of this species requires a permit from Texas Parks and Wildlife (Levell, 1995). The laws regulating the collection of non-state protected members of Coleonyx vary widely. Before collecting, contact the state Game and Fish organization for their specific regulations.

Species and Subspecies in the United States

The Western Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians (Stebbins, 1984) lists only 6 species and subspecies of the genus Coleonyx in the United States, C. brevis, C. switaki, C. variegatus variegatus, C. v. bogerti, C. v. abbotti, and C. v. utahensis. A seventh species, C. reticulatus is however, also found in the United States (Davis and Dixon, 1958). Both C. switaki and C. reticulatus are poorly known and difficult to find. The other five members however, are rather abundant over their home ranges. Subspecific identification of Coleonyx is rather difficult due to extensive range overlap and integration. Detailed description of subspecies and species can be found elsewhere (Stebbins, 1985), (Bartlett, 1996). The size of the banded gecko species found in the United States ranges from 4-8.5 cm (1.6-3.4 inches). All Coleonyx in the U.S. have vertical pupils, movable eyelids, fine granular scales, and lack adhesive lamellae. All members are also nocturnal and exclusively terrestrial. Their ground color ranges from pink to pale yellow, with traverse bands of brown. As the geckos mature, the bands break up in some species, resulting in varying degrees of spotting. This is much like the pattern change that occurs in juvinile leopard geckos (Eublepharis macularius). Banded geckos are in the subfamily Eublepharinae, which includes other genera such as Eublepharis (leopard geckos) and Hemitheconyx (fat-tailed geckos). The geckos included in this subfamily are all distinguised by the fact that they posses movable eyelids and lack adhesive lamellae.

The nocturnal and crevice dwelling habits of banded geckos allow them to thrive even in extremely dry desert macrohabitats. Coleonyx spend the majority of their time under rocks or debris in areas that have a much higher relative humidity than the surrounding habitat. One of the best places to hunt for banded geckos is trash dumps. Banded geckos prefer to hide under objects that retain moisture, like discarded cardboard boxed or old mattresses. Lifting these objects can reveal many geckos in a short amount of time. Be very careful when lifting up trash objects, many other reptile species such as rattlesnakes can be found in these hiding spots as well. Banded geckos can also be collected by cruising roads after dark and looking for their eyeshine in the headlights. Check local laws before collecting, some states forbid the use of vehicles on public roads when collecting reptiles, most notably Texas. Take care when handling these delicate geckos, their skin tears easily and their tails will fall off with little provocation.

Captive Care

Banded geckos are small, an enclosure with the dimensions of 2 x 2 x 2 ft (l x w x h) (.66 x .66 x .66 m) is adequate to house a small colony of one male and three females. These geckos can be easily and economically kept and bred in a rack system set-up. Males should not be housed together, they will fight. If housed in a rack system, the easiest substrate to use is newspaper or paper towels. Make sure to offer two hiding spots, one on the warm end and one on the cool end, so the geckos may choose their preferred temperature. A humidty site should also be included, no matter what type of enclsoure it utilized. The easiest and most economical method for providing a humidty site is to use a plastic shoebox with an access hole cut in the side, half filled with moist peat or sphagnum moss. Plastic shoeboxes are big enough to allow all the geckos in a colony inside at one time, and prevents crowing, as these animals will often spend an appreciable amount of time in thier humidity site. If the banded geckos are housed as pairs, a smaller humidty site can be constructed from a plastic deli cup. Make sure to keep this area moist, and replace the moss every two months. Banded geckos can also be set-up in a beautiful desert display enclsoure. Glass aquariums or other enclosures with glass fronts are generally good choices for display enclsoures. In display enclsoures, the best choice of substrate is playground sand, or natural substrate collected from the habitat of banded geckos. If sand is used as a substrate, be sure to offer a small dish of calcium supplement somewhere in the enclosure. Geckos kept on sand without adequet calcuim supplementation will sometimes impact their intestines by ingesting sand in a search for dieatary calcium. Attractive rocks can be used to construct hiding areas, but make sure to glue the rocks together with some silicone aquarium sealent to prevent a collapse that could injure or kill one of the geckos. Potted plants such as hen and chicks (Echeveria elegans), and mother-in-law's tounge (Sansevieria trifasciata) can be sunk into the sand, forming an attractive mini-desert landscape. There are many small beautiful succulents that fare very well in display encosures, most nurseries have a good selection of small potted succulents to choose from. Spiny plants should be avoided however, banded geckos have very delicate skin and can easily hurt themselves. A full-spectrum flouescent light should be included in the display enclosure for the benefit of the plants, the geckos do not require it as they are nocturnal. Although the geckos will not be about the enclsoure by day, if a dark light bulb (there are some "nocturnal" incandescent lights on the market that simulate moonlight which are excellent for this) is left on at night, they can be observed moving around the terrarium. They can be enticed out during the daytime by food however, as they are very avid feeders

A temperature of 75-80 degrees F (24-27 degrees F) on the cool end and 85-88 degrees F (29-31 degrees C) on the warm end is ideal. This temeprature may be achieved in a number of ways. In a display enclsoure or in a rack system, the most common type of heating is either undertank heating pads or heat tape respecitvly. Heat tape MUST have a thermostat to regulate the temperature, as this type of heating can be a fire hazzard if not handled carefully. Some hobbyists use spot bulbs to create warm areas, but these are less effective with banded geckos, as they do not bask. The majority of the banded geckos diet can be gut-loaded domestic crickets of apporpirate size. Other small insects such as freshly molted mealworms, cockroackes, pill bugs, and flightless fruitfiles will also be eaten with relish. When eating, banded geckos are very animated, often lifitng their tails above their backs and waving them about. This behavior is also seen in other, closely related Eublepharine geckos. This behavior may be some type of caudal luring, or it may just be an expression of excitement. Banded geckos should be fed three to four times a week, and should recieve calcium supplementation at every other feeding.

Coleonyx breed readily in captivity. Male banded geckos are very easy to distinguish, they have small "spurs" on either side of the base of the tail. Females do not possess this appendage, or if they do, it is very small. Males also have larger pre-femoral pores than females. A winter cool-down period of 4-6 weeks at 50-59 degrees F (10-15 degrees C) is helpful in inducing breeding activity. Prior to the cool-down period, keep the geckos warm, but withhold food for two weeks so their intestianl tracks have time to clear. Geckos that are hibernated with food in their intestinal tracts can become very ill. During this hibernation period, make sure water is avaiable at all times, reptiles can easily become dehydrated during this time. Banded geckos are generally sexually mature at one year of age, although breeding has occurred with younger specimens. After the winter hibernation, warm the geckos up and feed them heavily. Soon after emergence, breeding behavior should be noted. The male gecko will bite the female on the neck during copulation, which usually lasts several minutes. Eggs will be laid several weeks after copulation, the females will often choose to lay their eggs in the humdity chamber. If the humidity chamber is above heat tape or an undertank heating pad, make sure to check for eggs frequently, as they can easily dry out or overheat if they are placed above the heat source. From April to October, the females will lay several clutches of two soft-shelled eggs each. Incubate the eggs in damp vermiculite (1:1 ratio water to vermiculite by weight) at 82 degrees F (28 degrees C). Incubation times range from 45-60 days. The young should be housed separately from the adults, but can be cared for in the same manner.

Conclusion

Banded geckos of the genus Coleonyx are a small, but beautiful and rewarding reptile to keep and breed. Although many species in this genus are common in their home ranges, they are far from boring or ordinary. Captive bred Coleonyx are available from gecko breeders, and are generally superior to wild caught animals. Collecting Coleonyx can be fun however, just remember they squeak like a door hinge when they are captured, so don't let them fool you into releasing them.

References

Bartlett, Dick. 1996. "Let's Talk Eublepharines". Reptiles. 4(4):48-67.

Davis, W.B. and J.R. Dixon. 1958. "A new Coleonyx from Texas". Proc. Biol. Soc. Washington. 71:149-152

Levell, J.P. 1995. A Field Guide To Reptiles and the Law. Serpent's Tale Books. Excelsior, MN.

Stebbins, R.C. 1985. Western Reptiles and Amphibians. Houghton Mifflin Company. New York, NY.

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