Keeping and breeding Turner (« Bibron ») geckos, Chondrodactylus turneri Gray 1864
Fig. 1: a Chondrodactylus turneri pair, female on top, male on the left.
Species confusion/mislabeled “Bibron” geckos:
This is one of the most common species found in the pet trade, usually for very low prices. Importers often misname them as “Bibron geckos” (C. bibroni). They also sometimes appear as Pachydactylus turneri. In no way they belong to the Pachydactylus genus, and true Bibron geckos live in the Republic of South Africa (RSA) and Namibia. Both countries having almost closed their borders to importations, 99% of the time, “Bibron” geckos found on importer’s listings and in pet shops are actually Turner geckos. The difference between Turners and Bibrons is difficult to make for non-specialists, since they look very similar; only scalation details help ID properly the species. Unless you live in RSA, in a Province which allows reptile keeping, your “Bibron gecko” is a Chondrodactylus turneri almost for certain. Anyway, both species have the same captive requirements.
Adult size: may grow up to 22-23 cm long with an original tail (9”).
Distribution in the wild: Angola, Namibia, Tanzania, RSA, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Mozambique, Malawi, Rwanda…most wild-caught specimens are imported from Tanzania or Mozambique.
Recommended for beginners: YES, as long as you buy a captive-bred specimen. These geckos are extremely hardy, much more than leopard geckos and other popular species. They are easy to keep and breed provided you follow some basic recommendations found below. More, they are often cheap from breeders and very active at dusk and night. They sometimes bask during the day, usually in the mornings and evenings. Wild-caught specimens are hardy too, but likely to have been housed in large groups and improper conditions at exporters’, and they also carry a variety of internal parasites. If you happen to buy a wild-caught specimen, ALWAYS take a fresh fecal sample to a qualified reptile vet.
Description: a stockily built gecko, with a triangular head, able to climb glass and walls, often seen in houses in its native habitat. The head, back and tail are covered with strongly keeled tubercular scales. Regenerated tails are fairly common in WC specimens. The original tails are slightly longer than the body, and end up with a pointed tip. The limbs are powerful, with 5 large toes on each, under which are a series of lamellae. The snout is slightly rounded, the pupil is vertical, with a golden to brown iris. The belly has smaller, smoother scales, and is all white. The back coloration varies from dark gray to beige or light brown, with black or brown blotches. No “morph” is known to exist.
Sexual dimorphism: Males have white blotches on the body while females do not have any. It could be 3-4 blotches near the shoulder area in some specimens, or a higher number of blotches all over the body. Males also have spiny scales on each side of their vent. Females also tend to be smaller and less bulky.
Fig. 2: a male’s vent area, showing spiny scales, usually there are 2-5 similar rows of scales in males.
Housing: This species needs a 45x45x60 (18”x18x24”) enclosure, which can either be of glass (f.e. ExoTerra®) or homemade of wood with adequate silicon joints to ensure it is water-proof. In smaller tanks, they will not breed. A pair can be kept in such an enclosure. Do not keep more than one male and two females together, and they have to be approx. the same size. This species is fairly territorial and will bully any gecko, even of the same species, when they are smaller than themselves. Don’t mix species together! Enclosures of 60x40x45 (24”x16”x18”) work too, but it is preferable to use one which is taller than it is high. Make sure it is escape-proof, these geckos are quite fast and may run with amazing speed.
Decoration: since this species is primarily rock-dwelling, and likes arid environments, it has to be simple.
-substrate: 5cm (2“) deep of sand, or a mix of fine sand and dry coconut earth. One-third of that substrate has to be kept SLIGHTLY moist.
-a shallow water dish; you can use ceramic flower pot saucers.
-Flat rocks, vertically oriented, “glued” together with silicon sealer such as the one used for aquariums. Use stones matching the natural colors of the animals, they will feel safer. Be careful, other types of silicon sealers/glues are not adequate. Aquarium silicon needs at least 5 days to be perfectly dry. In the meantime, it emits toxic vapors. Shelters sold in pet shops for ground-dwelling geckos will be ignored if there are vertical hides in rocks. You may also use Styrofoam backgrounds which look like rock. Under the basking lamp, place a large flat, horizontally-oriented rock as a basking platform, 10-15 cm away (4”-6”) from the lamp. If you want to see your Turner geckos outside during the day, Turner geckos will often use such a platform.
-Vertical cork bark oak tubes can be used as additional hides.
-No branches or plants are needed. Use them only if it is for your viewing pleasure, but Turner geckos will not particularly benefit from them.
Heating: a 40 watt normal bulb (no UVBs) is placed inside the enclosure, on top and preferably in a corner. This will be their basking lamp. In addition, one-third of the surface has to be heated from underneath. UTH (under tank heaters, or heat pads) can be used as well as heating cables. A 16W UTH covering that surface or a 25W heating cable can be used. Place either of them under the glass of their vivarium, never inside, though these geckos do not usually burrow in the substrate, except for egg-laying. This additional heat source has to be placed on the same side than the lamp so as to create temperature variations inside the enclosure. The warmest spot may safely reach 110°F (45°C) but it is ok if it is lower, in the 90-95°F range. These geckos are fairly tolerant with high and low temperatures. The cool end has to be in the 80-82°F (26-27°C) range. Heating is turned off at night, room temps as low as 60°F are well tolerated. 14 hours of heating/day in summer are required and 10 hours/day in winter.
Humidity: apart from keeping some humidity in the cooler side of the substrate, this species does not require sprayings.
Lighting: UVB are not necessary. For lighting durations, see heating.
Handling: these geckos can be carefully and occasionally handled. They have rather strong jaws for their small size so handle them gently as they may bite (not as hard as tokay geckos though). Keep away all other pets and children while handling them, and simply let them run on your hand and arm. As a defense process, they may defecate to show their discontent.
Daily routine: clean the poos and urates (white masses expelled at the same time than poos). They usually leave them on the same area of their enclosure, which simplifies cleaning tasks. Change their drinking water. The substrate has to be changed every 6 months.
Feeding: Turner geckos are strictly insectivorous. They are stimulated both by scent (tongue flicking) and prey movement. Crickets, grasshoppers, subadult locusts can be used as a staple diet. Do NOT use mealworms, waxmoth larvae or superworms. They have a good appetite, adults can be fed twice weekly with 10-12 crickets each. Properly gutloaded insects before feeding them to the geckos (see the feeders’ section). Add calcium on insects on every feeding. A combination of Miner-all I(ndoors)® and Nekton Rep® has proved to be efficient over 12 years keeping this species. Use Miner-all I® on every feeding and very small amounts of Nekton Rep® once every 15 days. Do not use any supplement containing phosphorous or too high levels of vitamin D3 (4000 IU/kg is the proper dose). Unlike leopard geckos, they will not swallow sand and rarely show any signs of MBD.
Breeding: as said above, reduce the heating duration in winter for about 3 months, for example from mid-October to February. They do not require any real brumation period to breed. Brumation is not recommended with young animals anyway. They are sexually mature after one year, still females will only produce fertilized eggs once they are 18 to 24 months old. Mating is not especially gentle as males bite hard the females’ necks. Make sure the females do not have any injuries after mating. Injured females will quickly recover. Use Betadine scrub® to disinfect the wounds, if any. Mating usually takes places from March until May. Females lay 2 eggs, buried in the substrate, with a calcified and very fragile shell, about 8-10 mm/ ⅓” in diameter. Gently remove them with, for example, a tea spoon. Do not leave them incubating inside the parents’ enclosure, the latter would readily eat their own hatchlings. Parents may eat infertile eggs.
I use artificial incubators with constant temperatures. Eggs are completely buried in a hardly moistened mix of sand and coconut earth (50/50). At a constant 30°C/86°F, they take about 56-63 days to hatch. Hatchlings have a total length of 35-40 mm (hardly 1½ inch) and will be raised individually in 20 cm (8”) cubic enclosures. They can be fed 4-5 days after hatching with pinhead crickets or wingless fruitflies. They grow quite fast, provided they are fed every other day.
Fig. 3: 2 month-old juvenile. Note the banded tail, this feature disappears in adults.
© Hervé Saint Dizier, Dec. 2012, for Geckos Unlimited forums.