Dwarf Sand Geckos (Stenodactylus species)
Introduction: Dwarf sand geckos are a pleasure to care for in captivity. They are easy to maintain, interesting to watch, and mature to a small size as adults which means that they can be kept in small enclosures. There are three species of Stenodactylus available to hobbyists in North America: S. doriae, S. petrii and S. sthenodactylus. I only have personal experience with S. sthenodactylus, and therefore the care information below reflects the care that I have provided for that species only. It is my impression that the care for other species is similar, if not identical, and that is why I have included the other two readily available species in this care sheet.
Stenodactylus species are native to arid regions of northern African and southeast Asia. They are found under a number of different common names in the pet trade. Dune gecko, dune sand gecko, micro gecko, fairy gecko, whip-tail gecko, Israeli sand gecko, elegant gecko, and dwarf sand gecko are all common names that the three readily available species are sold under. All species mature to a size between 3½ and 4 inches (8.9 cm and 10.1 cm) and have a similar variable pattern, consisting of a mixture of tan, brown, yellow and black. Some S. petrii and S. sthenodactylus have a light banding pattern . Male geckos can be told apart from females by the presence of a hemipenal bulge and their more slender appearance.
The best way to differentiate between species is by looking at the shape of the head. S petrii has a slightly rounded head while S. sthenodactylus and S. doriae have angular heads. The nose of S. sthenodactylus is slightly turned up at the end and shorter than that of S. doriae. Comparing photographs of properly identified species can be helpful. Below are links to three accurate photographs:
- Stenodactylus doriae
- Stendoactylus petrii
- Stendoactylus sthenodactylus
Nearly all dwarf sand geckos in the pet trade at this time are wild-caught. It’s important to only purchase healthy animals. Some wild-caught geckos arrive with open wounds, parasite problems, or stress-related health problems and should not be purchased. It may be beneficial to individually quarantine wild-caught dwarf sand geckos for one to two months so that each gecko can be carefully observed while acclimating to captive conditions and any health problems treated easily. Occasionally, captive-bred geckos are available through gecko hobbyists. They usually cost more than wild-caught geckos, but are well worth it.
Cage: A group of three adult geckos can be maintained in a standard 10 gallon aquarium that measures 20 inches long by 10 inches wide by 12 inches high (50 cm by 25 cm by 30 cm). I have not observed problems between males that are kept together in the same cage, however if fighting or aggression is observed, male geckos should be separated. It can be helpful to place an aquarium background or black poster board on all but one side of the aquarium to make the geckos feel more secure.
I have used both reptile sand made from calcium carbonate and paper towels as substrates for these geckos. Other possible substrates include dry coconut husk fiber (bed-a-beast, forest bed, eco earth, etc.), play sand, or newspaper. If a simple substrate is used, such as paper towels or newspaper, it may need to be changed as often as once a week. Spot cleaning should be done on a regular basis regardless of what substrate is used.
Dwarf sand geckos, like many geckos, are nocturnal and need an area or two to hide during the day. Hide spots can be created with cork bark, driftwood, slate, or commercial reptile hide boxes. If a heavy hide spot or shelter is used on a substrate of sand, ensure it rests on the bottom of the cage rather than on top of the sand to prevent the hide area from collapsing on the gecko if the gecko digs up the sand that is supporting the heavy object.
Temperature: A temperature range from 75°F to 85°F (24°C to 29°C) during the day works well. Additionally, offer a small hot spot that reaches between 95°F and 100°F (35°C and 38°C). At night, the ambient temperature in the cage can fall to between 65°F and 75°F (18°C and 24°C). I find that incandescent light bulbs work best to achieve these temperatures, however heat pads or heat tape may be used instead. Avoid hot rocks and other dangerous heating devices. Established dwarf sand geckos are hardy in regards to the temperature at which they are kept, and cope well with temperatures temporarily outside of their ideal temperature range.
Water: A small, shallow source of water should be made available to captive dwarf sand geckos. Once or twice a week part of the cage can be sprayed with water at night to temporarily increase the humidity and provide droplets of water for the geckos to drink from.
Food: Dwarf sand geckos eat the normal assortment of small feeder insects, including crickets, wax worms, mealworms, mini mealworms, and flightless fruit flies. The majority of their diet should consist of crickets, with other feeders offered every few feedings. All food items ideally should be no larger than the gecko’s head, although dwarf sand geckos have a very aggressive appetite and are capable of taking larger prey. Feed adult geckos anywhere from two to eight feeder insects per gecko two or three times a week. High quality vitamin and mineral supplements should be dusted onto the feeder insects every two to three feedings. Juvenile geckos should have their food supplemented more often.
Last updated 03.19.08
Global Gecko Association: Stenodactylus sthenodactylus
Reptile Allsorts: Isreal Dune Gecko Care Sheet