Dwarf Sand Geckos (Stenodactylus spp.)

Dwarf Sand Gecko / Dune Gecko - S. sthenodactylus

Common Names: Dwarf sand gecko, dune gecko, micro gecko, fairy gecko, whip-tail gecko, Sireali sand gecko, elegant gecko

Size and Appearance: A very small gecko. Adults mature to between 3½ and 4 inches (9 and 10 cm). They are patterned in tan, brown, yellow and black. Although there are a number of described species in the genus Stenodactylus, only three are usually available: Stenodactylus doriae, S. petrii, and S. sthenodactylus.

All three species appear similar at first glance but they can be told apart by examining the shape and structure of the head. S. petrii has a slightly rounded head while S. sthenodactylus and S. doriae have angular heads. The snout of S. sthenodactylus is slightly turned up at the end and shorter than that of S. doriae. Males can be told apart from females by the presence of the hemipenal bulge at the base of their tail and an overall more slender appearance.

Distribution, Habitat and Behavior: Arid regions and deserts of northern Africa and the Middle East, where they may inhabit dry riverbeds and other areas with course substrates as well as sandier areas nearby. They are hardy lizards and live in areas that experience extreme drought as well as hot and cold contrasting temperatures. They are both nocturnal and terrestrial and rather than actively hunt prey they instead usually sit and wait for tiny invertebrates to pass by them. Males vocalize.

Availability: Sporadically available and almost always wild-caught. The three species that are found in the trade are rarely differentiated at stores and are usually just found for sale under the common name “dune gecko” or “dwarf sand gecko”. Sometimes gecko hobbyists have success breeding them and in the case that captive-bred individuals can be found for sale it is always preferable to go this route. Check online and with at reptile expos and trade shows.

Housing: 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 enclosure, however if fighting or aggression is observed, male geckos should be separated.

Sand made from calcium carbonate designed for use with reptiles works well as a substrate, though courser sand or rock substrates may also be used. Paper towels are ideal for simpler setups, and are especially useful for acclimating new ones to captivity. If a simple substrate like paper towels is used, it may need to be changed as often as once a week.

Dwarf sand gecko housing in a 10-gallon tank with sand and cork bark

Housing for a group of dwarf sand geckos

Dwarf sand gecko housing with cork bark and sand

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: Provide an ambient daytime temperature range between 75°F and 85°F (24°C to 29°C). Additionally, offer a small hot spot that reaches near 100°F (35°C and 38°C). At night, the temperature in the cage can fall to between 65°F and 75°F (18°C and 24°C). 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, but take care that it is not large and does not spill. Once or twice a week part of the cage can be lightly sprayed with water at night to temporarily increase the humidity and provide droplets of water for the geckos to drink from since they may not use a water dish.

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.

Feed adult geckos anywhere from two to eight feeder insects per gecko several times per week. High quality vitamin and mineral supplements should be dusted onto the feeder insects every couple feedings feedings. Juvenile geckos should have their food supplemented more often.

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