Setting up your new African Fat Tail!
The materials you need to keep an AFT happy and healthy are fairly simple. You’ll need:
- An enclosure – usually a 10-20 gallon tank is appropriate for most AFTs. If you have four or more AFTs you may want to look into other options such as a rack system.
- An under tank heat (UTH) source – You can buy an under tank heater for $15-30 at most pet stores. The UTH should cover approximately one third of the bottom of the enclosure. This will provide a temperature gradient for your gecko so they can be warm or cool when they want to be.
- A way to regulate the heat source – usually a dimmer or a thermostat is needed to ensure the UTH does not burn your gecko.
- A way to measure temperature on the floor of your tank. There are two useful tools to do this – a probe thermometer (about $7-10 at most pet stores) or an Infrared Thermometer (available online starting around $25). You should place the probe or measure the temperature on the floor of your gecko’s enclosure and try to maintain a spot that is 88-92 degrees. This will help your gecko properly digest it’s food.
- Places to hide – These can be utilitarian (i.e. boxes cut into appropriate shapes and sizes) or decorative (i.e. stone, plastic or Styrofoam hides bought at the pet store or made to look natural). There should be at least one on the warm side and one on the cool side of the cage
- Live food – Mealworms, crickets, roaches and superworms are good feeder insects that can make up the majority of a leopard gecko’s diet. These insects can be found at most pet stores or ordered online and delivered to your door! It is best to feed a variety of insects and give them time to eat something healthy (often called “gut loading”) before you feed them to your leopard gecko.
- A vitamin and calcium supplement – Repashy Calcium Plus is a good example of an all in one supplement that will meet all your gecko’s needs. It is also a good idea to leave a dish of plain Calcium without D3 in your leopard gecko’s enclosure at all times so they can eat a bit if they feel the need. RepCal without D3 is a great option for this.
Things you want to avoid:
- Bright lights and/or over tank heat – Unlike some other reptiles AFTs are largely crepuscular (coming out at dawn and dusk) and do not need UVB light. Many AFTs are light sensitive. Bright lights on or near their cage can not only make them feel insecure but can hurt their eyes. Heat lamps and incandescent bulbs tend to dry out their enclosure and can cause shedding issues. I would not use one unless the temperature in your home is less than 65 degrees.
- Loose substrates such as sand, dirt or wood chips. AFTs have soft bellies that can get easily abraded by rough substrates. They also have been known to ingest substrate, either while catching their prey or they may even eat it deliberately. If they eat enough of something they cannot digest it can clog their digestive system and they can become impacted.
AFTs are insectivores and most will only eat live food. I feed my geckos a variety of insects including mealworms, crickets, roaches and superworms. These insects can be found at most pet stores or ordered online and delivered to your door! It is best to feed a variety and to give the insects time to eat something healthy (called “gut loading”) before you feed them to your AFT. I use fruits and veggies as gutload for my geckos – mainly apples, oranges, kale, and occasionally sweet potatoes.
You’ll also need a vitamin and calcium supplement for your AFT. I recommend Repashy Calcium Plus. It is an all in one supplement that will meet all your AFT’s needs. It is also a good idea to leave a dish of plain Calcium without D3 in your AFT’s enclosure at all times so they can eat a bit if they feel the need. RepCal without D3 is a great option for this. I dust every meal my geckos get with calcium and vitamins and keep some in their enclosures so they can have extra if they want or need.
I feed my non-breeding AFTs once or twice a week about 10-20 mealworms, 2-4 superworms or a few roaches at each feeding. I try not to let them get obese, although this can be challenging! I weigh them regularly and when they get to an appropriate adult weight, I feed them to keep them at that weight. If they gain a bit I feed them less often, if they lose a bit I feed them a bit more. It’s not an exact science.