Caring for the Israeli Dune Gecko – May 2013

By Tim Novoa

Latin name – Stenodactylus stenodactylus

These interesting little geckos are primarily native to Israel. They are easy to care for in captivity, as long as their needs are met.  Cage requirements revolve around their desert habitat,and I have used Zoo Med ReptiSand with the best success.  I have also tried usingZooMed Excavator Clay, but unfortunately this led to poor breeding success for my geckos.  In my experience, an under tank heating pad is the most suitable method of heating your cage because these are a ground dwelling and burrowing species.  Multiple fake or live succulentswork best for cage decoration.  You can also use cork flats or both fake and real stone slate to provide extra hiding places for your gecko, as well as surfaces for them to burrow under.  Depending on how many geckos you choose to have, a 10 gallon breeder tank will work best.  Or, for more geckos, you may want to consider a slightly larger sized tank.  Breeder tanks are shorter than usual tanks and are primarily used for reptiles that do not require climbing space. I would not recommend housing more than one male  per cage, for they will fight.  One male to two or three females will be the best ratio for maintaining your geckos at home.

Example of a set up for Israeli Dune Geckos

These geckos are completely nocturnal, meaning that they only come out during the night to hunt for food. Because they are desert dwellers, during the day they spend most of their time underground or under rocks avoiding the blistering hot sun.  In your tank at home, you can allow temperatures on the hot side to reach 90 degrees Fahrenheit, as long as the cool side remains below 80.  Night time lows can go down to the mid 60’s-70’s, although remember to leave your heat pad on to keep the sand warm.

Feeding these small geckos is very easy!  In captivity, dune geckos eat primarily small crickets and waxworms.  When feeding crickets or waxworms, make sure you use a high quality reptile calcium and/or multivitamin WITH D3.  If you are feeding every other day, supplements should be used at most twice a week. Very simple. A great treat for the adults are small dubia roaches.

I would not recommend feeding any type of mealworm, as they can be difficult for the geckos to digest.  Baby Stenodactylus will only eat fruit flies, either species that is commonly available – the melanogaster or hydei.  Even the smallest crickets tend to be intimidating for them as hatchlings. To give you a better idea of how big a baby dune gecko is, it’s about half the size of a dime. Very small!!

One awesome fact about Stenodactylus Stenodactylus is that these geckos are one of the only species that can actually lay their eggs in bone dry sand, and have the babies hatch successfully!

An ideal temperature to keep the cage substrate while there are eggs waiting to hatch is between 83-85 degrees.  The ambient air temperature can drop at night, just make sure you keep your heat pad on to ensure the eggs’ survival.

When breeding these geckos, you can go about hatching the eggs in a couple different ways.  You can leave the eggs buried in the sand where the female originally deposited them, and they should hatch. Or, if you choose to remove your eggs from the cage, be very careful not to damage the eggs. The shell is very thin and will crack very easily if squeezed or moved in the wrong way.  The preferred method is to just leave the eggs where the female laid them and instead remove the adult geckos to a separate cage to ensure the newly hatched babies don’t get eaten by the adults. I know from personal experience that the adults will eat their own offspring, so don’t take that risk!

Although cute and small, these geckos are not the best for handling. Because they are so small and shy, if you do handle them, it can cause them significant stress, which could cause serious health issues for your geckos.  I would definitely consider these to be more of a viewing only animal only.

All in all these geckos are a great reptile to add to your collection of herps at home, and I highly recommend picking some up for yourself!