Tokay gecko

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Tokay gecko
Tokay Gecko.jpg
Tokay gecko chirping
Tokay gecko mating call
CITES Appendix II (CITES) [2]
Scientific classification OOjs UI icon edit-ltr.svg
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Family: Gekkonidae
Genus: Gekko
G. gecko
Binomial name
Gekko gecko

Lacerta gecko Linnaeus, 1758

The tokay gecko (Gekko gecko) [1] is a nocturnal arboreal gecko in the genus Gekko , the true geckos. It is native to Asia and some Pacific Islands.



The word "tokay" is an onomatopoeia of the sound made by males of this species. [3] :120 [4] :253 The common and scientific names, as well as the family name Gekkonidae and the generic term "gecko" come from this species, too, from ge'kok in Javanese, [5] corresponding to tokek in Malay. [6]


Two subspecies are currently recognized: [7]

Distribution and habitat

This species is found in northeast India, Bhutan, Nepal, and Bangladesh; throughout Southeast Asia, including Cambodia, Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia; and toward western New Guinea. Its native habitat is rainforests, where it lives on trees and cliffs, and it frequently adapts to rural human habitations, roaming walls and ceilings at night in search of insect prey. This is an introduced species in some areas outside its native range. It is established in Florida in the United States, Martinique, the islands of Belize, and possibly Hawaii. [8] Increasing urbanization is reducing its range.

Whether the species is native but very uncommon in Taiwan or whether the rare reports of individuals since the 1920s are based on repeated anthropogenic translocations that may or may not have resulted in established populations by now is unclear. [9]

Physical characteristics

Adult male and juvenile G. gecko: Note the brownish, regenerated tail on the adult (top) Tokay gecko (Gekko gecko) adult male and juvenile.jpg
Adult male and juvenile G. gecko: Note the brownish, regenerated tail on the adult (top)
Female tokay gecko, distinguished by its duller colors than the male. Gekko-gecko-085.jpg
Female tokay gecko, distinguished by its duller colors than the male.

The tokay gecko is a large nocturnal [1] gecko, reaching a total length (including tail) of 25–30 cm (10–12 inches) on average, but some grow as large as 40 cm (16 inches) long. It is believed to be the third-largest species of gecko, after the giant leaf-tail gecko (Uroplatus giganteus) and New Caledonian giant gecko (Rhacodactylus leachianus). It is cylindrical, but somewhat flattened in body shape. The eyes have vertical pupils.

The skin is soft to the touch and is generally blue-gray with red or orange spots and speckles, but the animal can change the color of its skin to blend into the environment. The species is sexually dimorphic, with the males being more brightly colored and slightly larger than females. [10]

It is a strong climber with foot pads that can support the entire weight of its body on a vertical surface for a long period of time. Compared to other gecko species, the tokay gecko has a robust build, with a semiprehensile tail, a large head, and muscular jaws.


Tokay geckos are generally aggressive and territorial, and can inflict a strong bite. Though common in the pet trade, the strong bite of the tokay gecko makes it ill-suited for inexperienced keepers. [11] In addition, the strength of the bite depends on the gecko's size; larger (usually male) tokay geckos are capable of piercing skin, which often results in immediate bleeding.

Females lay clutches of one or two hard-shelled eggs and guard them until they hatch.


The tokay gecko feeds on insects and small vertebrates. [10] [12] In captivity, they usually feed on springtails, mealworms, cockroaches, crickets, grasshoppers, locusts, and pink mice. [13] In a study conducted in Thailand, researchers noticed little variation in the diets of males, females, and juveniles, which was likely due to low insect availability in this area. [14]


The male's mating call, a loud croak, is variously described as sounding like token, gekk-gekk, tuck-too, túc-key, tou-kay or tokay. [3] :120 [4] :253 Most of the time, the call is often preceded by a quick "cackling", similar to the chirping sounds made by house geckos albeit much lower in pitch. When threatened or alarmed, tokay geckos usually "bark" while opening their mouth in a defensive posture.

The tokay gecko's call is also responsible for the name given to it by Filipino residents: "Tuko," and by U.S. soldiers during the Vietnam War, the "Fuck-you lizard". [15] [16]

Light and temperature can affect its vocalizations. The most frequent calling occurs in May at dusk, and the second peak of call frequency occurs in May at dawn. Vocalizations and associated behavior were strongly affected by ambient temperature in both the lab and field and could thus play a role in regulating animal energetic metabolism [17]

Conservation and relationship with humans

Ready-to-drink macerated medicinal liquor with goji berry, tokay gecko, and ginseng, for sale at a traditional medicine market in Xi'an, China. Xi'an traditionnal medecine market (18).JPG
Ready-to-drink macerated medicinal liquor with goji berry, tokay gecko, and ginseng, for sale at a traditional medicine market in Xi'an, China.
Tokay gecko out of its hiding place for a quick sunbath, taken at Cagayan de Oro, Philippines Out of the Dark.jpg
Tokay gecko out of its hiding place for a quick sunbath, taken at Cagayan de Oro, Philippines

The tokay gecko is culturally significant in many East Asian countries. Regional folklore has attributed supernatural powers to the gecko. In Southeast Asia it is a symbol of good luck and fertility. [10] It is believed to be descended from dragons. [18]

This species is poached for the medicinal trades in parts of Asia. [19] The tokay gecko is an ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine, known as Ge Jie (蛤蚧). It is believed to nourish the kidneys and lungs, beliefs that are not substantiated by medical science. The animal remains highly sought after in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore and other parts of Asia with Chinese communities, to the point where unscrupulous merchants have taken to disfiguring monitor lizards with prosthetics to pass them off as colossal tokay gecko specimens. [18]

From 2009 to 2011, the poaching of tokay geckos intensified because of a short-lived belief that they were an effective HIV cure. [20]

The tokay gecko is quickly becoming a threatened species in the Philippines because of indiscriminate hunting. Collecting, transporting and trading in geckos without a license can be punishable by up to 12 years in jail and a fine of up to 1 million under Republic Act 9147, in addition to other applicable international laws. [21] However, the trade runs unchecked because of the sheer number of illegal traders and reports of lucrative deals. Chinese buyers and other foreign nationals are rumored to pay thousands of dollars for large specimens, because of their alleged medicinal value or as commodities in the illegal wildlife trade. [22]

Captive-bred baby tokay gecko 1 month old Tokay gecko.jpg
Captive-bred baby tokay gecko

The species is protected under Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) meaning international trade (including in parts and derivatives) is subject to the CITES permitting system. [2]


Tokay geckos are becoming more popular as pets because of their striking colors and large size.[ citation needed ] Most of them are wild-caught imports, but captive-bred ones are becoming more common.[ citation needed ] Wild-caught adults can be difficult to keep because of their aggressive nature and powerful bite, but captive-bred juveniles can be less aggressive if handled from a young age.[ citation needed ]

Handling a juvenile tokay gecko in captivity Baby Tokay gecko.jpg
Handling a juvenile tokay gecko in captivity

When well cared for, tokay geckos can live up to 15–20 years. [23]

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Gecko</span> Lizard belonging to the infraorder Gekkota

Geckos are small, mostly carnivorous lizards that have a wide distribution, found on every continent except Antarctica. Belonging to the infraorder Gekkota, geckos are found in warm climates throughout the world. They range from 1.6 to 60 centimetres.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lizard</span> Informal group of reptiles

Lizard is the common name used for all squamate reptiles other than snakes, encompassing over 7,000 species, ranging across all continents except Antarctica, as well as most oceanic island chains. The grouping is paraphyletic as some lizards are more closely related to snakes than they are to other lizards. Lizards range in size from chameleons and geckos a few centimeters long to the 3-meter-long Komodo dragon.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Gekkonidae</span> Family of lizards

Gekkonidae is the largest family of geckos, containing over 950 described species in 64 genera. The Gekkonidae contain many of the most widespread gecko species, including house geckos (Hemidactylus), the tokay gecko (Gekko), day geckos (Phelsuma), the mourning gecko (Lepidodactylus), and dtellas (Gehyra). Gekkonid geckos occur globally and are particularly diverse in tropical areas.

<i>Gekko</i> Genus of lizards

Gekko is a genus of Southeast Asian geckos, commonly known as true geckos or calling geckos, in the family Gekkonidae. Although species such as Gekko gecko are very widespread and common, some species in the same genus have a very small range and are considered rare or endangered.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Golden gecko</span> Species of lizard

The golden gecko, also known commonly as Baden's Pacific gecko, is a species of lizard in the family Gekkonidae. The species is native to Vietnam.

<i>Tiliqua rugosa</i> Species of lizard

Tiliqua rugosa, most commonly known as the shingleback skink or bobtail lizard, is a short-tailed, slow-moving species of blue-tongued skink endemic to Australia. It is commonly known as the shingleback or sleepy lizard. Three of its four recognised subspecies are found in Western Australia, where the bobtail name is most frequently used. The fourth subspecies, T. rugosa asper, is the only one native to eastern Australia, where it goes by the common name of the eastern shingleback.

<i>Gekko smithii</i> Species of lizard

Gekko smithii, commonly known as Smith's green-eyed gecko or the large forest gecko, is a species of lizard in the family Gekkonidae. The species is native to mainland Southeast Asia and Indonesia.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Flat-tailed house gecko</span> Species of lizard

The flat-tailed house gecko, also known as the frilled house gecko or Asian house gecko, is a species of Gekkonidae native to southeastern and southern Asia. The species is sometimes classified under the genus Cosymbotus.

<i>Gekko kuhli</i> Species of lizard

Gekko kuhli, commonly known as Kuhl's flying gecko, Kuhl's parachute gecko, or the gliding gecko, is a species of lizard in the family Gekkonidae. The species is found in Southeast Asia.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Asian water monitor</span> Species of lizard

The Asian water monitor is a large varanid lizard native to South and Southeast Asia. It is one of the most common monitor lizards in Asia, ranging from coastal northeast India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, mainland Southeast Asia, and southern China to Indonesian islands where it lives close to water. It is listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List. It was described by Laurenti in 1768 and is among the largest squamates in the world.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Common house gecko</span> Species of reptile

The common house gecko is a gecko native to South and Southeast Asia as well as Near Oceania. It is also known as the Asian house gecko, Pacific house gecko, wall gecko, house lizard, tiktiki, chipkali or moon lizard.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Reeves's Tokay gecko</span> Species of lizard

Reeves's tokay gecko is a species of lizard in the family Gekkonidae. The species is endemic to Asia.

Bonkowski's gecko, also known commonly as kap ke Bonkowski in Laotian, is a species of lizard in the family Gekkonidae. The species is endemic to Laos.

<i>Gekko horsfieldii</i> Species of lizard

Gekko horsfieldii, also known commonly as Horsfield's flying gecko, Horsfield's gliding gecko, and Horsfield's parachute gecko, is a species of lizard in the family Gekkonidae. The species is endemic to Asia.


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