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Pachydactylus tigrinus VAN DAM 1921


Distribution and biotope

Pachydactylus tigrinus lives in eastern Botswana, nearly whole Zimbabwe and up to central Mozambique. Southwards it occurs in northern South-Africa (Limpopo province). The northernmost recording is from the north of Zimbabwe, while the southernmost recording is from the Blouberg mountains (Gruschwitz & Schmidt 2001). According to Broadley (1977) this population is a hybrid between Pachydactylus capensis and P. tigrinus.

Tiger geckos live in dry and semi-moist savannah. Here they inhabit shrubbery or trees on precipices, but also rocks on plains. 

Adult female of Pachydactylus tigrinus. Simbabwe. © M. Barts.


Crevices in granite or limestone are used as hiding places during daytime. If they life on plains, rocks are used as hiding places. In Krüger Nationalpark they can be found together with Cordylus warreni laevigatus and Pachydactylus punctatus (Pienaar, Haacke & Jacobsen 1983). In eastern Botswana, he lives sympatric with another gecko that is specialised to living in crevices (Afroedura transvaalica) (Auerbach 1987). It was even spotted together with the world’s largest scorpion (Hadogenes troglodytes) (Jacobsen 1989).

 Like many other geckos of that genus, the tiger gecko is an agile, nocturnal gecko.

Pachydactylus tigrinus
Adult female of Pachydactylus tigrinus. Mozambique. © M. Barts.


Adult males live in small territories, where they won’t except any other males and which they’ll defend against intruders. In periods of food shortage and outside breeding season, even females will be expelled. When a male is approached by another male, it’ll lift ist body, arch its back, open its mouth, lift its tail and will wave with it. If this doesn’t help, the gecko will chase the other male to underline its dominance. If the inferior male is cornered, heavy biting will follow. In a tank, this will lead to the death of one animal.

Juveniles of Pachydactylus tigrinus show the same colour like the adults, but appear richer in contrast. 

Pachydactylus tigrinus
Adult female of Pachydactylus tigrinus. Mossambik. © M. Barts.


Pachydactylus tigrinus is able to produce sounds, although they have only be recognised while cleaning the tank or handling geckos. It’s a short vibrating sound, which is 2-4 seconds long and is repeated in intervals. No sounds could be observed from juveniles.


Captivity and breeding

Tiger geckos don’t have any special requirements towards their enclosure and can be kept in various tanks. According to my experience, tanks of 30 x 30 x 40cm (l x d x h)are suitable for a group of one male and 2-4 females. Smaller groups are kept in tanks of 20 x 20 x 30cm. A good structure and sufficient hiding places are essential. Sides of the tanks should be covered with stone or similar to enlarge surface for the geckos.


Terrarium to keep Pachydactylus tigrinus. © M. Barts.

Hot and dry as well as cooler and wet hiding places should be available in form of vertical limestones or simply rocks (or similar things like cork) that lare placed on the floor. As more animals are kept in the tank, as more hiding places need to be installed, as they need the possibility to hide from the other geckos. Here it’s also important to offer different temperature zones.

Hiding place - and egg-storage space-place in the Terrarium. © M. Barts.

A living plant (e.g. sansiveria) doesn’t only look nice, but also enhances the climate. The plant should be placed in a flower pot, which again stands in a small bowl that provides the necessary water. This also enables the geckos to lick water from the bowl. The use of fertiliser is not recommended and will probably cause serious health problems. A 1 cm thick layer of sand is used as substrate. At some places a thicker layer of 3-4cm of sand is provided for the females to lay their eggs. For tiger geckos of the Zimbabwe form, it’s also essential, that cork or bark is available on the ground, as they will burrow their eggs beneath them. The tank is misted 2 times a week to generate a sufficient humidity.  As they are nocturnal, P. serval doesn’t have any special requirements toward lighting, beside the generation of a day and night rhythm and sufficient temperatures. Fluorescent tubes can be used as well as normal bulbs. UV doesn’t need to be provided. A hot spot is provided to ensure warmer places.

Pachydactylus tigrinus
Young female of Pachydactylus tigrinus. Simbabwe. © M. Barts.


Lighting should be provided 12h a day. During daytime, temperatures should be between 25 and 32°C with an additional hotspot at 40°C. Although nocturnal, the geckos will appear at the hotspot during daytime. Therefore, a hiding place is installed under the hotspot, to provide a warmer but still covered place. Constant temperatures in the tank should be avoided. Different temperature zones allow each individual to choose a temperature it currently needs. The geckos feed on the usual invertebrates of appropriate size, like crickets, spiders, bugs, flies and roaches. Gut-loading is used to enhance the insects quality, but all insects are dusted with vitamins and minerals anyway. Adults get 10-15 crickets (or similar) every 3-4days, while the juveniles are fed every 2-3 days. A bowl with calcium should be provided for adults and juveniles, as it’s essential for the bone growth.

P. tigrinus doesn’t require a cool period. However, a short period of 4-6 weeks with shortened lighting and lower temperatures of 18-24°C should be provided, where the animals need less food. After this short period, temperatures and lighting are used as described above.  

Pachydactylus tigrinus is easy to keep, if tank, temperatures and diet are appropriate. I prefer to house them in gropus of one male and 2-6 females. After the described period of lower temperatures, the adults need bigger amounts of food. The male will show an increased interest in the female. It’ll try to stimulate the female by biting in its neck and flanks. If the female isn’t ready to mate, it’ll flee and hide. One of the reasons why a lot of hiding places should be provided.

Othwerwise, the female will remain calm, lift ist tail and mating, which might take up to half an hour,  will take place. Sperm is stored and enables the female to produce 2-6 fertilised clutches. Pregnant females will flee if approached by the male. If kept as a pair, the male should now be removed, as it’ll keep on bothering the female. Pregnant females are easy to recognise, as the eggs are visible through the abdomen. 3-4 weeks later, usually 2 eggs are laid in the loose sand.


Pachydactylus tigrinus
Gravid female of Pachydactylus tigrinus. Simbabwe. © M. Barts.


The females of the Zimbabwe form will burrow small holes of 1-2cm depth below cork or bark in the sand. 26-28°C and dry substrate seem to be ideal.

The oval, hard-shelled  eggs measure 9.0-11.3 x 6.3-8.2 mm (n=40). After the eggs are laid, the hole is closed carefully. The females of the Mozambique form show a different behaviour, as they test burrows couldn’t be observed. They lay their eggs on the bottom of the tank at vertically placed limestone, which probably is the best security for the eggs. The eggs of this form measure 9.2-11.3 x 6.8x8.4mm (n=14).

The eggs are incubated at 26-28°C and the 12.8-19.2mm long (SVL) juveniles of the Zimbabwe form will hatch after 39-72 days. The ones of the Mozambique form hatch with a SVL of 169-189mm after 66-94 days. A temperature reduction during night increases the incubation period, but will produce healthier animals.

Rösler (1977) incubated tiger gecko eggs at 28°C and a humidity of 90-100%. Regardles off the high humidity, the eggs hatched after 49-55 days. His juveniles measured 24-26mm SVL. Female tiger geckos are able to produce 4-9 clutches with 2 eggs each. This requires a healthy and diversified diet. Again, early mating should be avoided, as it’ll lead to egg binding or other serious health problems. 

The hatchlings can be raised in small tanks of 15 x 15 x 20cm . Interiour and climate is equal to the adults. If possible, the hatchlings should be raised individually, as the animals not always show the same size. Raising more than 3 juveniles per tank will probably fail, as young males already start forming a territory at this early stage. Bigger tanks are a solution for this problem, but bigger tanks will also lead to the point that the small geckos will find it difficult to chase their food.

Pachydactylus tigrinus
Few days old hatchling of Pachydactylus tigrinus. Simbabwe. © M. Barts.


Since  a couple of years, I prefer to raise my hatchlings in plastic boxes. These measure 17.5 x 11 x 7.5cm (l x d x h) and are easy to staple.  These boxes provide a layer of sand and a hiding place. They are inhabited by the hatchlings of a clutch, which usually means two animals. Another advantage of this boxes is the possibility to influence the humidity easily, as higher humidity seems to be essential for the development of Pachydactylus tigrinus.

Food should be provided every 2-3 days in form of adequately sized invertebrates and should be dusted with minerals and vitamins.

Pachydactylus tigrinus
Few days old hatchlings of Pachydactylus tigrinus. Top: Zimbabwe, Bottom: Mosambique. © M. Barts.


It’s better to provide more smaller insects than a few big ones. Although it’s amazing what big insects can be swallowed, this should remain an exception. Female juveniles of the Zimbabwe form reach a SVL of 42.18mm with an age of 9-11 months. A male of equal age will reach a KRL of 42.8mm. A female of the Mozambique form reached a SVl of 40.8mm after 11 months.

Although the animals are able to reach their sexual maturity with 10 months, females shouldn’t be used for reproduction until they are 1.5 years.

Pachydactylus tigrinus
Pachydactylus tigrinus form northern South Africa. © W.D. Haacke


Originalbeschreibung / Original description   

VAN DAM, G.P.F. (1921): Description of a new variety of a South African Lizard of the Family Gekkonidae. — Ann. Transvaal Mus., 7 (4): 244, Pl. V — Terra typica: rocks at Brak Riv. (Blinkwater), Zoutpansberg Dist., N. Transvaal, by G. P. F. van Dam, June, 1920.


Head oviform, distinct from neck, snout a little longer than the diameter of the orbit. Ear-opening oval, oblique. Body depressed. Limbs moderate; digits short, slender, but broader at the end than the base, the dilated terminal part with four lamellae inferiorly. Tail depressed, the basal portion annulate, thick in its basal half, thinning in the terminal half, which becomes finely pointed. Snout covered with convex, slightly keeled scales, which are about as large as those on the back; hind part of head covered with small slightly keeled granules; neck behind the head covered with small granules and larger subconical tubercles; naso-rostrals in contact, rostral broader than high; 8-9 upper labials and 6-7 lower labials. Back with irregularly arranged various sized, slightly imbricate and slightly keeled scales, granules absent or only a very few scattered ones present; abdominal scales moderate, smooth, increasing in size from throat to groin. Upper surface and sides of tail with imbricate slightly keeled scales; lower surface of tail with imbricate smooth scales. Colour: greyish-brown and blackish-brown above, with six well-defined whitish (yellowish when alive) narrow transverse bands on the back as follows: one behind the head, one between the shoulders, two over the body, one in front of the hind legs, one near the base of tail, sometimes the band in front of the hind legs is broken up into spots; a dark brown or blackish streak on the sides of the head, passing through the eye, supraciliaries yellowish; sides of head and body, upper parts of legs, and tail spotted with white or yellowish.

Types, eight specimens T. M. Cat. Lizards, Nos. 4301-4308, in the TransvaalMuseum. They were taken amongst rocks at Brak Riv. (Blinkwater), Zoutpansberg Dist., N. Transvaal, by G. P. F. van Dam, June, 1920.

The Transvaal Museum also possesses another 27 specimens from N'jelele Riv., Zoutpansberg Dist., N. Transvaal.






Total length


Fore limb




Hind limb


Width of head








This variety is closely related to P. capensis var. formosus (see Ann. Transvaal Mus. vol. iv. No. 3, p. 135), from which it differs in having the dorsal scales slightly keeled, instead of being very strongly keeled; they also differ in colour and markings.



Pachydactylus capensis rhodesianus LOVERIDGE, 1947

Revision of the African Lizards of the Family Gekkonidae. — Bull. Mus. Comp. Zool. Harvard, 98: 384. — Terra typica: South and eastern Southern Rhodesia


Type. Museum of Comparative Zoology, No. 31,575, a semiadult U from Empandeni, Southern Rhodesia, collected by the Rev. K. Tasman, July 20, 1928.

Paratypes. Museum of Comparative Zoology, Nos. 27,126-8 with same data as type; No. 31,575 from Gokomene, S.R.; No. 44,578 and a Transvaal Museum specimen from Devuli River Bridge, S.R., collected by V. FitzSimons, January 13, 1938.

Diagnosis. Most nearly related to P.c.tigrinus of northern Trans vaal, but the white dorsal crossbars of that race consist of sharply-defined white lines, whereas in rhodesianus they are composed of a series of not always confluent white spots; from c.capensis and c. affinis it differs as indicated in the key on p. 342.

Description. Snout obtuse, slightly convex; ear-opening small, obliquely oval; granules on snout flattened, smooth, much larger than those on occiput, which are intermixed with a few smooth tubercles; cheeks not swollen; mental as broad as (or slightly broader than) adjacent labials; gulars minute, granular, juxtaposed.

Body and flanks covered with small, unequal, smooth or rugose, juxtaposed granules, intermixed with irregularly disposed, small, round, flat, strongly keeled tubercles, those on flanks smooth and more conical; ventral scales larger than dorsals, those in middle subequal to those towards sides, imbricate; limbs short, moderately stout, the adpressed hind limb reaching the wrist; digits moderately short and slender, more strongly dilated at apex than at base; tail subcylindrical, almost depressed, slightly verticillate, tapering, covered above with homogeneous, smooth or keeled, imbricate scales, and rows of large, flattish, keeled, pointed tubercles, below with smooth, rounded, imbricate scales of which the median series is undifferentiated; tail equal to, or longer than, head and body.

Upper and lower labials 8; scansors under first and fourth toes 4; for other data see statistical table opposite p. 344.

Color. Above, dark grayish to pale brown; a blackish or dark brown streak from nostril passes through eye to form a crescentic marking on occiput in young but terminating on temple in type and adults; crown of head and back with irregularly disposed large brown spots, and back with narrow white crossbars formed by white-spotted granules or tubercles, one row on nape, four or five on body and about twelve on tail. Below, whitish, uniform.

Size. Total length of type U (M.C.Z. 31575), 86 (43 + 43) mm., and paratype T (M.C.Z. 31576), 83+ (50 + 33+) mm., but surpassed by one (not seen) in Brit. Mus. of 90 (45 + 45) mm., from Marandellas or Umtali (Boulenger, 1902b).

Remarks. The Devuli River gecko in the M.C.Z. is one of the two referred to P.c.tigrinus by FitzSimons (1939b).

Habitat. Found in association with Afroedura t.platyceps on rocky outcrops in thick bush veld (FitzSimons).

Localities. Southern Rhodesia: Bulawayo; Devuli River Bridge; Empandeni; Gokomere; Marandellas; Matopos; Umtali. But those from first and last three localities not seen, so their identification with this race should be received with reserve, more particularly Marandellas and Umtali.)

Range. South and eastern Southern Rhodesia.