How to Care for Your Knob-Tailed Gecko
Knob-tailed geckos (Nephrurus sp.) are a group of small, nocturnal, terrestrial lizards found all over Australia. They can generally be found in semi-arid to arid, sandy/rocky habitats.
Length in knob-tailed geckos is measured from snout to vent rather than total length, and average SVL is between 4” to 5.5”. Knob-tailed geckos have enormous eyes, vertical pupils, a large head, relatively long legs, and a small yet plump tail. Unlike most geckos, knob-tailed geckos have eyelids and no sticky toe pads. Pattern and color vary according to species, but they are generally red or brown in color with a pale belly and a pale pattern of spots, stripes, or bands.
Knob-tailed geckos are quite shy, but they’re hardy and fairly easy to care for, making them beginner-level pet reptiles. With good care, they can live at least 10 years.
Knob-tailed geckos’ care requirements are generally fairly similar from species to species, however there are some differences that should be noted. This care sheet should be used only as a general guide, and we strongly recommend doing research on your specific species of knob-tail for best results.
How much space do knob-tailed geckos need?
A single knob-tailed gecko should be housed in no smaller than a 20” x 10” x 12” enclosure, or a standard 10 gallon tank. However, larger is recommended, and the gecko will make good use of the extra space.
Cohabitation (keeping multiple knob-tailed geckos in the same terrarium) is not recommended, and may result in fighting if attempted.
Do knob-tailed geckos need UVB?
Knob-tailed geckos can technically survive without UVB lighting as long as they get supplemented with vitamin D3, but the fact remains that they can’t thrive without it. Aside from helping provide a day/night cycle, UVB is also good for your gecko’s overall wellbeing.
It’s best to provide low-strength UVB lighting as part of your gecko’s enclosure. The best UVB bulbs for knob-tailed geckos housed in a 10 gallon terrarium are:
- Arcadia ShadeDweller kit
- Zoo Med ReptiSun 5.0 compact coil, 26w
The UVB bulb should be housed in a reflective fixture. Place the fixture on the basking side along with the heat lamp. UVB is blocked by glass and plastic, so you can’t give your gecko UVB by placing its terrarium in front of an open window. This can also make your enclosure dangerously hot by creating a greenhouse effect! UVB bulbs decay over time, so you will need to replace the bulb every 6 months for compact coils, or every 12 months for the ShadeDweller.
Lights should be on for 11 hours/day during winter, and 13 hours/day during summer to simulate seasonal changes in day length.
What basking temperatures do knob-tailed geckos need?
Knob-tailed geckos should have a basking temperature of 88-90°F, as measured by a digital probe thermometer with the probe placed on the basking surface. There should also be a cooler area on the opposite side of the enclosure that stays between 70-75°F.
Provide heat for your gecko by imitating the sun with a halogen heat lamp placed on one side of the enclosure. Do not use ceramic heat emitters (CHEs), red bulbs, or blue bulbs, as these are not as effective. Place the gecko’s warm hideout/cave below the heat lamp.
For best results, the basking surface should be a flat piece of rock like flagstone or paver stone. The rock also creates a natural source of “belly heat”. This rock should be placed on top of a black plastic box hide to create the warm hide.
The heat source should be turned off at night.
What humidity levels do knob-tailed geckos need?
Knob-tailed geckos need a low-humidity environment with access to a humid microclimate for best health. Average humidity should be 30-40%, as measured by a digital probe hygrometer with the probe in the middle of the terrarium. However, you will also need to provide a humid hideout/burrow lined with moistened substrate on the cool side of the enclosure.
It’s also a good idea to mist the cool side of the enclosure with a spray bottle 2-3x/week to maintain substrate moisture content and give your gecko droplets to drink. If the gecko is out, you can gently mist them as well.
What substrate is good for knob-tailed geckos?
Substrate covers the floor of your gecko’s terrarium and helps make the enclosure more attractive, but it also helps maintain higher humidity levels and provides something for your gecko to dig in. Certain species of knob-tailed gecko really like to dig!
It’s ideal to use a substrate that imitates the “substrate” that the reptile naturally lives on in the wild. For knob-tailed geckos, that means it should be soft, fine sand. We recommend the following substrates for knob-tailed geckos:
- Zoo Med ReptiSand
- Exo Terra Desert Sand
Substrate should be at least 4” deep and completely replaced every 3-4 months. Remove poop and urates daily, along with contaminated substrate.
What décor can you use in a knob-tailed gecko terrarium?
It’s terribly boring for a gecko to be stuck in an enclosure with nothing in it except substrate and food/water bowls. It doesn’t matter how big the enclosure is if you don’t put things in it for your pet to use and interact with.
At bare minimum, you will need at least two “caves” for the gecko to hide in. However, it’s best to include other items, such as:
- small logs and branches
- climbing rocks
- additional hides
- live or artificial plants
What do knob-tailed geckos eat?
Knob-tailed geckos are insectivorous, which means that they need a diet of insects in order to get the nutrition that their bodies need. Food should be offered daily, skipping 1 or 2 days each week.
One meal should be 2-4 appropriately-sized bugs. An appropriately-sized bug is slightly smaller than the gecko’s head.
Feeder insects for knob-tailed geckos: dubia roaches, discoid roaches, crickets, black soldier fly larvae, hornworms, mealworms
You will also need calcium and vitamin supplements to prevent your gecko from developing a deficiency. We recommend Repashy Calcium Plus LoD, lightly dusted on all of your gecko’s feeder insects. It’s okay to occasionally skip a dusting.
Of course, don’t forget a small water bowl for your gecko to drink from! Change the water daily and scrub the bowl with a reptile-safe disinfectant weekly, or whenever it becomes soiled.
Do knob-tailed geckos like to be handled?
Few reptiles actually “like” to be held, and knob-tailed geckos tend to be shy and easily stressed. This is a pet that is best to keep in their enclosure rather than take out for regular handling. If you want to interact with your pet, try training them to take food from tongs instead.
*This care sheet contains only very basic information. Although it’s a good introduction, please do further research with high-quality sources to obtain additional information on caring for this species.
"Pilbara Smooth Knob-tailed Gecko (Nephrurus levis pilbarensis)" by Wild for Wildlife is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0