Why Is A Gecko Licking Me? What It Means

When a dog licks you, it’s because they’re feeling affectionate, and that’s just something dogs do to show their love. But what happens when an African Fat-Tailed Gecko decides to lick you? What does it mean?

Your African Fat-Tailed Gecko is licking you because he wants to identify your smell. This lizard uses his tongue to pick up scents and has a scent organ in its mouth to identify odors. In short, your gecko is trying to ‘smell’ you.

Pets can surprise us with their behavior. At certain times their mannerisms make sense, and at other times they can seem odd. If you’re confused about your gecko licking you, this post might give you an insight into their behavior.

Reasons Why Your AFTG Is Licking You

As mentioned, your African Fat-Tailed Gecko is most likely licking you to pick up on your scent. However, if the licking seems excessive or begins after several months, it could be a sign that there’s something else going on that you need to look into.

Your AFTG Is Exploring You

Geckos use their tongues to perceive and understand the world, and yours is probably licking you to pick up and memorize your scent.

Geckos have a vomeronasal organ, better known as a ‘Jacobson’s Organ,’ which is positioned on the roof of their mouths. It’s a chemoreception organ that responds to smell. As it’s inside the lizard’s mouth, your gecko must use his tongue to carry the scent to the organ. 

So when he licks you, your African Fat-Tailed Gecko is creating a scent profile that he can refer to.

Some scientists have even suggested that a Jacobson’s organ can be found in humans, but the theory is still debatable. 

It’s Your AFTG’s Way of Expressing Affection

Most people believe that lizards are incapable of showing emotion. Reptile owners commonly feel that their pets tolerate them at best and would prefer to be left alone. But what if your AFTG is just looking for a little attention?

Whether reptiles can show emotions beyond fear and aggression is still in debate, with many arguing that lizards have no need to develop the concept of love.  

However, geckos reportedly appear to recognize people who feed them and also seem to like some people more than others.

So, perhaps your AFTG is using his licks to shower you with affection.

Your AFTG Is Searching for Nutrients

Your pet could be licking you because he’s searching for nutrients lacking in his food. African Fat-Tailed Geckos can be picky eaters, and their limited diet needs to be fortified with vitamins and calcium.

The insects you feed your gecko should be gut loaded, which is a process where the prey is raised and fed nutritious foods, so the animal that eats them receives these nutrients. These beneficial nutrients will be passed on to your gecko when he eats these insects.  

Additionally, consider dusting the insects with calcium powder before feeding them to your gecko. Along with this calcium boost, you should give your pet a supplementary vitamin at least once a week.  

Your AFTG Could Be Sick

Although Fat-Tailed Geckos are hardy pets, they may lick you to communicate distress, especially when they’re feeling ill. If your lizard seems lethargic and isn’t eating, it’s likely that they’re sick.

The sickness could be something simple, like parasites in their system. While geckos typically host parasitic organisms without much trouble, they’re afflicted by these parasites when their immune systems get impaired due to stress, disease, or injury.

If your pet has a bloated belly, stopped eating, lost weight, or is experiencing runny feces, you should talk to a vet and procure the correct medication. 

If your gecko isn’t sick, they’re likely stressed. Stressors like a new home, changes in the environment, or improper care can weaken your pet’s immune system. Sometimes your gecko may be licking you to try and communicate this distress. 

You Aren’t Taking Care of Your AFTG Correctly

Most pet stores will give a generic care sheet for all types of geckos. And while there are similarities between AFTG and other house geckos, it’s vital to know the differences to ensure your pet’s health.

The crucial difference between an African Fat-Tailed Gecko and other geckos is that they require varying levels of humidity. AFTG requires a humid hiding place, but misting the cage will result in excess humidity. Instead consider using sphagnum moss or dirt in their hide box, and be sure to keep their bedding moist.

Also, ensure you’re giving your pet space to heat up and cool down properly. African Fat-Tailed Geckos require a heating spot that’s between 90°F and 95°F (32.2 – 35°C), and the temperature should fall to about 80°F (26.6°C) or lower at night. 

Heat lamps only raise the temperature of the air, and terrestrial lizards like the fat-tailed and leopard geckos absorb the majority of heat through their bellies.

Therefore, installing under-tank heat mats will ensure they stay warm. However, heat rocks and heating devices shouldn’t be used in the tank as they can burn the scales on the soft underbelly. 

Remember, AFTGs need at least 10-12 hours of light daily, so provide them with a basking light that covers a small area of their enclosure.

Should I Let My African Fat-Tailed Gecko Lick Me?

You should let your AFTG lick you, as licking is one of their prime techniques to get to know you. If you put your pet back in his enclosure when he starts licking you, you’re preventing him from building a bond with you. 

Most people are afraid of gecko licks, because they assume they’ll be bitten at any moment. If you’re worried about your gecko biting you, there are a few things to keep in mind. 

  • African Fat-Tailed Geckos rarely bite. If they do, it’s only when they sense a threat. If you’re new to them and handle them poorly, they may bite to defend themselves or try and escape.
  • Gecko bites are rarely painful. If an adult lizard bites you, you’ll probably feel a light sting at best. And if you’re bitten by a baby gecko, you’ll most likely not feel anything. If the bite draws blood, wash the area immediately to prevent infection.

So now that you know how gecko bites work, allow your pet to lick you. Fortunately, if your gecko licks you, it means that he trusts you and feels safe around you!

Bottom Line

Don’t freak out if your AFTG licks you; it’s common behavior they engage in to detect scents. Your pet simply wants to make sure the hand that he’s resting on is safe and there are no enemies nearby.


Chris is a reptile enthusiast, breeder, and blogger from the Milwaukee, WI area. After breeding hundreds of bearded dragons to supply local pet stores and owning many other types of reptiles, he is now focused on sharing knowledge to help owners properly care for their little reptiles friends.

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