San Diego Natural History Museum--Your Nature ConnectionSDNHM Field Guide
Western Banded Gecko, Mecca, CA, photographed by Brad Hollingsworth

Coleonyx variegatus
Western Banded Gecko


Coleonyx comes from the Greek koleos, meaning a sheath and onych, meaning nail or claw, while variegatus comes from the Latin vario, meaning variegated.


The Western Banded Gecko is a medium-sized gecko with soft skin, short limbs, a pointed snout, large eyes, and functional eyelids. Like other Eublepharid geckos, this species has movable eyelids, slender toes that lack villi, and pointed claws. Adults are approximately 6 inches (150 mm) in total length, with females measuring about 2.8 inches (70 mm) snout-vent length, and the smaller males measuring about 2 1/2 inches (63 mm) snout-vent length.

Adults are typically pale-yellow or light-gray in color. Red-brown spots cover the top of the head, and red-brown spots or bands cross the back.

Subspecies: There have been as many as seven subspecies recognized: the San Diego Banded Gecko (C. v. abbotti); the Desert Banded Gecko (C. v. variegatus); the San Lucan Banded Gecko (C. v. peninsularis); the Utah Banded Gecko (C. v. utahensis); and the Tucson Banded Gecko (C. v. bogerti); the Sonoran Banded Gecko (C. v. sonoriensis); and the Santa Inez Island Banded Gecko (C. v. slevini). All appear to intergrade widely.

Range and Habitat

The Western Banded Gecko ranges throughout the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico, closely mirroring the combined Mojave and Sonoran Deserts.

This species is usually found in open areas, often near rocks, and may seek shelter under them, or in crevices. It is found from sea-level up to an elevation of 4000 feet.

Natural History

Well-known herpetologist Laurence Klauber noted that this lizard was found more often at night in the Colorado Desert than all snakes and lizards put together. (Klauber, 1945)

Behavior: Western Banded Geckos are primarily nocturnal, foraging at night and hiding under a variety of objects such as rocks, stems, and other types of debris during the daytime. They are most active during the spring.

When they run, this species holds its tail curved over its back, and sways from side to side. Its tail breaks off easily -- caudal autonomy is considered a defense mechanism. Other defensive tactics include squeaking, ejecting viscous liquids, and limb extension.

Prey and Predators: Their diet includes insects and other arthropods. Occasionally, they will eat parts or all of their own skin after shedding. Fat is stored in their tails for times of food scarcity. The Western Banded Gecko is a food source for many predators, such as snakes. These geckos are believed to be able to detect the chemical signals left by snakes, which gives them the chance to avoid them.

Breeding: Between May and September, these geckos will usually lay two eggs.

Did you know...

In Mexico, local inhabitants often believe geckos are venomous and have poisonous skin. These lizards are harmless.

Conservation Status

The San Diego Banded Gecko (C. v. abbotti) is currently a Federal Special Concern species (FSC).

Recommended Reading

Dial, B. E. and L. L. Grismer, 1992. A phylogenetic analysis of physiological-ecological character evolution in the lizard genus Coleonyx and its implications for historical biogeographical reconstruction. Syst. Biol. 41(2):178-195.

Grismer, L. L., 1988. Phylogeny, taxonomy, classification, and biogeography of eublepharid geckos. Pp. 369-469. In: R. Estes and G. Pregill (eds.), Phylogenetic relationships of the lizard families. Stanford Univ. Press, Stanford, California.

Klauber, Laurence M. 1945. The geckos of the genus Coleonyx with descriptions of new subspecies. Trans. San Diego Soc. Nat. Hist. 10:133-216.

Contributed by Nelson Ryan Wong. Photo by Brad Hollingsworth.

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