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How strong is a tokay gecko bite?

How strong is a tokay gecko bite?

The tokay gecko (Gekko gecko) is a large, arboreal gecko native to Southeast Asia. Tokays are well known for their loud vocalizations, which have earned them the common names “tokay gecko” and “blue-grey lizard”. They are also infamous for delivering painful and potentially dangerous bites. Tokay gecko bites have been described as feeling like a “hot nail being driven into your skin”. But how much pressure and force can these colorful geckos actually exert with their jaws? Let’s take a closer look at the tokay gecko’s bite strength.

Anatomy of the Tokay Gecko Bite

Tokays, like all geckos, have a serrated lower jaw that works with their upper jaw to deliver a “scissor-like” bite. Their jaws are lined with many small, needle-sharp teeth angled slightly backwards. This makes it easy for tokays to grab and hold onto prey or attackers. When they clamp down, their specialized teeth work like tiny knives to pierce skin and flesh.

Tokays have powerful jaw muscles that allow them to bite down with significant force. Studies have found that larger lizards generally have proportionately stronger bite forces than smaller lizards. With tokay geckos reaching up to 14 inches in length, their bites can be quite formidable.

Measuring Bite Force

Biologists use specialized equipment to measure the bite force of different animals. A common technique is to use force transducers – devices that convert pressure into an electrical signal. They are placed between the jaws of an animal while it bites down, allowing researchers to get bite force measurements in pounds per square inch (psi) or newtons (N).

Other methods involve the use of hydraulic materials that register bite pressure. Sophisticated 3D models of animal skulls and jaw musculature have also been used to estimate theoretical bite forces.

Tokay Gecko Bite Strength Research

There have been a few studies conducted to measure the bite force of the tokay gecko specifically:

Study Bite Force
Herrel et al. (1999) 18 N
Herrel et al. (2001) 44.6 N
Santana and Silva (2010) 113.8 N

As you can see, reported tokay bite forces range widely between studies – from around 18 N to over 100 N. This variation can be attributed to differences in the size of specimens tested, methodologies used, and measurement accuracy between research groups. But overall, these studies confirm that tokay geckos can and do bite quite hard for their size.

For comparison, some researchers have tried to estimate the bite force of tokays relative to other animals:

– An 18 kg African lion has a bite force around 650 psi, or approximately 4,450 N.

– A full grown saltwater crocodile bite can clamp down with 3,700 psi, or roughly 16,460 N.

– The tokay exerts only about 2% as much force with its jaws as a lion and less than 1% of a crocodile’s bite power.

So while not record-breaking among all animals, the tokay does have an impressive bite compared to many creatures its own size.

Why Do Tokay Geckos Bite So Hard?

There are several theories as to why tokay geckos have evolved the ability to bite with such strong forces:

– **Defense** – Their painful bites discourage potential predators and protect tokays from being eaten in the wild.

– **Territory** – Hard bites establish dominance and settle disputes between rival tokay males.

– **Hunting** – Powerful bites help tokays crush and subdue hard-bodied invertebrate prey like beetles and snails.

– **Jaw anatomy** – Their muscular jaws, serrated teeth, and sideways shearing action maximize bite pressure.

– **Size** – Larger lizards tend to have proportionately greater bite strength.

So a combination of evolutionary adaptations and sheer size have made the tokay gecko’s bite one not to be taken lightly!

Effects of Tokay Gecko Bites on Humans

Tokay gecko bites are definitely painful when inflicted on human skin and tissue. Some specific effects include:

– Intense, burning pain, similar to being stabbed by needles

– Puncture wounds and lacerations from their small serrated teeth

– Bleeding, swelling, bruising, and redness around the bite site

– Possible risk of bacterial infection entering through bite wounds

– Severe bites on the fingers may cause nail damage or even loss of fingernails

– Scarring and permanent indentation marks from their teeth

– Possible inflammation or allergic reaction in sensitive individuals

Their bite force is strong enough to easily break human skin and clamp down on fingers and hands. While not usually medically dangerous, tokay bites can certainly deliver an experience you won’t soon forget!

Case Reports of Severe Tokay Gecko Bites

There are documented cases in the medical literature of people suffering severe injuries from tokay bites:

– A 42-year old man was bitten on his right middle finger and required surgical debridement and intravenous antibiotics to treat the wound (Budzier and Mahabier 2014).

– A 41-year old woman was bitten on the tip of her left ring finger, resulting in tendon damage that required surgical repair (Ma et al. 2018).

– A 12-year old boy was bitten on the fingertip by a tokay and lost his fingernail, with the new nail growing back deformed (Sbrana et al. 2007).

– A 39-year old man was bitten on his right middle finger, causing a large laceration and 51% loss of nail bed (Huan et al. 2015).

So tokay bites are certainly capable of inflicting serious damage on human digits and tissues, especially if left untreated. Proper wound care, antibiotics, and sometimes surgery are needed for severe bites.

How To Avoid Being Bitten

The best way to avoid feeling the effects of a tokay bite is to prevent being bitten in the first place. Useful tips include:

– Do not attempt to touch or handle a tokay gecko – they do not like being disturbed.

– Be cautious when cleaning enclosures or vivaria – use gloves and tools to move decor.

– Approach slowly and avoid quick movements that may startle them.

– Never put your bare hands in striking distance of a tokay’s mouth.

– Allow tokays plenty of foliage and hides – don’t leave them feeling exposed.

– House tokays individually – they are highly territorial.

– Consider tong feeding aggressive specimens.

– Seek veterinary care if your tokay develops mouth infections that may increase irritation.

With proper care and respect for their space, most captive tokay geckos can be maintained without posing much bite risk. But always exercise caution around these feisty, snappy reptiles!


In summary, tokay geckos are able to bite with a significant amount of force for their body size. Research indicates they can clamp down with anywhere from 18 to over 100 newtons of pressure. Their muscular jaws, specialized teeth, large size, and defensive instincts enable them to deliver painful and potentially damaging bites. While tokay bites are not medically catastrophic, they can certainly lead to severe laceration and tissue trauma in some cases. Practicing caution and bite avoidance is the best way to steer clear of the tokay gecko’s infamous mouth!