Day Geckos: Species Profile

Characteristics, Housing, Diet, and Other Information

Day gecko on a wall

Peter Weber / Getty Images

Day geckos are a common name of a group of over 60 species of small lizards that vary in size, appearance, and behaviors. They are native to the islands of the southwest part of the Indian Ocean; most live in Madagascar and Mauritius.

Popular pet day geckos include the giant day gecko that is recorded to live up to 20 years but more commonly lives six to eight years in captivity. Day geckos, in general, are not good geckos for beginner reptile keepers as they are a high-maintenance pet. Some of the easier day geckos to care for include giant day geckos, gold dust day geckos, or lined day geckos.

Species Overview

Common Names: Day gecko (includes 60+ species)

Scientific Name: Phelsuma

Adult Size: Sizes vary between species; smallest is 2.6 inches and largest is 11.8 inches

Life Expectancy: Smaller species, up to 10 years; larger species, up to 20 years

Day Gecko Behavior and Temperament

Unlike many other lizards, including most other types of geckos, day geckos are active during the day. They are generally pretty fragile, and it is not a good idea to handle them since their skin is quite delicate. Handling can stress them out, and as a defensive mechanism, they may even drop their tail. While their trails will regenerate, the animal should never be forced into that situation.

If feeling threatened, they might bite, although that is the last resort. A bite from a giant day gecko, the largest of the day geckos, can hurt and may even break the skin.

House day geckos separately. Males are especially territorial, but even mated pairs may fight and need to be split up.

These lizards are excellent climbers. Their toe pads have tiny filaments (setae) that allow them to cling to almost any surface, including glass walls and ceilings.

Day geckos have particular care requirements and need attention every day. This lizard is only recommended for those who have prior reptile-keeping experience.

Housing the Day Gecko

Each gecko's requirements vary somewhat, so thoroughly research the gecko species, in order to have the appropriate cage, lighting, humidity, and food ready for its arrival. Being adequately prepared can decrease your gecko's stress during the transition into its new environment.

Day geckos are great escape artists. A glass tank with a firmly closing screen top for ventilation works well for day geckos.

The exact cage set-up and environment required will vary a bit with each species of day gecko. As a general rule of thumb, day geckos will need an enclosure that is taller than it is wide with branches to climb on. 

Place stalks of bamboo, branches, or live plants (snake plants, bromeliads, or other tropical plants) into the tank for climbing options and aesthetic appeal. Provide lots of cover and hiding spots to make your day gecko feel secure.

You will need to spot clean the cage every day to remove visible feces and do a full cleaning with a reptile-safe disinfectant once a month.

Heat

Exact requirements vary by species, but daytime temperatures should be between 80 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit on the high end and between 72 and 77 degrees on the low end, which is usually during nighttime hours. As cold-blooded creatures, all reptiles need to regulate their body temperature. A thermal gradient in the cage allows the lizard to move around to different areas to control its body temperature.

Light bulbs can serve as your primary heat source and provide heat for the 90 F basking spot. Thermometers are essential to gauge temperatures day and night.

If more heat is needed, especially at night, you can use ceramic heat emitters or under tank heating pads. Sometimes a variety of heat sources must be used to achieve ideal day and night time temperatures. To avoid burns, do not place heat sources too close or in direct contact with the gecko.

Light

Day geckos need exposure to ultraviolet light, so fluorescent, full-spectrum UVB-emitting reptile bulbs are necessary. Provide 10 to 12 hours of UV light. Change the bulbs every six months, even if the light doesn't burn out. The invisible UVB rays stop emitting after that period.

Humidity

All day geckos need relatively high humidity in their enclosures, ranging anywhere from 60 percent to 80 percent. Get a hygrometer or humidity gauge to accurately detect the humidity level. The use of live plants and a proper substrate will help maintain moisture along with regular misting of the tank. If you are away during the day and will not be able to mist the cage, get an automatic mister or fogger to add humidity at timed intervals.

Substrate

Most pet owners use a substrate or bedding to line the bottom of the cage. In the case of day geckos, the right substrate helps maintain a humid environment. Ideal substrates for most day geckos are peat moss, organic potting soil (no vermiculite), or orchid bark.

Food and Water

Insects, such as roaches, silkworms, waxworms, and butterworms, make up the bulk of a day gecko's diet in captivity; some will also eat various tropical fruits such as papaya, mango, or even fruit baby food.

Most geckos will eat three to five insects twice weekly and fruit baby food mixed with a commercial nectar substitute once a week. Juveniles and breeding females should be fed five to seven times weekly. Feed them in the morning when they are most active.

Insects fed should be slightly smaller than the space between the gecko's eyes and should be gut-loaded or fed nutritious foods before feeding to your lizard. The insects and fruit should also be dusted with a multi-vitamin powder and vitamin D3/calcium powder at every other feeding.

Provide a small, shallow water dish with fresh, filtered water daily, though they will likely prefer to drink water droplets from leaves in the humid habitat.

Common Health Problems

Geckos are prone to a few health problems that are treatable by an exotics veterinarian.

  • Skin disorders: Like most other reptiles, geckos need to shed their skin to grow and keep healthy; unsanitary conditions, improper humidity, or parasites can cause partial sheds.
  • Parasitic infections: These can cause weight loss, bloody stools, vomiting, skin disorders and require an antiparasitic medication for treatment.
  • Metabolic bone disease: This potentially fatal illness caused by a calcium and vitamin D deficiency leads to weakened bones; it can be treatable if caught early.

Choosing a Day Gecko

As with most breeds of gecko, it's ideal to obtain one from a reputable reptile breeder. Captive-bred geckos are less likely to have diseases. If possible, ask the breeder if you can watch the day gecko eat before deciding on buying it. On average, they can cost $50 to $250. Babies usually cost the least since they have a higher mortality rate. Adults and morphs (color variants) often fetch a higher price.

A reputable breeder should also provide the gecko's full health history. To find a reputable breeder, ask local exotics vets and other reptile owners. You can often meet breeders at reptile expos and shows.

Health geckos have clear eyes and healthy appetites. As long as the animal doesn't refuse food, you can expect it to be in relatively good health. If you notice a gecko with dry, flaky areas on its skin or difficulty shedding, this could be signs of a parasite, infection, or inadequate husbandry.

Different Species of Geckos

If you're interested in geckos, check out:

Otherwise, check out other types of reptiles and amphibians that can be your new pet.

Article Sources
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  1. Madagascar Giant Day GeckoSmithsonian's National Zoo, 2020

  2. Day Geckos. Animal Veterinary Hospital of Orlando