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Giant Day Gecko Care and Natural History

Phelsuma grandis

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Anja

Among the world’s 52 species of neon-hued day geckos we find some of the most desirable of all lizard pets.  It’s not easy to stand out among such a spectacular group, but one species does so admirably – the magnificent Giant Day Gecko (Phelsuma grandis).  Although rarely seen outside of its native Madagascar until the mid-1980’s, this largest of all day geckos is now the hands-down favorite of many lizard enthusiasts.  I’m still asked to design zoo and museum exhibits for Giant Day Geckos, despite the fact that public institutions tend to avoid “pet trade species” – their beauty simply cannot be ignored.  The following information can also be applied to the care of 3 other large relatives that were once considered Giant Day Gecko subspecies – the Boehm’s Giant Day Gecko (P. madagascariensis boehmi), the Madagascar Day Gecko (P. m. madagascariensis) and Koch’s Giant Day Gecko (P. kochi).

 

Description

This stoutly-built lizard averages 9-10 inches in length, with large males reaching 12 inches.  Clad in brilliant green and bearing maroon to red head and orange dorsal markings, Giant Day Geckos must be seen to be truly appreciated.  Hobbyists have also developed an array of breath-taking color morphs.

 

Captive Gecko Behavior

All day geckos are best considered as animals to observe rather than handle.  Fast and alert, they will watch as you open the terrarium and may flee if possible; keep a net nearby to catch escapees.  Their tails snap off with the slightest provocation, and the delicate skin tears easily.  Although well-habituated individuals may accept food from tongs, these high-strung beauties are not for those seeking a hands-on pet.  However, the careful keeper will be rewarded with a range of interesting behaviors, regular reproduction and pets that may live into their 20’s.

 

Range and Habitat of the Giant Day

The Giant Day Gecko occurs across much of northern Madagascar, and on several small offshore islands.  Introduced populations are established on several of the Florida Keys (Little Torch, Plantation, Plantation and Big Pine).  It has also been sporadically reported in Florida’s Dade, Lee and Broward Counties, and on Hawaii.

 

Giant Day Geckos evolved in rainforests, but adapt well to some degree of human presence.  In both their native and introduced ranges, they can be seen on building walls and in well-vegetated gardens.

 

Giant Day Gecko

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Greg Hume

The Terrarium

Giant Day Geckos are highly arboreal and must have climbing opportunities.    A 30-55 gallon “high-style” tank will accommodate a pair or trio.  Always opt for the largest enclosure possible.

 

By virtue of their habits and need for security, all day geckos are ideally suited to life in terrariums provisioned with live plants; they will not thrive in bare enclosures.  Plants such as Pothos, Snake Plants and Philodendron will provide visual barriers and a sense of security.  Rolled cork bark and hollow bamboo sections make ideal hideaways and basking, perching, and egg-deposition sites; these should be arranged both horizontally and vertically.

 

Be sure to establish plenty of basking sites near heat and UVB bulbs, as dominant individuals may exclude others from these important areas.

 

Substrate

A mix of potting soil, cypress mulch and sphagnum moss is ideal.

 

Light

Giant Day Geckos should be provided with a source of Ultra-Violet B light.  Natural sunlight is best, but be aware that glass and plastic filter out UVB rays, and that fatal overheating can occur very quickly.  A daytime period of 12-14 hours should be maintained.

 

Female Standing's Day Gecko

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Hectonichus

It appears that at least certain species can utilize dietary D3, and do well without access to UVB.  I’m familiar with one exhibit in which Giant and Standing’s Day Geckos have bred over several generations in the absence of UVB (please see photo of female Standing’s Day Gecko with well-developed calcium reserves, or “chalk sacs”).  However, there are a number of variables to consider…please see the article linked below for further information.

 

Heat

Ambient temperatures of 82-85 F, with a basking spot of 88-90 F, are ideal.  Nighttime temperatures can dip to 76-80 F.

 

Large enclosures will allow for the establishment of a thermal gradient (areas of different temperatures).  Thermal gradients, critical to good health, allow lizards to regulate their body temperature by moving between hot and cooler areas.

 

Incandescent bulbs should be used to maintain temperatures.  A ceramic heater or reptile night bulb can be employed after dark.

 

Humidity

These rainforest-adapted lizards do best when humidity levels range from 50-75%.  Their terrarium should be misted at least twice daily; a mister and hygrometer can be used to increase and monitor humidity if need be.

 

Gecko Companions

Males will fight savagely and should never be housed together. Females are also territorial, and must be watched carefully.  Pairs, trios (1 male, 2 females) and youngsters may co-exist in large enclosures, but be sure to check that all are able to feed and bask.

 

t239545Feeding

A highly-varied diet is essential if you are to have success in keeping any day gecko species.  Crickets and mealworms alone, even if powdered with supplements, are not an adequate diet.

 

The diet should consist of roaches, sow bugs, crickets, butterworms, waxworms, cultured houseflies, silkworms and other commercially available invertebrates.  Feeders should be provided a healthful diet for several days prior to use.

 

If possible, also offer wild-caught insects (avoid pesticide-sprayed areas, and learn to identify stinging and toxic species; please see the articles linked below).  Moths, beetles, grasshoppers, tree crickets, earwigs, “smooth” caterpillars and a variety of others will be accepted. Your pets will definitely show greater enthusiasm towards novel foods!  The Bug Napper Insect Trap will simplify insect collection.

 

The natural diet also includes nectar, ripe fruit, pollen and sap. A mixture of fruit-based baby food, honey or molasses, liquid reptile vitamins, and ReptiCalcium with D3, mixed with enough water to achieve a syrupy consistency, should be offered 3 times weekly.  Experiment with the ingredients, and add a bit of over-ripe papaya, mango and banana on occasion.  Your geckos will prefer to take nectar from cups suspended above-ground.  Please see the article linked below for further information.

 

Important food supplements include Zoo Med ReptiCalcium with D3 or a similar product (most meals) and a vitamin supplement (i.e. ReptiVite) 2-3 times weekly.

 

Day Geckos rarely drink from bowls but will lap water that is sprayed onto foliage.

 

Further Reading

 

Keeping Day Geckos Without UVB Access

 

Collecting Insects for use as Reptile Food

 

Feeding Day Geckos

 

 

My Leopard Gecko Is Not Eating: What To Do

 

 

Adult female

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Jerome66

When cared for properly, Leopard Geckos are among the most hardy and long-lived of all reptile pets.  But apparently-healthy geckos sometimes refuse to feed, or cut back on their intake, and there is still much confusion as to why this occurs.  My work with Leopard Geckos and hundreds of other species in zoos and at home has (I hope!) provided me with some useful insights into this problem.  Some involve areas that any good reptile keeper would investigate – environment, stress levels, disease – while others, such as the effects of circadian rhythms (“internal clocks”), are less obvious.

 

Winter’s Arrival and Internal Rhythms Regulate Eating

Leopard Geckos are native to southeastern Afghanistan, western India, Pakistan, Iraq, and Iran, where they inhabit desert fringes and arid grasslands.  In some parts of this range, temperatures rise to 100+ F in summer and drop below 32 F during the winter.  Wild Leopard Geckos living in environments that experience severe winters become dormant for several months each year, while those in milder regions may remain active (please see the article linked below to read more about their natural history).

 

While your pet is, no doubt, many generations removed from the wild, internal circadian rhythms may cause it to become lethargic and refuse food during the winter.  This can happen even if your gecko is kept warm and given a photo-period of 12-14 hours.  To confuse matters further, some reptiles enter dormancy when winter arrives in their native habitats…even if it happens to be summertime in their present home!  I’ve seen this among Indian Gharials (fish-eating crocodiles) 15 years removed from the wild, and in many others.  Captive Bearded Dragons also exhibit this type of behavior on occasion; please see this article.

 

leopard geckoUnfortunately, it’s not often possible to be certain that a pet has stopped feeding due to the effects of an internal rhythm, so be sure to check the other possibilities discussed below.

 

Next I’ll mention other things that should be checked if your gecko stops feeding, including husbandry (tank set-up, temperatures, diet, etc.), stress, and disease.  I’ve written on each of these in further detail in the linked articles.

 

Your Gecko’s Environment

As Leopard Geckos are nocturnal, it’s important to monitor nighttime temperatures, especially during the winter, when most people lower their home thermostats.  The ambient air temperature should range from 78-84 F, which can be maintained by a ceramic heater or red/black reptile “night bulb”; a below-tank heat mat should be positioned so that one corner of the tank is warmer (88 F) than the rest.  Be sure also to establish a thermal gradient (areas of different temperatures) so that your gecko can regulate its body temperature as needed.

 

tPG01794While Leopard Geckos often adapt to smaller enclosures than do other lizards, individuals vary in their response to crowding.  Moving your pet to a larger terrarium may help, and this will also make it easier for you to establish a thermal gradient (small terrariums tend to remain at the temperature of the basking site).

 

And, no matter how well-adjusted or bold your pet may be, it’s important to provide a dark, secure cave or other shelter.  Geckos forced to remain exposed often cease feeding.

 

Diet

Wild Leopard Geckos feed upon a huge array of invertebrates, while pets are often limited to 2-3 food items.  Dietary variety is important for health reasons.  But providing different types of insects can also incite new interest in feeding.  We see this most commonly in chameleons, but the enthusiasm your Leopard Geckos will show for novel foods will leave you with no doubt as to their value.  Please see this article to read more about adding silkworms, house flies, sow bugs, wild-caught insects and other important foods to your pet’s diet.

 

Stress Can Affect Eating

Geckos may be stressed by the mere presence of a dominant cage-mate, even absent fighting.  If you suspect aggression, observe your geckos after dark, when they will be most active (a red/black reptile bulb will prove useful).  Appetite-suppressing aggression is especially common among young geckos that are being raised in groups.

 

Locating the terrarium in a noisy part of the house, or where there are vibrations from machinery, may also depress appetites and contribute to other health concerns.

 

Disease and other Health Issues

Impactions from substrate swallowed with meals and Metabolic Bone Disease are two of the more common reasons that geckos cease feeding.

 

Other health concerns that have been identified include Hyperthyroidism, Eyelid Lining Retention (following shedding) and Cryptosporidiosis.  Internal or external parasites, and a host of other less common ailments, should also be investigated if your pet stops eating.  Please post below if you need help in locating a reptile experienced veterinarian.

Hi, my name is Frank Indiviglio.  I’m a herpetologist, zoologist, and book author, recently retired from a career spent at several zoos, aquariums, and museums, including over 20 years with the Bronx Zoo.

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.   Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable.  I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

 

Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly.  Thanks, until next time, Frank.

 

Further Reading

The Leopard Gecko in the Wild

 

The Ideal Leopard Gecko Terrarium 

 

What Do Leopard Geckos Eat? – An Ideal Diet Based on Zoo Research

High Yellow Morph

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by MKGeckos

What DO Leopard Geckos Eat?! The Leopard Gecko, Eublepharis macularius, makes a wonderful pet for novices and advanced hobbyists alike (even after many years as a professional zookeeper, I enjoy keeping them, and wrote a book about their care).  However, both sellers and buyers sometimes underestimate this delightful lizard’s needs, especially where feeding is concerned.  Contrary to popular belief, vitamin-powdered crickets and mealworms do not constitute a suitable diet!  If you wish your pet to live out its potential lifespan of 20-30 years in excellent health, you’ll need to provide it with as many different foods as possible.  Fortunately, a surprising array of insects can be purchased online and in stores.  Collecting and rearing your own insects is another excellent way to add to your gecko’s quality of life…and its great fun as well! Read More »

Tokay Gecko Care, Feeding and Terrarium Design

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.  Pugnacious reptiles with “attitudes” have long been favored by herp enthusiasts.  In the lizard world, perhaps none fits this description so well as the Tokay Gecko, Gekko gecko.  It truly is the ultimate “big lizard in a small package”.  Years ago, I liberated a group into a huge multi-species exhibit at the Bronx Zoo, mainly for my own interests.  Although my fellow keepers were well-experienced in caring for venomous snakes, dangerous primates and the like, I was roundly criticized…no one wanted to chance accidentally grabbing one of these foot-long nocturnal terrors!  But in the right hands (well, not literally “in hand”…most object strenuously!), Tokay Geckos make fascinating pets that may live into their 20’s.  What’s more, they are beautifully-clad in an array of colors, and are not shy about exhibiting their behaviors, including reproduction.

Tokay threat posture

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Nick Hobgood

Natural History

This accomplished vocalist draws its common name from the loud cries of “tokay, tokay” given by the territorial males.  Some years ago a pet store in Manhattan began renting them to customers as a form of “natural” roach control.  However, their habit of vocalizing in the wee hours of the morning doomed the scheme to failure. Read More »

Spectacular New Species of Leaf-Tailed Gecko Discovered in Australia

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here. Madagascar’s bizarre Leaf-Tailed Geckos (Uroplatus spp.) are on the wish lists of many lizard enthusiasts.  Even after decades of keeping reptiles in zoos, I was shocked by the sight of my first specimen.  Equally unique are Australia’s fantastic Leaf-Tailed Geckos (genus Saltuarius).  In color, shape (some look like insect-chewed leaves!), movement and body position, both groups take camouflage to its extreme.  The recent (October, 2013) discovery of a new Australian species, the Cape Melville Leaf Tailed Gecko, has caused quite a stir.  Its Latin name means “exceptional, extraordinary and exquisite”…and it is very fitting! I know that I’m not alone in being thrilled that there are still such unusual creatures waiting to be found.

NE Australian rainforest

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Adam.J.W.C.

A Tiny Range and Very Specific Habitat

The Cape Melville Leaf Tailed Gecko, Saltuarius eximius, seems limited in distribution to the Cape Melville Mountains on the Cape York Peninsula in tropical northeastern Queensland, Australia.

Only 6 individuals have been found, all on granite boulders beneath a rainforest canopy (please see habitat photo). This same mountain range is also home to 3 endemic (found nowhere else) frogs and 2 endemic skinks. Read More »

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