By Julie Bergman
So you've decided to get a gecko! Good choice! Geckos are excellent pets that are relatively easy to keep compared to a cat or dog. You can keep geckos in a small space in your home, they don't have any fur or feathers to make you sneeze, and they don't need to be walked!
In this article I will discuss five particular geckos that make great choices for beginners, as well as more experienced reptile enthusiasts. The giant day gecko (Phelsuma madagascariensis grandis) is a large, fluorescent-green gecko with brilliant red markings that requires a tropical terrarium. This species climbs trees with ease. The white-lined gecko (Gekko vittatus) is another large, agile tree dweller that also lives in a tropical terrarium. The ground-dwelling Madagascar ocelot gecko (Paroedura pictus) and Central American banded gecko (Coleonyx mitratus) have interesting banding patterns and are simple to keep in captivity. Roborowski's gecko (Teratoscincus roborowski), commonly known as a frog-eyed gecko, is an active burrowing gecko with scales capable of the unique ability to make a rattling sound.
Among this diverse assortment, there should be a gecko species just right for you.
Gecko Behavior and Terrarium Design
Geckos have many interesting behaviors. Most geckos are known to vocalize with a voice, an ability that is often used for territorial, self-defense and courtship behaviors (Henkel and Schmidt, 1995). Some arboreal types such as the giant day and white-lined gecko have the ability to climb glass. The Madagascar ocelot, Central American banded and frog-eyed geckos are digging and burrowing specialists.
These behaviors are easy to see if you have spent time creating a nice place for the gecko to live. You can accomplish this by reading books and care sheets as a guide to creating a terrarium based on the gecko's natural environment. Some future gecko keepers envision a beautiful tropical terrarium full of geckos; others would like their geckos to live in a miniature desert scene in their home. There are appropriate species for either type of terrarium. Matching a gecko species with the correct terrarium design and furnishings is a worthwhile endeavor. You will realize this when you see your geckos stalking crickets or basking in the surroundings you created for them.
Pet Shop Basics
There are several things to remember when shopping for the gecko of your dreams. First, are the geckos healthy? Ask if the geckos are captive bred. Captive-bred geckos should be your first choice because they are less likely to have health problems than wild caught geckos. Are healthy geckos being kept in the same cage with sick geckos or other sick reptiles? If so, look elsewhere-the healthy appearing ones may be sick, too. You do not want to start out your gecko-keeping experience with a sick gecko; this usually is much more expensive in time, energy and vet bills than most people realize.
Healthy geckos are alert and responsive to stimulation. For example, the gecko should respond to handling by alertly looking at you and moving with vigor. A healthy gecko also has good body condition and weight. Unhealthy signs include skinny body, hips protruding, sunken eyes, skin wrinkles (from dehydration), incomplete skin shed, skin tears, jaws warped or kinked tail (possible metabolic bone disease), unresponsive. Don't rule out that stumpy tailed gecko! A tailless gecko can still be a good candidate for a pet because most geckos regenerate new tails or live happily without their tails.
Once you select a healthy gecko candidate, ask the pet store employee, "What is the proper scientific name?" This is necessary to identify the gecko. Once you have identified the gecko, you can get the proper care information. Common names like "banana gecko" will be hard to look up in books or on the Internet because many geckos share the same common names. For example, a recent survey of the Global Gecko Association, when asked how many common names participants knew for the Madagascar ocelot gecko, resulted in the following names: Madagascar ground gecko, panther gecko, big-headed gecko and puma gecko. Common names lead to confusion, but scientific names are exact, helping you research and care for your gecko!
A care sheet or book should be available to buy with the gecko so you know how to house and feed it properly when you get home. Ideally, you should buy the book first, read it, set up your terrarium, then buy the gecko. The care information should briefly cover the gecko's natural environment, how to set up a terrarium, what to feed the gecko and how often to feed it.
The basic diet of most geckos is crickets (Acheta) and or mealworms (Tenebrio). A good basic rule for feeding geckos is to offer them food items that are about 90 percent the size of their heads. Smaller food items often are ignored, and larger food items, although very exciting to your gecko, will be too big for them to eat. Geckos, like you, appreciate variety in their diet. Try commercially available foods such as wax worms (Galleria) and super worms (Zoophobas).
Offer wax worms only occasionally, because they are high in fat and your gecko may refuse more nutritional food if fed wax worms on a regular basis. Most tropical geckos enjoy fruit puree or baby food and fruit flies. Top off your gecko's meal with a dusting of a quality multivitamin supplement with calcium, phosphorus and D3. Leave a shallow dish of calcium in the terrarium with breeding females; this is necessary to replenish calcium reserves used up from egg production.
Giant Day Gecko
Giant day geckos have all the qualities of an excellent terrarium display gecko: diurnal (day active) behavior, acrobatic glass climbing abilities and bright green and red coloration. The giant day gecko may grow up to 12 inches and live up to 30 years in captivity (McKeown, pers. comm.), further increasing its appeal as a terrarium pet. This hardy tropical gecko from Madagascar is best kept individually or in a pair of one male and one female (McKeown, 1993). Sex may be accurately determined after the age of 4 months. Males have enlarged femoral pores located on their undersides just before their vents, and hemipenile bulges after the vent. Females have smaller femoral pores than males, and the hemipenile bulges are absent.
The giant day gecko will lick the sprayed water droplets from the leaves and sides of the terrarium surfaces. Feed these geckos 3- to 4-week-old crickets as a regular diet.
A tropical terrarium with plants and full-spectrum lighting is ideal for giant day geckos. A 20- gallon tall terrarium or larger is adequate for a pair of adults, vertical space being more important than horizontal space for these arboreal geckos (McKeown, 1993). Terrarium furniture should consist of at least 2-inch bamboo, similar shaped PVC pipe or wood placed diagonally and/or horizontally, so the lizards can rest comfortably under a basking lamp that reaches about 86 degrees Fahrenheit during the day. A nighttime temperature drop is good, although nighttime temperatures should be no lower than the high 60s (Fahrenheit) range. There should be plants in the terrarium such as pothos (Epipremnum aureum) that the geckos can hide behind. You may also use sturdy plants strong enough to support the weight of the geckos, such as snake plant (Sansevieria). It is good to provide day geckos with a variety of resting places. Use 2 to 3 inches of potting soil or sphagnum peat moss covered with medium grade orchid bark as the ground surface, and sit your plants in pots on top of this substrate. To increase beneficial humidity for your giant day geckos, plant your plants directly in the substrate.