Giant Day Gecko Care
Phelsuma madagascariensis grandis
Giant Day gecko, photo by Steve Selwood
Giant Day Geckos (Phelsuma madagascariensis grandis) are vibrant, beautiful geckos originating in Madagascar and a small number of Indian Ocean islands. This species is diurnal (active during the day) and arboreal (tree dwelling). Day Geckos are bright emerald green (although on occasion bluish) in coloration with red spotting or barring down their backs (in adults these are often absent). Some individuals exhibit light blue spotting. Additionally they may have a number of red markings on their head, most notably a red bar extending from the nostril to the eye (always present). Giant Day Geckos are capable of darkening their colouration if under stress. Adults measure about 30cm (12”) in length. Giant Day Geckos geckos don’t take to handling very well (they shed their tales and areas of skin that will not grow back); this combined with their speed makes them better ‘observation’ pets rather than interactive pets. This particular Phelsuma sp. is one of the few that are currently captive bred, and as always, I strongly recommend captive bred (not only for the reduced risk of complications but also so as to reduce strain on wildlife populations). It is important to bear in mind that the female of the species are very aggressive, it is often recommended that they’re housed as pairs rather than colonies. Equally males should not be housed together as they will become very possessive and fight.
Giant Day GEcko housing
The most important considerations when selecting or constructing suitable housing for Giant Day Geckos is their arboreal nature. With this in mind height should be a priority. Minimum size for a breeding pair should be 30” x 30” x 36” (Length x Width x Height), although a solitary individual may be ok in a 30” x 30” x 30”. Day Geckos are very active and so bigger is always better. It is also important to remember that your Giant Day Gecko will require supplementary heating and humidity, the maintenance of which may be more difficult depending on the design of the enclosure (i.e. Tanks with cage structured tops will be more difficult to heat/humidify than sealed wooden vivariums). Equally, it is important that you have adequate ventilation (as it is with any enclosure requiring high humidity) to prevent the air stagnating and the spread of bacteria.
Giant Day Geckos require a number of pieces of decor in order to be comfortable. Perhaps the most challenging is related to their drinking habits. Many Day Geckos will not drink from static water sources and may need some form of drip system or waterfall. Another method may be to spray the walls so they can lick the moisture off. Personally I prefer the former rather than the latter. In the interest of maintain humidity levels it may be advantageous to include a water bowl; however it is important to make sure that the water bowl is not too deep/has a method of escape should your gecko ever fall into it (trust me, this happens).
Giant Day Geckos should also be provided with materials on which they can climb; branches, bamboo etc. They should also be given hides (wide bamboo struts with entrance holes cut into them are perfect) in numerous locations. Rocks, vines and plants (artificial or real) not only make for an attractive enclosure but provide natural hiding spots and stimulation for your Geckos. On that note, make 100% sure that live plants placed within the tank are completely safe, parasite free and native to their natural habitat. Any none biological decor will have to be removed on a fortnightly basis and cleaned fully. Spot cleaning should be carried out at least every other day, and a comprehensive clean of the enclosure (including substrate change) should be done roughly every month.
In general Giant Day Geckos aren’t shy, but you should still make sure they have hiding places in all areas so they can thermo-regulate whilst feeling secure.
Due to the requirements of Giant Day geckos your substrate of choice should be one that can hold moisture. Coconut Fibre will do this well, as will peat or plant soil (do not use soil with added fertilizer) providing you sterilise it before hand. You want your substrate to be damp to the touch but not wet.
Giant Day Geckos will not generally feed on the ground so you don’t have to worry too much about the chance of ingestion.
Some people suggest a Peat/sand mixture (6 parts peat to 4 parts sand). This is quite a good substrate as although it allows moisture retention it is less likely to cultivate bacteria than pure peat. Beech chips are also adequate. In general as long as your substrate of choice retains moisture you can be quite free with your choice, just keep an eye on it for mould or fungi growth and replace it appropriately.
As always NEVER use Cedar as it is poisonous to reptiles.
Heating, humidity and lighting
Temperature is one of the most critical factors in a reptile’s health. Incorrect temperatures can cause all sorts of problems from general behavioural anomalies and lethargy to serious digestive issues, immune system inhibition and death. It is for this reason that correct temperatures ranges are adhered to strictly but also that you ensure you have complete control of them.
Giant Day gecko, photo by Mr. T in DC
Daytime temperatures should be 80-85 Fahrenheit. A basking area of 90 Fahrenheit should also be provided. It is important to make sure that the basking is just that; an area. If you heat the whole enclosure to 90oF you will cause problems for your Geckos very quickly. At night time the temperature can drop to 80o F (no basking spot required) but no lower. As with excessively high temperatures, you will encounter problems very quickly with temperatures of <70oF.
There are a number of ways providing the background temperature: Light-bulbs, heat lamps, heat mats etc. What is more important is that that it is delivered in a safe and controllable way. The first rule of any heating apparatus is that it must be used in conjunction with a thermostat. No exceptions. As well as using a thermostat you should be sure to monitor the temperature within the tank as well. Place thermometers at either end so you can monitor the entire enclosure and adjust your heat sources accordingly. It is also an absolute necessity that any heat source that could potentially harm your Gecko(s) is covered (i.e. all heat lamps or light bulbs some form of caging around them). Do not have heat mats within the tank; a faulty seal and the humidity requirements of Giant Day Geckos make electrocution a risk that you shouldn’t take lightly.
The basking may occur naturally around your heat source (depending on what it is). If it doesn’t you may require some form of additional spot lamp or similar (as mentioned before, this should be correctly guarded).
The lighting is very important to Giant Day Geckos. As a diurnal species it is not only important to give them a good daily photo period but UV is required in order for them to obtain all their nutritional needs (failure to do so can lead to a number of problems including MBD etc.)
Lighting can be considered separate to heating as it caters to separate necessities in your Giant Day Gecko’s care. They must both be provided in order to have healthy Geckos.
UV light can be provided in the form of a 5.0 fluorescent bulb or a UVB compact bulb. You should endeavour to provide your Giant Day Geckos with numerous perches around the UV source or you may find they hang from the ceiling (which can result in permanent deformities in the body).
Humidity is another very important factor in Giant Day Gecko care. If the humidity is wrong it can cause all sorts of skin and respiratory problems. I suggest using a hygrometer in order to monitor the humidity (be aware of the fact that hygrometers can be inaccurate). Make a note of the levels across the day so you can get an idea of the averages and adjust your methods appropriately.
Humidity should be maintained at around 75%. This should be possible to maintain with 2 light misting daily (manually sprayed). If you need to boost humidity placing a water bowl in there can elevate levels, but as mentioned earlier, make sure it is not too deep.
Feeding Giant Day Geckos
Giant Day Geckos are omnivorous and should be fed a varied diet of fruit and insects in order to obtain all of their nutritional requirements. The insect side of their diet can include: Locusts, crickets, cockroaches, wax worms, meal worms, butterworms etc. Use crickets/locusts/cockroaches to form the staple of the diet and then use other foodstuffs to add variation and interest. Larger adults may also take pinkies, however due to their fattiness they should only be used every so often (for the same reasons it can be a good idea to feed gestating females the odd pinkie). Offer about 4 appropriately sized food items 3 times a week/ every other day to adults. Babies and youngsters should be fed daily and will consume quite alot! Offer about 6-12 appropriate food items, you’ll soon come to learn just how much your giant day gecko likes to eat at a sitting.
All live food offered should be dusted with Nutrobal (or similar nutritional supplement) once a week for adults and twice a week in babies and juveniles. All other meals can be dusted with a pure calcium powder (or failing that, pure calcium should be used atleast twice weekly in addition to your normal vitamin/mineral supplement). As previously mentioned MBD can be an issue in day geckos; calcium is water soluble so there is very little risk of calcium overdose, hence the suggestion to overdo it rather than underdo it.
In addition to live food you should offer your Giant Day Geckos honey/pureed baby food/nectar/apple sauce to consume at their leisure (it should be noted that the addition of vitamins/minerals/calcium to the fruit portion of the diet is a perfectly acceptable alternative to dusting the live food). You may also wish to leave a bottle cap with pure calcium powder in the enclosure as geckos have been known to supplement their diet with calcium by themselves when it is on offer. I tend to do this for all of my geckos as a simple precaution.
Giant Day gecko, photo by Joachim S. Müller
Breeding Giant Day Geckos
Giant Day Geckos should be ready to breed at roughly 1 year of age, though some females may begin laying (infertile) eggs at 10 months. Either way, you shouldn’t breed your animals until a minimum size of 7 inches is achieved. It is also important that your animals are in good health (should go without saying) before attempting any breeding.
When attempting to breed Gant Day Geckos it is important that only the couple you wish to mate are present; when you introduce them make sure no other specimens are in the same enclosure. Prepare a neutral enclosure and introduce the Geckos at the same time. This should stop any problems of territorialism between the Geckos. Make sure to closely supervise the introduction and subsequent action to minimise the possibility of problems.
If the male is attracted to the female you will notice him engaging in “peacock” behaviour; showing its back to the female; mutual head bobbing etc. If this kind of behaviour persists it should ultimately result in the female allowing the male to mate with her. You will know when coitus is taking place as the male will grab the female by the back of the neck.
Giant Day Geckos like many other species may seriously injure or kill their partners if you’re not constantly observing the situation. Aggression problems occur more frequently when dealing with more than 2 individuals. Watch out for open acts of aggression (i.e. charging).
Following breeding the female will lay 1-2 eggs. It is worth noting that Giant Day Geckos do not use any kind of adhesive to attach their eggs to surfaces thus removing them from the enclosure should not be difficult. It is important to make sure you do not roll the eggs from the initial position that they were laid.
You can transfer the eggs to a incubator and onto a bed vermiculite. Eggs should be incubated for 55-70 days at 82 Fahrenheit (lower if you desire a higher male: female ratio, no lower than 75 Fahrenheit) and 60% humidity.
Once hatched you should separate the hatchlings in order to reduce competition and the chance of aggression (equally do not raise them with adults).
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