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Captive Care and Breeding of Day Geckos
This Entry deals with a family of lizard called Phelsuma, commonly known as day geckos. Keeping and observing these reptiles is extremely interesting and enjoyable. Some species are quite demanding so one has to be prepared to take on the responsibility of looking after these amazing animals.
Day geckos are amongst the most beautiful lizards of the world. They have also been referred to as living jewels of the islands of the Indian Ocean. It is a pleasure to see how they move and interact with each other. Many of them are brightly coloured. Day geckos are unlike most other geckos. As their name suggests, they are diurnal (active during the day). There are more than 60 species and subspecies of the genus Phelsuma which inhabit Madagascar and the surrounding islands of the Indian Ocean. Day geckos vary in size, the smallest species being a mere 5cm (Phelsuma kely) while the largest is around 30cm (Phelsuma guentheri). Most of them are bright green or even blue with an attractive pattern on their back. Something that is characteristic of day geckos, as well as most other species of gecko, is that they lack movable eyelids and instead use their tongues to clean their eyes.
How Do They Climb Up Walls?
Day geckos are amazing climbers and have extremely powerful legs and feet. They can climb any surface with ease and can hang from glass by a single toe. This is possible because each toe contains millions of tiny keratin hairs called setae which exert tiny intermolecular forces known as van der Waals forces between them and the climbing surface. Although each hair exerts a tiny force, the hairs collectively act as a powerful adhesive.
Researchers at Britain's Manchester University are developing 'gecko tape' which could enable people to walk up sheer surfaces and across ceilings in the near future. Other developments could include applications from wall climbing robots to car tyres.
Day geckos are best thought of as display lizards; it is best not to handle the animals and instead simply admire them for their beauty. Handling could easily tear their very fragile skin, and it also causes the lizards to become stressed.
Housing is a very important consideration when thinking of getting a lizard. Day geckos are best housed in a very large aquarium, but other geckos with non-adhesive toe pads or larger lizards without 'sticky' feet fair better in sliding glass chipboard cupboards or a aquarium.
You can house your animals in a beautiful planted vivarium1; on the other hand, the basic setup may help the gecko to find it's food with greater ease, and is also much easier to clean. A plant that is commonly used is a snake plant as well as Sansevieria, Bromeliads, Dracena and other tropical plants.
Day geckos often choose to lay their eggs in between the leaves of these plants. Both setups have their advantages, the naturalistic will make the gecko feel 'at home', bringing out the true natural behaviour of this species; whereas the basic setup can help the gecko in finding its food more easily and quicker and also aids the keeper as it is much easier to clean out.
It is best to house a single pair of Phelsuma per enclosure. You can keep groups of one male with several females per enclosure, but this combination is only possible with a few species such as; borbonica, cepediana, guimbeaui, klemmeri and ornata. It is possible, if the enclosure is large enough, to keep most of the smaller species together with Poison Dart/Arrow Frogs. Most day geckos require a vertically oriented enclosure with many tall plants and branches of bamboo to climb on. A good size enclosure for smaller species would be 60cm high with a 30 by 30cm square base, whereas larger species will require one 90cm high with a 45 by 45 cm base. Soil, gravel or orchid bark should be used to line the base of the enclosure.
Lighting and Heating
Day geckos need a proper light in their enclosures. You can use a fluorescent tube combined with a warm lamp to provide a basking spot for the gecko. It is best to use full-spectrum lights, as these replicate natural sunlight - this is used to make Vitamin D, which is important for the growth of healthy teeth and bones. This is used by geckos to synthesize calcium. It is best to put the lights directly on top of the enclosures. You can leave the lights on for 12-14 hours a day. These periods can be controlled with a 'plug in' timer.
It is also important to provide proper ventilation in the enclosure while keeping humidity levels of 50-85%. Humidity can be increased by misting warm water. It is best to do this twice daily. The day geckos will lap up the droplets, but it's also a good idea to put a small water dish in the enclosure, perhaps even elevate it. The temperature during the day should be 26-32° C and drop at night to around 18-22° C. You should use a thermometer to monitor the different temperature levels in the enclosure; it's best to measure the temperature in different places. There are digital thermometers that record the highest and lowest temperature by means of a probe. Temperatures that are too high or low can lead to stressing your geckos and even fatality.
In the wild, day geckos feed on insects, other invertebrates, flower nectar and pollen, whereas in captivity they get a mixture of baby food and insects. As a basic rule, day geckos should be fed a mixture of baby food2, sugar, and a powdered vitamin and mineral supplement. This should be placed in a small container such as a bottle lid, and should be replaced daily. Most day geckos cannot wait to get it. There are many good mixtures available to which you only need to add water or syrup, and vitamin D3. They are also fed insects powdered in vitamin/mineral supplements, such as CALCICARE 40+, KORVIMIN ZVT or VITA TOTAAL3. Deciding which insects to feed your geckos depend on the size. Insects that are often used are as follows:
The good thing about day geckos is if you give them an adequate diet, suitable housing with enough hiding and egg laying spots and proper lighting and photo periods they will breed quite easily.
First you must be sure you have a pair by correctly sexing the animals. You can distinguish a male by his well developed femoral pores. These look like scales with very defined 'dots' within them; they are usually in a V shaped arrangement.
These pores are not developed in females or are less developed. This is the most reliable and possibly the only method for determining gender. Often females have well developed endolymphatic chalk sacs on the sides of their neck for storing calcium for eggshell development, but sometimes males have these too.
Before the breeding period, some breeders expose their animals to shorter daytimes (10-12 hours photoperiod) and lower temperatures (18-20° C). The cooling period should be carried out for 6 to 10 weeks during the winter for a period. During this period the day geckos will eat less, much like many animals do during hibernation. After the cooling period the temperatures, photoperiod and feeding should be gradually increased until back to normal.
Before introducing your animals to breed you must be sure they are in good health and show a healthy body weight. Your animals should be older then 1 year for the smaller species and older than 1.5 years for the larger species before breeding should even be considered.
Many prefer to keep pairs together in an enclosure, rather than introducing one sex to the other. If you see that the animals are fighting, it is best to separate them. If disputes do occur, you will probably see bite marks and pieces of ripped skin on one or both of the animals. You will need to monitor the animals well after you have first introduced them to each other. It is possible that if you wait a few weeks and make a new well planted setup, they will no longer fight upon the next introduction. Alternatively if you have two males you can switch them, although it is best to keep a breeding pair together for the whole year. Day geckos will breed actively during several months per year, with the time of year mainly depending on the species. Most species will begin mating after the cooling period and will lay clutches of eggs every 3-6 weeks for several months, although there are species that will lay almost throughout the whole year. One Researcher's experience is that the peak in egg laying is in July, August and September.
During the mating the male will bite firmly in the nape of the neck of the female. It is possible that you will see bite marks left on the neck following the mating. After mating the eggs will usually fully develop within 1 month. With the smaller species these eggs are visible through the abdomen; you will see one or two white ovals.
Eggs that are removed for incubation must be incubated in appropriate containers. Here is a frequently used method: take an empty container and make small holes in the lid. Place a layer of moistened vermiculite in the bottom of the container with two parts vermiculite to one part water. Place the eggs in a large plastic cap and lay it in the container. Eggs usually take 40-90 days to hatch depending upon the species and the temperatures4.
Day geckos are not prone to bad health but still can get worms or mites. If your animal is bleeding from a wound or internally (blood in vomit or in the faeces), paralysed, has abnormal swellings on any part of its body, may have a broken bone, or has ingested a potentially toxic substance, get your pet to a vet right away. This may sound obvious but many people don't react quickly enough with fatal results. Worms or mites can be treated with powder or drops, which are available from good vets.
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