How to Care for a Gecko Hatchling
Breeding Geckos is Easy, Raising the Offspring is Hard!
If you have a compatible pair of geckos, you will know that breeding them is very easy. As long as you maintain them in the right conditions and they are healthy, you just need to leave them to their own devices and you will soon hear the patter of tiny gecko feet!
The challenge really starts when the little geckos hatch. Once the eggs are laid, the parents relinquish all responsibility for caring for them. In fact, in many species, once the eggs hatch, the parents can pose a serious risk to their babies.
At the same time the little geckos come out of their eggs fully formed and are able to look after themselves. The problem is in providing them with the right tropical environment that is right for their species. Of course this is the same environment that you've set up for their parents, so you should already know how to do it. Because the hatchlings are so small, however, any deviations from the correct settings will affect them a lot more than their parents.
If you choose to take the eggs out of their parents' enclosure after they are laid, this Zoomed incubator will give you complete control over the temperature and humidity.
Do You Need to Remove the Eggs to an Incubator?
The first decision that you need to make when breeding geckos is whether you will just keep the eggs in their parents' terrarium, or remove them to be incubated outside. You can now buy specialist incubators for keeping reptile eggs at a tightly controlled temperature and humidity. They are not exactly cheap, however. Many people can also build their own DIY incubators.
In my experience breeding two species of Phelsuma day geckos, the eggs will do pretty well in the adults' enclosure. After all the conditions in it are set to be what the geckos need.
I did have one case of the female gecko "eating" her eggs, or rather licking them until they broke and eating the shells. This happened probably because she didn't have quite enough calcium in her diet. However, on the whole the eggs are quite safe until they hatch.
The problem with removing the eggs is the possibility of damaging them in the process. The females often hide them in difficult to access places in the tank. This is particularly true of species in which the eggs are glued to a surface.
My geckos invariably lay their eggs in the hollows of bamboo tubes with which their tanks are furnished. It might be possible to remove these eggs in the case of my Phelsuma klemmeri geckos, which are non-gluers, but P. cepediana glue their eggs to the inside of the tubes. Honestly I cannot imagine how I would go about removing them.
Apart from breaking the eggs, there is the danger of changing their orientation. If you turn the egg "upside down" after the embryo starts developing, this can cause serious defects in the forming gecko. If you are removing the eggs, it is advised to mark the "up" side of them, so you can reproduce their orientation afterwards.
The big advantage of using an incubator is that for most geckos their sex is determined by the temperature in which the eggs are left. Hence it is possible to control whether you get females or males, by changing the temperature of the incubator.
Removing Baby Geckos From Their Parents' Tanks
If you choose to leave the eggs in the main terrarium then the work really starts when the baby geckos hatch. I have to admit that in the case of neon day geckos, P. klemmeri, there is very little work, I just leave them in their parents' tank. However this species is very unusual in that they don't pay much attention to the babies, and very rarely eat their own offspring.
In the case of the other species of day gecko I keep, and in fact the vast majority of geckos, the hatchlings are in great danger of being snacked on by daddy or mommy. I have still managed to retrieve a large number of cepediana babies from the adults' tank, the youngsters seem to be well aware of the danger, and usually run to hide behind the background as soon as they can.
I did find a couple of babies with missing tails (which regrow), and I did once rescue a youngster literally from his father's jaws (it didn't seem to be permanently damaged and went on to grow into a fine gecko). However, the majority of geckos recovered have been fine.
One useful trick, if you are lucky and the eggs are glued to the terrarium glass, is to cover them with a plastic cup, which can be stuck over them. This way when the eggs hatch the adults can't get to them and they are easy to retrieve. However, this is impossible if the eggs are hidden in bamboo.
Klemmeri gecko hatchlings in their father's vivarium
I use the small version of this tank, popularly known as the "critter keeper" to house individual newly hatched geckos.
Housing for Baby Geckos
Housing for the babies took me a while to figure out. One thing that might not be very obvious when you look at the sweet tiny geckos is that they are territorial even at that young age, and should be housed separately. Usually there are two eggs laid at a time, and there can be several pairs hatching throughout the summer. Leaving you with quite a few geckos to look after. Buying special tanks for them all can end up quite expensive, not that there are that many options for good nursery tanks on the market anyway.
You do actually need a small tank, you want to be able to observe the baby frequently at first and don't want it to get lost in a big tank. Another consideration is to make sure the tiny gecko can't escape from the terrarium.
In the end I have settled on housing the baby geckos in small "critter keeper" boxes. They are a fairly good size, are ventilated and are cheap so can be bought in bulk. At first I cover the top with a "net" (I think it might have been a piece of net curtain I sacrificed for this), to prevent the lizard from escaping.
The bottom of the tank is covered with a thick layer of orchid bark, just like the adults' tank. You could just use kitchen towel, but the absorbent bedding helps maintain high humidity. I usually stick some pothos into the bedding, and put a few small bamboo sticks for the geckos to climb. Finally heat and light is provided by a small fluorescent tube placed over the critter keeper.
The only problems with this arrangement is that I wish it was more vertically oriented, since the geckos I keep are arboreal. The top opening lid is also less than ideal, especially with the net. I am always worried that the geckos will jump out when I open the lid to feed them or spray them with water.
Another potential problem that I used to worry about was that the net would block a lot of the UV light, which the geckos need to make vitamin D, necessary for calcium absorption. However, I supplement their food with the vitamin, and I've never had any problems with the geckos developing bone abnormalities or showing signs of metabolic bone disease.
Feeding Gecko Hatchlings
Newly hatched geckos eat the same food as their parents, insects and pureed fruit, except obviously the insects have to be smaller.
I always start hatchlings on baby food fruit puree, mixed with calcium and vitamin D supplement. I will put a dish of this in their nursery but also dab small amounts of it near to where they are sitting. They will become attracted by the smell and start licking it. Once they get a taste for it they will usually seek out the main dish.
I've noticed that they are not very interested in insects the first few hours after hatching, so I don't give them any until the next day. I usually start them on drosophila fruit flies, I don't give them crickets until they are a little bit bigger, maybe 2 weeks after they've hatched.
The young geckos need to be fed everyday, with gutloaded insects, and their food is supplemented with calcium and vitamin D on a daily basis too.
One-Day-Old Klemmeri Enjoying Mango Puree
Humidity and Shedding
Maintaining high humidity is important for most tropical geckos, but newly hatched ones are particularly susceptible to desiccating if conditions get too dry, because of their small size they can lose moisture very rapidly. Therefore it is very important to spray the nursery enclosure frequently and ensure the humidity in it is at the upper limit of what the adults need.
One of the first problems that occur when the humidity is not high enough is problems with shedding their skin. Like all reptiles geckos shed their skin all at once as they grow. If pieces of the old skin are not removed easily they will harden and result in serious problems. Maintaining high humidity in the nursery tank will help prevent these problems.
If a small gecko appears to have problems shedding, one way of helping it is to put it in a very humid environment. Line the bottom of a small, ventilated container, like the boxes geckos are traded in, with soaking kitchen towels and place the little lizard in it, and place the box somewhere warm.
Sometimes you can help with the shedding by removing the dead skin with tweezers. This can be done for many reptiles, but it is very difficult to do for very young geckos, they are tiny, fragile and can't really be held without damaging them, and they are unlikely to sit still while you work on them with tweezers.