Phelsuma Diet: What Do Geckos Eat?
Diet Is Important, but What Do Geckos Eat?
In setting up the perfect terrarium for your Phelsuma pet geckos and ensuring that the environmental conditions, temperature and humidity are correct, it is easy to forget the importance of a nutritious diet in their long-term well-being.
It is too easy to just assume that they need to be fed crickets, although crickets do form the staple of a day gecko's (and most other reptiles') diet, the crickets must be gut-loaded and supplemented with minerals.
In addition, Phelsuma geckos are omnivourous. In the wild, they hunt a variety of insects, but also supplement their diet with pollen and nectar. In captivity they have a sweet tooth and love sweet fruit; they can be tamed to lick it off your fingers! The captive day gecko's diet is much more restricted than in the wild, so it is simply impossible to reproduce the variety of insects available in Madagascar, and it will not provide all the minerals and vitamins the pet gecko needs. Calcium is of particular importance since crickets are a poor source of the mineral. Without the correct supplementation, important for all Phelsuma, but particularly for growing geckos and egg-laying females, they will develop metabolic bone disease and will not thrive.
Crickets: The Staple Food of Pet Geckos
Although I think day geckos make brilliant pets, they do have most a most inconvenient taste in food, they like it very fresh, in fact live. If you are not prepared to keep live crickets in your house (or at least where you can have access to them several times a week), you will not be able to keep the vast majority of reptiles or amphibians. Crickets are the most convenient food source, they can survive in cricket keepers for 2-3 weeks after buying them. The size of the cricket, depends on the age and species of your pet gecko, it should be shorter than the width of the reptile's head. A good schedule for adults is to offer crickets twice a week, hatchlings should be fed daily. The geckos should be given 2-4 crickets per feeding.
Gut Loading Crickets
The question isn't just what do geckos eat, but also what does the food of the gecko eat. The nutritious value of crickets is greatly enhanced by gut loading, the cricket obtains nutrition not just from the insect but also from the content of its gut, hence crickets should be fed on fruit or vegetables 8-24 hours prior to themselves becoming dinner. Commercial cricket foods are available, but crickets can be fed on apples, greens, squash and carrots. It is best to use a variety of gut loading foods, although I admit that I find carrot to be most convenient, when feeding softer fruits such as apple, you must take care to remove them before they rot. Obviously feeding crickets helps keep them alive longer. Gut-loading is very important, it greatly enhances the nutritional value of the cricket.
Although crickets are the most convenient feeder insect, I imagine it must be quite boring for your Phelsuma pets. Another invertebrate that is easy to culture are fruit flies, Drosophila melanogaster. They are the first food I feed to new hatchlings, I don't give them crickets for the first couple of weeks, since I don't have access to pinhead crickets and anything larger is too big for new baby geckos. Geckos love catching the flies and it is very amusing to watch them hunting! Geckos also relish small worms, small waxworm are taken very readily but should only be fed occasionally as a treat since they are very fatty and can cause obesity. Phoenix worms, the larvae of Hermetia illucens, the Black Soldier Fly have become available recently. They are reported to be the only feeder insect that is naturally high in calcium and has the correct calcium-to-phosphorus ratio (2:1), pet geckos seem to love them. I have occasionally had Phoenix worms pupate and turn to flies, which my Phelsuma ate with great appreciation.
One feeder insect that should be avoided are mealworms, their exoskeletons are rich in chitin which is hard to digest and might cause compaction. Although keepers are great believers in sweeping their lawns for naturally occurring insects, I would not recommend that. Although it would introduce variety in the diet, I feel the danger of poisoning the repitle with pesticides or other chemicals is too high.
Fruits and Baby Food
In captivity the nectar and pollen eaten by wild Phelsuma geckos is substituted by pureed tropical fruit or fruit baby food. The latter is more convenient to use and easier to mix with powdered vitamin and calcium supplement. Flavours that are enjoyed by geckos include banana, mango and peach, but you can try other tropical fruit. Some species, such as P. cepediana, gimbui and ornata seem tor require more fruit, feed it twice a week and crickets only once a week. Place the puree in a small dish in the terrarium for the day so the geckos can lick it whenever they want but make sure you remove it in the evening since it goes bad quickly. Fruit should not be the only food fed to geckos, it does not provide them with protein and does not meet their nutritional requirements!
It is critical to provide the pet gecko with additional calcium and vitamins in its diet. Failure to do so will result in metabolic bone disease, bone deformities and sick geckos. When yo see the first sign of the disease, a wavy spine, inability to catch insects because of weak jaw and inability to climb, are observed, the deficiency is already advanced and cannot often cannot be reversed. Many dietary supplements for reptiles are available on the market, the one used for day geckos should have calcium and vitamin D3, but not phosphorus. A ratio of calcium:phosphorus of 2:1 is optimal for calcium absorption, since crickets are rich in phosphorus, supplementing the calcium will meet the gecko's dietary needs.
Vitamin D3 is necessary for calcium absorption and is synthesized in the skin, a process that needs UV-B rays. In their native Madagascar and surrounding islands, day geckos spend a lot of time basking in very bright sunlight. Although they are often kept under fluorescent UV-B tubes, these do not produce enough rays and vitamin D3 needs to be provided in supplements. Crickets must be dusted in vitamin and mineral powder (place the crickets in a plastic cup with the powder and shake to coat them) immedately before being fed to the geckos. The powder should also be mixed into the fruit puree/baby food before it is placed in the terrarium.