How To Setup a Day Gecko Terrarium

A planted natural day gecko Exo-terra terrarium
A planted natural day gecko Exo-terra terrarium | Source

The Right Setup is Essential for Healthy Day Geckos

The Right Equipment for Day Geckos

Phelsuma day geckos have a reputation as being difficult to keep. Although they are not as tolerant of conditions that are not optimal as some easier species, it is perfectly possible for even a beginner to keep these beautiful lizards in captivity, as long as some basic rules are followed.

Starting with the right equipment and knowing how to setup the day gecko terrarium properly is the most important factor in successfully keeping them. Below is the setup I use for my P. cepediana and P. klemmeri geckos. I have recently also started with the Tanzanian electric blues. Although a different genus, from a different continent, my L. williamsii are kept under the same conditions as P. cepediana, and are doing very well.

Humidity Requirement
high humidity
Humidity requirements of some popular Phelsuma species

Some Basic Considerations in Setting up a Phelsuma Enclosure

Below are some general points that you need to consider when setting up a day gecko enclosure.

  • Phelsuma are arboreal, spending their time on trees and bushes. Therefore they need a tank that is taller than it is long.
  • Most, although not all, species come from humid tropical forests and need high humidity, up to 80% in some cases. The table on the right summarizes the humidity requirements of some popular geckos. However they will not do well in stagnant conditions so the tank must be well ventilated.
  • Phelsuma are native to warm countries like Madagascar and other islands in the Indian ocean. Unless you live in a tropical country yourself they will need a heat source. An overhead lamp will simulate the sun from the wild.
  • As their name suggests they are diurnal and spend a lot of time in the wild sunbathing in the sun. Ideally they need a source of UV light, which is necessary for the synthesis of vitamin D, which is required for calcium absorption.

The electric blue gecko, L. williamsii, requires similar conditions to day geckos.
The electric blue gecko, L. williamsii, requires similar conditions to day geckos. | Source
Exo Terra Glass Terrarium, 18 by 18 by 24-Inch
Exo Terra Glass Terrarium, 18 by 18 by 24-Inch

Exoterra make excellent tall terrariums which are very suitable for geckos. The size you need will depend on the species of day gecko you choose.

Exo Terra Terrarium Stand for PT2605 and PT2607, Medium
Exo Terra Terrarium Stand for PT2605 and PT2607, Medium

If you don't have anywhere high to put your terrarium you might need to buy a stand.


A Tank for Day Geckos

To provide for the high humidity the geckos should be kept in a glass enclosure. However, a screen top is necessary both to provide ventilation, and to allow UV rays from fluorescent tubes to penetrate the tank.

I have always used exo-terra tall tanks for my Phelsuma. They come in a variety of sizes and have an excellent design with ventilation provided not only from the securely fitted screen top but also through vents in the front side. I like the fact that that the doors open sideways, providing less chance of the geckos escaping when you open up the tank.

I also like the fact that it is possible to remove the screen top completely, allowing easy access when setting up the enclosure.

The only possible negatives with exo-terra tanks, is that the good ventilation makes it more difficult to maintain very high humidity levels. Some keepers actually cover part of the screen at the top, although I rely on frequent misting, well watered live plants and a deep layer of bedding.

Another issue is the holes at the top of the tank, which allow cables to be passed into it. Although this is a convenient feature, you must make sure it is securely blocked when not used for cables, since your reptiles could actually escape through them, especially if you have juveniles. They can also be a route of escape for uneaten crickets. Truly there is nothing more horrible than a loose cricket screeching its horrible love song in the middle of the night.

It is important to place the tanks on some sort of a stand. This is both so that you can observe your pets easily, and because you would probably spook these rather nervous geckos if you had them on the ground, and they would see a lot of motion from above every time you approach their tank.

Personally I’ve put the enclosures on an old aquarium stand, a leftover from my days as a fish keeper. You could just put the tanks on a high table, but if you cannot find a suitable piece of furniture, exo-terra sells special stands for their terraria.

The gold dust gecko P. laticauda
The gold dust gecko P. laticauda | Source
Exo Terra Compact Incandescent Fixture for PT2605/PT2607 , Small
Exo Terra Compact Incandescent Fixture for PT2605/PT2607 , Small

The Exoterra compact top is a neat solution for fluorescent lighting for your terrarium

Exo Terra Repti-Glo 5.0 Compact Fluorescent Tropical Terrarium Lamp, 26-Watt
Exo Terra Repti-Glo 5.0 Compact Fluorescent Tropical Terrarium Lamp, 26-Watt

Fluorescent bulbs will provide the UVB rays your geckos need to synthesize vitamin D


Heat and Light Sources for the Gecko Terrarium

UV light is best provided through fluorescent tubes. Some Phelsuma experts believe that you can keep these reptiles without UV light, relying in a diet supplement that contains vitamin D as well as calcium. However, even if you decide against UVB tubes, bright light is still important in bringing out the beautiful colours of the geckos, and simulating their natural environment.

I started off with separately bought starters and long fluorescent tubes, which I simply placed on the screen of the terrarium. However, I eventually bought exo-terra terrarium tops with compact fluorescent tubes. This is a much neater solution, since the starter is built in the cover, and avoids having a jumble of cables around the tank.

Heat is best provided from above with incandescent bulbs. You should also invest in a good temperature and humidity gauge, so you can ensure you have the right conditions for your pets.

You should place a horizontal perch close to the heat bulb, which the geckos will use as their basking spot.

The wattage of your heat bulb will depend on the ambient temperature of the room in which you keep the geckos. Colder climates require stronger bulbs to provide sufficient heat, and on the size of your enclosure. I generally find 60W bulbs work well for me but you might require stronger or weaker heat sources.

It is most convenient to put the fluorescent and incandescent lights on a timer, which you can obtain in any hardware store. This will allow you to setup consistent photoperiods, without having to remember to switch the lights on and off every day. Most people have the lights on for 12 hours, although some keepers use shorter photoperiods in winter, and longer during the summer. Simulating the seasons might induce the reptiles to breed when “spring” simulated by the lengthening light period arrives.

Pressed coconut backgrounds provide a great substrate for climbing vines like pothos.
Pressed coconut backgrounds provide a great substrate for climbing vines like pothos. | Source
Exo Terra Coco Husk, 7.2-Quart
Exo Terra Coco Husk, 7.2-Quart

Coconut husk is a good alternative to orchid bark.

Day geckos appreciate live plants in their enclosures
Day geckos appreciate live plants in their enclosures | Source

Background and Substrate

Although exo terra terrariums come with a synthetic foam background, I have never liked the ways these look and replace them with coconut fibre plates, which I think look a lot more natural. They also provide an excellent surface over which pathos and climbing vines can spread.

It is very easy to remove the artificial background and cut the coconut fibre sheets to size. They then need to be fixed to the glass at the back

with aquarium sealant. This takes 24 hours to cure and needs perfectly dry conditions, so fixing the background needs to be the first thing you have to do if you choose to have it. This step is optional, geckos can do well in the exo-terra tank with its own background, but the terrarium is something you will have for many years, so it is worth it to put a little bit of effort into setting it up.

Day geckos will spend no time on the ground, and the simplest setups can use kitchen towels to cover the ground. However, I find that a deep layer of orchid bark, or coconut chips on the bottom helps keep the humidity high, as well as looking a more natural.

Day Gecko Terrarium Décor

It is important to decorate the terrarium with many perching and climbing surfaces for the geckos, they will be nervous and not feel secure in an empty box. Although it is possible to use wooden branches or even artificial limbs, I think the best results are obtained with pieces of bamboo which will not rot in the high humidity.

Klemmeri geckos particularly benefit from bamboo in their enclosures, since in the wild they live in bamboo forests, hiding inside it whenever they are scared by a predator. However other species will use it in the same way.

I particularly like 1 inch thick bamboo tubes which are hollow inside, by cutting small holes into the surface of the tubes you provide a lot of hiding places for the lizards. They will often sleep inside them, and rest on top of them basking under the lights during the day. My tanks have several such tubes, some horizontal and some vertical, with thinner sticks providing further climbing and perching places.

It seems contradictory, but you will probably see more of your geckos if you provide them with many hiding places. They feel more secure and are more likely to act naturally if they know they can escape and conceal themselves whenever they feel threatened.

In addition a well furnished tank makes it more likely that females will survive any potential aggression from males. Day geckos are very territorial, two males should never be housed together, but even if you just keep a pair, aggression especially by the male is always a possibility.

The only issue with using hollow bamboo tubes is that females usually use them to lay their eggs. This makes removing the eggs almost impossible, especially with species that glue their eggs to a surface like P. cepediana. However, I’ve never used an outside incubator for the eggs, I simply leave them inside their parents’ tank, making sure that I remove the youngsters as soon as they hatch.

A cepediana peering warily out of its "window" in a bamboo tube
A cepediana peering warily out of its "window" in a bamboo tube | Source
Her mate is trying to convince her to come out and play with him.
Her mate is trying to convince her to come out and play with him. | Source

Terrarium Plants

Although it is possible to keep Phelsuma without live plants, a planted terrarium definitely looks better, provides a more natural environment, and helps maintain high humidity.

Although the most ambitious enclosures involve planting directly in the substrate, I just place the plants in their pots. There are many beautiful plants you can use, including exotic orchids, epiphytic bromeliads anchored in the coconut background, climbing vines, and moss, the only plants that I have managed to keep in the long term are pothos and common potted bromeliads.

Pothos seems to do particularly well in terraria and can spread to cover all of the background and any climbing surfaces you provide. Other plants eventually start yellowing, I often ‘cycle’ plants, keeping them in the tanks for a couple of months, then giving them a recovery period outside.

If you want to try a bigger variety of live plants, you have to investigate them carefully to make sure that they are not toxic. One danger is that crickets which are not eaten straight away by the lizards might eat a harmful plant, and then poison the reptiles if you are eaten later. In addition you should make sure that the plants haven’t been anywhere near pesticides, it is a good idea to wash them before putting them in the tank.

For species that require less humid conditions, sansivera (mother in law's tongue) is a very convenient plant that will provide a lot of broad vertical leaves.

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Comments 4 comments

NornsMercy profile image

NornsMercy 3 years ago from Charlotte, NC

I love that you write about awesome critters like geckos because your pictures are always bright and eye-catching. :)

aa lite profile image

aa lite 3 years ago from London Author

Thanks. I actually need to take another photo of the electric blue gecko. He's actually much prettier in real life than in the picture I used, but he's very camera shy.

CarlySullens profile image

CarlySullens 3 years ago from St. Louis, Missouri

These creatures are all over in Orlando, but my kids and even the cats would love to look at them terrarium. Maybe I will set one up. Voted up.

aa lite profile image

aa lite 3 years ago from London Author

Thanks Carly. You are very lucky to have these guys roaming free around you, there are almost no native reptiles in the UK! I am guessing you mostly see the gold dust geckos, originally from Madagascar, they have been very successful at spreading to other warm countries.

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