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How to Set up a Day Gecko Terrarium

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A planted natural day gecko Exo Terra terrarium.

A planted natural day gecko Exo Terra terrarium.

The Right Setup Is Essential for Healthy Day Geckos

Phelsuma day geckos have a reputation for being difficult to keep. Although they are not as tolerant of non-optimal conditions 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 set up the day gecko terrarium properly is the most important factor in successfully keeping them. In the photo above 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 they are doing very well.

Gecko Humidity Requirements by Species

Humidity requirements of some popular Phelsuma species

SpeciesHumidity Requirement















What a Phelsuma Gecko Needs in Its Environment

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

  • Vertical Space: Phelsuma are arboreal, spending their time on trees and bushes. Therefore they need a tank that is taller than it is long.
  • Humidity and Ventilation: Most, although not all, species come from humid tropical forests and need high humidity, up to 80% in some cases. The table above summarizes the humidity requirements of some popular geckos. However, they will not do well in stagnant conditions, so the tank must be well ventilated.
  • Heat Source: 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.
  • UV Light: 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. This 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.

What Kind of Tank Is Best for Day Geckos?

To provide 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.

My Recommendation: Exo Terra Tall Tanks

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 on the front side. I like the fact 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 negative 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.

What Kind of Stand Should You Use?

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.

Light and Heat Sources for a Gecko Terrarium

UV light is best provided through fluorescent tubes. Some Phelsuma experts believe that you can keep these reptiles without UV light, relying on a diet supplement that contains vitamin D as well as calcium. However, even if you decide against UV-B 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 into the cover, and avoids having a jumble of cables around the tank.

How to Provide Heat

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 60 W bulbs work well for me but you might require stronger or weaker heat sources.

Using a Timer to Schedule Photoperiods

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 set up 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.

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 and looks 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 that will not rot in the high humidity.

Bamboo Tubes

Klemmer's day 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.

Downside: Egg-Laying in Bamboo Tubes

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.

More Hiding Places Actually Result in More Visible Geckos

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.

Day geckos appreciate live plants in their enclosures.

Day geckos appreciate live plants in their enclosures.

Which Terrarium Plants Do Well With a Gecko?

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.

My Recommendations: Pothos and Bromeliads

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.

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

Beware Toxic Plants

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 that are not eaten straight away by the lizards might eat a harmful plant, and then poison the reptiles if they 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.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.


david on May 02, 2019:

this was a very helpful website

Katy on August 08, 2018:

I guess I know the answer to this question before I ask it, but I'm going to anyways. I'm starting to build a paludarium after some years keeping different aquariums and terrariums. My intention is to house one or two neon day geckos with one or two red eyed tree frogs in the arboreal section, and some african dwarf frogs with a few freshwater inverts in the aquatic section. I know that NO ONE reccomends keeping different herp species in the same enclosure, but that is kind of the point of the paludarium and the challenge is something I'd like to take on. I always like things as biodiverse in my tanks as possible but obviously have never done anything quite like this. As far as humidity and temperature the two arboreal species seem very similar. They would compete for food and space, but one is diurnal and one is nocturnal. I guess I'm asking HOW BAD of an idea you think this species list is and why, since I'm used to hearing that it's never a good idea.

aa lite (author) from London on May 24, 2013:

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.

Carly Sullens from St. Louis, Missouri on May 13, 2013:

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 (author) from London on May 10, 2013:

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.

Chace from Charlotte, NC on May 10, 2013:

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