– By Jennifer Greene
Some of the most stunning geckos available today are the geckos of the Phelsuma genus, in addition to select species of the Lygodactylus genus. Fortunately for keepers, many of the smaller Phelsuma species such as Lined Day Geckos, Peacock Day Geckos, or even the exotic looking Klemmeri Day Geckos are readily available in the reptile hobby, making it easy to keep your very own rainforest jewels at home! If breeding these geckos is your ultimate goal, I recommend using a cage larger than the bare minimum – for example, for my Electric Blue Geckos I use and recommend an 18 x 18 x 24” terrarium. This can be suitable for a small group of dwarf geckos, with one male and up to 3 females, or for a single pair of Klemmeri geckos. For the slightly larger Peacock Day Geckos or Green Day Geckos, the new larger terrariums manufactured by Exoterra are recommended whenever possible, especially if you plan on housing more than just one pair of geckos in the cage! The large sizes of these cages allow for the use of bulbs such as the Powersun bulb, which is what I use at home. The intense light and UVB keeps your geckos’ colors bright and vivid, and the nice, hot basking area will create zones within your cage that the females will utilize to select egg laying sites.
Above is a perfect example of a small day gecko setup!
Large cage sizes also allow for the female(s) to escape the attention of the amorous male. Male geckos in nearly every species are quite determined, and will attempt to mate constantly, making it important for the health of the female to provide her with numerous places to hide and get away from him. The male’s courtship display is distinct and somewhat comical. When the female comes into sight, he will lift up his entire body, bobbing his head and wiggling his tail at her. With each fit of bobbing, he will edge closer and closer to the female, until he is close enough to touch her, and then breed with her. She will either indicate readiness to mate with reciprocal head bobbing, tail wiggling, and general in-place squirming, or she will reject the male by biting him on the head or simply running away. Mating will take place year round if the cage is kept warm enough, although this can be quite draining on the female. A winter cool down, with nighttime temperatures dropping below 75 degrees, is usually enough to stop egg laying for a few months, which allows the female to recuperate. I provide a heat pad on the side of the cage for my geckos, and allow nighttime temperatures to dip into the high 60s/low 70s for 3 to 4 months a year.
2 of the author’s geckos in the breeding process
You will begin to see the female swell up with eggs about a week after copulation is noted, and after about 3 to 4 weeks, she will lay a clutch of one or two eggs. When eggs are laid, they are pasted to a surface within the cage that the female deems suitable. In a planted vivarium, this can be anywhere, and once established in her cage the female’s choice of egg laying sites is impeccable in leading to high hatch rates. She will lay them around the lining of the top of the cage, on plants, in wood crevices, nearly anywhere in the cage above ground. Keep the cage humid without getting the eggs themselves wet, whenever possible – for mine at home, I run a fogger 4 times a day, for ½ an hour each time, in addition to light spraying with a mister in the morning. Little additional maintenance is required to encourage these eggs to hatch; providing your female with a large, planted vivarium that she thrives in will also provide a suitable environment for egg development. Females will continue to lay eggs every 3 to 4 weeks for the duration of the breeding season, which is most of the year.
An interesting note – sometimes females can and will consume eggs. They will almost always consume the shells of hatched eggs, and often do so within the first 24 hours of the babies hatching. My females have always consumed the eggshells, and will often eat infertile eggs as well. They seem able to detect something about the eggs that is not good, as sometimes they will leave the eggs for several weeks before consuming them. When I have caught them in the act, the insides of the eggs have indicated that they had no embryo inside. They will sometimes even consume freshly laid, infertile eggs – the female Electric Blue pictured here ate her own egg within minutes of laying it. She has not been with a male in several months, and the egg was undoubtedly infertile.
One of the author’s geckos eating an egg just a few weeks ago!
Incubation time can vary wildly from as little as 2 months for eggs laid close to the heat source to up to 4 months for eggs laid further away or during cooler months of the year. I have even had one egg laid in November hatch in March – an incubation period of about 5 months! If you are only keeping dwarf geckos in your vivarium, it is possible to just leave the neonate geckos in the cage with the adults. All of my babies have been raised this way, and from personal communication with others who have successfully bred these geckos, this seems to be the most common way to successfully raise hatchlings. I have even observed babies watching adults feeding from the powdered gecko food placed out for them, and once the adults have left the babies will head down to the food and eat as well. In addition to gecko food, babies will also feed on springtails, pinhead crickets, fruit flies, and other tiny invertebrates found within the cage and substrate of an established and well planted vivarium. Supplementation should be very minimal, as these babies are tiny and need only minute amounts of vitamins to grow properly. To be frank, I have never intentionally provided extra supplementation for my baby geckos – they get what they need from the gecko MRP (which has vitamins in it) or on the rare occasion among the small dusted crickets provided for the adults, a few pinheads that they can eat are in there as well.
Once they are about 3 to 4 months of age, most geckos are well started enough to consider moving to their own enclosures. Between 4 and 6 months of age, they begin to develop sexable characteristics, although it can still be difficult to sex them accurately until they are over a year old. Raising the baby geckos can be one of the most rewarding aspects of keeping them, and it is difficult to think of anything more adorable than a newly hatched dwarf gecko.