What to Know About Day Geckos

Reviewed by Vanesa Farmer, DVM on November 21, 2022

Day geckos are a colorful group of lizards that are all in the Phelsuma genus. These geckos are all related, but they don't have identical habitats and habits. These days you can find day geckos in the wild, within human communities, and — for certain species — in captivity. 

Although these creatures make beautiful pets, they require very particular care instructions. Make sure that you know how to keep a day gecko healthy and safe before choosing to bring one home.

There are over 50 species of day gecko in the Phelsuma genus. They’re all members of the large Gekkonidae family. Some of the specific members of the Phelsuma genus include: 

  • P. abbotti — also known as the Aldabra day gecko
  • P. borbonica — the Reunion Island day gecko
  • P. serraticauda — the serrated day gecko
  • P. modesta — the modest day gecko
  • P. cepediana — the blue-tailed day gecko
  • P. madagascariensis — the Madagascar day gecko
  • P. ornata — the ornate day gecko

Many of these species also have subspecies of geckos. For example, P. ornata has two subspecies — P. ornata ornata and P. ornata inexpectata — that are found on separate islands. 

Some species of day geckos are common in the wild, and others are considered endangered. Two species are currently considered extinct because it’s been so long since they were spotted by humans. P. edwardnewtoni — the Rodrigues day gecko — was last seen in 1917. P. gigas — the Rodrigues giant day gecko — was last seen in 1842. 

Day geckos are bred in captivity and traded internationally. International trade is considered a threat to the continued existence of endangered day gecko species. In general, human activities, particularly the cultivation of land for homes and crops, are the biggest threat to endangered species of day geckos.

Day geckos originated in the southwestern part of the Indian Ocean. The majority of day gecko species are found on the islands of Madagascar, Mauritius, and small surrounding island clusters. 

The only exceptions are P. andamanense — found in the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Islands — and P. dubia — found on the East coast of Africa. 

Human activity has even introduced some species — like P. madagascariensis — to the U.S. They were originally brought to Florida and Hawaii as a form of pest control and quickly made themselves at home. 

For the most part, these geckos are arboreal, which means that they live in trees. They enjoy living in coconut palms and banana trees in particular. They’ve also adapted well to human settlements. If you live near these geckos, you’ll likely find them climbing your walls and hanging out on the ceiling.

Each species of day gecko has a specific look and size. But they all have a number of physical features in common. This includes their: 

  • Toe pads. These are covered in very tiny strands called lamellae. They allow geckos to cling to smooth, vertical surfaces — like glass and bamboo.
  • Eyes. Their eyes are large, rounded pupils that don’t have eyelids. Instead, they’re covered with a clear plate that they clean with their tongues. 
  • Tails. Day geckos can drop their tails to escape predators. Luckily, they grow back quickly. For example, when P. ornata loses its tail, it starts to grow back in just a couple of days. They also have sensitive skin that will rip and tear to help them escape predators. 

You can clearly distinguish males from females in all species of day geckos. The males have large, visible pores on the underside of their rear legs. These produce a sticky fluid when the animals are ready to mate.

The females all have noticeable chalk sacs on both sides of their necks. These store extra calcium that’s then used in egg production. 

The typical day gecko size depends on the species. Full-grown adults range in size from around two inches on the smaller side to almost 12 inches long. Before it became extinct, P. gigas was the largest member of the day gecko group. These days, that distinction belongs to P.madagascariensis

Most day gecko species are extremely colorful. Their hues include bright green, red, and blue colors with a variety of patterns. 

For example, P. madagascariensis have bright green bodies with light green and blue tones between their scales. They have a red colored stripe running from their nostrils to behind their ears and brown dots that form a line down their back.  

The average day gecko lifespan depends on the species. The smallest day geckos only tend to survive for about a decade in captivity but larger species can live for over 20 years.

As their name implies, day geckos are — for the most part — active during the day. The only exception is P. guentheri, which is nocturnal and active at night.

Most spend their time perched on the sides of trees or hopping through the canopy looking for prey. Many of them also emit a variety of sounds during mating season or when they’re stressed. For example, P. ornata makes a loud, distinct “geh-ho” sound. It’s the same sound that gave geckos their broad common name — gecko.  

They become stressed from too much human handling. When you touch them, you risk damaging their skin and tails. In general, day geckos are best as beautiful pets to look at, not touch. 

In the wild, day geckos eat: 

  • Insects
  • Invertebrates
  • Pollen
  • Soft fruit
  • Nectar 

In captivity, you should feed them: 

  • Flightless fruit flies — particularly for juveniles or smaller species
  • Wax moths
  • Crickets
  • Butter worms
  • Small super worms
  • Mealworms 

You should also feed them small pieces of fruit a couple of times a week. This includes soft, sweet fruits like bananas and papayas. You should also provide your pet with commercial gecko nectars for some variety. 

Coat their food in calcium powders and give them regular vitamin supplements to maintain their health.

The exact care requirements for a day gecko depend on the species that you own. But all species have relatively similar habitat requirements. In general, smaller ones need less space than larger ones. The habitat's vertical height is more important than its horizontal surface area. 

Other habitat details to keep in mind include the need for: 

  • Lots of climbing and hiding spaces — including driftwood, bamboo, and live plants
  • A suitable substrate — you can use newspapers, artificial turf, orchid bark, or crushed walnuts
  • A daytime temperature between 80 degrees Fahrenheit and 85 degrees Fahrenheit and a nighttime temperature between 72 degrees Fahrenheit and 77 degrees Fahrenheit
  • A humidity level between 60% and 80%
  • Full spectrum lights — that include UVB
  • 14 hours of artificial daylight in the summer months and 10 hours of light in the winter months

The most common health problem with day geckos that are kept in captivity is called nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism — or metabolic bone disease. This condition is the result of a calcium deficiency and leads to serious health problems, including: 

  • Soft, malformed skulls
  • Curved spines
  • Paralysis
  • Seizures 

If you’re concerned about your day gecko’s health then you need to find a veterinarian that’s familiar with gecko care. Don’t bring one home unless you’re certain that you can fulfill their dietary and habitat needs.

Show Sources

Animal Diversity Web: “Phelsuma madagascariensis Madagascar Day Gecko,” “Phelsuma ornata Ornate Day Gecko.”
Animal Veterinary Hospital of Orlando: “Care Cards Day Geckos.” 
iNaturalistGT: “Day Geckos (Genus Phelsuma).” 
The Reptile Database: “Phelsuma abbotti STEJNEGER, 1893,” “Phelsuma borbonica MERTENS, 1966,” “Phelsuma serraticauda MERTENS, 1963,” “Phelsuma modesta MERTENS, 1970.”

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