Geckos are small lizards native to every continent except Antarctica, though different species of Geckos will be found in different places. They are small, colorful creatures that are usually found in tropical climates. They are very colorful, and can be a wide array of colors.
They’re not picky about the specifics of their enclosure set up, as long as the basics are covered they should be happy. They are very easygoing and friendly, and will enjoy having company. Most don’t mind being held.
Geckos are very easy to care for and maintain. They are not venomous, but they can bite if provoked.
They are very quiet, and will remain hidden until they feel threatened. They are very territorial, and will defend themselves against intruders. They are very sensitive to temperature changes, and will move to warmer areas if it gets too cold.
Geckos are very fun to watch, and will provide hours of entertainment for you and your family. They are very curious animals, and always enjoy exploring their enclosure.
Depending on the species of Gecko, you can expect to pay about $15 to $75 per Gecko. On average most people won’t spend more than $30 to $40 on a Gecko.
The most popular Gecko species kept as pets are:
- Average Length: 1 to 24 inches
- Average Weight: 2 pounds
- Skin Appearance: Depends on species
- Skin Colors: Beige, Tan, Green, Yellow or Peach
- Grooming Needs: Low Need
- Shedding: Once every few months
- Sensitive to Touch: No
- Biting Tendency: No
- Tolerance to Heat and Cold: No tolerance to cold
- Good Pet: Depends on species
- Safe with Children: Yes
- Good with Other Pets: No
- Suitable to live in an Apartment: Yes
- Suitable for First-Time Pet Owners: Yes
- Weight Gain: Normal
- Health Concerns: Respiratory Infections, Parasitic Infections, Stomatitis, Metabolic Bone Disease, Skin Problems, Cryptosporidiosis
- Allergies: None
- Average Life Span: 10 to 20 years
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Physical Appearance of Geckos
Geckos refer to a wide range of lizard species. There are over 1,600 Gecko species found around the world but only a small number of them are kept as pets.
Depending on the specific species they can be 1 inch to 24 inches long, including their tail. Most pet Gecko species are less than 12 inches long.
Geckos have a muscular body with a large head.
Many Gecko species don’t have eyelids and use their tongue to wipe dust from their eyes as well as keep them hydrated. Some do have eyelids or eyelashes.
Several Gecko species have sticky and rounded toe pads that let them climb. Species like African Fat-Tailed Geckos don’t have these toe pads.
Different species of Geckos can have several colors and patterns. They usually have a base color with patterns like stripes, bands or patches on their body. Some Geckos species have bumps on their body.
Crested Geckos can change their colors to camouflage with their surroundings.
Read the individual Gecko species guide to find out about the physical appearance of specific Gecko species.
Temperament of Geckos
While the temperament of Geckos varies depending on the species, most are calm and peaceful. They usually don’t get aggressive unless two males are housed together. Males can become territorial and fight with each other.
Geckos usually like to live alone and should be housed individually. Multiple females can be housed with a single male but always check to see if they get along. If your Geckos are fighting, move them to separate enclosures.
The majority of Gecko species are active at night. These include Leopard Geckos, Tokay Geckos, Crested Geckos and African Fat-Tailed Geckos. They’ll explore their enclosure and eat at night, and sleep during the day. Day Geckos, as their name suggests, are active during the day.
Geckos can be terrestrial or arboreal. Arboreal are those that live on branches and terrestrial are land-dwelling lizards. Depending on the Gecko species you get, their enclosure will need to have appropriate decorations like branches, rocks and plants.
When it comes to handing, all Geckos should be left alone when you first get them home. Start handling them gradually, after they get used to you. While most Gecko species don’t like being handled, there are some like Leopard Geckos and Gargoyle Geckos that are more receptive to handling. Handling should still be limited because regular handling can stress them.
Gold-Dust Day Geckos shouldn’t be handled at all.
Geckos usually don’t bite and if they do, it’s not serious.
Many Gecko species will drop their tails if they feel stressed or threatened. Their tail usually grows back but may not have the same color or appearance as the original. Crested Geckos can’t regrow their tails but it won’t affect their health.
Geckos are not very vocal but sometimes they make sounds like barking, clicking or chirping. They usually make these sounds when they feel threatened or when they are mating.
Their Compatibility with Children
Their temperament varies and we recommend waiting to see how your pet’s is before you let children handle them. Crested Geckos tend to jump and children may not be able to handle them. Gold-Dust Geckos don’t like handling and should also not be handled by children.
Always have an adult supervise the interactions between your Gecko and children until you know that your children know how to act with them.
Children should always wash their hands after handling any lizard because most reptiles are carriers of infectious bacteria like Salmonella. The bacteria can cause diarrhea, fever, and abdominal pain in humans. Washing their hands after handling Geckos or their cage should keep your children from contracting bacterial and fungal diseases.
Living Space for Geckos
Geckos need moderate to high humidity and should be housed in an enclosure that keeps their climate humid. Wooden and glass enclosures are good options.
Their enclosure should have glass doors or air vents to allow air circulation within. A secured lid is needed on the top of their enclosure. Many Gecko species are arboreal and will spend their time on the branches, near the upper part of the tank. A secured lid should keep your Geckos from escaping.
Depending on the type of Gecko – terrestrial or arboreal, add decorations to make their enclosure natural. Plants, hiding boxes and logs.
The enclosure size will depend on the Gecko species you get. For most Geckos, a 10 to 20-gallon enclosure should be enough. A larger enclosure will be needed if you plan to keep two or more Geckos, or if you are getting a larger Gecko species.
For some Geckos the height is more important than the width and vice versa. Check the individual Gecko species needs before getting an enclosure.
Set up 2 to 3 hide boxes in your Gecko’s enclosure. Keep one in the hot and other in the warm area. Keep some sphagnum moss in one hide box to increase the humidity.
Plants, branches and rocks should be added inside your Gecko’s enclosure.
When adding branches, place the branches at varying heights to let your Gecko climb. Some Gecko species are land-dwelling and don’t need branches.
A moisture retaining substrate like coconut husk, cypress mulch or orchid barks should be used. Newspaper and paper towels can also be used as substrates, but they don’t make the best substrate options. Paper substrates are easy to clean and replace when compared to coconut husks or orchid barks, but don’t have as natural of an environment for your pet.
Best Climate for Geckos
Geckos need separate warm and hot areas to regulate their body temperature. Placing the heating source on one side of the enclosure should help create separate hot and warm areas.
A combination of basking lights, ceramic emitters and under tank reptile heat mats can be used. Make sure the heating source is covered and away from the reach of your Geckos. The heating source is extremely hot and may cause burns if your Gecko’s skin touches it.
The average temperature range varies between 70°F to 90°F for most Gecko species. The hot area should have a temperature in the lower 90s and warm area in the upper 60s.
The night time temperature should not fall below 65°F.
For the exact temperature range, find out the needs of your specific Gecko species.
The humidity range varies depending on the Gecko species. While Leopard Geckos need a low humidity of around 40 percent, Gargoyle Geckos need a high humidity of around 80 percent.
Plants, water bowl, a moist substrate and regular misting will help keep the enclosure humid.
Most Gecko species are nocturnal and they don’t need additional light. Normal room lighting or reptile lighting should be enough for them. Many people will use some inexpensive LED strip lights that are dimmed so that they can watch their pet at night.
Geckos active at night don’t need UVA and UVB lighting. Only Geckos that are active during the day need UV lighting.
Keeping a normal day and night cycle is important when turning the lights on or off.
A shallow water bowl should be kept in their enclosure. The water bowl should be deep enough for them to soak. While some Gecko species may not drink water from the bowl, it’s still important to keep the water bowl in their enclosure. The water bowl helps keep the enclosure humid and lets your Gecko soak when they’re shedding.
The Attention a Gecko Needs
Their enclosure should have 2 thermometers – one on the hot and other on the warm side. Check the thermometers regularly to make sure that the temperature stays in the recommended range.
Use a hygrometer to check the humidity. Mist the tank if the humidity drops too low.
Geckos don’t need regular handling and are happy living alone. You only need to feed them and keep their enclosure clean.
Respiratory infections are a common health issue in reptiles. Poor enclosure conditions like excessive cold or too much, or not enough humidity as well as stress can lead to respiratory infections or pneumonia.
- Nasal discharge
- Bubbles in mouth
- Labored breathing
Take your reptile to your vet if they have any of the above symptoms. Antibiotics are commonly used to treat the illness. If the infection is severe, they may need to be hospitalized.
Respiratory symptoms can become serious if not attended to in the initial stages. Maintaining the right temperature gradient and humidity levels inside their living enclosures can prevent your reptile from getting respiratory diseases.
As a preventive measure, we always recommend washing your hands after handling any reptiles.
Metabolic Bone Disease
MBD is the most common disease found in pet reptiles. The disease is caused by your reptile not having enough vitamin D to properly absorb calcium. Being exposed to UV lighting helps them create vitamin D that they can use to absorb calcium.
- Lower jaw swelling
- Limb swelling
- Facial bone softening
- Appetite loss
An X-ray can help identify the extent of the disease. Sometimes MBD will lead to fractures, thin bone tissue or thickened bone shafts. The disease is more common in reptiles less than 2 years old.
If left untreated the disease can also lead to death. Consult your vet immediately if you find any of the above mentioned symptoms in your reptile.
Treatments can range from injecting your reptile with mineral supplements to medication and dietary modifications. To keep your reptiles from having MBD, they should be fed a diet rich in calcium (or calcium supplements) and have daily exposure to UV lighting.
Intestinal Parasites like roundworms, hookworms or pinworms can be a serious health issue for reptiles. In mild cases, the parasites may not cause any visible symptoms but in severe cases they can cause:
- Appetite loss
- Weight loss
- Behavioral issues
- Loose Stool
- Throwing up food
Captive lizards generally contract parasitic infections from other infected reptiles, contaminated food or objects. Regular enclosure cleanings can reduce the chances your reptile will be infected from parasites. Take your pet to your vet if they have the above symptoms.
Parasitic infections have the potential to destroy the digestive tracts of your reptiles and must be treated as soon as signs are noticed.
Mites are tiny black insects that are parasites. They feed off the blood of your reptile, and they can be quite the pain in the butt to get rid of once you have them. Most times they will be caught and sold to a family already having mites, or they’ll get them from another pet.
Symptoms of mites on your reptile:
- Long soaks in their water
- Rubbing on objects in their enclosure
- Tiny black specs on your reptile or objects in their enclosure
- Tiny black specs on you from handling your reptile
We recommend contacting your vet to find out what treatment they recommend for killing mites. Keep in mind that mites don’t tend to stay in one place, and any other snakes or reptiles kept in the same room could be infested with mites as well. Distance between pets is key, just as washing up between handling pets is key to not spreading mites from pet to pet.
Ticks are blood sucking parasites that are just as bad for your lizard as they are for people. They can pass on quite a number of terrible diseases to your reptile. Depending on what the ticks carry, or if left untreated, they can cause your reptile to die.
Symptoms of ticks on reptiles:
- Rubbing on objects in their enclosure
- Long soaks
- Weight loss
- Red spots or deformities on their skin
Usually with the above symptoms, especially red spots on their skin people will suspect either ticks or mites. Ticks are a lot easier to see than mites are and with a close inspection of your reptile you should be able to spot them pretty easily.
The treatment is fairly straightforward and can be done at home, or you can have your vet do it. Once you find a tick attached to your lizard, rub it with rubbing alcohol on a cotton ball, then use tweezers to pull the tick off. Using alcohol first should help the tick release their grip and make them easier to pull off. If you are at all worried about diseases your reptile might have gotten from the ticks you can have your vet take a look and they may prescribe medication based on what they find.
Stomatitis (Mouth Rot)
Mouth rot, or infectious stomatitis, is an infection in a reptile’s mouth. Mouth rot is very serious and can cause your reptile a great deal of pain, and could eventually lead to their death. Mouth rot is typically caused by an injury to your reptile’s mouth, or their enclosure not being kept at the correct conditions.
Symptoms of mouth rot in your reptile are:
- Decreased appetite
- Blood in your pets mouth or their water bowl
- Swollen areas in their mouth
- Weight loss
The first step to fixing the problem is finding out if they injured their mouth on something, or if their enclosure’s conditions are not right. If their mouth is injured you should get them to a vet to have them look at your reptile. If the problem is environmental then fix the problems in their enclosure.
No matter what the cause of your reptile’s mouth rot, you’ll still need to take your reptile to your vet because the treatment requires prescription antibiotics. Surgery may be required depending on the severity of the mouth rot. Because this infection kills tissues in your reptile’s mouth, areas may need to be removed, including teeth. It’s better to prevent this problem before it happens by keeping your reptile’s enclosure at the conditions they need to be happy.
Dysecdysis is the fancy name for when your lizard isn’t shedding their skin correctly. This happens a lot with types of Geckos, but it can happen to any lizard. Usually Dysecdysis happens when a lizard’s enclosure is too dry.
Symptoms of dysecdysis are:
- Dull patches of skin that never fall off
- Difficulty walking or climbing if extra skin is around their toes
- Difficulty catching food, or lack of appetite
If Dysecdysis is noticed fairly early it might be easy to correct the problem at home. Some soaks in a tub of warm water should help loosen up skin that doesn’t want to shed. If you suspect that their skin could be constricting body parts like their feet or tail you’ll want to bring them into your vet right away. If left untreated for too long it’s possible that the blood can get cut off, and parts of their body could die.
Normally all that needs to be done to prevent this is make sure that their enclosure’s humidity is within the range it should be for your pet. Make sure you have at least one hygrometer in their enclosure to be able to measure the humidity, and make adjustments as necessary.
Cryptosporidiosis is the name of a dangerous internal parasite that affects a number of lizards and snakes. Unfortunately Leopard Geckos seem to be the most affected by this disease. This parasite will have your reptile looking like skin and bones in no time without proper treatment.
Symptoms of cryptosporidiosis are:
- Rapid weight loss
- Slowed growth
- Abdominal swelling
The mortality rate is close to 50% for animals infected. The danger of this parasite is a big reason why all new lizards should be kept quarantined for the first few months when they’re brought home. The most common way they’ll become infected is through contaminated feed or by being exposed to another animal that is infected. Unfortunately this disease mimics other types of wasting diseases that reptiles can have. It’s not easy to correctly diagnose, and there appears to be no magic bullet to cure them of the disease. The best thing to do is take your pet to your vet if you start noticing any symptoms of this disease. The key to saving your pet is to catch this early before they’ve lost too much weight.
Grooming and Care
The substrate should be spot cleaned every day and changed once a month.
Your Gecko’s enclosure should be spot cleaned every day. A deep clean should be done every month. While doing a deep clean make sure to remove your Gecko from their enclosure. Use a reptile safe disinfectant to clean the enclosure.
The water bowl should be cleaned and replaced with fresh water every day.
Keeping their enclosure clean is important because poor living conditions can cause several health issues like Cryptosporidiosis in some Geckos.
Feeding A Gecko
Geckos can be insectivores or omnivores with most species only eating insects and small amounts of meat. Only a few Gecko species like Gold-Dust Day, Crested Geckos and Gargoyle Geckos will eat both insects and fruits or vegetables.
Crickets and mealworms should be their primary food. For treats they can be fed superworms, wax worms or roaches. The fruits and vegetables they eat vary based on the individual Gecko species.
Your Geckos can be fed dried insects or live insects. If you are giving prey or live insects to your Gecko, give the prey insects nutritious food before feeding them to your Gecko. Feeding prey insects nutritious food is called gut loading and it makes them more healthy. The nutrition then passes on to your Geckos when they eat the prey insects.
The size of the insect should not be more than the size of your Gecko’s head.
The amount that they are fed will depend on their age and the Gecko species. Hatchlings usually need to be fed more often than adults.
Which Gecko Species is Best for My Family?
If you are a beginner reptile owner and looking for an easy to care for Gecko then get an African Fat-Tailed Gecko, Leopard Gecko or Gargoyle Gecko. These are low-maintenance pets that are more open to being handled.
Gold-Dust Day Geckos need advanced care and should be kept only by expert reptile owners.
Where can I Get a Gecko?
We recommend getting a Gecko from a reputable breeder. There are many breeders who take proper care of Geckos to keep them healthy. A healthy Gecko should have clear eyes, all their fingers and toes, a tail and complete skin without any dry patches.
Don’t get a wild-caught Gecko because they can be carrying harmful bacteria that can cause diseases in your family.