I have kept geckos and other reptiles for some time. I hope to share what I've learned with other herpetology hobbyists on the web.
Diet Is Important, but What Do Geckos Eat?
In setting up the perfect terrarium for your Phelsuma pet geckos and ensuring that the environmental conditions, temperature and humidity are correct, it is easy to forget the importance of a nutritious diet to their long-term well-being.
It is too easy to just assume that your gecko needs to eat crickets. Although crickets do form the staple of a day gecko's (and most other reptiles') diet, the crickets must be gut-loaded and supplemented with minerals.
In addition, Phelsuma geckos are omnivourous. In the wild, they hunt a variety of insects but also supplement their diet with pollen and nectar. In captivity, they have a sweet tooth and love sweet fruit; they can be tamed to lick it off your fingers! The captive day gecko's diet is much more restricted than in the wild, as it is simply impossible to reproduce the variety of insects available in Madagascar.
Your Gecko's insect regiment will not necessarily provide all the minerals and vitamins the it needs. Calcium is of particular importance since crickets are a poor source of the mineral. Without the correct supplementation, important for all Phelsuma but particularly for growing geckos and egg-laying females, they will develop metabolic bone disease and will not thrive.
Captive Phelsuma Gecko Diet Staples
- Other Insects
- Fruits and Baby Food
1. Crickets: The Staple Food of Pet Geckos
Although I think day geckos make brilliant pets, they do have most a most inconvenient taste in food. They like it very fresh—in fact live. If you are not prepared to keep live crickets in your house (or at least where you can have access to them several times a week), you will not be able to keep the vast majority of reptiles or amphibians.
Crickets are the most convenient food source, as they can survive in cricket keepers for 2-3 weeks after being purchased. The size of the cricket depends on the age and species of your pet gecko. It should be shorter than the width of the reptile's head. A good schedule for adults is to offer crickets twice a week. Hatchlings should be fed daily. The geckos should be given 2-4 crickets per feeding.
Gut Loading Crickets
The question isn't just what do geckos eat, but also what does the food of the gecko eat. The nutritional value of crickets is greatly enhanced by gut loading. The Gecko obtains nutrition not just from the insect, but also from the content of its gut. Crickets should be fed on fruit or vegetables 8-24 hours prior to themselves becoming dinner.
Commercial cricket foods are available, but crickets can be fed on apples, greens, squash and carrots. It is best to use a variety of gut-loading foods, although I admit that I find carrot to be most convenient. When feeding softer fruits such as apple, you must take care to remove them before they rot. Obviously feeding crickets helps keep them alive longer. Gut-loading is very important, as it greatly enhances the nutritional value of the cricket.
2. Other Insects
Although crickets are the most convenient feeder insect, I imagine it must be quite boring for your Phelsuma pets. Another invertebrate that is easy to culture is fruit flies, or Drosophila melanogaster. They are the first food I feed to new hatchlings. I don't give them crickets for the first couple of weeks since I don't have access to pinhead crickets and anything larger is too big for new baby geckos.
Geckos love catching the flies, and it is very amusing to watch them hunt! Geckos also relish small worms. Small waxworms are taken very readily but should only be fed occasionally as a treat since they are very fatty and can cause obesity. Phoenix worms, the larvae of Hermetia illucens, or the black soldier fly, have become available recently. They are reported to be the only feeder insect that is naturally high in calcium and has the correct calcium-to-phosphorus ratio (2:1). Pet geckos seem to love them. I have occasionally had Phoenix worms pupate and turn to flies, which my Phelsuma ate with great appreciation.
One feeder insect that should be avoided is mealworms, as their exoskeletons are rich in chitin which is hard to digest and might cause compaction. Although keepers are great believers in sweeping their lawns for naturally occurring insects, I would not recommend that. Although it would introduce variety in the diet, I feel the danger of poisoning the reptile with pesticides or other chemicals is too high.
3. Fruits and Baby Food
In captivity, the nectar and pollen eaten by wild Phelsuma geckos is substituted by pureed tropical fruit or fruit baby food. The latter is more convenient to use and easier to mix with powdered vitamin and calcium supplements. Flavours that are enjoyed by geckos include banana, mango and peach, but you can try other tropical fruit.
Some species, such as P. cepediana, gimbui and ornata seem tor require more fruit. Feed it twice a week and crickets only once a week. Place the puree in a small dish in the terrarium for the day so the geckos can lick it whenever they want, but make sure you remove it in the evening since it goes bad quickly. Fruit should not be the only food fed to geckos, as it does not provide them with protein and does not meet their nutritional requirements!
It is critical to provide the pet gecko with additional calcium and vitamins in its diet. Failure to do so will result in metabolic bone disease, bone deformities and sick geckos. When yo see the first sign of the disease, a wavy spine, inability to catch insects because of weak jaw and inability to climb, are observed, the deficiency is already advanced and cannot often cannot be reversed. Many dietary supplements for reptiles are available on the market, the one used for day geckos should have calcium and vitamin D3, but not phosphorus. A ratio of calcium:phosphorus of 2:1 is optimal for calcium absorption, since crickets are rich in phosphorus, supplementing the calcium will meet the gecko's dietary needs.
Vitamin D3 is necessary for calcium absorption and is synthesized in the skin, a process that needs UV-B rays. In their native Madagascar and surrounding islands, day geckos spend a lot of time basking in very bright sunlight. Although they are often kept under fluorescent UV-B tubes, these do not produce enough rays and vitamin D3 needs to be provided in supplements. Crickets must be dusted in vitamin and mineral powder (place the crickets in a plastic cup with the powder and shake to coat them) immedately before being fed to the geckos. The powder should also be mixed into the fruit puree/baby food before it is placed in the terrarium.
Kathy on February 23, 2020:
Appreciate the info - glad to see the importance of Calcium and Vitamin D listed here; so essential.
william hoye on May 23, 2019:
they are great pets but where do i find cricets
Lizadolittle on January 09, 2019:
What is the best type of cricket to feed a day gecko on there are so many different type's and sizes, also are there any type of plant not to pit into my terrarium? Thinks
Gecko Expert on July 30, 2014:
Very informative post, tried to look for what vitamins to feed in www.whatdogeckoseat.com but they didn't have that information.
Thanks for all your hard work on writing this up. My pet will live on healthy and happy as ever.
What do Leopard Geckos Eat?
Leopard geckos are insectivores. As you can probably figure out that means they only eats insects.
You should never try and feed your leo non-insect meals like greens or meat because they do not have the enzymes to properly digest such food.
Luckily, you have a fair amount of insect options that will do the job.
The staple of many leopard gecko diets are crickets. These are not the same crickets you scoop up outdoors. These are captive bred crickets free from parasites.
The reason crickets are such a popular food is that they provide fairly good nutrition for the money. In fact, of all the insects listed they are the most financially efficient.
Leopard geckos need a lot of protein and crickets supply a very efficient protein to fat ratio. They are not the best or highest packed protein source, but they are a tremendous bang-for-your-buck option.
One final reason they are so attractive as a feeder is that they provide a good amount of water to your pet as they are quite moist.
Crickets come in a variety of sizes, but most pet shops and online sellers will have the following options:
- 1/8 inch
- 1/4 inch
- 3/8 inch
- 1/2 inch
- 5/8 inch
- 3/4 inch
But, how many crickets do you feed your leopard gecko and what size should you choose?
Both answers depend on how big your particular gecko is.
When choosing the size of the crickets, you will want to ensure that they are smaller than the space between your gecko’s eyes. That will allow your pet to comfortably eat and digest the crickets.
And, most experts agree that your pet’s overall length determines the amount of crickets they should get per feeding. For every inch long they are, you will want to feed them two crickets. For example, if they are six inched long feed them twelve or if they are eight inches long, feed them sixteen and so on.
One last bit of information is that you might want to consider gut loading your feeder crickets. Gut loading is basically feeding the crickets something nutritious before you feed them to your gecko.
Aside from crickets mealworms are next line for most common leopard gecko feeder. Like crickets you will only want to use captive bred mealworms to ensure they are safe and parasite free.
Mealworms are popular due to the fact they they too offer very good nutritional value for your dollar. They are actually much easier to store than crickets as well.
If you plan on bulk buying crickets, you will need a cricket keeper or something similar in order to keep them alive and healthy. And, it’s common to have one or two escape every now and then. That can be very annoying at night when you’re trying to sleep.
Mealworms on the other hand are usually just stored in a plastic tub in your refrigerator. This is because they are actually in the early stages of their lifecycles and if left out in room temperature that will eventually turn into flying beetles.
As worms, they give your geckos lots of protein and moisture.
Mealworms are available in a variety of sizes, but most pet shops and online sellers will have the following options:
- small (1/2 inch)
- medium (3/4 inch)
- large (1 inch)
- giant or extra-large (1 1/2 inches)
Choosing what size and how many mealworms to feed your leopard gecko mostly comes down to how big your reptile is.
Mealworm size follows the same rule as cricket size: they should not be bigger than the space between your leo’s eyes. In general, babies and juveniles will eat small ones and adults can move up to medium. A super giant morph might be able to handle large mealworms. but the larger sizes are generally bred for other reptiles, like bearded dragons.
Also like crickets, your pet can eat on average two mealworms per inch of gecko length.
Superworms are a less common food source for leopard geckos, but they are a great way to introduce a little nutritious variety to their diet. Leos tend to have bouts of picky eating now and again, and if they are getting bored of crickets and mealworms, consider mixing in some superworms once or twice a week.
Superworms, or zophobas morio, are like mealworms a beetle in an earlier stage of its lifecycle. They will eventually become something called a darkling beetle.
Most mealworm breeders also offer superworms. They are typically available in the following sizes:
- small (3/4 – 1 inch)
- medium (1 – 1 1/2 inches)
- large (1 1/2 – 2 inches)
Though superworms are an OK treat, there are a couple reasons on why they are not something you would consider a staple food.
First, while they offer a fair amount of protein and moisture, they also come with a good amount of fat. That fat is why they make a nice alternative snake because it makes the worms tastier than crickets and mealworms. But, it’s also why you dont want to use these everyday.
Another reason is that they are more difficult to take care of. You cannot store superworms in a refrigerator. They will die. Yet, if you leave them out in a cool place, like your basement, they will pupate in a few weeks before then becoming beetles.
Superworms are generally too big for baby leopard geckos, but juveniles can handle a few small-sized ones as a meal and full grown adults should be OK with a few medium-sized ones. Large superworms are probably going to be too much to handle.
If you have not heard about using dubia roaches as a leopard gecko feeder, you are missing out. They are arguably the best source of nutrition for your pet.
While they are not as low-cost as crickets, they pack so much nutrition per roach they are absolutely worth their cost. And, believe it or not they are one of the cleanest insects you’ll ever come across.
They are such great feeder insects because they have a ton s of protein and calcium plus they have less chitlin making them easier to digest than other feeders like crickets and superworms.
Like other feeder insects you will often find them for sale in a variety of sizes:
- extra small (1/4 inch)
- small (3/8 inch)
- small (1/2 inch)
- medium (5/8 inch)
- medium (3/4 inch)
- large (1 inch)
- extra large (1 1/4 inches)
Of course every breeder will have their own sizing but the above are fairly standard.
While dubia roaches aren’t as easy to take of as mealworms, they are much easier than superworms and slightly easier than crickets too. As long as you give them some food and water along with some hiding spots, they’re good to go.
You also don’t need to feed as many of them as you would crickets or mealworms because they pack such a nutritious punch. You can usually get away with half the amount, so if you normally would feed your leo 12 mealworms you can instead substittue six dubia roached.
And, just like everything else the size of the feeder should be based the size of your gecko.
Waxworms are weird looking feeder. They are actually caterpillar larvae of wax moths. They look like little living fat blobs.
They are not and should never be used as a staple food. Waxworms are more of a treat and should only be used as such.
This is because they are very high in lipids (fat). And, aside from being the gecko equivalent McDonald’s they can also spoil your retile into turning up their nose at more nutritious offerings if used too often.
They tend to be sold only in one size.
That doesn’t mean you need to avoid them entirely, but just make sure you don’t overuse them as well.
Butterworms, or Tebo worms, are like other worms the larval stage of a moth. In this particular case that would be the Chilean moth.
Like waxworms above, butterworms are not something you should use as a staple food. They are only something used as a treat every now and then.
They are high in fat and don’t offer the same levels of protein and calcium as a feeder like dubia roaches.
Most butterworm sellers only offer one size.
Hornworms are perhaps the oddest looking feeder you might offer your leopard gecko.
Like butterworms and waxworms, they are more of a treat than something you want to make a regular part of your leopard gecko’s diet. That is mainly due to the fact though they have a 3:1 protein to fat ratio, they don’t actually offer much of either.
Most of a hornworms mass is made up of water. That isn’t a bad thing since many geckos get most of the water intake from what they eat and not actually from drinking.
Still, you will want to mainly feed them more nutritious feeders regularly and leave hornworms for a random treat and to break up the monotony. There are especially for for the gecko that has become bored with the normal food.
One very important piece of information to note is that due to their size, hornworms should old be fed to adults.
Best Foods for Crested Geckos in Captivity
Now you understand the basics of what your crested gecko will eat we can move on to the specifics. We’ll start off by looking at some of the better-known complete foods for crested geckos before we look at acceptable feeder insects, fruits and vegetables.
By the end of this article you’ll have a complete list of all the various food items that can make up your crested geckos diet, and will be perfectly placed to offer a balanced yet delicious diet to your gecko.
Complete Crested Gecko Diets
Complete foods are so-called because they provide all the vitamins and minerals your crested gecko needs to thrive. Simply mix up the powder and provide to your gecko. While it is recommended that you remove any uneaten complete food paste daily, premixed solution should be fine in the fridge for a few days.
- Powdered food for crested geckos of all life stages
- Proven great for female geckos for breeding, egg development, and producing healthy offspring
- Complete, balanced nutrition for day geckos, gargoyle geckos, and other omnivorous New Caledonian gecko species
If you’re feeding a complete diet like those discussed above then it isn’t strictly essential to add live insects to your crested geckos diet. All the same, part of the fun of keeping a pet lizard is watching it hunt and catch prey, so many crestie keepers opt to supplement their diet with live insects.
These days a wide range of feeder insects are available from reptile stores or from specialist livefood breeders online. Most popular among crested gecko keepers tend to be brown crickets, but a range of other feeder insects can also be tried – from waxworm larvae to smaller locusts or roaches.
When feeding live insects try not to offer too many at any one time uneaten live insects can stress your crested gecko and can be problematic to try and remove from the cage. Providing just a few feeder insects at a time is therefore recommended.
Dusting Feeder Insects
The nutrition offered by live feeder insects can vary enormously. In order to ensure your crestie gets the most benefit possible it is recommended to either “dust” insects or gut load them before feeding them to your lizard.
To gut load livefood simply use a gut loading powder for at least 24 hours before the insects are fed to your gecko. In this way the digestive system of each insect will be packed with beneficial calcium.
Alternatively, insects can be dusted. Simply place the feeder insects into a clear plastic bag, add a small amount of mineral powder and shake the bag vigorously. The insects will become coated in the beneficial powder and should then be fed to your gecko instantly.
- Highly bio-available source of calcium carbonate
- Free of harmful impurities (not from Oyster Shells)
- Safe levels of Vitamin D3
Note that crickets and roaches hate to be coated in this powder, and will work hard to clean the powder off their bodies. Therefore, the sooner your gecko snaps up the livefood the more nutrition they will offer.
While most complete diets like Repashy offer a high fruit content, many keepers opt to feed finely chopped or mashed fruit either as a treat, or instead of a complete diet.
A huge number of different fruits are safe for crested geckos, but to ensure that your pet receives a broad range of nutrients it is advisable to regularly swap out the fruits being offered, aiming for a range of different fruits to be consumed. This will avoid the risks of nutrient deficiencies from just feeding one single type of fruit.
The following list of fruits have all been proven to be safe and popular among captive crested geckos:
- Black Currants
- Red Currants
Vegetables don’t tend to be as popular with crested geckos when compared to the sweet taste of fruit, however these can often be blended to give them a more appealing texture, and may be mixed with fruits to improve the taste.
The reason to consider offering vegetables is that they tend to be much richer in minerals like calcium and phosphorous when compared to fruit.
Examples of great vegetable-style foods to offer include:
- Collard Greens
- Dandelion Leaves
- Mustard Greens
Giant day gecko care is nothing to be scared of. As long as you understand their basic needs and put in the time to maintain their habitat, these lizards will thrive.
Feel free to send over any additional questions you have about this species. These reptiles are one of our favorites, so we’re always looking for an excuse to chat about them!
Hunter Briggs is an experienced reptile breeder who has been keeping and raising various species over the past seven years. What initially started as curiosity quickly turned into a deep passion for herpetology, and a connection with the reptile community as a whole.
If you want a pet gecko, it's best to acquire a captive-bred one from a reputable breeder. If you take in a wild-caught gecko you won't know what diseases or ailments it may be carrying. Look for a gecko that has clear eyes, skin without dry patches, all its fingers, toes, and its tail, as well as a healthy appetite.
Even though there are many kinds of geckos, some of them have similar temperaments and exhibit similar behaviors. For the most part, geckos are pleasant, docile pets but most of them prefer not to be handled by humans too frequently as it can be stressful for them.
- Activity: Most geckos, including the popular leopard geckos, crested geckos, tokay geckos, and African fat-tailed geckos, are nocturnal so they will be most active at night but there are some species of geckos that are active during the day, including the aptly named day gecko.
- Vocalizations: They're not terribly vocal but some geckos make noises such as chirping, barking, and clicking when they are defending their territory or attracting a mate. Most of the time geckos are completely silent.
- Temperament: Geckos are not usually aggressive reptiles unless two males are housed together. Because of this, it's best to separate male geckos since they may attack each other with little warning. It's rare for a gecko to bite a person but there are some species that are more likely to do so, such as the tokay gecko.
How to Choose the Right Gecko for Your Lifestyle
You may have been attracted to geckos due to their cute appearance and cool demeanor but are unsure about the right species to keep. This is understandable considering that there are over 1,500 species of geckos in the wild though only a few species are available in captivity. Most people make the mistake of buying the species they find at a pet store instead of carefully researching about different species and determining the type the best suits their lifestyle. It is essential to choose a species that fits your home environment and time commitment for pet care.