Dwarf geckos are the ideal beginner animals for terrarium beginners and are easy to keep even with little experience. But is that even true and which dwarf geckos are there? To create a bit of clarity, let’s look at the yellow-headed dwarf gecko as an example.
Dwarf geckos – the ideal beginner reptile?
“Lygodactylus” is the correct name for the genus of dwarf geckos, which of course belong to the gecko family (Gekkonidae). There are a total of around 60 different species, which, depending on the species, can reach a total length of 4 to 9 cm. Most dwarf geckos are at home in Africa and Madagascar, but there are also two species in South America. There are nocturnal and diurnal species among the dwarf geckos. But all species have the typical adhesive lamellae on the toes and the underside of the tip of the tail, which allow them to walk over smooth surfaces – and overhead too.
In terraristics, the prejudice is that dwarf geckos are ideal beginner animals for terrarium keepers, but why is that so? We have collected the reasons: Due to their size, they require relatively little space and accordingly a small terrarium. There are also diurnal species that are easy to observe. The terrarium equipment is also not a particular problem, because the geckos only need hiding places, climbing opportunities, and a suitable climate. The diet is also not complicated and is mainly obtained from small, live insects. Last but not least, dwarf geckos are generally considered to be robust reptiles that forgive a mistake and don’t die right away. We will now use the example of a very specific species of the dwarf gecko to show whether all these reasons are true.
The yellow-headed dwarf gecko
This gecko species, which bears the Latin name “Lygodactylus picturatus”, is one of the most famous dwarf geckos. Especially in the last few years, the yellow-headed ones (due to the long name we keep the name) have found their way into domestic terrariums more and more. And not for nothing: they are attractive in color, they can be easily observed because of their daytime activity and are not complicated in terms of their requirements.
The yellow-headed ones originally come from East Africa, where they live arboricolously. That means they live on trees. But since they are very adaptable, associations have also been observed in thorn and dry savannas; appearing in and around houses is nothing new either.
Yellowheads generally live in a group of a male and several females, who claim a bush, tree or trunk as their territory. The young animals are chased away by the “boss” as soon as they are sexually mature.
Now for the look of the geckos. The males generally grow larger than the females and can reach a length of around 9 cm – half of which is made up of the tail. While the females with their beige-gray body color and the scattered lighter spots offer a relatively unspectacular (colored) sight, the males are more conspicuous. The body here is colored blue-gray and also covered with lighter and darker spots. The highlight, however, is the bright yellow head, which is crisscrossed by a dark line pattern. Incidentally, both sexes can change their color to deep brown if they feel disturbed or have an argument with a conspecific.
The housing conditions
It is best to imitate a natural bandage when keeping a terrarium, i.e. keep a male together with at least one female. A shared flat for men also works if there is enough space available. When keeping two animals, the terrarium should already have dimensions of 40 x 40 x 60 cm (L x W x H). The height is related to the fact that the gecko likes to climb and enjoys the warmer temperatures in the higher areas of the terrarium.
Incidentally, this preference for climbing is also trend-setting for setting up the terrarium: A back wall made of cork is ideal here, to which you can attach several branches. Here the yellow head finds enough hold and climbing opportunities. The ground should be covered with a mixture of sand and earth, which can also be partially supplemented by moss and oak leaves. This substrate has the advantage that on the one hand it can hold moisture well (good for the climate in the terrarium) and on the other hand, it offers few hiding places for food animals such as bark or bark.
Of course, the interior is not complete: the dwarf gecko needs tendrils and large-leaved plants, such as Sanseveria. Incidentally, real plants have some decisive advantages over artificial ones: They look more beautiful, are better for the humidity in the terrarium, and also serve better as a place to hide and climb. The terrarium should already be heavily overgrown so that it is species-appropriate.
Climate and lighting
Now for the climate and temperature. During the day, the temperature should be between 25 ° C and 32 ° C, at night the temperature can drop to between 18 ° C and 22 ° C. The humidity should be between 60 and 80%. In order for this to last, it is advisable to lightly spray the inside of the terrarium with water in the morning and evening. Incidentally, the geckos also like to lick the water from the plant leaves, but a water bowl or fountain still needs to be found in order to guarantee the regular water supply.
The lighting must not be forgotten either. Since the animals are exposed to high light intensity in the wild, this must of course also be imitated in the terrarium. A daylight tube and a spot that provides the necessary warmth are suitable for this. A temperature of 35 ° C should be reached directly under this heat source. The lighting time using UVA and UVB differs depending on the season – based on the natural habitat of Africa because here only two seasons due to the proximity to the equator. Therefore, the irradiation time should be around twelve hours in summer and only 6 hours in winter. Since the geckos can get almost anywhere thanks to their climbing skills, the lighting elements should be installed outside the terrarium. You shouldn’t burn the sticky slats on the hot lampshade.
Now we come to the physical well-being of the yellow head. He is by nature a stalker: he sits motionless for hours on a branch or leaf until prey comes within his reach; then he reacts with lightning speed. He sees very well through his large eyes and so even small insects or flying prey are not a problem even from a distance. Because hunting for food demands and encourages him, you should also feed live food in the terrarium.
Since geckos can get fat very quickly, you should only feed them 2 to 3 times a week. In principle, all small insects that are no larger than 1 cm are suitable here: house crickets, bean beetles, wax moths, grasshoppers. As long as the size is right, the gecko will eat anything that gets in its way. However, you should make sure you have enough variety. Depending on the lighting, you should occasionally administer calcium and other vitamins by pollinating the feed animals so that the nutritional needs of the reptile can be completely covered.
As a welcome change, the yellow head can now and then also be offered fruit. Overripe bananas, fruit nectar, and porridge, unsweetened of course, are best here. Passion fruit and peach are particularly popular.
The little gecko is a very lively and curious terrarium inhabitant who is easy to observe and shows interesting behavior. Thanks to its adaptability, it is forgiving of some mistakes, which is why they are also ideal for terrarium beginners. However, you should make sure that you buy offspring from a trusted dealer. Wild catches are exposed to great stress, so they often get sick. In addition, one should support the natural diversity and the protection of species, so it is better to insist on offspring.
If you have already mastered the basic knowledge of small reptiles and the basic things of terraristics, you will find a great addition to your terrarium in a yellow-headed dwarf gecko.