Essential Care For The Electric Blue Day Gecko
Lygodactylus williamsi requires specific care due to its dwarf size.
In 1952, Arthur Loverage described a new gecko from a seldom-explored forest in Tanzania as being a "startling turquoise-blue." Known as Lygodactylus williamsi, little more was heard about this dwarf day gecko until 2002, when the first pictures of the electric-blue day gecko sparked public interest.
Long slender fluorescent tubes, including the newer T5's are recommended over compact bulbs. They bring out the gecko's brilliant colors.
Males are a vivid blue with the underside from the neck to tail as a bright orange. Females have colors in shades of olive, green and copper with blue overtones. Their stomach is a cream to a very pale orange color. Males have a solid to striped black throat that can puff in display. The female's throat is never completely solid black.
From hatchling size until sexual maturity, both the male and female juveniles look like adult females, only smaller. At sexual maturity, females remain the same color. Males develop one of two ways. Those males kept solo, and males that are dominant personalities, develop brilliant blue colors. Males who are not dominant will not develop blue colors. Instead, these submissive males look just like females and are identifiable only by locating femoral pores.
It is easy to see why this glowing gecko was termed "electrifying." By 2005, when the first electric-blue day geckos were imported all over the world, reptile enthusiasts were all charged up. The rush to acquire these stunning lizards was on.
Many electric-blue day geckos fail to thrive in captivity because few keepers have mastered their husbandry needs. To succeed, the keeper must consider the following key issues: size, security, vivarium control and nutrition.
The biggest challenge is that this gecko is much smaller than most reptiles kept by the average hobbyist. Adult males average 3 inches long from the nose to the end of the tail. Females are slightly smaller, averaging 2 1/2 to 2 3/4 inches. This means they are more delicate and finding appropriately sized food can be a challenge. Most keepers, including me, are challenged to maintain a healthy stock of "mini" insects. This species is above average on the activity scale, but it has a limited body mass to store reserves. It will need constant attention to keep it safe, hydrated and well-fed.
Small enclosures are best for these dwarf-sized geckos, but finding a suitable terrarium can be challenging. Seek out terrariums designed specifically for reptiles. They should offer important features, such as front-opening doors, front air ventilation and screen tops. There should be height to them and enough room for furnishings. Terrariums of less than 8 gallons or with measurements about 12 inches long, 12 inches wide and 12 inches tall work for a single adult. Add height for pairs, and offer them an enclosure that is 12 inches long, 12 inches wide and 18 inches tall. Groups of three to eight need more than a 10-gallon enclosure, and added height is a must. An ideal enclosure for a single pair or a small group of adults measures 12 inches long, 12 inches wide and 18 inches tall.
Adult males average 3 inches long from the nose to the end of the tail.
Terrariums can hide serious hazards for dwarf geckos. Keepers report mysterious "disappearances" only to find them dead behind simulated rock backgrounds or stuck in an unusual crevice. Consider removing backgrounds or sealing them off with appropriate silicone. Look for other small spaces that can trap small geckos, and seal those, as well.
Although you need to be careful about places that can trap your gecko, you should still furnish the enclosure with ample accessories. Fill it with live plants, such as sansevieria, bromeliads and succulents. The roughness of cork and bark make it a favorite furnishing, along with natural sticks and branches. Multiple branches in vertical and semi-horizontal positions provide lots of places for activity.
This gecko's exceptionally small size makes humidity and hydration control essential. It does best in steady temperatures that are similar to its native land. This means a humidity level between 60 and 80 percent, with the vivarium's bottom having a higher humidity than the top. This can be controlled by misting the vivarium substrate, plants and sides two to three times a day. In the evening, when the lights are off, it is OK for the humidity to reach near 100 percent. Use a hydrometer to monitor humidity levels and then make your adjustments as needed. Keep in mind that a low humidity dehydrates this small gecko and will ultimately cause their demise.
Daytime temperatures should be between 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and nighttime temperatures between 74 and 79 degrees. The basking spot can be hot, ranging between 89 and 94 degrees, as long as the geckos can retreat to cooler areas of the vivarium once they've warmed up. Substrate can be a combination of organic soil, peat moss and sand, more than 3 to 4 inches deep. Add live plants suitable to moist soils. Keep the substrate moist by adding water, and water the plants several times a week. Plants and substrate will help keep humidity levels high.
In addition to helping to bring out their colors while in the vivarium, lighting is essential for gecko health. Wild electric-blue day geckos seek morning sun to warm up. By midday, they hide in foliage to stay cool. In captivity, bulbs should not heat up the whole interior of the vivarium because a temperature gradient is necessary. Offer a 5.0 ultraviolet bulb, a halogen basking spot and a color/daylight rated fluorescent.
Compact fluorescent lighting can heat up a small vivarium quickly. High-rated UV compacts require a safe distance between the gecko and the bulb to prevent corneal ulcers, which makes placement difficult above a small space. Select linear fluorescents instead. They are a better choice for small enclosures and offer multiple choices for UV, daylight and color qualities without creating lots of heat. T8-sized fluorescent bulbs are plentiful on the market, but linear T5s are recommended for brilliance and color. To meet lighting needs, choose a combination of two fluorescent tubes, one for UV and one for daylight intensity and color needs. Bulbs that I have used include: Zilla T5 Desert Series UV 5.0 Fluorescent bulb; Zoo Med Nature Sun, CRI 98, 6500 Kelvin daylight (no UV); and Verilux Full-Spectrum Fluorescent, 94.5 CRI, 6280 Kelvin, UV 5.14. Halogen spots are great basking lights for small terrariums. For concise temperature control attach a dimmer to the halogen fixture.
Water & Nutrition
This dwarf gecko requires a high-quality diet and clean water to maintain its bustling activity levels. Terrarium humidity is only part of hydration: the other is ingested water. Both are essential. Hydration comes from licked-up water droplets. Mist the vivarium two to four times daily to supply water. Some keepers have observed them drinking from water bowls. Bowls pose a drowning threat, so shallow lids are a safer alternative. Set a few clean pebbles or a small rock in the water to keep all those small insects and gecko hatchlings from downing. Bromeliads retain water that geckos can lap up from leaf axils.
Electric-blue day geckos are nectar-eating insectivores. They eat the smallest of insects, such as fruit flies, week-old crickets, curly winged houseflies, small wax moths, bean beetles, springtails and woodlice. Avoid feeding insects longer than 1/4 inches.
Feed geckos gut-loaded insects four to seven days a week. Make sure you feed enough to satisfy each gecko but not so many insects that any remain in the enclosure after a few hours. Gut-loaded insects lose their nutritional value quickly. Frequent feeding reduces the risk of too many insects at any one time.
Cultivate feeder insects on an enriched diet. As a base, start with a commercial cricket food, and then add cut vegetables and fruits to boost the nutritional content. Feed insects steadily up to the very point they are fed to the geckos. Dispensing food to feeder insects hours before they are fed to geckos is inadequate. I have food continually available to insects, especially small insects.
Endemic to Tanzania's Kimboza and Ruvu Forest, this gecko is found in an isolated area that is smaller than 5 square miles and is located in a protected forest reserve. It prefers to live on the Pandanus tree, which has dense stalks and above-ground roots. Because of this, when poachers came, the geckos were easy to find. Thousands were illegally removed and exported.
By 2008, the gecko was in a critical position in the wild. Human encroachment and pilfering of natural resources on the reserves contributed to its demise.
To add injury to this whole scenario, very few breeders are producing captive-bred geckos to slow the import frenzy. Hobbyists are so eager to obtain these electrifying geckos and poachers continue to remove them from the protected reserve, purposely mislabeling them to get around customs officials. In a training manual for custom officals, Lygodactylus williamsi are often intentionally mislabeled as L. capensis, L. laterimaculatus, L.picturatus and a few others.
Conservationists hope to achieve greater protection before this species is completely lost in the wild. Long-term survival means educating hobbyists about its demise and the illegal trade. My hope is that this article will inspire others to breed these beautiful geckos in captivity and thus help wild populations flourish.
Nectar is also a part of this gecko's diet and is given as fruit baby food and/or a commercial nectar diet. Feed nectar substitutes on days that insects are not offered. I have found that in order to keep my females healthy and ready to lay eggs, I feed fruit baby food mixture daily, if at all possible, and crickets every other day. New arrivals and hatchlings did poorly when not fed daily. Place a few drops per gecko on a bottle lid and serve. The nectar remains palatable for more than a day if not over served, and its moisture evaporates after a few hours, leaving a sweet gooey residue that the gecko will lick on. However, excessive fruit nectar will mold and rot.
Over-supplementation is an issue with small reptiles. Choose supplements for specific needs. Calcium should be a supplement's primary ingredient with a balance of vitamins and minerals. Commercial reptile supplements have a wide variety of choices, like the Repashy line, Rep-Cal with D3 and Herptivite.
Dust insects by shaking a quarter teaspoon or more of Repashy's Calcium Plus on insects and put the dusted-insects in with the geckos. Another cricket dust supplement plan is one part RepCal with vitamin D3 and one part Herptivite. Fruit baby food can be mixed with Zoo Med's Day Gecko Food or Repashy Day Gecko Meal Replacement (Repashy's can also be used alone or with fruit baby food).
To prevent over supplementing, don't add more to what is already a balanced supplement system. Feed geckos food, not vitamins. Vitamins and supplements should be use sparingly within a balanced diet.
The shortage of captive-bred electric-blue day geckos testifies that breeding is more challenging than first thought. Even experienced gecko keepers struggle to preserve a healthy group of dwarf geckos, much less reproduce a second generation in captivity.
Like most all day geckos, these geckos respond to "spring" cues, as lights stay on longer and temperatures rise slightly. They slow down breeding when the photo period decreases.
Successful breeding is dependent on strong, robust and healthy breeders. Select prime, sexually mature, and fully acclimated specimens. Follow the pattern of quarantine, acclimation and conditioning for designated breeders. Wild-caught, newly imported specimens come packed with mites, parasites and potential diseases. Quarantine all newly acquired geckos for up to two months for acclimation to captivity. Employ a reptile veterinarian to identify infestations or illnesses and follow prescribed treatments.
Wild-caught geckos need special attention to help with weight gain and fight dehydration. Clean their enclosure often (replace substrate if using it), mist often and feed small meals once or twice a day. A wild-caught gecko that does not start eating promptly can lose weight and become calcium-deficient very quickly. Once they lose ground they rapidly fail and die.
This species reaches sexual maturity six to eight months after hatching. The more time they have to mature, the healthier they are for reproduction. Start breeding when geckos are about a year old, or near the full adult size of 21/2 to 3 inches total length.
Given that all juveniles have the green and olive color as adult females, sexual identification is more reliable when they are older. A male develops blue colors at sexual maturity if it is kept alone, or if there are no dominant males in the same enclosure. Femoral pores above the vent area are definitive male markings. Females have no femoral pores. Hemipenal bulges become prominent as a male matures.
Another possible option for determining a juvenile's sex is observing its underside. Males have black necks and vibrant orange stomachs. Juvenile females have less distinct neck colors and light to cream stomach colors.
Egg development puts great physical demands on the small female's body. Not only must she sustain herself while gravid, she must pass enough nutrition to each egg to sustain it during incubation and its first days as a hatchling.
During acclimation, feed females a variety of highly nutritional insects, plenty of calcium and daily fruit nectar. Offer her all she can eat for a month prior to her entering a breeding group. Put a dish of calcium (calcium carbonate, calcium with D3 or ground cuttlebone) in with each female so that she may use it as needed. Not all geckos are right for breeding. Bypass a gecko low in weight, with physical problems or unresolved fecal checks. Do not breed a gecko that is too young or fails to thrive.
One male and one female are a suitable group for breeding, as is a colony of one male and two or more females. Put only one male in each enclosure. Males are aggressive and will seriously injure or kill each other.
For best success, place the females in the enclosure first, followed by the male. Every breeding group needs to work out issues, so continually observe their activities. Watch for any gecko that fails to integrate into the group. If the chosen male fails to show blue colors, he is not ready to breed.
A healthy, sexually mature female typically lays two eggs every four weeks during the breeding season. This gecko is an egg-gluer. The female presses her eggs onto objects, such as plants, pots and glass, gluing them before the shell hardens. Once in place, eggs are non-removable and must be incubated in-situ. Attempts to move them can crack the shells.
Set up multiple laying spots for females, so they do not choose vivarium sides. Favorite laying sites include bamboo, paper towel tubes, cork tubes, plants or cylindrical objects. If a female finds a provided object suitable, she will glue her eggs on or in the object, which can be removed and placed in an incubator along with the eggs.
Don't breed a female year-around, as it prematurely reduces her ability to reproduce for more than a year or two. Maximize the female's production by giving her a three- to five-month winter break each year. This can be done by reducing the light cycle to less than 10 hours a day and/or removing the male. Females then have the opportunity to recuperate for the next breeding season.
Keepers notice that more males are hatched in captivity than females but this can be modified by adjusting incubation temperatures. Egg incubation primarily above 80 degrees Fahrenheit produces more males, and eggs incubated below 75 degrees produce more females.
Eggs typically hatch in 50 to 80 days when incubated between 72 to 81 degrees, but some eggs can take more than three months when incubated with a day-and-nighttime temperature average around 75 degrees (as in nature). Winter and night temperatures may be lower, into the mid-60s and above 75 during the summer and on very sunny days. In captivity, I suggest that 75 be the mid temp, especially when incubating for females. Higher temperatures reduce incubation time but increase neonate deaths. Patience is needed to produce healthy offspring.
Two more factors affect incubation: humidity and air flow. Keep humidity at 60 percent with little variation. Positive air flow over eggs helps prevent neonate death from heat "spikes," and slow temperature build up or "cooking" in a closed incubation system. Air flow increases moisture loss, so check humidity levels several times a day if possible. When in-situ eggs hatch in a vivarium with adults, hatchlings may be cannibalized. It is best to remove hatchlings quickly.
Hatchlings are incredibly small, measuring one-fourth to one-half inch long. These dimensions pose husbandry problems. Enclosures must be secure, and furnishings must be safe. Food items must be tiny, such as pinhead crickets, fruit flies and woodlice.
Take care. Hatchlings can escape what seem to be very secure terrariums, escaping through slats and holes in addition to openings around doors, areas like latches, inlets for wires and accessories, and built-in tops. Internal structural braces in mesh enclosure are potential crush points, as are top-opening screens. Decorative backdrops can be dangerous areas for hatchlings, so removal may be best.
The small Zoo Med Reptibreeze and other similarly built terrariums with front-closing doors are safe for small hatchlings. Another option is to build a custom enclosure. Hatchlings may be raised together, but watch for aggression from older, larger juveniles. When a vivarium is well-planted and has plenty of room, hatchlings behave better.
Hopes for a Sustainable Future
The hope is that hobbyists become aware of these geckos' fragile position in the wild and support a halt of illegal imports. By passing up wild-caught specimens, promoting captive sales, and focusing on building a strong captive-bred population, hobbyists will be seen as the solution and not part of the problem. REPTILES
Leann Christenson is co-author of the book Day Geckos in Captivity with her husband, Greg. Leann focuses on the more difficult species of day geckos. When she isn't working with day geckos, she writes about the adventures of her sulcata tortoise at frankietortoisetails.com. Thanks to, Maureen Winter; Ivan Alfonso, DVM; Julie Bergman; Abby Malvestuto and Chad Suttmiller, whose combined knowledge is within this article.