Although geckos make wonderful pets in many ways, some owners are concerned that they may not see enough of them and that they will be too quiet during the day. Is this because they are nocturnal?
The majority of gecko species are nocturnal. This includes the breeds most commonly kept as pets, such as the leopard or crested gecko. Geckos sleep in the day and are most active at night. There are some exceptions to this, such as the aptly named day gecko.
Clearly choosing a pet that will be asleep most of the day will have implications. It will have an impact on its behavior, the type of care it will require, and overall on the decision whether to get a gecko at all, or whether to choose a pet that you will see more of in the day.
Geckos Are Nocturnal
Geckos are good sleepers, getting many hours sleep usually during the day (depending on the breed). Some geckos will sleep up to twelve hours per day. Some popular breeds such as leopard geckos live in very hot and arid conditions. In the wild they live in deserts in countries such as Iran and Pakistan, and so choose to hunt and come out in the cooler temperatures of the night.
Other geckos live in a range of habitats, including urban areas, rocky areas, arid plains, savannas, rainforests and many other areas. The vast majority sleep in the day.
Closing Their Eyes V Contracting Them
One strange issue that geckos have is although they sleep in the day when the sun it at its brightest, many breeds do not have eyelids and so are not able to fully ‘shut’ their eyes. Instead they contract their eyes until they are just a tiny pin-prick.
Geckos without eyelids have something called a spectacle over their eyes. This is like a clear transparent film over the eye. They keep this clean by licking the spectacle with their tongue.
There are a few breeds that have eyelids. These are commonly found in desert areas, and it is possible that they have eyelids to keep the sand out of their eyes.
Where Do Geckos Sleep?
Geckos sleep in a wide variety of places both in the wild and in captivity.
Geckos usually like to be hidden when sleeping. This keeps them away from the heat of the sun. Probably most importantly, it shields them from predators and provides some level of security.
In captivity you will often find your gecko asleep under a rock, a log, or somewhere where they are slightly hidden. Some owners like to buy a range of resources to help with sleeping, such as tunnels, or caves, or tubes. I have heard many gecko owners, however, say that they find their geckos will sleep pretty much anywhere in the tank. They will sometimes sleep in full view, with no protection or shielding of any sort around them.
The traditional way to keep a gecko is to have a hot and cold side of the tank. The hot side is to help them warm up and energize, getting them moving. The other side is to cool and slow them down. Geckos will often be found sleeping in the cool side (though not always!)
In the wild you will find geckos sleep in any sheltered small area they can find. This will be dictated to a large extent by the terrain. In rainforests, it may be under a log, in a crevice in a tree, or under a large leaf. In the desert it may be under a rock or in thick grass. In urban areas it could be in an attic, in a crack in a wall or roof, or in any sheltered place in a garden.
Let’s now have a look at some of the most popular types of geckos, and see if they are nocturnal or diurnal.
Common Nocturnal Gecko Breeds
This day-sleeping breed is often seen in houses at night, walking across walls or ceilings. In the day they sleep in places such as attics, cracks in walls or roofs, behind cupboards or units, in cupboards, or even sometimes behind paintings on the wall.
This is the most common gecko in captivity. This nocturnal gecko is yellow and brown, with skin markings similar to a leopard.
These are another common gecko kept as pets. They are one of the largest gecko breeds.
They are also possibly the noisiest. They make many sounds such as barks, squeaks, and their characteristic ‘tokay’ sound. This is something to keep in mind if you buy a tokay gecko. They may well end up making noise throughout the night.
This tree-dwelling gecko is found on islands near Australia. Like most arborial geckos (tree-living), they are nocturnal.
Other geckos that are sometimes found as pets and that are nocturnal include:
- White lined gecko
- Frog eyed geckos
- Dwarf yellow-headed geckos
- Madagascan giant geckos
- Cat geckos
Daytime Gecko Breeds
Although the majority of breeds are nocturnal, there are a few diurnal species, though most of these are less well known. They include:
These have the perfect name, as they come out in the day and sleep at night. In the wild they are found in Madagascar and several other islands in the western Indian Ocean. They are also now found in the United States, having been introduced to Florida.
These are extremely rare in captivity. They are found in the Caribbean as well as Central and South America. They are diurnal, and hunt for food during the day.
These are often nocturnal, but have strange habits, and are often found out in the daytime also. In the wild they are native to North Africa and South Europe. They have the ability to change their color, and are slightly paler at night.
Geckos In Captivity
Many owners find that geckos in captivity do not always behave in the same way as their breed in the wild. This is true of many of the most well-known breeds such as leopard geckos and tokay geckos.
Often in captivity you will find geckos that may come out more often in the day. This can often be the result of lighting. If you have low-level lighting on the day you may find your gecko is much more likely to come out. Some owners artificially reverse day and night by keeping the lights dim in the day, and brighter at night. This is definitely an option if you want to see more of your gecko during the daytime.
Which Other Reptiles Are Nocturnal?
There are many other types of nocturnal reptile, and once again it is worth knowing about this if you are thinking of getting any of these breeds as a pet. The following are all primarily nocturnal:
- Royal pythons
- Fire bellied toads
- Fire salamanders
- Tree frogs
- King snakes
- Corn snakes
- Horned frogs
Most gecko breeds are nocturnal, and this group contains pretty much all the well-known species. Geckos sleep during the day in hidden areas away from predators. In captivity you can sometimes influence when your gecko sleeps to some extent with lighting. Be prepared to find out everything about the sleeping habits of a gecko breed before you get one, so you are fully aware of what you are getting into.