In this caresheet we will be talking about the Mourning Gecko, Lepidodactylus lugubris. I’ll be covering comprehensive care information, from housing, heating and lighting, to diet, handling and breeding. The mourning gecko is a fantastic little display lizard that can be kept happily and healthily in a small display environment. If that interests you, read on!
We have mourning geckos for sale at Reptile Cymru throughout the year from our own personal breeding colony. We sell them at £18 each or two for £30.
Meet the Mourning Gecko
The mourning gecko is a very small species of lizard that comes from a wide swathe of area across the South Pacific, Central America, South America and Hawaii. They’re just 3.5″ – 4″ long, and half of that length is their tail! Despite being a very small gecko, estimated lifespan is at least 10 years, with some reports suggesting they may live 15 years or more with best care practices in captivity.
The popularity of the mourning gecko has risen in recent years, with the advent of more display vivariums – fully bioactive setups with live plants which look amazing, and can house entire groups of this small lizard.
Mourning geckos have several interesting characteristics. They’re a cathemeral species, active in both day and night, meaning there’s always something going on for you to see. They do favour the night and will do most of their calling and breeding at night, as this would be the safest time in the wild. They’re omnivorous, with a varied diet of both fruit , nectar and insects. Finally, they’re a very social species with lots of interaction with each other, and rather unusually in the reptile world, the entire species is female and they breed through parthenogenesis. This makes keeping a group rather easy, without having to stress about males who in most reptile species are territorial and dominant.
|Common Name||Mourning Gecko|
Smooth Scaled Gecko
|Scientific Name||Lepidodactylus lugubris|
|Origin||South Pacific, Central America, |
South America and Hawaii
|Size||3.5″ – 4″ including tail|
|Diet||Nectar, Fruit and Live Insects|
|Maturity||8-10 months old|
Housing Mourning Geckos
Mourning geckos are arboreal and need some climbing space We would recommend a minimum of a 30 x 30 x 45cm Exo Terra for a group of 2 to 4 geckos. A larger enclosure such as a 45 x 45 x 60cm Exo Terra would give a group of 6 – 8 adults plenty of space, as well as some room for their offspring when they breed. If you want to go even bigger for an amazing display setup, you can!
We also do a full crested gecko setup that would be ideal for a group of 6 mourning geckos and saves a ton of money.
You must ensure that the enclosure is fully secure. Hatchling mourning geckos in particular are tiny and can escape enclosures very easily. Exo Terra enclosures are secure even for newborn hatchlings as long as all the ventilation and cable holes are closed, but if you accidentally leave them open, they can escape, so always check your ventilation panels. Front opening doors are easier to manage, but you must take extreme care when opening and closing the doors. Hatchling mourning geckos can easily get crushed by the door mechanism or hinges and in Exo Terra, hatchlings can fit into the black frame of the door easily and camoflauge, so check carefully before closing the doors to avoid accidents.
Provide lots of branches, plants, and hiding places. You can go partially bioactive if you want to have some of the benefits without growing live plants or having plant lighting. Below is an example of a non-bioactive (plastic) plant setup, that still has a bioactive base and cleaning crew. Read on for more information about bioactive. A medium sized water dish should be provided and you’ll need feeding stations for any fruit or powdered diet you provide (see Diet section).
Substrate and Bioactive Options
This species inhabits tropical and semi tropical regions and you want a substrate that is able to get damp without growing bacteria or mould. Orchid Bark is suitable, as is a soil or coir mix.
Mourning geckos thrive in bioactive enclosures. Although these take more time and a bit more expense to set up, they are well worth it for how rewarding they are. They even improve the air quality in the room for you, too, and are self-sustaining, self-cleaning environments. We sell everything you need for a bioactive setup.
A bioactive setup requires a layer of drainage balls at the bottom of the tank, to stop water from building up. A layer of substrate mesh, and then your soil mix substrate, which will be populated with custodian insects such as springtails and woodlice. Although the geckos will occasionally eat these, they spent their majority of the time cleaning the substrate and a well fed gecko population shouldn’t damage them significantly.
Then you can plant a selection of indoor plants that do well in a hot and humid environment, such as bromeliads.
Mourning geckos are often described as nocturnal, but are technically cathemeral. This means they can be awake during the day or the night, although in the wild most of their activity happens at night, as it’s not very safe for a small snack sized gecko to be out and about in the day!
When mourning geckos were originally kept in captivity people did not use any lighting with them, but as more and more research is done, we have come to realize that even nocturnal species can benefit from UVB. You can read more about this in our full UVB guide if you’re interested in learning about UVB lighting.
Whilst a mourning gecko with a correctly supplemented diet may live without lighting, we highly recommend a low percentage UVB. We follow the well-researched Arcadia Light Index guide, which recommends at 40-45cm height you have a T5 6% UVB bulb, whilst at 25-40cm height you have either a T8 6% UVB bulb or a T5 7% ShadeDweller, which will give a UVI index of 1-2 in the basking zone. We also recommend Reptile Systems products.
If you are having a bioactive setup you will additionally need a light such as the Jungle Dawn Compact LED, or Jungle Dawn LED Bar that provides UVA rays, designed to provide plant growth, otherwise your plants will not survive long-term.
In the wild mourning geckos would get top down heat from the sun, which would filter through the rainforest canopy. They do not need a directed basking spot to sit under like a desert species, but will still benefit from top down heat. This does not need to be a high amount of heat, so if you are using a UVB and perhaps a light for plant growth, this may be adequate, but if you find you need a boost in the temperatures at the top of the tank, you can use a 15-25w bulb.
Top of enclosure – 80 to 85F (26 to 29C)
Bottom of enclosure – 70 to 75F (21 to 24C)
Night time temperature – 65 to 72F (18 to 22C)
To keep an ambient at night and the bottom of the tank, we recommend a heat mat underneath or behind the tank, controlled by a mat stat thermostat to ensure the temperature does not exceed your goal. It’s possible in a heated room that you do not need this, but think about winter as well as summer, as they need this heat maintained all year round.
You will want to monitor both the top and bottom of the enclosure with a thermometer. Some digital thermometers have the ability to monitor two locations at once.
The ambient humidity in your mourning gecko tank should be 60-70%, with a daily misting briefly raising the humidity to 80-90%. It is perfectly safe to mist the enclosure with tap water.
Mourning geckos are omnivorous. They are small enough to fit into flowers and will drink nectar. They will eat ripe fruit and will prey on a variety of very small insects and isopods. In captivity we feed them flightless fruit flies and a powdered fruit mix. These are easy for mourning geckos to catch, easily dusted with calcium or multivitamin supplement, and do not grow. Whilst mourning geckos will eat small crickets, crickets who escape being eaten can easily grow too large.
We use Repashy powdered diets. Originally formulated for crested geckos, they now do a wide variety of powdered diets suitable for a wide range of omnivorous geckos. Mourning geckos can eat Crested Gecko Diet, or we have success with Grubs and Fruit, which has a higher fruit content. There are also some exclusive fruit ranges. Pangea Reptile also do a range of powdered diets that are well researched.
Because mourning geckos are constantly producing eggs, it’s vital to make sure they have adequate calcium. All insects should be gut loaded and dusted with a reptile-suitable calcium supplement.
In addition, if you are not using UVB in your enclosure, you need to use a multivitamin with D3 supplement.
Mourning Gecko Social Interactions
Mourning geckos should be kept in at least two to a tank. This is very unusual in the reptile world, where most reptiles are solitary and territorial, with social interaction limited.
Mourning geckos are one of the most social lizards in captivity. They can actually deteriorate in health and suffer mental health and physical problems if kept alone! These lizards will even chatter to each other at night with chirps and squeaks, with a wide range of vocalisation that we don’t understand as well as lots of social body language.
Despite being social and needing company, they do also need their space, and may squabble between themselves for the best sleeping spot or food. Sometimes you’ll see them tumbling or biting each other, but it’s very unusual that two adults will cause injury to each other. Mourning geckos will still have a pecking order with one or two geckos in the matriarch position, which is often challenged as younger geckos grow up and often shifts. So you always want to ensure your enclosure is large enough and there are ample opportunities for climbing, hiding and eating.
Handling Mourning Geckos
We often get asked about handling mourning geckos. This is not a species we personally recommend handling. Over time, some mourning geckos will become tame enough to walk over your hand or take food from your hand. You may see that sometimes we take photographs of mourning geckos on fingers. We always do this inside the enclosure.
This is such a small, fast species, it is incredibly easy to lose them and incredibly difficult to find a mourning gecko you have lost unless you’re lucky enough to spot them on your wall or ceiling! If that is the case, we recommend placing an empty tub over the top of them and sliding a piece of paper over it to transport them, not grabbing them with your hands.
When we catch babies to move them from the breeding enclosure, or to sell to you, we will usher them onto the glass of their enclosure and then pop a cricket tub over them to catch them without having to stress them or risk damaging them. This is a good method if you need to move them or change their tank and want to keep them secure. Never handle them in an open space, as they can be gone before you even have time to react.
Breeding Mourning Geckos
Mourning geckos are all female and breed through a process called parthogensis, which essentially creates genetic clones of themselves without requiring fertilization. They will do this even if there is one gecko! They will lay 2 eggs every 4-5 weeks during breeding season. They will stick these eggs to the side of an enclosure or log with glue, usually near the top of the enclosure, where it’s warmest. These almost always need to be left in place to incubate naturally in the enclosure, as moving them will damage them.
The eggs will take approximately 2 months to hatch in the enclosure, and once 8-10 months old, these babies will begin producing eggs of their own.
Despite being genetic clones, mourning geckos still develop slightly different colours and patterns, so you may be able to tell them apart, but most of them look very similar. In the wild, different locales have different patterns, and some American breeders report difficulties in integrating different localities in the same tank. In the UK I’ve not personally seen different localities ever advertised. As we have a well established breeding population in the UK and there’s no need to import them, it’s likely they all originated from the same locality.
Adult mourning geckos do occasionally eat their young, even if there are plenty of other food sources available, and this seems to be more common in smaller enclosures, which may be a natural form of population control when adults perceive the colony as being too large for the territory. We remove the young from the adult enclosure as soon as we see them, to give them the best chance to grow up. Moving them to a smaller enclosure also gives them an easier chance of finding food, but we still keep them in groups for social reasons rather than housing them individually like we would many species. Some people do not remove them and simply accept there will be some who don’t make it.
Eventually in any colony you are going to reach the point of too many individuals for the enclosure, as they have long lifespans. Therefore if keeping mourning geckos you will eventually need to separate them. You should consider where you can rehome the babies, perhaps checking with the shop or breeder you buy from them if they will take back unwanted offspring.
At Reptile Cymru we will always take back unwanted offspring, but may not buy them. This is because we have breeding colonies of our own so don’t need to purchase more individuals. We’d never leave anyone stuck with them though, so you can always give unwanted babies back to us and we’ll care for them and find them homes.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some questions that we have been frequently asked.
Can I feed my mourning gecko entirely on powdered diet such as Repashy?
This is still in debate. Mourning geckos are omnivorous and eat a large amount of live insects as well as eating fruit and nectar. A mourning gecko will drink a powder to liquid diet such as Respashy, but it’s difficult to say long-term if this is nutritionally adequate for them. Not enough studies have been done in captivity for us to recommend this as their complete diet at the current time, especially for juveniles who are growing fast and use the high protein from insects to power that growth. Hunting is also very stimulating for them.
How do I transport my mourning gecko safely?
We will provide your mourning gecko in a small tub. We recommend you open this tub inside the enclosure and let them walk free without handling them. As per the handling section, they are very fast!
What if I need to take my mourning gecko to a vet?
Any animal can need to visit a vet, so it’s always something you need to bear in mind when buying a pet, as the responsibility to ensure they are cared for and healthy is yours.
Even an experienced reptile vet may struggle to treat a mourning gecko if it needs complicated treatment such as surgery, due to their small size. That being said, if you need to take your mourning gecko to a vet, we would recommend you do it in a completely clear tub such as a cricket tub, placed inside another tub for security. Hopefully the vet can give you the advice you need just by looking at them, as small lizards like this may not respond well to anesthesia – but you can discuss this with the vet.
Can I stop my mourning geckos from breeding?
Unfortunately you cannot stop mourning geckos from breeding. If you really do not want any offspring, you can remove the eggs as soon as they are born and freeze them for 48 hours so that they do not develop, then you can safely dispose of them.
Can I keep mourning geckos and dart frogs together?
Mourning geckos and dart frogs are a common pairing. They inhabit in the same regions and have the same housing needs. Mourning geckos will inhabit the higher areas of the enclosure; whilst the dart frogs will rarely leave the ground other than to climb on sturdy plants or branches occasionally. Both eat very small food, such as fruit flies, so there is very minimal chance of any predation. Neither species are aggressive. We don’t usually recommend multi-species vivariums in captivity, but this is one of the pairings that has been proven successful by many keepers and probably the best match for a multi-species vivarium you will find.
There is always a chance of injury or disturbance and you should be prepared to separate if necessary. If you are going to create a multi-species enclosure, do so in an enclosure as large and natural as possible to ensure both species have the space they need.
Why are my mourning geckos eyes always open?
Mourning geckos don’t have eyelids and clean their eyes with their tongue! This means they sleep with their eyes open, but they constrict their pupils as much as possible.
I just saw my mourning geckos mating. I thought they didn’t do that?
Mourning geckos may mount each other in a coupling position which is called pseudo-coupling. This stimulates the parthogenesis but there is no insemination occuring during this as they are both female. Two females doing this together are very likely to get gravid immediately after. It’s not strictly necessary for them to do this to breed, but it is a normal thing that you will regularly see.
Help! My mourning gecko has lost her tail!
Mourning geckos can drop their tail as a defensive measure against predators, but we have rarely seen this happen in captivity. As they are so tiny, almost all of their fat stores are in their tail and they won’t drop it unless their life is in danger. If your mourning gecko has lost their tail, there is nothing you can do but make sure they are fed adequately. The tail will grow back, it may be smaller, stumpier or a different colour.
How do mourning geckos stick to glass?
Mourning geckos, along with a wide range of arboreal geckos, from day geckos, to crested and gargoyle geckos, to house and tokay geckos, and more, can appear to climb. About 60% of their feet are covered in something called setae, which are tiny hair-like ridges, which through a molecular force called van der Waals forces allows them to climb smooth surfaces. This is a crazy evolutionary development which scientists have studied for years, creating new tape and glue because of it!
My mourning gecko isn’t sticking to the glass!
They can only stick to hard, smooth surfaces. If the side of the tank has become dirty, even with water spots, it can make it much harder for them to climb. The dryer the tank is, the harder it is for them to climb, and an incorrect humidity could result in your geckos being unable to stick to the glass. If you can get them into a tub, you should check if they have any stuck shed on their feet which is limiting their movement, and study them to check if they have any other signs of ill health. A healthy mourning gecko should always be able to climb clean glass.