Giant Day Gecko: Phelsuma madagascariensis grandis

Phelsuma madagascariensis grandis, commonly called "grandis" is a beautiful regional variation of the Phelsuma madagascariensis. They originate from the Northern tip of Madagascar. Although still underrated, grandis are one of the most popular and also one of the largest of the various Phelsuma species, growing to about a foot in total length. Their big size and intense red on green coloration make them therapeutically beautiful to watch. A number of excellent characteristics make grandis extremely rewarding to keep and it's not at all surprising that they have been kept and bred in the US, more than any other Phelsuma, for several decades now. They can become tame and fascinating pets and they have the honor of being my favorite lizard species that I have kept to date.

The availability of grandis is consistently high because of the large numbers of wild-caught animals being imported from Madagascar. Historically they have come mostly through S. Florida, and as a result they are now established and breeding in several counties there, and also some of the Florida Keys. Wild-caught specimens are often loaded with parasites and heavily scarred from fights in the wild and from being kept in tight quarters with many other grandis during housing and transport to the US. Despite the obvious problems with wild caught Phelsuma, they are almost always less expensive than their captive bred counterparts and can make great pets or breeders if properly cared for. They also contribute fresh genes to an inbred colony. The stress on the animals during the capture and exportation process must be immense, and the owner of a recently imported Phelsuma m. grandis should do everything possible to reduce stress on the animal in order to maximize its' chances of surviving long-term.

Captive bred Phelsuma madagascariensis grandis are usually (except for those produced by a crappy breeder) a higher quality animal that is adapted to a life in human care. They are reasonably priced ($40-120) and are often selectively bred for high red, also known as "crimson". There are some rare specimens that display blue coloring on body as hatchlings, and others that develop blue backs with maturity. The latter may be the result of integration with the nominate race, Phelsuma madagascariensis madagascariensis in which males will regularly develop a blue hue on the back as they mature into full adulthood. There are reports of blue hatchlings, that stay blue into adulthood, which if true and the result of a hereditary color mutation, would constitute an official color "morph". Current efforts in selective breeding of P. mad. grandis will hopefully bring new, spectacular bloodlines in the future.

Care: I should first point out that there is no universal best way to keep Phelsuma madagascariensis grandis (or any animal, for that matter). Each person striving to provide their gecko with the best possible conditions and care, has to work with the unique characteristics of the climate they live in and must use the materials and budget available to them. There are an infinite number of ways to create a setup that meets or exceeds the gecko's basic needs and is attractive to look at. Here is what works for me:

Caging:Phelsuma madagascariensis are rather large and highly aggressive geckos. They are almost entirely arboreal and should be given ample space and plenty of height in their enclosure. A 30 gallon "tall" aquarium is suitable for an adult individual, but P. m. grandis will do fine, if not better in larger enclosures. They spend much of the time on the glass, in and on bamboo (or other perches), or in plants with broad, strong leaves such as the various Sansevieria plants.

Temperature: Temperatures should vary within the enclosure so that the gecko has the ability to move back and forth from warm to cool areas. During the day, a basking spot between 90-100 F should be provided and the animal should also be able to retreat to an area that's at least in the low 80's at any given time. Ambient air temps in the enclosure in the low-high 80's are ideal during the day, and can be lowered into the low 70's at night. I use both the radiant heat from the florescent bulbs and also "heat tape" as the heat sources for every grandis enclosure. The heat tape is stuck on the outsides of the enclosures and is turned on all day every day, unless air temps in the reptile room are dangerously high.

Humidity: Despite popular thinking, grandis do not require high humidity. If they did, I would have had many problems arise by now, but I have had none. Not even shed problems. As long as they stay hydrated and have cool areas available to them, P. m. grandis will thrive without any problems in persistently low humidity (20-30%). I do keep my young grandis in enclosures that retain humidity better than the adult's cages, but I have found that even very young grandis show no signs of stress when kept at low humidity levels, provided they have enough to drink. This is not to say that you should keep your grandis in dry conditions. To me it seems likely that they would do better in humid conditions, rather than dry, but my point is that you shouldn't stress yourself out over trying to keep your grandis in sauna-like conditions. Mine are sprayed 2-3 times per day which raises the humidity briefly, and gives the geckos a chance to drink the droplets. For about 30 minutes after spraying the enclosure, the humidity stays around 70%, but then it drops quickly to 20-30% (depending on the ambient humidity) and stays there until the next spraying.

Diet: The diet of Phelsuma madagascariensis grandis in captivity is limited only by the imagination of the keeper and the availability of different food items. I have personally witnessed my grandis eat such a wide variety of small animals and fruits, that I cannot even recollect them all. Here is a short list of just some of the more notable small animals that I have fed to my grandis: Earth worms, small fish, praying mantids, pinky mice, Phelsuma laticauda, Phelsuma klemmeri, hatchling Panther Chameleons, bees/wasps, tadpoles, and small frogs. In addition I have seen them eat an astonishing variety of wild insects. They really love wild moths and during the warmer months I use a light to attract these delicacies for my grandis a couple of nights per week. The bulk of the insect diet of my grandis are commercially raised crickets, which I "gut-load" with whatever fruits and veggies we happen to have around. I offer my sub-adult and adults crickets every 2-3 days and I dust them with calcium/vitamin D3 about every other time. My newborn and young grandis are fed small crickets at least once per day (sometimes once in the morning and once in the evening) and I dust the crickets with calcium/vitamin D3 every other day.

The complete Gecko Diets by Allen Repashy (available from Julie Bergman of the Gecko Ranch) also make an excellent food choice for your grandis. These are complete diets that can be fed alone or in conjunction with feeder insects, and may help to prevent nutrtional deficiencies in all frugivorous geckos. They come in a variety of flavors and are well accepted by most Phelsuma. Some individuals also feed fruit baby food mixes, but strict attention must be paid to providing proper supplementation and adequate protein if their route is chosen.

Lighting: Bright lighting is very important to the health and happiness of your grandis. They thrive and also look their best under intense, "full-spectrum" lights. Bulbs that have a high Color Rendering Index (CRI) will make you geckos' colors look as good as possible and probably contribute in some way to the animal's health. In addition, bulbs that give off UVB and UVA radiation are very imortant for the health and development P. m. grandis. I use a 4 foot long fixture that spans 2 grandis cages and holds 2 florescent bulbs. My fixtures each house a 4' Reptisun 8.0 bulb which provides the UVB and UVA (but are not sufficiently bright) and a Phillips high lumen/high CRI florescent to add some brightness and some brilliant color to the enclosures. This combination is working very well for me. I place the fixtures right on top of the screen lids of the enclosures and also suspend horizontally-oriented bamboo just an inch from the screen. When the geckos bask on this bamboo they are very close to the bulbs and experience temps in the low 90's. They also absorb large amounts of the UV while basking so close to the bulbs. Other individuals attest that the brightness of the light provided for your grandis is more important than the nature of it and do not provide UVB/ UVA bulbs. Halogen lights may also be used for basking spots in order to raise temperatures into the ideal range.

Grouping: P. m. grandis are very aggressive towards each other from a very young age. I will not house adults of the same sex together nor do I house juveniles together. My adults are kept in male/female pairs, or individually. Over here, the only situations where more than one grandis is housed in the same enclosure are when 1.1 adults are together for breeding or when 2 newly hatched hatchlings are put in the same tank temporarily. Newborn grandis are not usually aggressive towards others until they are around 1 month old. It should be said that I have never experimented with keeping groups of juveniles or adults in very large enclosures. It may be possible to keep several adults or juvies in a big cage with multiple sources of food, shelter, ect. and not have any problems.

Breeding: If you have a healthy adult female and a healthy male grandis in a suitable enclosure, they should breed throughout the year with little effort on the part of the keeper. It should be said that courtship is often surprisingly violent with this species and could easily be interpreted as aggression rather than mating behavior. Infact, it is aggression, but it has a sexual force behind it and most importantly it involves copulation. I have seen many females get horrifically torn up by big, aggressive males. Huge patches of skin are often torn from all over the females body, exposing the muscle beneath. For a first time keeper of grandis, this can be a frightening experience. The females often look like they are mortally wounded, but they will actually rebound very quickly - especially if the pair is separated for a couple of weeks. I have found that if the pair is not separated, the male will stop attacking the female within a few days and they will live peacefully together. Having a number of visual barriers and hiding places for the female will make things easier for her. Most females will develop a voracious appetite after mating and should be fed a good variety of foods. Calcium and vitamin D3 are important to a gravid female and should be given in liberal amounts. I use calcium/ vit D3 powder on crickets. I also try to give the gravid females a wide variety of insects and fruit bab y foods. Most people who keep Phelsuma feel that UV exposure for gravid females is also important for calcium absorbtion purposes.

It's difficult, even for an experienced breeder, to tell for sure if a female grandis is pregnant, but by 3 weeks after mating the female may look noticeably gravid. A few days before she lays her eggs, she will start to lose interest in food and become more nervous than usual. Often she will be dark in color and will be laying in bamboo or in a sansevieria plant with her back feet clasped together and her tail curled back toward her belly. Once this behavior is noticed it is usually less that 48 hours until she deposits the eggs. As the last 24 hrs draw near, the female will become extremely restless and will look as though she is trying desperately to escape her enclosure. In the hours before the eggs are laid, the female will move back and forth from her chosen egg-laying site and the hot-spot every ½ hour or so. The egg laying site chosen by the female could be any number of things. I have had my grandis lay perfectly good, fertile eggs in Sansevieria axils, horizontal bamboo, on top of soil, on bare glass and paper towels. They prefer Sansevieria and bamboo when given the choice but will do it just about anywhere but in water.

My females almost always deposit their eggs in the evening hours as the sun is going down. Once the female has settled into her chosen spot you will notice that her hind legs and tail are unusually positioned. Depending on how she is lying, her tail may be curled back and supporting her, freeing her back feet. These will usually be pressed together and will not serve to support her body in any way, instead they will wait to receive the eggs. She may lie this way for an hour or more before the first egg comes out. Sometimes a female will only lay one egg instead of the usual doublet. Many young females in their first breeding year will lay single eggs on and off. However, it is not uncommon for mature females in their prime to lay single eggs now and then.

As the first egg comes out, the female will gently grasp it with her hind feet. She will hold it there as it dries for 30 mins or more before pushing out the second egg that adheres to the first. The female then will be holding and gently molding her eggs as they dry for as long as an hour or more. The entire process may take several hours from beginning to completion, whereby the female carefully sets down the dried eggs and leaves them. She will usually move to a warm location and will be exhausted and possibly dehydrated from the activities of the past 48 hrs. She should be misted down in case she needs a drink and offered some fruit bab y food. Once you're sure the female is in good health, the eggs should be carefully extracted from the enclosure and placed into a waiting incubator. If you're sure the eggs are less than 24 hrs old, they may be removed without regard to maintaining their original orientation. Some breeders of geckos have warned that once an egg has been in its original position for a day or more that rotating it can kill the developing embryo. In my case there have never been any problems. Sometimes a female will chose a particularly difficult location to lay her eggs , making extraction very challenging. Being as the eggs are round, they are prone to roll (especially single eggs!) and sometimes there's nothing you can do about it. It has happened to me many many times with several species and I have never had any problems.

Young females, old females, and those not exposed to adult males will drop infertile eggs known as "duds" or "slugs". These are usually easy to recognize, as they are most often deformed, yellow, and deposited locations that are inappropriate such as the side of the enclosure or on the outside of a bamboo stalk. Many times I have noticed that females have "laid" infertile eggs while perched off the ground, allowing them to fall to the floor of the enclosure.

A healthy, mature female in the midst of her breeding cycle can lay a clutch of 2 eggs (but sometimes 1) every 11-16 days for many months of the year. Most will stop the cycle for several months during the winter when the days are shortest. Many breeders deliberately cycle out there females for a few months each year to let them recuperate from the taxes of egg production.

Egg Incubaton: Whether you buy one or make your own, it is best to get your incubator up and running before the eggs arrive. You should have a thermometer and humidity gage in the incubator to make sure conditions are at optimal levels before the eggs are introduced. I place my eggs on little plastic dishes, such as drink bottle lids, with a little vermiculite just to prevent rolling of the eggs. I do not moisten the vermiculite. In addition, I place the eggs into clear plastic deli cups. This serves two purposes. First, when the eggs hatch, the hatchling is contained and easy to capture and remove. Secondly, It allows the breeder to boost the humidity if needed by placing some moist paper towels on the bottom (see pics).

Temperature is absolutely critical when it comes to incubating the eggs. Many breeders claim that incubating Phelsuma eggs at 88F or higher will produce more males than females. Incubation temps in the lower 80's will produce more females than males. Several experienced Phelsuma breeders have claimed that temps of precisely 86-87F will produce a 50/50 ratio of the sexes. I have sold most of the offspring I have produced over the last few years and have not tracked enough to sexual maturity to generate a scientifically valid study. I can say, however, that my eggs have been incubated at temps averaging 81-84F and the grandis we (my friend and I) have kept have ALL turned out to be female. I have also experienced near 100% hatch rates at these temps.

I have long wondered what the temperature thresholds are for grandis eggs. What is the lowest temperature can the eggs be incubated at before they start failing to hatch? How high? As of now, I am not aware of any studies that have been done to answer these questions. I have personally have had temp spikes up to 97F for short periods (less than 1 day) without any harm to developing eggs. Also, my incubators have inadvertantly dipped as low as 68F with no problems with the eggs. These huge fluctuations are difficult to avoid 100% of the time. Power outages during the winter can lower an incubator to dangerously low levels in hours. In the warmer months, an incubator that has lost all of its' water can climb to over a 100 F in short period of time. As of now, none of my eggs that were involved in major temp fluctuations have failed to hatch. Although, this type of temp fluctuation could potentially affect the sex of 1 or more of the developing eggs. If you are a new breeder and you're looking for a stable temperature range, shoot for 84-85 averages temps with a +- of 4 degrees F. This is a proven "safe" range for grandis that will result in excellent hatch rates and a good mix of the sexes.

Humidity is also critically important to the egg's survival. Grandis eggs must be kept in conditions where the relative humidity of the surrounding air is at least 75% or more. If the eggs are kept too dry they will dessicate and the developing embryo will die. Conditions that are too wet are also dangerous. Condensation can form on the underside of the lid and drops can fall onto the eggs. If this happens at a regular pace, the egg may drown. Also, humid, unventilated air promotes the growth of mold which can harm the eggs. Often times dead eggs will develop mold when left for extended periods in the incubator. If you think you have mold growing on fertile eggs, you can gently scrub it off with a clean soft-bristled toothbrush. If the mold returns do the same thing only use a little bit of very diluted listerine on the toothbrush. P. m. grandis eggs can be kept at 100% humidity without problems as long as they are on a dry, sterile surface and are provided with some ventilation. The humidity inside the deli cups in my incubators averages 85-95%.

One question that is not often addressed in Day Gecko care books is whether or not the eggs can be incubated in a well lit location or whether they need to be in the dark. I have found that grandis eggs will do just as well in a bright location as they will in a dark one. It is certainly not recommended that anyone incubate eggs directly under lights or in direct sunlight, as this will most likely cook them. However, you do not need to go to special lengths to ensure the eggs are kept in the dark.

Waiting for reptile eggs to hatch is always a test of patience, especially if one is expecting something special. P. m. grandis eggs take slightly longer than many Phelsuma eggs averaging about 48-58 days to hatch when incubated in the 80s. Incubation temps in the higher 80s will often hatch at around 50 days. Those kept in the lower 80s will average after about 55. At this moment we do not know the record shortest or longest incubation periods for grandis. My shortest to date is 49 days with average incubation temps of 86+-2 and the longest a grandis has taken to hatch in my collection was 56 days at 82-84F average. Recently my friend Dan Baker had a grandis clutch take 77 days to hatch. He was incubating in the high 70's and low 80's.

Neonate Care: Within minutes of hatching, a hatchling grandis will usually begin to shed its' skin. Some times a hatchling will take a day or more to shed for the first time. Occasionally a hatchling will fail to shed or will only shed portions of its skin. This can be a sign of poor health and often babies who can't shed properly will live short, difficult lives. It is important that the gecko has a humid environment to emerge into so that its first shed will go smoothly. Many keepers will leave them in the incubator for a day or two (sometimes inadvertently) before placing them in an enclosure. The benefit of this is that the incubator is very warm and humid. However, the babies can disrupt other eggs that have not yet hatched.

The newborn grandis will also have the remains of its yolk sack attached. This will usually come off right away, but if it doesn't do NOT attempt to remove it manually. You could injure the hatchling gecko. It will eventually separate from the animal. There is also some yolk that remains inside the hatchling's stomach, giving it nourishment for its first few days.

Unfortunately, adult Phelsuma madagascariensis and their young are not compatible. The parents may eat their young or harass them, leading to poor development or death. Therefore, if you are expecting babies soon, you must prepare additional arrangements to house them separately from the parents. hatchling Phelsuma madagascariensis are also territorial and aggressive towards each other very soon after they are born. Because of this, I would advise that the young be housed individually or in small groups in a large, well-planted enclosure.

The number of different enclosure possibilities for hatchling grandis is limited only by the imagination. Glass jars, plastic deli cups, small aquariums, critter keepers, and many other height-oriented, see-through containers can make suitable homes for babies. There are also an infinite number of ways to furnish this enclosure. Every gecko keeper does it a bit different and there is no "best" way to house them. What is really important is making sure that the specialized needs of hatchling Phelsuma madagascariensis grandis are being met. This means the enclosure should be set up with an emphasis on functionality. Humidity and temperature levels should be constantly monitored, and the enclosure should be easily accessible. It should also be designed so that the animal(s) are easy to locate and view.

High humidity is a must for hatchling grandis. Their little bodies will dessicate much faster than the adults and should be maintained at relative humidity Levels of 60% - 90%. Misting the enclosure several times per day (especially the "hot spots") will temporarily boost the humidity and will give the hatchling a chance to drink the droplets. The lid should be mostly covered in order to hold in the moisture. Substrates that retain moisture are of benefit to stabilize humidity levels between mistings. Some live plants will also give off moisture and are enjoyed by the hatchling geckos. Keepers who live in more humid regions are presented with less of a challenge in maintaining high humidity levels in the enclosure. Those of us from arid regions must balance moisture containment with ventilation.

High moisture levels and little air flow can spawn the growth of mold and bacteria. The keeper must take care to prevent this from happening (usually by increasing ventilation) and must take care to maintain a sterile environment where mold and fecal matter do not jeopardize the animal's health. The arboreal nature of these animals makes them less at risk from these problems, but it can be unhealthy for the gecko and the keeper.

Hatchling grandis have similar temperature requirements to the adults, only that their smaller size means they heat up and get cold much faster. Most keepers try to give the hatchling geckos an ambient temperature in the low 80's during the day, possibly dropping a few degrees at night. Babies need a basking spot for proper digestion and other body processes just like the adults and should be provided with a "hot spot" in the mid 90's. This can come from light above or a heatpad. It is very important that the hatchling gecko cannot burn itself on this "hot spot" and it should always have the opportunity to move to a cooler area. Hatchling grandis can easily burn themselves or even die of heatstroke in minutes. A small heatpad designed for hermit crabs and affixed to the side of the enclosure can provide an ideal place for the animal to warm itself 24 hrs a day. They don't get too hot and use very little electricity.

Bright, intense lighting is especially important for the younsters. I have raised hatchling grandis in all sorts of lighting conditions and I have found that the combination of high output UV bulbs alongside traditional fluorescent tubes with a high CRI produces the healthiest and best looking geckos. 12 hours each day is more than sufficient. I also place a horizontal basking area (usually a piece of bamboo) within 1" of the UV bulb itself. This requires placing the lights either on or very near the screen lid. I then place the horizontal bamboo just under the lid (see picture). At this distance from the bulb, the temperature is usually between 85 and 95 degrees F and the UV strength is very high. When provided with a basking site within 1" of the UV and traditional fluorescent bulbs, hatchling day geckos will develop exceptionally well. Their growing skeletons and bodies will be provided with ideal amounts of vitamin D3 from the UV, and the brightness will simulate natural sunlight.

There is no substitute for natural, unfiltered sunlight though, and I make sure that every hatchling is given limited exposure. Natural sunlight is the "breast milk" of hatchling grandis. If at all possible, hatchling grandis should be given very carefully controlled amounts of direct sunlight. Even a few minutes a week can contribute significantly to the animal's development. It is very VERY important that the keeper not put the gecko in a "greenhouse" type situation where the animal can overheat. Also, the animal must be able to retreat to shade or it WILL die within a very short period of time. I have lost several hatchling geckos to heatstroke in the past and recommends extreme caution when placing geckos in the sun. When placing hatchling grandis in the sun I only recommend the use of 100% screen cages that are always at least half in the shade. Also, be careful because the sun moves (well, actually the Earth is moving relative to the sun...) and a cage placed in the shade may be in the sun within minutes. Most day gecko keepers feel it is either too dangerous or totally unnecessary to give their babies small amounts of direct sunlight. I feel that the benefits outway the risks because my youngsters are some of the most robust I have ever seen and they reach maturity in record times. In summary, I have found my hatchling geckos develop best when exposed to bright, UV-saturated light for normal daylight periods (10-14 hrs per day depending on the time of year).

Feeding Neonates: The nutritional requirements of your hatchling grandis will be slightly different from that of the adults. Obviously the babies will have to be fed smaller insects. Fruit flies and pinhead crickets are the most readily available and are nutritious when well fed on a nutritious diet. Small meal worms and wax worms may be offered occasionally as well as wild-caught insects and spiders. My babies are offered insects every 2-3 days. I lightly dust my insects with a calcium powder (by putting them in a plastic bag with the powder and shaking it) every other time I offer the insects, which ends up being 1-2 times per week.

In addition to the insects, a small dish of complete Gecko Diet is always available to the hatchling grandis. Often the bab y food dish will mold because of the high humidity conditions in the hatchling's enclosure. Food should be replaced daily or more frequently if molding is seen.

This excellent care sheet courtesy of Joe Farah

Edited by Genevieve LaFerriere

This care sheet along with other very extensive ones can be found at © 2007 Please do not use any images without owner's consent