Phelsuma madagascariensisMadagascar Day Gecko

Geographic Range

Madagascar day geckos are native to the eastern coast of Madagascar. They have been introduced to southern Florida, in the United States. ("Smithsonian National Zoological Park Reptiles & Amphibians Fact Sheet", 2009; Heygen, 2004)


Madagascar day geckos are arboreal. They inhabit trees in tropical rainforests, as well as trees in grassland and agricultural areas. (D'Cruze, et al., 2007; "Smithsonian National Zoological Park Reptiles & Amphibians Fact Sheet", 2009; D'Cruze, et al., 2007)

  • Range elevation
    40 to 320 m
    131.23 to 1049.87 ft

Physical Description

Madagascar day geckos are the largest species of gecko. Adults can reach up to 25 cm in lengt. Their tails are usually just as long as their bodies or longer. They have broad, flattened toe pads with adhesive lamellae (thin flat scales). These toe pads give them the ability to cling to smooth surfaces. Their eyes are very large with a circle of bright blue around them. They do not any have eye lids. ("Smithsonian National Zoological Park Reptiles & Amphibians Fact Sheet", 2009; Demeter, 1975)

Madagascar day geckos are usually bright green but the color can vary from light green to a bluish green between their scales. They have a stripe that runs from the nostril to an area just behind the ear that is usually a rust or red color. Madagascar day geckos have brown dots that connect to form a line along their mid-backs. Females have smaller heads than males and their color is less vibrant, so it is easy to tell the sexes apart. Young Madagascar day geckos resemble their parents except that they have proportionately larger heads and the underside of their tail is orange. ("Smithsonian National Zoological Park Reptiles & Amphibians Fact Sheet", 2009; Demeter, 1975)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • male more colorful
  • Range length
    10 to 25 cm
    3.94 to 9.84 in


Eggs of P. madagascariensis hatch after an incubation period of 47 to 82 days. The temperature at which the eggs are incubated determines the sex of the offspring. Eggs incubated at 81 to 85 degrees (F) will yield males, while eggs incubated from 77 to 81 degrees (F) will yield females. Upon hatching, the young are morphologically identical to the adult form, but differ slightly in their coloration. The diet of young Madagascar day geckos mainly consists of small insects. The offspring usually reach a sexually mature adult size in one to two years. ("Smithsonian National Zoological Park Reptiles & Amphibians Fact Sheet", 2009; Bartlett and Bartlett, 2001; Mattiolo, et al., 2006)

  • Development - Life Cycle
  • temperature sex determination


Madagascar day geckos engage in a courtship phase during mating. Sexually mature males have pores on the backs of their legs that become enlarged. They start to produce a waxy substance that looks like small droplets. Sexually mature females can have calcium deposits located on both sides of the neck. Males approach females with a jerky head swaying motion. This male behavior is usually in unison with rapid tongue flicking in the female. This seems to be some type of mating ritual, but the details of what is being assessed are unknown. ("Smithsonian National Zoological Park Reptiles & Amphibians Fact Sheet", 2009; Demeter, 1975)

Males grab females between the head and neck with their teeth. As soon as this happens, the male's colors darken. Females usually emit a distress call when they are grasped. Males then rest their throats on the female's head and make a soft noise. This noise only lasts as long as the courtship. Males and females both lick their vents after they are out of the courtship embrace. It is unknown whether males or females seek additional matings. (Demeter, 1975)

Madagascar day geckos reproduce sexually, with females laying eggs several times per year. A clutch usually consists of 2 eggs and clutches are laid from January to July, with February to March being peak months. A female may produce multiple clutches in a single breeding season. After an incubation period of 47 to 82 days, the young hatch and are immediately self sufficient and independent. The young feed primarily on small insects and become sexually mature within one to two years. ("Smithsonian National Zoological Park Reptiles & Amphibians Fact Sheet", 2009; Demeter, 1975; Mattiolo, et al., 2006)

  • Breeding interval
    Madagascar day geckos breed approximately every 2 to 3 months.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding occurs from January to July, peaking from February to April.
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 2
  • Average number of offspring
  • Range gestation period
    47 to 82 days
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    1 to 2 years
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    1 to 2 years

Madagascar day geckos are independent upon hatching. ("Smithsonian National Zoological Park Reptiles & Amphibians Fact Sheet", 2009; Demeter, 1975)

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female


While the lifespan of P. madagascariensis in the wild is unknown, it is estimated to be less than 6 years. The average lifespan in captivity is around 15 years. ("Smithsonian National Zoological Park Reptiles & Amphibians Fact Sheet", 2009; Bartlett and Bartlett, 2001)

  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    15 years


Madagascar day geckos tend to be found clinging to vertical surfaces, such as tree trunks and branches, where they rest and sunbathe. When geckos shed, they eat their own skin. They seem to be territorial, as they are aggressive towards other members of the species. Younger geckos are most aggressive. They will often make direct attacks on others if they are found in the same place. Male geckos can change colors when they are stressed or if they are ill. Their coloring darkens in these situations. ("Smithsonian National Zoological Park Reptiles & Amphibians Fact Sheet", 2009; Demeter, 1975)

Home Range

There is no information available on home range of Madagascar day geckos.

Communication and Perception

As a diurnal species, P. madagascariensis relies heavily on sight to gather information about its environment. Slight changes in the intensity of the skin's coloration are used to convey information during breeding and courtship, as well as to indicate high levels of stress or illness. Auditory signals are emitted during breeding and courtship, as well as when the animal is heavily stressed. Tactile communication is used during reproduction, when males restrain females via biting her on the neck. The secretions from the male's leg pores may be a form of chemical communication, as the secretion is also accompanied by female tongue flicking. Madagascar day geckos have a distinct call that resembles the sound of a frog. It is made by using their very large tongues to produce a clicking sound of the roofs of their mouths. (Demeter, 1975)

Food Habits

Madagascar day geckos eat a wide variety of arthropods. They also occasionally eat sweet fruits or nectar. Their main source of water is from the condensation found on leaves. ("Smithsonian National Zoological Park Reptiles & Amphibians Fact Sheet", 2009; Demeter, 1975)

Madagascar day geckos in captivity are usually fed about twice a week. They have been observed taking great care in deciding what food they will ingest. They will often discard some pieces of food before finally deciding what they will eat. (Demeter, 1975)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • aquatic crustaceans
  • Plant Foods
  • fruit
  • nectar


While no studies examining specific predators have been performed, P. madagascariensis is probably preyed upon by a variety of predators, including various birds, mammals, and other reptiles. This species, like many other species of lizards, is capable of dropping the last portion of the tail to distract a predator that is pursuing them, thus allowing an easier escape. Madagascar day geckos rely heavily on camouflage to avoid predators; their green coloration and habit of clinging to surfaces allows them to blend in seamlessly with their tropical, arboreal environment. ("Smithsonian National Zoological Park Reptiles & Amphibians Fact Sheet", 2009; Bartlett and Bartlett, 2001)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

Madagascar day geckos eat smaller animals, such as insects. They are preyed upon by larger animals such as birds. However, there is little information on the actual role of the geckos in the ecosystem. ("Smithsonian National Zoological Park Reptiles & Amphibians Fact Sheet", 2009; Demeter, 1975)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Madagascar day geckos help control populations of insects that they preys on and may play a role in pollinating some plant species through feeding on nectar. Madagascar day geckos are popular animals within the pet trade. However, most are now captive bred. This species is frequently displayed in zoos for educational and display purposes, and could be used by researchers to further understand and study the mechanisms that enable geckos to cling to smooth surfaces, such as glass. (Bartlett and Bartlett, 2001)

  • Positive Impacts
  • pet trade
  • research and education
  • controls pest population

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known negative effects for humans caused by Madagascar day geckos.

  • Negative Impacts
  • injures humans
    • bites or stings

Conservation Status

Madagascar day gecko populations are not considered threatened currently. They seem to be adaptable to human disturbance. ("Smithsonian National Zoological Park Reptiles & Amphibians Fact Sheet", 2009)

Other Comments

The name "gecko" probably originated from the calls of these lizards. Geckos are the only type of lizards known to be able to make more than a simple hiss. Their vocalizations can range from squeaks and clicks to barks and croaks. ("Smithsonian National Zoological Park Reptiles & Amphibians Fact Sheet", 2009)


Courtney Fry (author), James Madison University, Carl Roycroft (author), James Madison University, Suzanne Baker (editor, instructor), James Madison University, Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.



living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map


living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.


Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


having a body temperature that fluctuates with that of the immediate environment; having no mechanism or a poorly developed mechanism for regulating internal body temperature.


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.


referring to animal species that have been transported to and established populations in regions outside of their natural range, usually through human action.

island endemic

animals that live only on an island or set of islands.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

pet trade

the business of buying and selling animals for people to keep in their homes as pets.


rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


lives alone


uses touch to communicate


Living on the ground.


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


uses sight to communicate


2009. "Smithsonian National Zoological Park Reptiles & Amphibians Fact Sheet" (On-line). Accessed March 22, 2009 at

Bartlett, R., P. Bartlett. 2001. Day Geckos. Hauppauge, NY: Barron's Educational Series, Inc..

D'Cruze, N., J. Sabel, K. Green, J. Dawsom, C. Gardner, J. Robinson, G. Starkie, M. Vinces, F. Glaw. 2007. The First Comprehensive Survey of Amphibians and Reptiles at Montagne Des Francais, Madagascar. Herpetological Conservation and Biology, 2/2: 87-99. Accessed April 02, 2009 at'Cruze_etal_2007.pdf.

Demeter, B. 1975. Observations on the care, breeding and behaviour of the Giant day gecko at the National Zoological Park, Washington. International zoo yearbook, 16/1: 130-133.

Heygen, E. 2004. "New records of Phelsuma madagascariensis grandis in Florida." (On-line). Phelsumania. Accessed May 27, 2009 at

Mattiolo, F., C. Gili, F. Andreone. 2006. Economics of captile breeding applied to the conservation of selected amphibian and reptile species from Madagascar. Natura- Soc. it. Sci. nat. Museo civ. Stor. nat. Milano, 95/2: 67-80. Accessed April 02, 2009 at