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Mourning Gecko bioactive care and maintenance

Mourning Gecko bioactive care and maintenance

Mourning Gecko (Lepidodactylus lugubris)

Difficulty: Low

Mourning geckos are very small, arboreal geckos that are widely distributed throughout tropical forests of the South Pacific, Hawaii, and Central and South America. They have an omnivorous diet of fruit and insects, and are irregularly active both at night and during the day.

Like other arboreal geckos, mourning geckos have vertical pupils, lidless eyes and sticky toe pads, but they can be distinguished by their velvety skin, translucent cream to yellow-colored belly, a dark stripe from nostril to eye (and sometimes ear) on both sides of the head, a series of dark W-shaped stripes down the back and tail, and a rounded tail with a very subtle fringe on the sides. Coloring ranges from pale beige to brown, often depending on the gecko’s body temperature and mood. These “micro” geckos grow only 3.5-4” long!

Mourning geckos are very hardy and simple to care for, but due to their size and speed of movement, they’re a better display animal than the kind of pet that you take out and handle regularly. They are an extremely high-commitment pet, as mourning geckos are parthenogenic, which means that they are an exclusively-female species that reproduces essentially through self-cloning. This means that a healthy initial population of 2 adult mourning geckos will multiply exponentially over time. This also means that you can have the same terrarium of mourning geckos for the rest of your life.

Because mourning geckos are so difficult to catch and handle, it’s best to house them in a bioactive terrarium environment in order to make routine maintenance less stressful and less likely to result in escaped geckos.


What You Need for a Bioactive Mourning Gecko Enclosure

Terrarium Size

The minimum enclosure size recommended for housing up to 3 mourning geckos is 12”L x 18”W  x 18”H. Mourning geckos are a social species, and although they inevitably reproduce, in order to promote positive mental health individuals should not be kept alone.

The rule of thumb with reptiles is that a larger enclosure than the minimum is always better as long as the space is laid out well, but this is especially the case for mourning geckos. It’s a myth that a pet’s growth can be limited by the size of its enclosure, but with mourning geckos, the size of the enclosure that you provide does influence the ultimate number of geckos that you end of with. Mourning geckos opportunistically eat their offspring, especially when conditions start to get crowded and the hatchlings don’t have the space to hide from adults. Most mourning gecko keepers choose a certain size of enclosure for their geckos and then let the colony self-regulate its own population.

Hatchling mourning geckos are very small and flexible, and can exploit almost any gap to escape a terrarium. Make sure to use a tightly-fitted glass or acrylic front-opening terrarium, and seal every gap that you can find.


Because they’re constantly making and laying eggs, mourning geckos have high requirements for vitamin D3, and that means they need appropriate UVB lighting to stay healthy. Providing UVB also helps prevent illness, improves nervous and digestive function, and promotes good mental health.

Mourning geckos like to hang out upside-down on the underside of their terrarium mesh, so you need to be very careful to provide very low-intensity UVB in order to prevent them from getting burned. The best way to do this is to use a 12” Arcadia ShadeDweller-Arboreal UVB kit for UVB provision. Your UVB bulb must be replaced every 12 months to maintain its output. Resist the temptation to use other brands — when it comes to UVB, brand matters!

Because this is a bioactive setup, you will also need a bright plant light to promote healthy plant growth. We recommend the 16” Bio Dude Glow & Grow LED lamp for this purpose.

Both lighting and heating should be on for 12 hours/day.


There is a common misconception that mourning geckos don’t need a heat source, but this is false. Mourning geckos are still reptiles, which means that they are poikilothermic, and that means that they need a range of temperatures within their enclosure so they can regulate their own body temperature as needed. Areas of heat speed up their metabolism and promote activities like digestion and healing. Cool areas slow the metabolism and promote activities like rest and energy conservation.

That said, mourning geckos overheat easily, so you need to be careful about how much heat you provide, and make sure you have cooler areas of the terrarium the geckos can use as needed.

  • Basking area temperature: 80-85°F
  • Cool zone temperature: 70-75°F
  • Nighttime temperature: 65-72°F

Ambient temperatures should not be allowed to get higher than 82°F, or else your geckos may suffer heat stroke!

To create a basking area for your mourning geckos, you will need a low-wattage white heat bulb. The 25w Exo Terra Daytime Heat Lamp works well, especially when mounted in a fixture like the Exo Terra Compact Top hood. If the basking area gets too warm, raise the lamp away from the mesh with small pieces of wood or similar. If the basking area is too cool, you will need a higher-wattage bulb.

To keep track of the temperatures in your terrarium, use digital probe thermometers like the Bio Dude Digital Thermometer / Hygrometer. To track basking temperature, zip-tie the probe to the basking branch directly under the lamps. To track cool zone temperature, place another device’s probe in the shade in the middle of the enclosure.


Mourning geckos are thin-skinned and dehydrate easily, so they need a high humidity environment. To be specific, they need daily humidity levels between 60-90%. Keep track of your humidity levels with a digital hygrometer like the Bio Dude Digital Thermometer / Hygrometer, with the probe secured to a branch in the middle of the enclosure, preferably in a shaded area.

To raise humidity in your gecko’s enclosure and provide a source of drinking water, use an Exo Terra 2qt Mister to wet things down every morning and evening, preferably when it’s dark. If you need help increasing humidity, you can run a fogger/cool mist humidifier intermittently at night. If you use a fogger, however, make sure to disinfect it frequently in order to prevent your geckos from getting sick.


A thick layer of bioactive-compatible substrate is essential to creating a bioactive mourning gecko enclosure. The following instructions are for setting up a 12x12x18 enclosure:

First, layer ~1” of clay balls or Bio Dude HydroGrow drainage material and place a layer of tight mesh on top to help prevent soil from getting into the drainage layer.

Next you will need at least 12 quarts of a soil-like mix that mimics the conditions of a tropical rainforest and will nourish your plants. If you want to make your own, you will need a mixture of 50% plain topsoil, 25% peat moss or coconut fiber, and 25% play sand. Mix that with leaf litter, sphagnum moss, and 2 doses of 6qt Bio Shot to inoculate your soil with beneficial microfauna. This layer of soil should be as deep as possible.

Alternatively, you can let The Bio Dude do the work for you with The Bio Dude’s Terra Fauna 12x12x18 bioactive substrate kit.

To help make the substrate functional, make sure to add tropical CUC organisms like powder blue/orange isopods, dwarf isopods, and springtails. You can also add other species like superworms, earthworms, and small millipedes! (Note: mourning geckos like to snack on their CUC, so be ready to add more to CUC critters to the terrarium on a routine basis)

Decorating the Enclosure

Enclosure décor is more than just making your setup look good. It’s also an important part of providing environmental enrichment to your gecko, which reduces stress and enhances your pet’s quality of life by providing opportunities to express natural behaviors. Considering that Mourning Geckos are arboreal, two of their most important natural behaviors are climbing and hiding, which means that you will need lots of branches, vines, and foliage to fulfill that need. Don’t be afraid to clutter it up!

Live plants in particular are critical to helping your mini-ecosystem function properly. Fortunately since mourning geckos are so small, you don’t have to worry about them trampling whatever plants you put in the terrarium. Some good plants for a small tropical terrarium include philodendron, arrowhead vine, ferns, calathea, creeping fig, and peperomia.

Feeding Your Mourning Gecko

Mourning geckos are omnivores. Specifically speaking, they primarily feed on fruit and insects in the wild. As pets, however, they do best on a diet of specially-formulated crested gecko diet powder (CGD) and calcium-dusted live insects. Offer CGD 2-3x/week and insects 2-3x/week for optimal nutrition.

The key to providing a healthy, balanced diet for any reptile is VARIETY! Here’s a quick list of foods that are safe to feed to your mourning geckos:

Best crested gecko diet powders: Pangea, Repashy, Black Panther Zoological, Leapin’ Leachie, Zoo Med, Lugarti

Best insects: 1/4-1/2” crickets, fruit flies, bean beetles, rice flour beetles, red runner roach nymphs, small mealworms, extra small superworms, 1/4-1/2” grasshoppers

Feeders can usually be dumped into the enclosure for the geckos to hunt down (which makes great enrichment), but worms should be offered in a bowl.


Although feeder insects should always be gutloaded for 2-3 days prior to feeding with a high-quality, plant-based gutload formula, they will also need to be “dusted” with an appropriate supplement powder just before offering. There are many options, but Arcadia CalciumPro Mg and MinerAll Outdoor are both solid D3-free calcium supplements.


Care information courtesy of ReptiFiles.


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  • Josh Halter


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