Geckos, or Gekkonidae, are small and appear to be fragile. But the truth is that these little reptiles are smart and sophisticated.
It’s not too surprising then that they have sharp instincts and respond to their environment in clever ways.
Most people think that geckos only climb on surfaces and chill on little rocks. Thus, they feel a bit surprised when they see their geckos acting differently.
So, if you’re wondering why is my gecko digging? You’re in good company. Geckos dig their substrate for various reasons, like feeling too hot, too, cold, too bored, or too scared!
They could also do that if they’re sick. In which case, they’d need to see a vet. Read on for all the details on the matter.
10 Common Reasons Why a Gecko Is Digging
There are at least 10 good reasons for geckos to start digging. Most of them wouldn’t make this a sole occupation.
So, if geckos go at it all day and all night, you’d need to monitor them a bit more. Otherwise, an occasional digging spree is nothing to worry about.
1 – Looking for a Suitable Temperature
Geckos are mostly cold-blooded animals, which means that they can’t regulate their body temperature, and depend on their environment for that.
That’s why you’d see them scurrying away from a cold cave at dawn, and rushing off to the sun. then, as the sun becomes too hot, they crawl back to their cool hideout.
Most enclosures imitate these conditions, but sometimes, the surrounding temperature is either too hot or too cold. That’s when a gecko starts digging.
When it’s too cold, you can use a light bulb to elevate the temperature of one side of the gecko’s terrarium.
Just make sure to keep the light on only during the morning time, otherwise, the little reptile will get confused. That’s because geckos are nocturnal animals that become active at night.
Additionally, the gecko’s eyes are about 400% more sensitive to light compared to the human eye. Placing a heated pad is often a better alternative for warming up a gecko’s hiding spot.
Warmer surroundings aren’t as much of a problem, since geckos are originally from sunny deserts. They often find cooler spots in a hide. It helps, of course, to keep a couple of thermometers in the terrarium, and make changes accordingly.
2 – Not Enough Hides
Geckos like to have several hiding spots to feel comfy and safe. One should be warmer than the rest of the terrarium, one should be cooler, and another needs to be humid.
- The optimal temperature for a gecko is 75° to 85°F.
- A hotter spot should have a temperature of 90°F.
- By night, it needs a cool hide with a temperature of 65°F
In addition, they should have generally dry surroundings, with the exception of a single area that has humidity levels of 30-40%.
These are minimum requirements. But you can also add more hides to satisfy the curious fun-loving streak of the gecko.
3 – It Feels Stressed, Afraid, or Anxious
Geckos are fine-tuned to spotting danger a mile away. That’s often the case for animals ranking relatively low on the food chain.
In the wild, geckos have tons of natural enemies, so it’s not too surprising that they feel and act extra cautiously.
A cat in the house, a bunch of visitors, a bird on a nearby window, or kids standing close to its enclosure, would all trigger the gecko’s alarm system.
And the frightened little reptile would start digging right away!
4 – A Female Gecko Is Nesting
Female geckos lay eggs whether or not they have a mate. The difference is, their eggs are unfertilized if they’re alone.
Geckos can only lay their eggs in a humid spot, which is understandable, as that would keep them from getting damaged by rough surroundings.
If she fails to find a suitable place, the poor thing would retain her eggs, and that would get her sick.
That’s why one of the hides should be humid.
5 – Evading Another Gecko
Geckos need space, especially, if their enclosure is too tight. If you have two (or more) geckos in the same terrarium, then one of them would probably start digging away.
This would hardly solve its predicament, and consistent digging would barely give it the secure territory that it needs.
If that’s the case, you can install more hides, even if you have to put them on top of one another. Alternatively, you might want to buy a bigger enclosure.
Sometimes, separating the two geckos is necessary, if they don’t seem to get along nicely.
6 – The Gecko Is Shedding
Not too many people have seen a gecko shedding. And unlike snakes, their discarded skins are rarely seen in the wild. Here’s why.
A Gecko’s skin is thick and stiff. It was not made to stretch and expand as the reptile grows. That’s why, the only way for it to increase in size is by shedding its old skin and growing a new one.
Another difference between a snake’s shedding ritual and that of a gecko is that the latter sheds its skin piecewise, not in one full go. Thus, it’s always lying about in shredded pieces.
Additionally, geckos prefer to eat their own shedded skin. That sounds a tad gross, but this is, in fact, pretty smart.
It replenishes essential nutrients and eliminates their trail from the open desert, so bigger animals can’t hunt them.
If your gecko is shedding, it would seek a secure humid hide. If that’s not readily available, it would dig non-stop.
7 – Feeling Sick
Geckos are usually pretty smart about what they eat. They’re dedicated insectivores, with an occasional carnivorous binge of a tiny animal.
However, they might inadvertently ingest the wrong substance. This includes sand or other materials from their substrate. This would make them sick for days.
Feeling pain and discomfort are important drives for the gecko’s digging. It wouldn’t have the same vigor or vitality though, so that’s an important sign you should spot and act on.
If the gecko doesn’t go back to its normal sweet self in a couple of days, then a visit to the vet is in good order.
8 – The Surroundings Are Too Bright
Geckos are desert animals, so normally, they wouldn’t mind bright intense light. But that’s only in two cases:
- The light is limited to morning time.
- It can seek a hiding spot if it gets much too bright.
Thus, if the gecko is in a room with full light, day and night, it wouldn’t be too happy. Actually, it would get anxious, and its digging instincts would come to life.
It’s important to place the gecko in a naturally lit room, but not right beside a window. And by night, it would be best to dim the light around the terrarium.
In addition, the gecko should have proper hides where it can rest its eyes from the sun.
It’s worth mentioning here that geckos aren’t excessively nocturnal. To be precise, they are a crepuscular species, which means that they favor getting out at dusk and dawn.
Geckos like to see some daylight and get a bit of UV light. This keeps their circadian rhythms well-adjusted and their bones healthy. Not too much of that light though.
9 – Just For Fun
Digging for geckos is like playing in the sandlot for kids. It’s an instinctive way to pass the time and have tons of fun.
In terms of animal behavior, this is a healthy activity. And there’s nothing to cause alarm there. This is of course if the gecko doesn’t seem to have any other worrying issues.
For instance, if it starts digging after feeding and only does that once every other week, then all is well. Constant digging is a red flag though.
10 – Out of Curiosity
Any animal placed in new surroundings would be curious, and geckos are no exception. As you put a pet gecko in a terrarium, it would start going in and out of hides, climbing on the walls, and digging.
The same happens if you change any component of the terrarium. Replacing the terrarium, adding a hide, or even fixing a light bulb, would all start the digging response.
Geckos dig their substrates for various reasons, and most of them aren’t causes for concern. The one thing that should stand out, is when a gecko is digging because it’s not feeling well.
In that case, you should take it to a vet. For all the other unsavory situations, like unsuitable temperatures, excessive light, intrusive surroundings, and confined spaces, making small changes can fix these issues.
You’d soon notice that the gecko’s digging is limited to playfulness and maybe feeling a bit shy.
I have a bachelor’s degree in Film/Video/Media Studies, as well as an associates degree in Communications. I began producing videos and musical recordings nearly 15 years ago. I am a guitarist and bassist in Southwest MI and have been in a few different bands since 2009, and in 2012 I began building custom guitars and basses in my home workshop as well. When I’m home, I love spending time with my three pets (a dog, cat, and snake) and gardening in my backyard. I also like photographing wild birds, especially birds of prey.