There are many types of geckos, however three of the most popular for reptile keepers are the leopard, Crested and Gargoyle Geckos.
Being a good owner to your gecko means taking a lot of time to understand how your pet is feeling and with this you may notice some strange behaviour.
A common behaviour that many owners see that can cause them some concern is a gecko digging in their tanks substrate. It can look worrying but this guide will put your mind at ease by telling you the reasons why it happens.
Why do geckos dig?
Let’s start off by quickly answering the question, then I will go into much further detail so that you can diagnose your own geckos digging reasons.
So why do geckos dig? There are several reasons why your gecko may be digging, the most common reasons include:
- Temperature regulation.
- Searching for food.
- Hiding from potential predators.
- Nesting for birth.
- Boredom due to not enough tank furniture.
- Digging due to curiosity.
So above are the most common reasons why your gecko is digging in its substrate. Keep reading for more information about each reason.
The reasons why geckos dig.
Geckos are primarily insectivorous. They will “forage” for food every night. In captivity, they will often dig in substrate in search of insects that are hiding there.
It’s best to supply your gecko with a dish of moistened soil or sand to allow it to forage without damaging the enclosure.
It is recommended that you use a shallow substrate such as sand, and place a shallow layer of moistened soil (or play sand) on top of it. This will provide your gecko with an easy source of food and they get to feel that they’ve earned an “honest” meal.
These are the reasons why your leopard, Crested and Gargoyle geckos dig:
- It is too hot.
Each gecko requires a different temperature in their terrarium to keep active and healthy, if it’s too warm, they may seek cool places in the enclosure to rest. Re-consider your heat source; a 100-watt light bulb can be too hot for a small enclosure, but a 60-watt bulb might work fine depending on the size of the enclosure and length of exposure to heat source.
- Scavenging for food
If your gecko is digging in the substrate when you offer food in open dishes, they’re looking for insects that may be hiding under the dish! Try offering food in dishes that are dug into the substrate so there is no surface area that insects could be hiding on.
- Too bright
Many geckos have pupils that don’t expand much, so bright light isn’t optimal for them. Reducing or eliminating direct light on the enclosure will help them to feel more comfortable.
- She is getting ready to lay eggs (preparing a nesting site)
If your gecko is digging in one or more areas of the enclosure, she may be preparing a nesting site. Ensure that you provide her with a humid hide with lots of plant material inside for her to lay her eggs in – many people use terrarium plants
- Instinctively digging to hide from predators
If your gecko is digging in an area of the enclosure where they usually rest during the day, then they are trying to create a “den” where they can go and hide from predators (it’s instinctive for lizards and other reptiles to seek out dark, hidden places when they are feeling threatened). Try covering the tank slightly around the sides or on top so she can still maintain her hiding place without being so “exposed”.
- Geckos love digging for fun
Some geckos just love digging! Offer dirt to your gecko in an easily sanitized container and let them go at it if you’re OK with cleaning up the surfaces of the enclosure.
- Your cage is too small
If your enclosure is too small, your gecko will become stressed and may dig. If you can’t get a bigger enclosure, try finding a way to make the dimensions of the enclosure less stressful for her by reducing the volume of substrate.
8.They also dig if they’re bored.
If your gecko is digging in the substrate, it’s most likely because she’s either bored or stressed. These are very common reasons why a gecko will dig and you can try to correct them by making sure your gecko has lots of things to climb on, is eating a varied diet and that you provide a hide box for her to feel secure in.
You must consider why your gecko is digging before you can solve the problem. The reasons to dig are instinctive and all normal behavior for a gecko; what you should focus on is fixing the conditions that make them dig in the first place.
Is it bad that your gecko is digging?
No. Like dogs and cats scratching posts or cats kneading their paws on blankets, geckos will dig in soft substrate to mark their territory (aka scent-mark).
A gecko’s scent gland is located on its underside and it will leave a scented mark with every step it takes when doing this. This doesn’t mean that your gecko’s behavior is abnormal or that you haven’t provided her with sufficient hiding areas, it just means that she’s claiming her territory.
How do I stop my gargoyle gecko from digging?
- Ensure that their habitat is comfortable
Geckos love a moist environment. Check that they’re getting enough light, heat and humidity.
- Offer your gecko some sticks or branches to climb
Try adding a stick or branch to the cage that is not a climbing perch but is small enough for a gecko to hold onto with its feet (without falling) while it marks it with its scent.
- Keep food in different places so they have an active scavenging area
Provide a separate dish that your gecko can pick at instead of digging into one dish or corner. Offer food in shallow dishes that are dug into the substrate allowing them to “hunt” for insects in the dirt instead of just offering it in a dish off the ground.
- Gargoyle geckos are nocturnal; give them something to climb on and a hide box for them to rest in during the day; this will give them “safe places” where they can go if they’re feeling stressed.
- Add more branches and vines for your gecko to climb on; it makes their environment more interesting and gives them more space in which to climb around and communicate with other geckos (if housed in groups). Pile rocks or mulch up against the walls of their enclosure to create climbing areas that don’t require branches/vines; it’s also nice for females who have laid eggs because they can use these climbing areas as a place to rest during the day without leaving their eggs exposed on top of substrate that your male gecko may dig out while looking for insects.
Is it bad that your gecko is digging?
In general it is pretty normal behavior for a gecko to be digging. However if you think that your gecko is digging because of lack of space or boredom you should really try to give it a bigger space or add more furnitureto its tank. This will keep it happy and occupied.
Why do male geckos dig?
Male geckos are territorial and will scent mark frequently, typically leaving their scent on structures such as branches or on the walls of an enclosure. They may do this to make sure other males know what territory they are claiming, or to mark females that they have already claimed to make sure any other males know not to bother her.
If your male is scent marking inside his enclosure, try placing branches for him to claim around it so that he has more room in which he can leave his scent marks. This should help him feel more at home and calm within his space when he’s scent marking rather than scraping against the walls and furniture of your home.
It is pretty normal to see your gecko digging from time to time as this is what they would naturally do in the wild. However if you notice that it is becoming a regular occurrence it could be a warning sign that your gecko is not happy.
Changing the furniture in its tank or offering a larger space could be just the answer needed to solve this problem.
My name is Andy Baines and I am the owner and writer here at Super Crazy Pets.
For the last 20 years I have been the carer/parent of many exotic pets, from reptiles to amphibians I have cared for and looked after them all.
I created this website to share my knowledge of looking after pets with other fellow owners.
My works and articles have been shared on many online publications including The Spruce Pets.
You can read more about my story by visiting the about me page.