If you saw geckos fighting then you know that despite being quite docile and friendly they can also be extremely aggressive. But what triggers those nasty fights? And what can you do to prevent geckos from fighting?
In general, geckos will fight when competing for resources, shelter, and viable mates. However, aspects related to age and gecko species might have a significant influence on such behavior as well.
Are there signs to look out for in geckos that may start fighting? YES! Geckos will display warning signs and aggressive behaviors before an altercation. Learn more about it in the article!
9 Reasons Why Geckos Fight Each Other
For beginner pet owners with little knowledge of reptile behavior, fighting can be mistaken for other positive social behaviors like playing. Unfortunately, that’s seldom the case for geckos.
Even worse, I have heard numerous stories of young kids—and a few adults—keeping several geckos in one tank so that none of them get lonely. More often than not though, these geckos end up with severe injuries from fighting.
Is Cohabbing to Blame for All Gecko Fights?
Does this mean that cohabbing geckos will only end in fights or deaths for geckos? Not at all! But only experienced keepers and reptile experts can pull off cohabbing geckos successfully. So, my suggestion here is avoid to placing two geckos together at all costs if you do not know what you are doing. Geckos are animals and deserve all our respect.
So if cohabbing isn’t necessarily the reason why geckos fight, then what is?
The 9 most common reasons why geckos fight are as follows:
- Territory or Space
- Environmental Resources
- Size Difference
- Competition for Mate
- Mate Rejection
Continue reading below to learn about these aforementioned reasons in greater detail!
It is quite common for geckos to fight over food. Indeed, in the presence of a competitor, the availability of food is threatened, triggering a violent reaction in the animal that attacks the “intruder” to guarantee its survival.
If we were put in a similar situation, I honestly think we would likely behave in the same manner.
Just imagine it! You are restricted in a space that you cannot readily get out of and you can’t eat whenever you want to. Someone just comes in with food—which you have no choice or control over. As it is, such a living situation already sounds terrible.
Then—out of the blue—a stranger is suddenly with you. I’m pretty sure you would have your guard up in such a scenario. Food security will also become a great concern for you. You would definitely end up fighting for your food.
Veterinarians further stress that trying to cohab too many geckos in a single tank is not recommended. This will increase the chances of having geckos fighting each other in an attempt to compete for food .
Feeding especially aggressive geckos together is not advisable either. In such instances, injuries from fights are likely to be more serious and life-threatening.
2. Territory or Space
Geckos normally fight fiercely to protect their territories against intruders. Similarly, geckos will fight for space to establish their territories, regardless of whether they are in the wild or in captivity.
Adult male geckos are particularly known to be quite territorial. This behavior can be observed in solitary and more social species of geckos that would live in loose colonies in their natural habitats.
Deaths are more commonly seen in fights between two highly territorial adult geckos. However, scientists warn against overgeneralizing such as “it is totally normal for geckos to fight to their deaths over territories.” Experts advise people to avoid making statements like this .
Oftentimes, geckos are not meant to kill their competitor, but deaths can be the result of a serious attack or injury from the fight. This may seem like an overstatement but remember that a gecko’s bite can be quite powerful. Geckos can chomp down on insects with tough exoskeletons and even small vertebrates like pinkies.
Personally, though, I have heard of fight-deaths more commonly happening in captivity than in the wild. I think that enclosed spaces are a large factor here.
So the lack of sufficient space within an enclosure will also result in frequent fights for cohabbed geckos that are.
3. Environmental Resources
Competition for resources typically leads to fighting for geckos of all ages, sizes, and species. The limited availability of important environmental resources such as1) heating, 2) humidity, and 3) hides, typically result in fights.
Now, let’s see exactly how these environmental factors can lead to fights.
Mixing a single basking spot and numerous geckos is a recipe for disaster. Being cold-blooded animals, our scaly little friends need a good place to warm up their bodies.
This means that simply having a good thermal gradient in the tank is not enough. Geckos should also be provided with a good basking spot
So expect to see geckos fighting over the best place under the heat lamp—or cluster of lamps. Especially if the available basking spot is too small to fit all the geckos living in one vivarium at the same time.
If you already have multiple humid hides in your gecko’s tank right now, then you have probably noticed how it preferred one over the others.
Now think about what would happen if the same thing happens with two or more geckos. The situation doesn’t look good, right? Even if you provide many humid hides that are exactly the same, there will always be at least one that your geckos will see as the best choice.
Geckos will fight over a favored humid hide as this microhabitat in their enclosure does not only serve as a refuge site. It also serves as an important source of hydration and helps with successful shedding.
For geckos, a good set of hides largely affects the quality of their life. Hides allow for efficient thermoregulation (e.g., cryptic basking) and act as secure living areas, among other things. These may also allow immediate access to food, water, and mates .
A gecko that constantly has to guard its refuge sites against others to avoid losing ownership over it, will always be on the lookout for its cage mates. It will attack without any hesitation to ensure that it will not lose any of its chosen hides.
4. Size Difference
Bigger geckos will typically fight and show dominance over smaller geckos living in the same tank. The smaller gecko ordinarily grows weaker over time and may become sickly which puts them in even greater danger during fights.
There are cases of bigger geckos continuously bullying small geckos to ensure that all resources are secured for their use alone.
The bullying and fighting could continue to a point where the smaller geckos are on the verge of dying from injuries, stress, and weakness. A big, dominant, and well-fed gecko will only see this as a benefit as the weak cage mate can be removed from the territory entirely.
They may even go as far as to try and eat the smaller gecko! Sure, this rarely happens in captivity, but it is still a possibility to consider.
Unfortunately, many keepers have brushed off early signs of aggression displayed by bigger geckos. Sometimes, these actions are even downplayed and misinterpreted as playing with each other.
But please keep in mind that fights aren’t always bloody. So it may be too late before pet owners even notice that their geckos are not getting along as well as they had thought.
Mature geckos are more likely to view their cage mates as unwanted and unneeded competition. Compared to hatchlings and juveniles, adult geckos are less likely to tolerate the presence of others near them. Even offspring and siblings are no exception to this.
It’s common practice for experienced breeders to only cohab geckos that have just hatched or are still juveniles. The reason being young geckos tend to be more tolerable of each other. Just like how easier it is for kids to get along and play together peacefully.
Warning: Young geckos may still get into fights with each other, just like little kids. One moment, they may be getting along well. The next moment, you could see them at each other’s throats, ready to bite down.
As geckos grow older and reach sexual maturity, they are more likely to fight each other to lessen competition for food, space, and other resources. You can think of this period as their teenage years. They can become more moody and quarrelsome.
That said, it isn’t advisable to keep young geckos with their parents either. Neither father nor mother geckos are nurturing towards their young, regardless of species . Young geckos are normally seen as unwanted competition by their parents.
Plus, keeping weak and vulnerable young geckos together with strong and healthy adults is never a good idea. Doing so will only increase the risk of infanticide and cannibalism in geckos. So yeah… Geckos aren’t exactly the best parents.
The Curious Case of Parenting by Captive Tokay Gecko (Gekko gecko)
Despite their notoriety, tokay geckos have been documented by many keepers and breeders for their extraordinary protectiveness as parents . However, even considering their apparent nurturing attitude towards their young, it is still recommended to separate them from their parents before the juvenile or sub-adults reach sexual maturity.
In cases where geckos live in colonies, there exists a hierarchy and geckos will fight to be on top. Additionally, stronger geckos (including the dominant or alpha gecko) are likely to bully and fight weak geckos to drive them out of the colony.
Geckos willingly fight against rivals to ensure control over important resources and secure mates—just to name a few. By becoming the leader or alpha of the colony, this power is ascertained.
However, having a dominant gecko in a colony doesn’t necessarily end all the fighting. If there are many comparable geckos in the group in terms of size, age, and strength, you can still expect fights to erupt. It may even happen more regularly in such cases.
If a gecko deems a competitor as someone they can handle, they will not easily back out of a fight. They will readily face them rather than flee. Why? Because the benefits will generally outweigh the risks.
Is Dominance a Matter of Sex for Geckos?
Yes and no—in short, it depends. In a breeding colony, the alpha is traditionally a male gecko. Conversely, in mostly or all-female colonies such as those by mourning geckos (Lepidodactylus lugubris), the dominant gecko is a female.
7. Competition for Mate
Male geckos are likely to fight rivals when competing for the same potential mate. They distinguish potential mates from rivals through their pheromones. In comparison, female geckos will normally not engage in fights with other females for breeding.
When it comes to mating, geckos are fairly simple and easy to understand.
Males will approach and court females as potential mates. That’s all there is to it, really. But of course, you can’t expect them to let other males get anywhere close to their territory during such times.
A gecko will actively fight off any other male that attempts to go near its territory or its mates. They can be especially hostile during the breeding season.
If neither party gives up in submission to the other, then the fight can be pretty bloody. Both could end up badly injured after—losing toes, limbs, chunks of flesh, and even their whole tails.
Pro Tip: If you are an experienced keeper that’s planning on having geckos mate for the first time, make sure that they are separated from all your other geckos, especially the males. Just pair up two geckos of the opposite sex at a time.
Also, make sure that both have already shed before pairing them up as the loose unshed skin makes it hard for geckos to definitively distinguish if the other is a potential mate or a rival .
8. Mate Rejection
Female geckos might fight back against males in case they do not accept their courtship, especially when a male gecko continues to pursue the unreceptive female gecko.
This may happen when the female has already been bred several times, if she is already gravid, or if she simply does not like the male attempting to mate with her.
In such instances, it’s best to immediately take out the male from the tank and place it back to its original enclosure.
It can get pretty intense if you leave them together. The female may continue attacking the male until the wounds are deep and bloody.
More often than not, these fights also happen because male geckos don’t readily accept the rejection and continue going after the female despite all the warning signs.
One time, a friend’s male lost its tail after the female’s incredibly hostile rejection of its advances. The female wouldn’t let go of him because she knew that it would only attempt to mate again after being released. In the end, the male dropped its tail to escape.
Generally, it is inevitable for a gecko to get into fights when introduced to other geckos—regardless of whether they are of the same species or not. This is primarily caused by their natural survival instincts.
Remember, geckos aren’t affectionate like humans are. They won’t cuddle or hug each other out of pure love and adoration. This will remain true no matter how hard we try to humanize and rationalize their every action.
Most, if not all, behaviors exhibited by geckos are simply practical—ensuring their survival. For geckos, life is all about survival of the fittest. Even though they are no longer in the wild, this strong instinct is unlikely to lessen in intensity.
Important Reminder: The instinct to fight against potential rivals applies to both male and female geckos.
Although males are notably more aggressive in fights, female geckos have also shown great hostility toward other females due to the 8 other reasons I have already discussed.
The myth of female geckos never getting into fights is primarily because most fights between females typically begin inconspicuously. To further complicate things, owners can’t keep an eye on cohabbed geckos 24/7—even with tank cameras. As a result, fights commonly go unnoticed, until severe injuries are sustained by one or all geckos involved.
Gecko Behaviors Observed Before Fights (7 Signs)
During confrontations, geckos rarely flee from their rivals. More often than not, a gecko will bravely face a competitor head-on. When neither party backs down, the confrontation will eventually lead to a fight [3, 7, 8].
Below are the 7 common signs that geckos are about to fight:
- Stand-Offs. Two geckos will meet each other face to face and maintain this position without much movement.
- Tail Wagging. One of both geckos in a stand-off will raise and lash their tail above their upper bodies in big movements. First, the tail is curled up, and then it is flicked sideways.
- Vocalizations. Geckos will produce a variety of sounds to warn, stop, and/or intimidate each other. Such vocalizations include chirping, squeaking, clicking, hissing, and snarling.
- Posturing. A gecko will raise its body, extend its hind legs, and arch its back, to enlarge its entire frame. This is done as a show of dominance and strength.
- Warding Off. One gecko blocks off the other from the entrance to the hide. Another form of this is when a gecko is driven out of the refuge site.
- Chasing. A gecko persistently pursues the other until it hides or leaves the area where the confrontation started.
- Snapping. Geckos will motion to bite the other without making direct contact. Rather, their mouths are kept wide while being repeatedly opened and closed.
After any or all of the aforementioned signs are displayed, one or both geckos will sequentially make contact with a bite. They will continuously pounce at each other and bite at each other until one of them surrenders or escapes.
Can you get two geckos to let go of each other while fighting?
Yes, you can get two geckos to let go of each other while fighting by first securely and gently holding each of their bodies by the hand. Then, gently tap both of their heads or get someone else to drip clean water on top of their heads. Do not forcibly force them apart or they will try to get a stronger hold of each other. This can result in serious injuries.
How Do You Prevent Geckos From Fighting? (9 Ways)
According to experts on the behavior of geckos and other exotic pets, there are 9 methods to reduce or decrease fighting in geckos :
- Solitary housing
- No contact with others
- Upgrade to a larger tank
- More hides, food, water, and basking sites
- Realistic day-night hours (with complete darkness at night)
- Providing a fake cage mate (e.g., figure, stuffed toy)
- Naturalistic and enriching tank design
- A lot of visual barriers for added security
You can try all of the above or just house your geckos separately from the beginning. This is the sole guarantee that none of your geckos will ever get into fights with each other. Hence, this is my recommendation for all newbie gecko parents.
Is it safe to keep different species of geckos in one enclosure?
No, it is generally not advisable to keep geckos of different species in the same vivarium due to factors such as differences in environmental needs and size. Doing so will also open the possibility of one preying on the other—which is commonly observed in the wild.
Can geckos live together in the same tank?
Though it is possible under the care and supervision of experienced gecko keepers, cohabbing geckos—even the more docile species—is generally not recommended. Especially for beginner gecko owners with very limited resources, space, and knowledge on the practice of housing geckos together in the same tank.
Is it okay for geckos to have playtime together?
Unlike other common pets such as dogs and cats, geckos should not be made to “play” with each other. Moreover, playing is not a normal part of reptilian social behavior. Plus, moving around too much will deplete their reserves and cool down their bodies too quickly.
Will a gecko die from a serious fight?
A badly injured gecko can die from the wounds sustained from a serious fight with another gecko. However, experts studying gecko behavior and social structures say that geckos normally don’t intentionally kill other geckos—even if they are rivals or intruders.
Would a gecko ever eat another gecko?
Yes, a gecko would willingly eat another gecko—be it from the same species or not. It happens mostly due to the lack of food. Cannibalism happens a lot more commonly than newbie keepers and breeders think. Especially in the native habitats of various species of geckos.
Summary of 9 Reasons Why Geckos Fight
It is natural for geckos to get into fights when introduced to each, whether in the wild or captivity. More specifically, food, space, resources, size, maturity, hierarchy, mates, rejection, and instinct are the common causes of gecko fights.
By familiarizing oneself with the indications of fights, a gecko keeper or breeder can avoid having their geckos injuring or killing each other. These indications include stand-offs, tail wagging, vocalizations, posturing, warding off, chasing, and snapping.
A gecko owner can prevent fights among their pet geckos by simply housing each gecko separately. However, for professional breeders and expert keepers, other options are available for preventing fights in cohab set-ups.