Are Geckos Nocturnal Or Diurnal? Their Sleep Behavior Explained

Gargoyle Gecko licking its eye

Written by Janet F. Murray

Published: October 31, 2022

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Geckos are a type of lizard found all over the planet. These reptiles live in the wild and live in enclosures as pets. Geckos generally sleep 12 hours each day before waking up to forage and mate during mating season. But are geckos nocturnal or diurnal? This article explores the sleep behavior of geckos and discusses whether geckos are nocturnal or diurnal.

Most Geckos Are Nocturnal, but Some Are Diurnal

A Gargoyle Gecko on a black background

Some geckos are nocturnal, some are diurnal, but most have crepuscular or cathemeral tendencies.


Geckos sleep for 12 hours daily and are the only lizard group that is primarily nocturnal. 72% of the 1552 described species are active at night. Most ground-dwelling geckos are nocturnal, like the leopard gecko, crested gecko, Madagascan ground gecko, and fat-tailed geckos. But not all species are nocturnal.

Over 430 species of gecko are diurnal. Most of the genus Phelsuma geckos are diurnal. These geckos come from Mauritius, Madagascar, and other islands in the western Indian ocean. Diurnal geckos are often green and have blue, yellow, or red markings.

But, most geckos are not strictly nocturnal or diurnal and have crepuscular or cathemeral behaviors. Crepuscular behavior means they are most active during the twilight at dusk and dawn. Cathemeral behavior means they do not have a strict sleeping and activity pattern. 

Why Are Some Geckos Nocturnal?

Geckos have many adaptations to low light and low temperatures. These adaptions include the following:

  • Development of vocalization and acoustic communication Olfactory specialization
  • Enhanced ability to sustain locomotion at low temperatures
  • Altered eating and foraging modes
  • Absence of the parietal foramen and pineal gland

Geckos also possess the following features:

  • Sharp eyesight
  • Ability to see in low-light settings
  • Large eyes
  • Pupils capable of extreme degrees of constriction and dilation
  • Retina without fovea
  • Short visual focal length
  • Multifocal color vision
  • Rod-shaped photoreceptor cells in the retina

Geckos are also nocturnal, as they can use the darkness to hide from predators. Likewise, nocturnal geckos use the cooler temperature to escape the heat of the day in warmer climates.

Why Are Some Geckos Diurnal?

Many diurnal gecko species have adapted to living in warmer, photopic environments. These adaptions include the following:

  • Round pupils
  • UV-filtering crystallin lens proteins
  • Smaller eyes
  • Partiality to complete foveae
  • Cone-like photoreceptors in their retina
  • Higher energetic costs of locomotion

Where Do Geckos Sleep?

Geckos prefer to sleep under some form of cover, hidden from potential predators. Nocturnal or otherwise, wild geckos sleep under leaves, under the bark of tree trunks, under rocks, or anywhere they can hide. Pet geckos also need such environments that provide hiding places to feel secure. As such, owners should give them access to multiple hideouts and hiding spots. Geckos hide while sleeping because they are small, non-venomous, and relatively defenseless. They can bite but are vulnerable to many potential predators. So they are used to hiding. They are most vulnerable when asleep, so they naturally hide during this time.

The Gecko’s Sleep Behavior Ensures Their Survival

four clawed gecko

Geckos sleep under the cover of leaves, tree bark, and rocks.

©Chattraphas Pongcharoen/

Geckos are not naturally predatory but are most likely to become the targets of larger creatures. Their primary predators in the wild include snakes, large reptiles, and birds of prey. Unsurprisingly, the sleep patterns of predators and prey are closely matched. Predators are awake and active when they can search for targets.

Because geckos are the target of many predators, they look for safer times to forage and be active. And because predators in the wild constantly threaten diurnal and nocturnal geckos, they adjust their sleep habits in response to these threats. They have developed their sleep and wake schedules in many ways to minimize danger and exposure to many predators. Even if kept as pets, geckos instinctively believe they are in their natural habitat. Therefore, pet geckos are always afraid of being hunted, and their sleep pattern does not change.

Nocturnal Geckos May Change Their Sleep Behavior

Changes in the urban environment affect and alter animal behavior. Especially at night, artificial light affects the behavior of geckos and many other animals. Phelsuma geckos are predominantly diurnal. However, research shows that some geckos change their foraging behavior from diurnal to nocturnal when exposed to artificial light sources.

Geckos May Sleep Alone or in Groups

Geckos are solitary animals that can live alone without any problems. However, owners could keep multiple diurnal or nocturnal geckos in one enclosure. Owners should not keep two males, sub-adult males, mating females, or geckos of vastly different sizes together. Instead, they should also consider the size of the enclosure when keeping multiple geckos together. Also, gecko lovers should ensure that the enclosure is big enough to accommodate them comfortably. Baby geckos can usually live together without problems.

If comfortable, some groups of geckos sleep side by side. They will lie together and keep each other warm and cozy. Different geckos will find their way around the enclosure and search for a private hiding place to sleep. As an owner, you should ensure enough hiding places for all your pet geckos.

It Is Sometimes Difficult To Tell When a Gecko Is Sleeping

The ability to tell when a gecko is sleeping depends on its species because not all species have eyelids. Leopard and fat-tailed geckos have eyelids and sleep with their eyes closed. Crested, Tokay, and House geckos do not have eyelids and sleep with their eyes open. You could look at the Crested gecko’s crests to see if it is asleep. If their crests are upright, they are awake. If they are down, they will be asleep. You can also look at the gecko’s pupil size. If the pupils are heavily constricted, the gecko is sleeping. If the pupils are dilated, the gecko is awake.

Nocturnal Geckos Depend on Their Senses To Navigate at Night

Geckos have excellent night vision that helps them carry out their nighttime activities. Behind the retina is a reflective membrane called the tapetum. This film reflects the light that hits the eye. The retina has rod-shaped cells that turn the nucleus of each cell into a light collector. These reptiles also have an excellent sense of smell, which is useful for nocturnal and diurnal geckos. 

They can communicate using scent markings. The nocturnal gecko’s keen sense of smell originates from Jacobson’s organ, also known as the vomeronasal organ. The Jacobson’s organ gives nocturnal animals a more acute sense of smell and is located in the palate. When they pull their lips back, it improves the function of this organ.

Some Geckos Enter Brumation

gold dust day gecko

Geckos have tapetum lucidum, which helps with night vision.

©Phillip B. Espinasse/

Brumation is the dormant period for geckos. Their bodies shut down, and they store energy. During the brumation stage, the gecko may not eat, drink, defecate, or move for several weeks. Geckos can brumate to escape the cold and lack of food and water. In captivity, the light cycle and diet may remain constant each day. Still, their biological clock can take over and tell the body to shut down for some time.

Terrestrial geckos brumate under rotting logs or small, flat rocks during mild winters. In areas with frigid temperatures, geckos must avoid sub-zero temperatures and travel under the frost line. They will also brumate in rock crevices and animal burrows. 

Many species that live in areas with cold winters store large amounts of fat in their tails. These fat stores help geckos survive long periods without food. Arboreal geckos brumate in hollow trees. Geckos can hide under tree bark if winter temperatures aren’t too cold.

Nocturnal vs. Diurnal: What’s The Difference?

Navigate to Nocturnal vs. Diurnal: What’s The Difference? for further information about the nocturnal and diurnal phenomenon in various living creatures.

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About the Author

I'm a freelance writer with more than eight years of content creation experience. My content writing covers diverse genres, and I have a business degree. I am also the proud author of my memoir, My Sub-Lyme Life. This work details the effects of living with undiagnosed infections like rickettsia (like Lyme). By sharing this story, I wish to give others hope and courage in overcoming their life challenges. In my downtime, I value spending time with friends and family.

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