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Why Is My Gecko Changing Color?

Keeping a pet gecko is great fun, but sometimes, your gecko might do interesting and unusual things – and if this happens, you may be wondering why. Many people are fascinated by the idea of their geckos changing color, and although not all geckos can do this, there are quite a few that are capable of shifting to match their surroundings or to conceal themselves from their potential prey. If you want to see your gecko change color, you should watch it when it moves into a new area, because this will often prompt this kind of behavior.

Color changes in geckos are almost always due to the environment; this trait is used to help geckos hide themselves from both their predators and their prey, and it makes it easier for them to hunt and move around safely. The color changing abilities of geckos are similar to those of chameleons, but most chameleons have the ability to take on truly bright colors, whereas geckos tend to produce colors that are similar to their backgrounds.

A color change can occur quickly, or take around an hour to be effective, and it isn’t exactly clear why this varies so much. In some cases, the gecko may be responding to slow environmental changes, like fading light, and in others, to a sudden change in its background.

Can A Gecko Change Color?

Geckos can change color, yes, and they usually use this ability to blend with their environments, taking the color of anything that they are placed upon (within reason). A gecko on a dark background will shift the color of its body to blend with this background, and if it is moved to a lighter one, its body will lighten accordingly. Many geckos are yellow as their base color, but can change within around twenty seconds if they are suddenly moved to a different background.

Amazingly, geckos do not need to see this background in order to accurately change color to match it; studies have proved that blindfolded geckos can match their surroundings as easily as those that can see. This is because they have receptors on their torsos that are sensitive to light, and this allows them to accurately mimic the color that they are resting against. In most other animals, these receptors are only found in the eyes, so geckos are particularly unusual in the animal kingdom, joining just a few other color-changers.

The color change itself is created by different cells (containing different pigments) expanding or contracting, and can therefore be done quickly or slowly depending on the gecko’s needs. The gecko cannot produce absolutely any color, because it does not contain all the pigments, but it can produce many. Usually, its range will be sufficient, but if you place your gecko on a brightly colored background, it may not be able to replicate it.

Why Is My Gecko Changing Color?

Your gecko will usually change color either in an attempt to conceal itself from a perceived threat, or because it wishes to sneak up on prey. Most geckos are vulnerable to being picked off by birds during the day as they tend to be nocturnal and sleep throughout the daylight hours, and therefore being well camouflaged without significant energy expenditure is necessary. Your gecko will likely switch its color to match its environment very quickly if it feels threatened by something.

Your gecko may change color when it is hunting, too; if its prey cannot see it, it’s less likely to be able to hide or run away, and this gives the gecko a significant advantage. Geckos generally hunt at night, when it is even easier for them to hide themselves using this kind of concealment strategy. By melding with the background, they can lie in wait for prey, or approach it slowly without being detected.

Unlike chameleons, geckos do not use color changes to communicate or to express their emotions to each other; they only appear to use it for camouflage. It is a crucial part of the gecko’s survival strategy, but it is not utilized in other aspects of their life or behavior. Your gecko will not change color to let you know when it is angry, frightened, hungry, or anything else; it will only do this to decrease its visibility against a background.

Should I Be Worried If My Gecko Changes Color?

No, you don’t generally need to be concerned if your gecko changes color; this is a common behavior trait and shows it is responding normally to its environment. However, if your gecko does this a lot, it may be feeling stressed by something and attempting to stay hidden at all times to avoid being predated. This could be a problem if it remains on high alert at all times, because living with stress isn’t healthy.

In some instances, your gecko will change color more permanently, and this might be a sign that something is wrong with it. For example, leopard geckos will sometimes darken if they have been overexposed to UV light, or if they are suffering from nutrient deficiencies, and you will need to take action if this occurs. Geckos may also get blackened tails or blackened toes if they are suffering from something known as tissue death (necrosis), and this is dangerous.

You will need to take your gecko to a vet if you think that a change in color is signifying something worrying about your gecko. If the color change seems to be permanent or your gecko shows other signs of illness, consult a vet as quickly as possible.

Conclusion

Your gecko can change color to match many different backgrounds, particularly natural ones such as wood, leaves, and stone, and it’s an amazing process to watch. You may see your gecko do this when it’s hunting, or if it gets alarmed by something, and it can do so with surprising speed. However, if you notice any blackening skin on your gecko that doesn’t seem to change back, you should get it to a vet as soon as possible.