Nature is full of amazing interactions between species, and it makes sense that the idea of a multi-species vivarium in captivity is...well, captivating. Unfortunately, combining different species of animals into a single enclosure can be a very tricky endeavor.
Specialized relationships—like the unusual alliance between some tiny frogs and tarantulas (one of my personal favorites)—are rare in many animals bred in captivity. Species that live near each other in wild tend to not do well when they are constrained to a limited space, often resulting in fighting or bullying between the species.
Even housing very similar species together, like different species of dart frogs, often results in significant issues like aggression or hybridization. Multi-species setups aren’t impossible though; many zoos have developed wonderful exhibits which house multiple species, but these make use of enormous enclosures and special husbandry methods to help eliminate the possibility of incidents.
We'll explore how dart frogs and mourning geckos make a good pair in captivity. Understanding the harmony of these species will help when setting up a vivarium.
There are several reasons why dart frogs and mourning geckos do well in an enclosure together. Their different activity times ensures very little direct interaction between the two. While dart frogs are diurnal, or active during the day, mourning geckos are nocturnal and become more active at night. Dart frogs often don’t encounter mourning geckos, which spend most of their day hiding. Even an enterprising mourning gecko climbing around during the day will stay away, as their cautious nature keeps them away from anything larger than themselves.
The size of the animals and their diets also play a role. Large dart frogs won’t bother a small mourning gecko since they are microphagous—that is, they specialize in eating tiny prey like ants or fruit flies. Conversely, adult mourning geckos are simply too small to try and eat even a juvenile dart frog.
That said, it’s important to note here that housing thumbnail dart frogs and mourning geckos is not recommended. The smaller size of thumbnails may make them appetizing to a large and ambitious mourning gecko.
Of course, mourning geckos and dart frogs wouldn’t do well in the same vivarium if they didn’t thrive in similar setups. Fortunately, both species enjoy the same mild temperature range (between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit) and high humidity (80% or higher).Mourning geckos will also take full advantage of climbing all around the plants that dart frogs use to feel secure in their environment.
Finally, you won’t even have to go out of your way to provide a different diet: mourning geckos will enjoy the same staple diet as dart frogs (vitamin-dusted fruit flies), so long as a sufficient amount is provided.
Adding mourning geckos to your dart frog vivarium can actually prove advantageous to your vivarium. Their appetite will help ensure that no leftover fruit flies are left in the enclosure. Leftover fruit flies will die if not eaten, and in large enough numbers can add a significant amount of waste to your enclosure.
Fruit flies that stay alive long enough to be eaten by the dart frogs again can be even more detrimental. By the time the frogs are hungry again, these flies will be undernourished and will have cleaned off any dusted vitamins. Mourning geckos can help eliminate the risks of overfeeding and keep your frogs eating fresh, dusted flies by finishing off any flies left from the last feeding!
Mourning geckos also provide some great pest control services within the vivarium. Spiders, for example, will thrive in the enclosure’s warm, humid climate. With females able to lay hundreds of eggs, spiders can become a huge nuisance over time. While small species of spiders are unable to directly harm the frogs, their webbing (and large numbers, if left unchecked) can limit how many fruits flies reach the dart frogs for feeding. Mourning geckos—given their ability to reach spiders anywhere in the enclosure and their voracious, insectivorous appetite—will make quick work of these and other bugs that find their way into the vivarium.
If you want to give a multi-species vivarium a shot, or you have a dart frog vivarium and want to add some free pest and fly control, then consider a mourning gecko and dart frog pairing!