Table of Contents
Gargoyle Gecko Care Guide
Gargoyle Gecko Intro
Gargoyle geckos are originally from New Caledonia (a group of islands between Fiji and Australia). They were once considered among the rarest lizards in captivity. Today, they are bred in large numbers and have become standard fare in the pet trade.
These are good-sized geckos and with proper care and housing can reach 9 inches in total snout to vent length. Gargoyle geckos are sexually mature when 15 to 18 months of age, and have a life span up to 20 years.
Among the least expensive of all the species of gecko, you can typically take home a gargoyle gecko for as little as $50 (although some can cost up to a few hundred dollars). There are certain traits that can cause a gecko to run closer to $1,000. Keep in mind that a female gecko is generally more valuable (and likely more expensive) than a male.
You can find gargoyle geckos in a wide variety of colors and patterns, and they also vary in size to a certain degree. You may want to inquire about the traits that your gecko has been bred for; for example, many breeders will selectively breed for their knob or horn size.
For folks entirely new to this species, the juveniles are very, very shy. The adults are quite friendly, however. For this reason, new owners should wait until their new pet is at least 3 inches SVL (snout to vent) before handling at all. Gargoyle geckos readily bite when they are young to subadult, but seldom when adult. They have long sharp teeth, and their bites may draw blood. Fortunately, they bite only as a warning and quickly let go. But why risk this interaction when you just wait a few of months and then begin to form a trusting bond. When adult, gargoyle geckos tend to be mellow and rank among the best of lizard pets, so they are worth the wait.
In the wild, gargoyle geckos often lose their tails and end up with a tiny, pointed tail nub. Therefore, if you like having a tail on your gargoyle, you will need to handle them very carefully and house them individually. Gargoyle geckos housed together are notorious for plucking off each other’s tails. This is such a common occurrence with this species that they are commonly sold as tailless, without any discount due to that condition. On the bright side, gargoyle geckos will readily regenerate tails, which, unlike many other autotomous species, end up looking pretty much like the original.
Gargoyle Gecko Habitat and Husbandry
Tank Size - Vertical is Better
Baby gargoyle geckos are best housed in a standard (20 inch) 10-gallon reptile tank with a screen top. Adult gargoyle geckos should be housed in 20-gallon tanks with screen tops. Larger tanks will allow for better display. In areas with moderate to high relative humidity, gargoyle geckos will fare well in screen cages.
The more vertical the tank, the happier these geckos will be. You can keep one male and several female gargoyle geckos together if you don’t mind taillessness. Male gargoyle geckos may fight, particularly when in the company of females, and should not be kept together.
Plants for Hiding and Climbing
If you have live plants in your vivarium additional light can be provided by a fluorescent bulb running the length of the tank. Gargoyle geckos tend to rest in foliage or shelters during the day and are active at night.
They can be happy with artificial plants and bendable fake vines. However, with that said, it is a still a good idea to provide live plants for aesthetics and for humidity. Gargoyle geckos enjoy hiding and resting in foliage and like to climb on wood. Good landscape materials include cork bark rounds and half rounds for vertical and ground level shelters and climbing areas. Dried wood branches angled across the length of a vivarium provide resting and activity areas. Unless your gecko hangs upside down a lot, do not overdo the number of plants in the tank, however and leave plenty of open space and gaps. Good plant selections include small ficus, dracaena, and pothos. Water should always be available for gargoyle geckos in a shallow water dish.
Gargoyle geckos spend most of their time above ground so a variety of substrates can be used. For simple maintenance purposes reptile carpet is attractive and easily cleaned. For a more naturalistic look, a peat moss-based soil mix that doesn’t contain perlite will work well. A 50%/50% coir (coconut fiber pulp now sold in reptile stores as compressed bricks) and orchid soil mix is a good choice for growing live plants. And don’t forget about bioactive systems that require cleaning only once or twice a year!
Temperature and Humidity - High Temps are Lethal
Gargoyles like temperatures of that are approximately that of human comfort, that is between 72- and 78-degrees F during the day. The ambient temperature can be allowed to drop to the high 60s at night and they can even tolerate nighttime temps in the low 60s during the winter months. In most areas this temperature range can be provided easily without supplemental heating. The trick in summer may be managing the high temperature. This should never exceed 87 degrees F and a temperature of 90 F will almost certainly be lethal. In summer, if the ambient temperature in the room gets toasty and the enclosure is furnished with any sort of lighting that may radiate heat, the temperature should be checked in the early afternoon daily for several days to determine if the light source needs to be altered either by elevating it or reducing the hours of illumination. The plants will manage with less light for a few weeks, and this is better than taking any chances with this heat sensitive pet.
Reptile Foggers and Misters
Gargoyle geckos like a humidity level around 50% to 70%. If you live in an arid part of the country, you may need to mist your gecko once or twice a day and allow the enclosure to dry out between mistings. The humidity level should be allowed to reach 80% to 100% following the misting routine and should return to normal within 2-3 hours. This regime mimics their native island climate but can be difficult for certain keeper’s lifestyles. Keepers who have to be away from home 8 hours a day or more for the foreseeable future more than 2 days a week may want to consider investing in a programmable Mistking or Repti Zoo misting system. The Reptifogger will cost around $50 or so, while the other two will run about $140 or so. Doing research on the features and dimensions of these products will help new keepers determine which system is best for them and their gargoyle.
This is a controversial subject among experienced keepers and if you look online, prepare to see a variety of opinions, and some heated conversations. If you have live plants you are going to need something, and many gargoyle keepers that do recommend lighting are happy with such products as 18″ Zoo Med T8 Reptisun 5.0 + Zoo Med T8 Terrarium Hood. The hood is a critical feature that will keep the light going downward into the habitat and not all around the room, which can be annoying to the humans that need to work or relax there. The fixture should be mounted over the mesh at the top of the tank.
A basking branch will make your gargoyle happy when he or she doesn’t feel the need to hide. If you have a UVI meter of some sort, UVB at the basking branch should be between 1.0-2.0. If you don’t have a Solarmeter or similar devise, rough guidance for distancing bulbs such as a Zoo Med T8 Reptisun 5.0 is 4-6″ / 15-20cm. I recommend that fresh bulbs be posed 6-7 inches about the basking branch or platform, then lowered a little after 30 days. This technique can help to prevent eye damage. If you do decide to provide UVB lighting, make sure that the fixture doesn’t have a piece of glass or plastic to “protect” the bulb. UVB rays are blocked by glass and plastic, rendering that bulb pretty useless.
Gargoyle Geckos feed primarily on both fruit and insects in the wild.
Most gargoyle geckos in captivity do great eating the Pangea Complete Gecko Diets. The product offered by Repashy seems to be highly regarded. You can also offer dusted and gutloaded insects once or twice a week or for adults an occasional frozen thawed pinky mouse. Gargoyle geckos tend to prefer larger prey items and may turn their nose up at smaller items. They can tackle a cricket that is about the size of their head with no problem. Dust any insects with a good calcium powder with vitamin D3 and make sure to feed the crickets a good gut-load diet prior to offering them to your gecko.
Some keepers report that their Gargoyle Geckos are fussier about accepting insects or other prey items than Crested Geckos. Experimenting with appropriately sized feeder insects such as crickets, dubia roaches, waxworms, and black soldier fly larvae, may be needed to determine preferences. All feeder insects should be dusted with a vitamin/mineral supplement and provided to the gecko in an escape proof bowl. Do not worry if your Gargoyle Gecko does not accept any live feeders as long as it is feeding well on fruit mixes. Many keepers have given up on live insects and feed only a reputable Crested Gecko diet. These products can be mixed with two parts water and offered in shallow dishes three times a week as much as these geckos will eat at a feeding. The mix can be allowed to remain 24 hours before removal.
If you run out of your preferred CGD formula, an alternative is to feed a mixture of pureed baby foods available in supermarkets such as banana, peach, apricot or mixed fruit with 10 percent pureed chicken. A reptile powdered vitamin/mineral supplement definitely needs to be added to provide all necessary nutrients for your gargoyle gecko. This is not necessary for geckos fed on a CGD formulation.
Gargoyle geckos are crepuscular, meaning that they are most active during both dawn and dusk. So don't be surprised if your gecko seems to remain still for most of the day and then starts eating as the sun begins to rise or set.
Though they generally don't drink a lot of water, it's still best to include a small water dish in your gecko's enclosure. A shallow dish is best because they may occasionally choose to soak in order to help with shedding. Just be sure to clean and replenish the water regularly.
How to Clean a Gargoyle Gecko Habitat
Even a bioactive set-up is going to need yearly maintenance. Plants may need to be trimmed, detritivores (the little invertebrate trash eaters) may need to be replenished and certain portions of the substrate may need to be replaced. To view this lovely creature well, wipe down the glass thoroughly with diluted white vinegar (you may wish to do this once per week depending on your water). If you have friendly, well socialized geckos, remove them gently to a safe spot and spray glass with vinegar for clarity or 10% bleach for sanitation. If it is not possible to safely remove your pet or pets, then diluted cleaning vinegar on a rag will have to do. Do not use a spray if they remain in the enclosure.
Conventional set-ups will need monthly cleaning. Scoop out any substrate and discard. Remove all furniture, water and food bowls, and any live plants. Either soak the furniture and bowls in a solution of 10% bleach for 30 minutes or (my favorite) throw it all in an NSF approved dishwasher and hit the pot scrubber cycle.
While the furniture is washing, do the enclosure itself. Spray the sides and bottom (paying special attention to corners), with a bleach solution recommended for hospital use. Do not use scented bleach of any kind. Let the habitat sit for 30 minutes, rinse it, wipe it down, and let it air out for another hour. Replace the substrate and furnishings and allow the habitat to come back up to correct temperature and humidity. Wipe down the leaves of any plants thoroughly, including the underside, and place back inside the habitat.
Common Health Problems
The gargoyle gecko generally pretty hardy, and with a couple of exceptions isn't associated with any significant health problems, although they are prone to common ailments that affect reptiles--these include bacterial issues, respiratory infections, and metabolic bone disease.
Floppy Tail Syndrome
There is one very interesting ailment that gargoyle geckos display called floppy tail syndrome (FTS). It is the result of a behavior, rather than a pathogen. Gargoyles often like to rest upside down. A little of this behavior is OK, but in juveniles that do this nightly, the tail eventually weakens and flops over the back all the time. Some geckos prefer this posture more than others. When left unchecked, it can cause deformities of the spine. Some keepers have reported that this problem can impact defecation and egg laying as well. The best treatment is prevention. This may mean some clever furniture management to prevent the pet from being able to hang completely vertically. Crowding the enclosure with lots of vines that crisscross and even lean onto the glass sides can take up enough space that the gecko cannot find a spot unobstructed enough the be able to arrange its full-length upside down. Some experimentation will need to be taken with furniture arrangement so there is enough airspace for good ventilation and enough air flow to prevent respiratory infections while still precluding that sleeping posture. If it does happen, encouraging the gecko to release its tail before spinal deformity occurs may be the only option.
Metabolic Bone Disease
As with most other insectivorous reptile pets, improper feeding and supplementation can be the basis for development of metabolic bone disease or ‘MBD’. Although this can occur from multiple causes, vitamin D3 deficiency is the most common culprit, preventing reptiles from absorbing the calcium in their food. This can cause muscle weakness and softening of the bones in the spine and jaws. This can be prevented by providing your pet with an appropriate UVB light source as mentioned above, and making sure that calcium supplements provided contain sufficient vitamin D3.
Also, choose a calcium supplement low in phosphorus, with a minimum Ca:P ratio of 2:1. Keepers who feed a diet that is primarily Crested Gecko Diet (CGD) should not have to worry about this problem. However, those feeding insects and baby food definitely need to be concerned, especially if a UV lamp is not present. And while gargoyle geckos are less susceptible to this condition than many herps, once the condition is noticeable, it may already be too late. This ailment makes it necessary to carefully manage the gecko's calcium for the rest of her/his life and precludes breeding affected females, as the embryos suck substantial amounts of calcium out of mother’s body.
Further, if a female’s hipbones have become even slightly deformed, she could become egg-bound, with can be fatal. A pet showing no signs of MBD should thrive on a good CGD formulation, but one that has any signs of weakness, shaking when walking, a gaping or sore jaw or irregularities in the tail is already far along. Never, ever, purchase a Gargoyle displaying these traits, which are permanent. However, if you come to possess a rescue with this condition, providing a lick bowl with a good, powdered calcium with D3 supplement can help halt continuing damage. Never mix that with a CGD formulation which forces the pet to consume more than it really needs. Calcification of organs through too much calcium can also shorten the animal’s life. Providing the supplement free choice is the safest way to go.
Lastly, be aware of Entamoeba invadens, a protozoan parasite that can create bleeding ulcers and cysts in the animal's colon, eventually leading to its death if not treated. Symptoms are lethargy, loss of appetite, and rapid weight loss. Mode of transmission is through contact with another infected animal’s feces. Gargoyles purchased from any big box chain should be quarantined and weighed daily if they were kept with lots of other geckos (Cresties can also get this illness). This disease can rapidly affect the liver as well, and when the damage exceeds 25% necrosis, death often ensues.
This vile parasitic beasty can be treated with Metronidazole and be eradicated quickly once treated if found early enough. Most vets will do a fecal float to search for harmful pathogens that could be the cause of a sick reptile. That is useful to identify other pathogens that can be causing inappetence and weight loss, but E. invadens must be identified from a direct fecal examination. If you take samples to the vet, take plenty so both methods can be performed. The symptoms elicited by this protozoan are very similar to some other common reptile diseases that may need to be treated differently.
Signs & Symptoms
- Rapid weight loss
- Swollen Vent (late stage)
- Parasite is easily controlled by Flagyl (Metronidazole)
- Immediate and continuing sanitation of the habitat to prevent reinfection. You must keep the cage clean and bleached during treatment to prevent re-infection.
- Treat any other lizards or chelonids (turtles and tortoises) that have had any contact with the affected pet. Treating an entire collection may be advisable. This can easily be performed by medicating their food, although dosage must be done under the vet’s guidance.
As with incipient MBD, early detection and treatment can make all the difference between a healthy and attractive pet, and a dead or deformed one. I highly recommend weighing a newly acquired gargoyle adult daily on a small digital diet scale for the first 4 weeks of ownership. This will identify weight loss long before you detect it with the naked eye.
So keep an eye on those beauties and Happy Herping!