Crested Geckos are unusual and beautiful creatures. They lick their eyes to keep them hydrated. And they have setae on the pads of their toes, which helps them climb walls. But learning about these beloved animals requires significant care and attention. So here's some guidelines on how to provide the care your crested gecko needs to fulfill a lifespan of 20 years.
- Introduction & Facts
- Cage Set up
- Cage Cleaning
- Crested Gecko Feeding Schedule
- Bathing schedule
Crested Gecko Facts
- Size: 7-9 inches long
- 10-20 year lift span
- No eyelids and use their tongues to hydrate them
In 1866, a French zoologist discovered a new species of arboreal gecko. With a double fringe of triangular scales running over the top of each eye and then down the back on each side of the animal, these small lizards seemed to live only on two islands in the South Pacific. Three subspecies with distinctive color patterns were noted. By the mid-twentieth century, all populations of this reptile were believed to be extinct.
The pet trade can be blamed for many conservation sins. Smuggling, killing of adult parents to secure young animals for buyers, and similar crimes against biodiversity occur all too frequently. In the case of the Crested gecko (Correlophus ciliates) the pet trade may have saved a species. In 1994, German herpetologist Robert Siepp rediscovered the species in New Caledonia, a series of islands east of Australia. Specimens were collected and these proved to do surprisingly well in captivity. Twenty-four years later, this species is one of the more popular reptile pets in North America and is an excellent herp for beginners. Their ease of care, unusual appearance, and unlimited breeding potential, has contributed to their exploding popularity.
They are not a very large lizard and adult length of 7 to 9 inches, including their prehensile tails. Cresteds (or Cresties) generally seem to live 10-20 years in captivity, but since they are so new to the reptile hobby trade, more information is needed.
Many morphs (color variations) are available from reputable breeders. It is interesting that breeders may be the salvation of the species, which is currently listed as ‘vulnerable’ in the wild by international conservation leagues. Habitat loss due to clearing for agriculture and wildfires may result in true extinction in the wild in the next 2 decades.
These geckos have lidless eyes and so must moisten the cornea with their tongues. Another fascinating feature is the setae on the bottoms of their feet and tail. In a science fiction twist of evolution, these microscopic hairs invoke Van der Waals force between the gecko’s skin and another object’s surface. Great party trivia!
Creating the Perfect Crested Gecko Habitat
- 10 – 20 gallon vertical reptile tank
- coconut fiber for substrates
- vertical habitat features – branches, vines, bark
- Reptile foggers
- Hygrometers & digital thermometers
- Specialty lighting
Cresteds can be maintained in simple conditions or in elaborate naturalistic vivariums. Hatchlings to 4 month old Crested geckos can be easily housed in 10 gallon aquariums. And although more space may seem superior, young ones prefer a space this size. Keepers have found that very young geckos housed in large cages may not eat well.
After 4 months of age they should be housed in a 20 gallon tall (vertically oriented) aquarium or larger. Three adult Cresteds can be comfortably housed in a 29 gallon aquarium (one male and two females, males together will fight quite viciously). Unlike terrestrial geckos that do quite well in a horizontally oriented fish tank, vertical activity space is important to these arboreal geckos, which will jump from branch to branch and perform many interesting maneuvers with help of their prehensile tails. The cost for vertical habitats is a bit higher than for a tank, but the results in terms of your Crested’s health and happiness will make the investment worth it, especially when you are able to view their nighttime antics.
Crested Gecko Substrate
Once you have acquired the correct enclosure, it’s time to turn it into a habitat, starting at the bottom. Choice of substrate is critical to your Crested’s health, as they can ingest non-digestible matter in addition to their target food. Loose substrates that should be avoided include sand and wood chips. One of the safest and easiest options is paper towels to line the bottom of the enclosure. There is virtually no risk of a Crested ingesting the paper towel and it can be quickly swapped out with a fresh sheet for cleaning convenience. I personally don’t care for the appearance and would opt for a sheet of slate tiles or a product such as Zoo Med Eco Earth, a coconut fiber substrate that can help maintain humidity levels while resisting mold, mildew, and odors.
Eco Earth does preserve humidity better than tile, I just prefer a substrate I can sterilize and use for years. Eco Earth can be spot cleaned as needed and typically lasts several weeks before needing to be completely replaced. If using tiles, covering them with leaf litter can help maintain humidity levels. Just be sure that if leaf litter is used, it is sterile. Regardless of the aesthetics, if your Crested is younger than 4 months, use the paper towels. Later you can convert to something more visually pleasing as a substrate for your young adult.
Crested geckos need room to climb, so providing vertical habitat features such as branches, driftwood, cork bark, bamboo, and vines at a variety of heights and orientations will please your gecko. Add a variety of silk, plastic, and/or sturdy live plants (pothos, philodendron, dracaena, ficus) as they will hide in the plants for cover. A small shallow water dish can be provided, with fresh water daily, though they will likely prefer to drink water droplets from leaves (a reason to mist the tank every evening). Many keepers prefer synthetic plants, myself among them. Because I like a natural and authentic look, I choose high quality silk plants. They can be thoroughly sanitized in a manner that real plants in soil cannot survive. Avoid artificial flowers as they will not hold their color during the sanitation process.
Temperature and Humidity
Crested geckos do require humidity above that of terrestrial geckos. Misting the cage at least daily is recommended, and in very arid climates, such as where I live with humidity frequently in the teens, twice a day is essential. To simulate the gecko’s tropical native habitat, the humidity level should not drop below 50%. For shedding, the humidity should be much higher for the majority of the day.
Temperatures for Cresteds should be maintained between 70 and 78 degrees F for most of the year. Unlike terrestrial geckos, such as the Leopard Gecko, temperatures of 82 degrees or warmer will stress a Crested. Over time, heat stress can lead to illness and even death. Cresteds can tolerate night time temperature drops down into the mid 60's but it is not necessary to provide this type of night time cooling and they will be fine without it.
Hygrometers for Crested Gecko Habitat
A good hygrometer is a valuable tool, especially if your Crested is shedding. In this instance, they should get several hours of higher humidity (80-100%) every day to ensure that they shed properly. Misting heavily once or twice a day, or lightly 3 times a day should achieve the required higher humidity levels but do check your hygrometer to be sure. Shedding time can be challenging since it is important to allow the cage to dry to normal humidity levels in between mistings. An overly wet environment can also cause problems with shedding, and can invite molds and fungi to gain a foothold in the habitat. Best not to guess and instead to consult the hygrometer frequently.
To assist with their shedding, a reptile fogger is an excellent tool to include in your set up. These foggers come in a variety of shapes, which each one offering a controllable output of fog. But as noted above, be sure to avoid adding too much humidity as it can promote unwanted growth. But this makes the reptile foggers more critical, because of their adjustable control settings.
Digital Thermometers for Crested Geckos
A good digital thermometer with a temperature probe is crucial for managing the heating regime. Better still; acquire a digital laser thermometer. It is a worthy investment and for less than $20, a keeper can take readings from all over the habitat with the push of a button. Be sure to take readings from more than one spot in the habitat, so as not to overlook hot spots (it is more important to identify these than cool spots). Readings should therefore be taken at bottom of the habitat, in the center, at the top and in any areas your Crested seems to hang out in quite frequently. Keepers need to remember that the ambient temperature of the room can affect that of the enclosure, so frequent readings are strongly recommended.
Required Lighting for Crested Gecko Habitat
A photo period of 12 to 14 hours of light is most beneficial for non-breeding Cresteds. Lighting is most easily achieved with the use of grow lights placed directly on the cage top. This will facilitate both the requirements of the geckos and any live plants within the enclosure, should you choose to include them. It is unnecessary to use UVB lighting for Cresteds.
For successfully viewing your Crested in low light or evening hours, a nocturnal black/blue heat light can be suspended above the cage. This can also be used for 24 hour heating, just be sure the ambient temperature of the room itself does not exceed 70 degrees. If the keeper is going to be away during the day on a cool day, then the light can be left on. If the keeper wishes to keep the house at 78 degrees or above (to save money on whole house air conditioning, perhaps), then the nocturnal light should be placed on a timer so that if the keeper forgets to turn it off upon leaving for the day, there is a failsafe built in. These lights do not come with thermostats as a rule (neither do grow lights), so monitoring frequently is critical. Leaving the light on all night is generally fine, if the room stays at around 70 degrees or less. Crested geckos are not disturbed by this wavelength of light so it will not interrupt their photoperiod. Ceramic infrared heaters also fine, however these do not provide any visible light, making it difficult to view the geckos when they are most active.
How To Clean a Crested Gecko’s Habitat
Sanitation of the habitat is a crucial part of Crested keeping. If a bowl of water is provided, it should be refreshed daily. If paper towels are used as a substrate, do not wait longer than 3 days to remove and replace them. Real plants should be removed and cleaned by wiping down and spraying off (including the underside of the leaves) monthly at least. Allow the soil in the pot to dry out a little to discourage the growth of molds. Silk or plastic plants should be removed monthly and placed in the dishwasher on the top rack (so they don’t melt). This convenient form of sanitizing the furniture is appropriate monthly if there is no lingering odor or evidence of illness produced by microbes or parasites thriving in the habitat.
If your Crested is ill, or if the habitat just seems smelly within 24 hours of cleaning, suspect that normal maintenance is not sufficient. Remove all elements from the habitat immediately. Soak the artificial furniture, including branches and water bowl, in a 10% bleach solution for at least one hour and then allow to air dry. Remove and destroy all substrates. Sanitize the sides and bottom of the habitat with bleach solution, paying attention to the bottom corners in particular. Allow it to air dry for at least 3 hours. Replace the substrate with fresh, new material, new live plants (do not use the old ones again), and the newly sanitized synthetic furnishings and sterilized bowl.
These measures may not be necessary very often if your gecko is healthy, and with any luck you will not have to resort to these measures more than twice a year (which you should do religiously regardless because of the levels of humidity required to keep your tropical friend comfortable).
When and What to feed Crested Geckos
- Dubia roaches
- Calcium supplements
- Baby food
Crested geckos seem to do well on a diet of crickets or feeder roaches and the occasional waxworm. Whichever food item you offer, remember that it should never be larger than the distance from the gecko’s nose to its eye, or the distance between the eyes. Feeder insects should always be dusted with a good calcium and vitamin D3 powder. These supplements are easily found online and in pet stores for about $12 for a year’s supply.
An occasional small dab of baby food fruit will sometimes be appreciated by your Crested. They often like bananas, peaches, nectarines, apricots, papaya, mangoes, pears, and passion fruit mush. Do not let it sit unattended for more than 12 hours before removing and cleaning any sticky places off the substrate.
For maximum benefit for your Crested, gut load your feeder Insects before offering them to your herp friend. “Gut loading” means placing the feeder insects on an enriched diet for at least 24 hours prior to being offered to your geckos. This enhances the nutritional value of the insects substantially. A purchased supplement such as those offered by reptile hobby stores is easily available and affordable.
The convenience of a dry gut load diet, purchased from a pet supply house, is undeniable. However, many experienced breeders and keepers have found these products inadequate, so for the really persnickety keeper (and you know you should be) the following formula for gut loading your feeder crickets or roaches is suggested.
- 24 pbw whole wheat flour (not self rising)
- 8 pbw calcium carbonate with vitamin D3
- 4 pbw brewer's yeast (Not baker's yeast).
- 3 pbw soy powder
- 1 pbw paprika (this is to provide beta carotene)
The ‘pbw’ stands for parts by weight, whatever that weight may be. Think of this formula as a table of ratios. For instance, if you begin with 24 tablespoons of whole wheat, you would add 8 tablespoons of calcium carbonate and so forth. So for every unit of whole wheat flour, you would add 1/3 as much of the same unit of calcium powder and so forth. Place your feeder insects onto this feed for 24 hours and then release a couple into your herp’s habitat.
As mentioned above, Crested geckos typically drink water droplets from the sides of their enclosure and cage furniture. This is another reason it is important to mist your gecko daily, if not twice daily. Again, it is recommended that a small dish of clean water be present in the enclosure at all times. They will use it occasionally and it can help to keep the underside of the gecko ‘sticky’. Sticky, the way gecko fanciers mean it, is good. This term refers to the gecko’s ability to utilize those microscopic hairs on the underside of the toes and tail to ‘stick’ to a vertical surface. If those hairs become caked with food particles, the gecko loses the ability to cling to slick surfaces. Should this happen, and if you are feeding fruit and other soft foods, it most certainly will happen eventually. The moral of the story is that if your gecko’s feet get sticky, they will lose their stickiness. Are you with me?
Should I give my Crested Gecko a bath?
As with most reptiles, one of the pleasures of having them is their inherit cleanliness. Occasionally, however, your Crested may be having trouble shedding or has walked through moist food or feces that then caked onto the setae of the feet and tail. Online sources often refer to the need to give your Crested a ‘sauna’. This is an unfortunate term because it implies heat (and is almost as confusing a ‘sticky’). It’s really more of a room temperature sitz bath than a sauna. Here’s what to do:
- Get a small, rectangular, plastic container and poke a couple of holes in the lid.
- Fill the container with a crumpled paper towel and pour just enough lukewarm (at the most) water to soak the paper towels, but not to form a puddle. The water you are adding should feel ever so slightly cool to the touch. Hardly a sauna.
- Place your Crested inside (only one at a time) and spray mist on top of him/her.
- Close the lid, and stay by the container, keeping your eyes on it. Never, ever, leave it unattended.
- Leave the gecko in for 15 min before removing him/her.
- Check his/her feet. If food particles remain, gently roll a Q-tip around the bottom of the foot to remove any remaining food debris and restore the ‘stickiness’ of the feet and tail.
Your gecko will not really enjoy this process, so only perform as necessary. A really clean and yet moist habitat is a better option.
What happens when a Crested Gecko Loses its Tail?
Crested geckos can drop their tails if handled improperly, but generally it takes a serious pull such as attack by aggressive cage mates or getting it pinched in a door. Careful handling does not usually result in tail loss. Tail loss is a normal defense mechanism (called autotomy) and is not a medical emergency. The gecko will recover quickly and does not require any special care. Crested geckos are one of the few geckos that will not regenerate a new tail. When picking up your little friend or trying to catch him/her, always go for the mid-body to avoid tail dropping because once it’s gone, it’s gone.
Common Health Problems of Cresteds
Like many geckos, Cresteds are susceptible to mouth rot (stomatitis). This condition can flair up due to compromised immune system function from an improperly managed temperature regime in the habitat that results in a constantly stressed (read miserable) gecko. The pathogen is present in the mouth at all times and is kept in check through a strong immune response. An injury to the mouth can also allow pathogen entry to vulnerable tissues.
Mouth Rot Symptoms include:
- Excess mucus
- Redness around the mouth
- Pus inside the mouth
If you notice your Crested is wheezing or drooling, this may indicate the presence of a respiratory infection, another common gecko ailment. It can also be associated with stomatitis if the gecko is mouth breathing because the sinuses are blocked. When these symptoms are observed, consult with your preferred veterinarian on how to nurse your crested gecko back to health.
Respiratory Infection Symptoms include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Unusual wheezes, crackles, or other odd sounds while breathing
- Discharge from the mouth and/or nose
- Loss of appetite resulting in weight loss
Metabolic bone disease (MBD) refers to a deficiency of calcium being taken in through diet, leading to calcium being taken from the bones to support other metabolic functions. It generally takes the form of disfigured bones, especially in the spine, hips and tail.
Metabolic bone disease Symptoms can include:
- Swollen limbs (“Popeye” arms)
- Swollen jaw or a weak jaw that hangs open
- Underbite or overbite
- Hunched back or otherwise irregular spine
- Kinked tail with multiple zig-zags
- Shaking, trembling, or twitching of the torso or extremities
This particular ailment is a direct result of poor husbandry practices. If you have doubts that the calcium being presented to your Crested via dusting of the prey items is adequate, it is prudent to include a calcium supplement to the gut-loading ration of the prey items (like the formula suggested above) to ensure ingestion by the Crested. The disfiguring tends to be permanent, so err on the side of caution.
There are other ailments and conditions that the owner should be aware of, and almost all of them can be prevented with good husbandry practices. Sanitation, correct management of temperature and humidity within the required parameters, and a good diet will help to ensure your Crested’s longevity.