Which Reptile is Best for Beginners: Leopard Geckos vs Crested Geckos

Posted by Critter Depot on

Table of Contents

Leopard Geckos vs Crested Geckos - which is better for beginners?

Leopard Geckos

leopard gecko for beginners

Tank Size

Leopard geckos are a popular choice for new reptile owners, and with good reason. They are easy to find at your local pet store or reptile show and come in an array of patterns and colors, referred to as morphs. One leopard gecko can be kept in a 20-gallon tank from infancy to maturity. These geckos live a fairly long time, with up to 20 years being common. 

Easy to Handle

Leopard geckos can be easily handled, don't often bite (but if they do it doesn't hurt), and are a good size for older children to hold: not too small and not too heavy. They are, however, a shy species and do not tolerate rough handling by boisterous young children well. 

Juvenile leos can be a little wiggly and snappy, but with approximately 30 days of consistent, gentle handling, newly acquired young leos will settle into a bond with their people and many come to enjoy being held, although this can vary from individual to individual. Some individuals can become quite affectionate. 

Easy to Clean

Leopard geckos seem to take pride in staying clean at all times.  You will find that most of them poop in one spot consistently, therefore making it a lot easier to spot clean and keep the cage floor cleaner overall. When spot cleaned regularly, this animal and its housing will not emit unpleasant odors. Because their excrement is so little and usually deposited in one spot within the tank, cleaning out their tank isn’t something that has to be daily. Once a week is enough unless housing two females together, then cleaning every other day is advised.

Feeding Schedule

This pet is fairly convenient for owners with a busy lifestyle once they have progressed beyond early childhood (the owners and the pets). Leopard geckos that are under 6 months of age have to eat every day, so leaving them home alone for longer periods of time untended is not possible. But once they’re over 6 months and they start eating less, then you can leave them home alone comfortably for as long as three days. For people who travel for extended periods of a week or more, pet care will be needed.

Vitamin D3

Leopard geckos are cathemeral, meaning that they can be active day or night. They prefer nighttime activity, but may need occasional exposure to UVB rays in order to produce Vitamin D3 needed for bone integrity. Supplemental light in addition to a properly balanced diet in order to prevent metabolic bone disease is advised by many experienced keepers. 

Habitat Temperatures

This arid land species definitely requires toasty temperatures within its habitat, including a basking spot that reaches around 92 degrees F. Supplemental heating and a temperature gradient within the habitat make management of this species a little trickier in this regard than cresties.

Health Concerns

Certain leopard gecko morphs are susceptible to a neurological disordered named Enigma Syndrome (ES), after the Enigma color variation.  Enigma Syndrome (ES) is a neurological disorder that affects the balance and coordinaton of leopard geckos.  The severity of this genetic mutation ranges from relatively mild symptoms, such as ‘star gazing’, head tilting, and occasional circling to debilitating effects such as seizures, ‘death rolls’, and incessant circling in place. This disorder seems to be unique to Leos, and is not suffered by other terrestrial geckos. All morphs are susceptible to this disorder, so beginners are advised to select pets that are as close to wild type as possible if they are concerned. This disorder is almost never displayed in wild type animals.  Nothing similar is found in Crested Geckos.

Diet

Dietary needs are one of the ways that leopard geckos differ from Cresties.  Leopard geckos are strictly insectivorous (carnivores that specialize in consuming insects only). This means that live foods will need to be provided more often and at a bit more expense than adult Cresties. Depending upon the diet chosen, monthly costs can almost double that of a Crestie.

Here's a summary for how many insects your leopard gecko will need:

Crested Geckos

crested geckos for beginners

Beginner Friendly?

Although new to the pet trade, only having become popular in just over two decades, this species is also an excellent herp for more experienced beginners. Their ease of care, unusual appearance, and unlimited breeding potential, has contributed to their exploding popularity. 

Size and Age

Crested Geckos are not a huge lizard and their adult length of 7 to 9 inches, including their prehensile tails, makes them a very conveniently sized pet.  Cresties generally live 10-20 years in captivity. Many interesting morphs are available from reputable breeders.  

Unlike leopard geckos, this crested geckos have lidless eyes and so must moisten the cornea with their tongues, which is fun for both kids and adults to observe. 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. This allows them to easily climb glass surfaces, which leopard geckos cannot do. It also makes them superior escape artists.

Habitat Size

Cresties can be maintained in simple conditions or in elaborate naturalistic vivariums. Hatchlings to 4 month old Cresties can be easily housed in 10 gallon aquariums, in fact, young ones much prefer a space this size. After 4 months of age they should be housed in a 20 gallon tall (vertically oriented) aquarium or larger. Three adult Cresties can be comfortably housed in a 30 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, unless you select a tailless variety. Crested geckos definitely need room to climb, so providing vertical habitat features such as branches, driftwood, cork bark, bamboo, and viney plants at a variety of heights and orientations will please your gecko. And remember their ability to climb glass, so a secure top will be needed.

Cleaning Schedule

Sanitation of the habitat is a crucial part of Crestie 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.  Sanitation for Cresties is definitely more involved and time consuming than that required for Leos.

If your Crestie 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.  

Humidity Levels

Cresties do require humidity above that of terrestrial geckos. Fogging the cage at least daily is recommended, and in very arid climates 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

Temperatures for Cresties 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 Crestie. Over time, heat stress can lead to illness and even death. Cresties 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. 

A good hygrometer is a valuable tool, especially if your Crestie 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. This is trickier aspect of husbandry than that required by a Leo, who do need higher humidity when shedding, but not to this degree.

A good digital thermometer with a temperature probe is crucial for managing the heating regime. Better still; acquire a digital laser thermometer. A keeper should take readings from all over the habitat such as at bottom of the habitat, in the center, at the top and in any areas your Crestie 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.  

Lighting

A photo period of 12 to 14 hours of light is most beneficial for non-breeding Cresties. 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 Cresties.

For successfully viewing your Crestie 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.

Crested Gecko Diet

Crested Geckos seem to do well on a diet of crickets or feeder roaches and the occasional waxworm.  Whichever live 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.  

 An occasional small dab of baby food fruit will be appreciated by your Crestie.  Fruit should not sit unattended for more than 12 hours before removing and cleaning any sticky places off the substrate. Owners who get busy can dispense with all of this for a while and just offer a top quality Crested Gecko Diet such as products offered by Repashy and Pangea.

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’.  In this context, 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.  If fruit and other soft foods are left unattended, it most certainly will happen eventually. The weird moral of the story is that if your Crestie’s feet get sticky, they will lose their stickiness.  

How to help a Crested Gecko shed skin

As with most reptiles, one of the pleasures of having them is their inherit cleanliness.  Occasionally, however, your Crestie 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 Crestie 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 Crestie 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. 

When performing handling for any purpose, remember that Cresties 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. 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 Diseases

Like many geckos, Cresties 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.  An injury to the mouth can also allow pathogen entry to vulnerable tissues.

Symptoms include: 

  • Excess mucus
  • Redness around the mouth
  • Pus inside the mouth  

If you notice your Crestie is wheezing or drooling, this may indicate the presence of a respiratory infection, another common arboreal gecko ailment. It can also be associated with stomatitis if the gecko is mouth breathing because the sinuses are blocked.

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. 

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 condition is relatively permanent if not corrected very early. It can end in death.

Leopard Geckos vs Crested Geckos - What the verdict?

Scorecard of attributes for the two species where 1 indicates a less desirable situation and 5 being maximally desirable.

Expense at purchase:

Leopard Geckos:  1  2  3  4  5  

Crested Geckos: 1  2  4  5 (Cresties are often twice as much) 

Monthly Expense: 

Leopard Geckos:  1  2  3  4  5  

Crested Geckos: 1  2  3  4  (if feeding CGD formulation)

Set Up Expense

Leopard Geckos:  1  2  3  5  

Crested Geckos: 1  3  4  5  

Cleanliness

Leopard Geckos:  1  2  3  4  5  

Crested Geckos: 1  3  4  5  

Temperament

Leopard Geckos:  1  2  3  4  5  

Crested Geckos:  1  2  4  5  

Longevity

Leopard Geckos:  1  2  3  4  5  

Crested Geckos:  1  2  3  4  5  

Hardiness

Leopard Geckos:  1  2  3  4  5  

Crested Geckos:  1  2  4  5  

Safety

Leopard Geckos:  1  2  3  4  5  

Crested Geckos: 1  2  3  4  5  

Appearance

Leopard Geckos:  1  2  3  4  5  

Crested Geckos: 1  2  3  4  5  

Suitability for young Children

Leopard Geckos:  1  2  4  5  

Crested Geckos: 1  3  4  5  

Ease of Maintenance:

Leopard Geckos:  1  2  3  4  5  

Crested Geckos: 1  3  4  5  

Convenience:

Leopard Geckos:  1  2  3  5  

Crested Geckos: 1  2  4  5 

Ability to leave alone for travel:

Leopard Geckos:  1  2  3  4  (short trips)

Crested Geckos: 1  2  4  5 

Friendliness:

Leopard Geckos:  1  2  3  5  

Crested Geckos: 1  2  4  5 

Availability:

Leopard Geckos:  1  2  3  4  5  

Crested Geckos: 1  2  4  5  

While both species are gentle and interesting pets, Leos are definitely the easier of two, while Cresties are just a bit more interesting and entertaining.

0 comments

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published