Crested Gecko Care
Crested Geckos: A Brief History
The crested gecko is a species of gecko endemic to New Caledonia, a series of islands in the South Pacific off the eastern coast of Australia. First discovered by a French zoologist in 1886, the crested gecko was thought to be extinct until its rediscovery in 1994 by German herpetologist Friedrich Wilhelm Henkel.
Crested geckos have an average lifespan of 15-20 years in captivity if cared for properly. They reach a mature length of approximately 8 inches, and can weigh between 40 and 80 grams fully grown. Maturation time varies from gecko to gecko, but most reach full size within two to three years.
Hatchling crested geckos are best suited to small, ten-gallon tanks with a screen lid. Housing a young gecko in a larger tank may make it difficult for the gecko to find its food dish, resulting in stunted growth or other health problems. Once a gecko reaches a weight of approximately 10 grams, it should be moved to a larger tank (20 gallons or larger). Crested geckos thrive in vertical habitats, so keep this in mind when planning your enclosure.
For housing young crested geckos under 10 grams, use paper towel sheet as a substrate. Any other forms of substrate, such as coco-fiber, potting soil, or other substrates may result in ingestion and consequent fatal impaction.
Once your crested gecko reaches approximately 10 grams of weight, you may transfer it to a permanent enclosure and choose from the variety of substrate options listed below:
Any organic potting mix (note: check ingredients to make sure that no “organic fertilizers” are used)
Any combination of the above
Maintaining a proper temperature is one of the most critical components of your crested gecko habitat. Proper temperature ranges from room temperature (67F) to 78F, although temperatures may fluctuate within this range throughout the course of the year. Because crested geckos have an ectothermic circulatory system, their body temperatures will reach equilibrium at the temperature of their environment, so it is vital to maintain a proper temperature range. In order to heat your crested gecko, always use a bulb as opposed to a heat mat, as heat mats may injure your crested gecko. Red heat bulbs (sold by Exo Terra, ZooMed, Zilla, etc.) are recommended for daytime and nighttime heating, and can be found at your local pet store or online.
Crested geckos are an arboreal species of gecko (meaning that they live below the canopy), and thus do not require white light. Because their natural environment is shielded from UV and white light rays by the rainforest canopy, they are adapted to survive in shaded environments. This being said, outside studies as well as our personal observations have noted that providing a source of fluorescent or LED lighting can be beneficial to the health of your gecko, especially in gravid females, improving color, egg-shell strength, and/or other factors.
Decoration and Hides
In order to create an optimal environment for your crested gecko, it is critical that there are a variety of places to hide throughout the enclosure. For hatchling habitats, be sure to include at least one stick or perch stretched diagonally across the enclosure. In addition, make sure that you provide ample foliage for hiding and at least one (sterilized) shed rock. For larger enclosures, we recommend maximizing vertical hide spaces in order to prevent such chronic diseases as FTS (floppy tail syndrome) and other stress-related ailments. In order to accomplish this, try installing rests and feeding ledges along the walls of the enclosure as well as including an abundance of climbing structures, caverns, and foliage for hiding. Remember, your gecko is always happiest when you can’t to see it!
There are a variety of foods on the reptile market, so it can often be difficult to decide which ones are best for your gecko. Luckily, we already did that research for you. Bay Gecko recommends any combination of Repashy or Pangea crested gecko diets. It is important to note that some of these diets are marketed as “complete diets,” meaning that they have all of the nutrients necessary to keep your crested gecko in good health. We strongly recommend these diets, especially for new owners, as they do not need to be supplemented with insects or additional calcium or D3 vitamins. This being said, your gecko will love the healthy stimulation offered by an occasional hunting activity if you do provide it with live insects!
If you choose to supplement your crested gecko’s meals with live insects, it is important that you do not replace the powdered diet with insects altogether. Failure to offer a complete diet will result in stunted growth in your gecko. We feed our geckos insects 1-2 times a week, and we will typically allow our cresteds to eat their fill of bugs during these feedings. We feed our geckos dubia feeder roaches due to their high protein content and easy maintenance, but crickets are a good (albeit less nutritious) alternative for those who do not want cockroaches anywhere near their houses. Whatever bugs you use, always be sure to “dust” them with some form of reptile calcium and vitamin D3 supplement, commodities that can be found both online and at your local pet retailer. In addition to giving your gecko a fun hunting activity, providing live insects often results in rapid growth in crested geckos. Many powdered diets, such as Pangea Complete with Insects, are now incorporating insect protein into their formulas, and while we do recommend these diets we also acknowledge that they do not parallel the mental stimulation or the expedited growth results of live feedings.
Whether you feed bugs or not, it is important to feed your gecko at least three times weekly. Although more frequent feedings will not adversely affect the health of your gecko, you will quickly find that this is a waste of time and food. Crested geckos do not eat very much, so don’t worry if your gecko's food dish is not licked clean every night. In fact, it is more likely that you will hardly notice any feeding activity at all. It is advisable to feed in relatively small dishes, with a water-bottle cap being sufficient for hatchlings and a slightly larger (.75-1.5 oz) cup for adults. If you are worried that your gecko is not eating, just look for poop! Almost all of our health-related inquiries come from individuals who are concerned that their gecko is not eating. To these people we always suggest looking for poop, and almost all of them find it. Always remember what goes in must come out, and if your gecko is defecating regularly, it is usually in good health.
When looking for poop, please note that crested gecko feces has two components, liquid and solid. The liquid component can be white and slimy or sometimes transparent, whereas the solid component is a fairly recognizable brown lump. If you find a white liquid substance in your tank, don’t panic, it is perfectly normal.
Crested geckos are an extremely hardy species of reptile, making them great beginner pets, but certain ailments can arise from improper care. Here are a few of the big ones…
Metabolic Bone Disorder (MBD) --- MBD manifests itself in warped bone structure, typically beginning with a wavy tail and spreading its way upward into the spine if not treated properly. In extreme cases, MBD can be fatal. It is most frequently caused by an improper diet, especially one lacking sufficient calcium or vitamin balance. It is important to diagnose MBD early and take measures such as providing more frequent feedings and making sure that your crested gecko diet meets the criteria described above under the ‘feeding’ section of this document. MBD often occurs in conjunction with other health problems, and owners should be wary if they notice emaciation, weak or impaired jaw functionality, or any other irregularities in behavior or appearance. In order to treat MBD, Repashy Superfoods sells an emergency calcium supplement that can be fed immediately to limit the damage of this disease. Damages caused by MBD cannot be reversed, but with proper diet, your crested gecko can often return to good health despite possible structural impairment.
Floppy Tail Syndrome (FTS) --- Floppy tail syndrome is characterized by (you guessed it!) a floppy tail. This disease is typically exhibited when a gecko is resting vertically upside down on a side wall with its tail “flopped” over its head. Physiologically speaking, floppy tail is caused by a weakness of the muscle groups around the base of your gecko’s tail, but the underlying cause of this weakness is somewhat nebulous. However, most crested gecko breeders agree that the primary cause of this ailment is a lack of horizontal resting structures throughout the vertical space of your crested gecko’s environment. In order to address this, simply add ledges to the sides of your gecko tank in order to eliminate as much flat wall-space as possible, and provide plenty of foliage in order to encourage your gecko to wrap its tail around an anchoring structure. While this disease is not curable, it is both preventable and treatable, and rarely has any substantial effect on the health of your gecko. However, in extreme cases where unhealthy resting positions persist and begin to distort the base of the spine, it can be necessary to perform a “tail drop,” or encouraging your gecko to drop its tail by applying light pressure to the segment where the tail meets the spine. Crested geckos do not regenerate their tails.
Heat Exhaustion/Dehydration --- Heat exhaustion or dehydration is often indicated by warped bone or tail structure and difficulty shedding. Consistent temperatures over 80F or short periods of high exposure (i.e. during travel) can contribute to this illness. Also, a lack of humidity or access to water can result in dehydration. In order to treat a dehydrated gecko, place it in a small critter keeper with only paper towel lining and spray well with water or a water/pedialyte solution so that your gecko may lick moisture off of the side walls. Allow your gecko 20-30 minutes to rehydrate, then reintroduce to its permanent enclosure, making sure to keep temperatures consistently around 70F and to spray frequently. Most forms of heat exhaustion/dehydration are curable, but in extreme cases your gecko may have permanent signs of skeletal deformation.
Tail Drop --- It is perfectly normal for crested geckos to drop their tails at some point in their lifetime. In fact, almost all wild crested geckos lack tails by the time they reach adulthood. Crested geckos drop their tails as a defensive mechanism, which may be triggered by stress or a sudden disturbance in their enclosure. Unlike many other species of lizards, crested geckos do not regenerate their tails. However, the “nub” left behind does heal quickly, and will have no adverse effect on the long-term health of your gecko.