Crested Gecko Care Guide – Habitat, Diet, Substrate & More

The crested gecko (Rhacodactylus ciliatus) is a native of New Caledonia, far off the coast of Australia. Although thought to be extinct, crested gecko’s were rediscovered in 1994 and have been becoming more and more popular ever since.

How big do crested geckos get?

These fascinating gecko’s can reach up to 8″ long (total length) and weigh about 45 grams. They have a triangular shaped head with crests running to about the shoulders. This is where the nickname Eyelash Crested Gecko comes from.

Temperament & Handling

As a household pet, crested geckos can be very docile and are able to be handled regularly once tame. Crested geckos come in a variety of colors and patterns. They also have the ability to slightly change their colors depending on their physical and psychological conditions.

Crested geckos are very friendly reptiles.  They enjoy being handled.  For its safety, when handling your gecko, be sure to keep other animals away from it and that doors and windows are closed to prevent escaping.  Keep in mind that the crested gecko is a very capable jumper.  Handle them in areas where they will not be subject to a long fall if they happen to jump from your hands.  To prevent the spread of bacteria between your geckos and yourself, always wash your hands after handling each gecko.

Like most lizards, the crested gecko sheds its skin when he or she outgrows it. Crested Geckos pull off their old skin almost like a glove with their mouth and they continue to eat the skin after they peel it off. Some believe they do this so they don’t leave any trace of themselves behind for predators while others believe the skin is a source of nutrients for the gecko.

The underside of the crested gecko’s toes are made up of lamellae. The lamellae is made up of millions of tiny hairs that allow the gecko to stick to most anything.

Habitat

Crested geckos are one of the easiest type of geckos to keep in captivity. Four important factors should be considered when setting up your new tank.

Enclosure Size

Crested geckos are arboreal creatures meaning they prefer height rather than surface area. Many stores sell tanks that are tailored to the arboreal geckos and work very well. Be aware of the size of your tank and the size of your gecko. You wouldn’t want to be kept in a box and neither do they. These animals love to jump and climb so they need plenty of room to roam! A ten gallon tank turned on its side is appropriate for a juvenile, but should be replaced with a larger one once the gecko gets older. It is important to use a screen lid for the enclosure to ensure adequate ventilation.

Temperature

Crested Geckos should be kept at a temperature range of 72 degrees Fahrenheit to 78 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and can go as low as 69 degrees Fahrenheit to 74 degrees Fahrenheit at night. By using different heat lamps, you can achieve the correct heat and lighting for day and night. Under-tank heaters and hot rocks are strongly not recommended.

Humidity

As you can imagine, a rain-forest has relatively high humidity at all times. By misting the enclosure and foliage multiple times a day you not only maintain humidity but also provide a source of drinking water for your gecko. Gecko’s cannot see still water and rely on dew drops and rain for their water.

Another way to maintain humidity in the enclosure is to set up a constantly running source of water. We use a small Tupperware container filled with water with a fish tank air stone and air pump in it. If using this method, be sure to put a lid on top of it with many large holes cut out so that plenty of water can get out but your gecko won’t fall in!

Vegetation

Most of the gecko’s natural habitat consists of leaves and trees. Provide your gecko with lots of vines to climb on and logs to hide in. The more climbing branches and hiding places made available, the happier and healthier your gecko will be. Make sure to place hiding spots at both the top and the bottom of the tank so that the geckos can regulate their body temperature accordingly. Gecko’s also seem to have a particular fondness for plants. Fake plants can be used, but live plants are a better choice as they are a great way to increase humidity and achieve a more natural environment.

The most common types of plants used in reptile cages are Ficus or Pothos. Both types of plants do very well in the humidity and lighting that geckos require. The substrate that we use is paper towels. Dirt substrate is usually recommended by other crested gecko keepers as it holds humidity well. However we find that if we use the realistic dirt substrate, the gecko’s receive mouthfuls of it when going after their crickets (feeding in a separate container helps to prevent this). Dirt substrate also tends to grow mold (which can be disastrous to your geckos health) and is difficult to clean. We use paper towels as they are super easy to clean up and your gecko won’t be able to tell the difference!

Diet

Crested geckos are omnivorous. The two staples of the gecko diet are mashed fruit and calcium dusted crickets. Worms can also be fed occasionally

Mashed Fruit

Mashed fruit should be offered every day for juveniles and every other day for adults. You can do this the easy way or the hard way. The hard way would be to mash fruit up yourself, freeze it to prevent spoilage, and thaw it out as needed. We prefer to buy already prepared baby food with no artificial flavors or ingredients in it. Our geckos are in love with pears and applesauce. It is always recommended that calcium dust is mixed in with the fruit (We prefer the Flukers Brand).

Crickets

Crickets should be offered at least once a week, but can even be offered daily. Crickets should always be ‘dusted’ with calcium dust before being offered. Crickets should be about the size of the space between your gecko’s eyes. If you don’t feel comfortable leaving the crickets in the enclosure, you can feed your gecko in a separate tank or plastic container. You’ll know he or she is full when they are no longer interested.

Worms

Mealworms and Waxworms can be offered to your gecko, but only occasionally. These worms tend to be high in fat and can cause your gecko to become ‘backed up.’ These worms are very easy to keep as they get refrigerated, minimizing loss. Gecko’s love these tasty worms, but they should only be fed as a treat.

Diseases

Crested geckos are a fairly hardy and largely trouble-free species. As long as an owner provides all the appropriate care as outlined in this care guide then their gecko should remain healthy and happy. However, there are several common disorders that can arise:

Metabolic Bone Disease

Metabolic bone disease, or MBD for short, is caused by a lack of calcium and vitamin D3 in the diet. Symptoms include brittle “spongy” bones, saggy lower jaw, wavy deformed tail, irregular walking, and loss of appetite. MBD is very serious and can easily be prevented with proper feeding, make sure that both insects and babyfood are supplemented with calcium and/or vitamin powder.

Floppy Tail Syndrome

Floppy tail syndrome, or FTS for short, is a weakness in the area at the base of the tail. It is believed to be caused by insufficient calcium during early growth, or by a lack of tail exercise as a result of not having enough to climb on. Still, others believe it is caused when a gecko sleeps upside down, using their tail as a support. The tail of a crested gecko who has developed FTS will flop to one side while climbing and becomes of little or no use to the gecko.

Autotomy

Autotomy is when a gecko drops his or her tail. Unlike other species of gecko, the Crested’s tail will not grow back. Wild crested geckos rarely ever keep their tail. This ability is a defensive behavior, meant to distract predators while the gecko escapes. Autonomy can also be the result of improper handling, fighting males, breeding, and stress. Stress can be the result of improper habitats, temperature extremes, improper handling, fighting, and breeding. Unlike other lizards however, geckos cannot regrow their tail.

Generally, the loss of the tail has no ill effect on the gecko except for aesthetics and tail-less geckos still lead completely happy, healthy lives and even reproduce. If your crested gecko drops its tail, keep it in a quiet, safe place where it can relax and recover. Continue feeding it as usual, but keep it away from further stresses until the tail nub has healed.

Impaction

Impaction is caused when a reptile accidentally eats some of his or her substrate, such as getting a mouthful of dirt when hunting for crickets. Often they cannot pass the substrate and it sits in their stomach. Impaction can be prevented by not using dirt substrate, especially with juveniles, or by feeding in a separate container. Impaction is characterized by loss of appetite, loss of weight, and lethargy. A similar problem can arise from feeding a diet too high in fat, such as too many meal or wax worms. Gecko’s that develop this problem will need to be soaked in water until they are able to pass their solids.

Dystocia (Egg-Binding)

Dystocia is caused when a female gecko is unable to lay their eggs. This can be the result of not providing the gecko with a proper place in which to lay their eggs. It can also be caused by eggs that are too large to pass. Symptoms include weakness and lethargy.

Dysecdysis

Dysecdysis is caused by improper shedding. Improper shedding is the direct result of a habitat that is lacking in moisture. Shedding skin that gets stuck to the gecko can cause infections, eye damage, and even loss of toes. Other symptoms include lethargy, and difficulty walking and/or climbing. Be sure to mist the gecko directly when you notice they are getting ready to shed (turning pale) and make sure the habitat is moist at all times to ensure proper shedding.

Although crested geckos are a very hardy and trouble-free species there are many other problems and diseases that can arise from improper care. As with all other reptiles, prevention and adequate care is the number one key to health.

Crested Gecko Morph Types

Before you dive into morphs, spend some time looking at the terms below used to describe the main areas on a Crested Gecko. Terms in this guide may be new to some of you and it could prove useful to start off knowing where they are located.

The Crested Gecko is a polychromatic lizard and with the vast array of pattern, colour and structural trait combinations today, it is easy for the beginner or even the more experienced keeper to get confused. Captive breeding for many generations has resulted in a larger phenotypic variation in today’s animals than that of the original wild collected group. The best way to learn Crested Gecko Morphs is to break their features down into three categories: patterns, colours and structural traits. These are the characteristics or building blocks that define any given morph.

Patterns

Crested Geckos come in an array of different pattern and it’s not rare to find multiple patterns on a single gecko. The harlequin pattern for example occurs simultaneously with the fire/flame pattern. There’s almost an endless supply of pattern combinations that one gecko can display.

Colors

Crested Geckos come in shades of red, orange, yellow, brown, olive, mocha, cream, grey, tan, black, cream, lavender etc… Although some may appear blue or green, Crested Geckos do not actually have these pigments. Instead, two or more other pigments are combined to give those colour appearences.

Hatchling Colors

If you’re a prospective buyer, don’t make the mistake of thinking a gecko will keep its hatchling colouration. More often than not, their colours are unpredictable. They may hatch out a bright red colour but may end up becoming yellow as adults. Eventually, as they get older they will show hints of thier adult colouration, but nothing is completely certain until they reach six months to one year of age.

Colors Throughout the Day

Depending on the gecko, they can either have slight or drastic colour intensity changes throughout the day. The factors that cause these changes include: humidity, temperature, stress levels etc… A gecko that is at its most intense colour at any given time is described as being “fired up.”

Structural Traits

Structural traits involve a Crested Gecko’s form and proportion. Looking at a large number of geckos, you will find that there are variations in head and crest structure. Some have enormously large crests and are known to hobbyists as “Crowned.” Others may have reduced crests and are often called “Crestless Cresteds.” Some structural traits are more desirable than others and are then selectively bred by breeders. This may include the furry trait, thick tails, enlarged tail tips, enlarged head/crests or just an overall robust appearence.

Putting it All Together

As you’ve learned, pattern, colour and structural traits defines a Crested Gecko’s morph. A gecko that displays lavender colouring and the fire pattern would be called a Lavender Fire. However, some pattern and colour combinations have been given alternative names such as “Creamsicles” (Bright Orange Cream Fires) or “Blondes” (Dark Cream Fires).

Other Examples

Pattern(s)ColourStructural Trait(s)Morph
TigerOrangeOrange Tiger
Harlequin, DalmationRedRed Harlequin Dalmation
Cream FireBright OrangeCreamsicle
Fire, Partial PinstripeYellowCrownedCrowned Yellow Fire with Partial Pinstripes

The Harlequiin Crested Gecko has a pattern on its back, sides and limbs which can be seen clearly in the picture to the right. Harlequins can be any color however the pattern along the back sides and limbs will be a different colour to the rest of the gecko. The top of the head will be the same color as the patterning.

Flame Crested Gecko

Fire Crested Gecko by Mary Esch

The Flame Crested Gecko is similar to the Harlequin in that there is a pattern along its back and the top of the head is the same color as the pattern. The main difference here is that there is no or very minimal patterning along the side of the body and limbs.

Patternless Crested Gecko

Dalmation Crested Gecko by John

The Patternless Crested Gecko pictured on the right is easy to identify. It is the same color all over with no patterning at all. It can be one of any of the colors however the one pictured is a Buckskin.

Dalmation Crested Gecko

The Dalmation is another easy to identify morph. As you can see from the picture Dalmations have spots all over their bodies. Some Dalmations only have a few spots whereas you can get extreme Dalmations such as the one pictured which have many spots.

Pinstripe Crested Gecko

Pinstripe Crested Gecko by Dominik Goldyn

With a Pinstripe Crested Gecko the colors of the crests which run along the back are all the same color. The colour is normally different the the color of the geckos body. Pictured on the right is a very good example of a Pinstripe, you can see the that crests are all a uniform color with no breaks.

Tiger Crested Gecko

The Tiger Crested Gecko has dark stripes on its back which carry on down the sides of the body.

Moonglow Crested Gecko

The rarest of all the morphs. Very rarely available in the UK. If you want one of these then your best bet is to find somebody willing to export one to you from the USA. As you can see they are all pale grey almost silver in colour and are called Moonglow as they are the same colour as the moon.

Breeding

Sexing crested geckos can be very difficult until about the 10th month of life when you can be fairly sure as to which sex you have. After this, the difference will become incredibly clear! Male Crested Gecko’s develop external hemipenal bulges located at the base of their tail. Female Crested Geckos may exhibit small bulges but there is a noticeable difference between the male and the female.

Crested geckos should be around 35 grams before attempting to mate them. In order to get the best breeding conditions, there should be approximately 1 male to 3 or 4 females. An egg laying container must be provided. We use a Tupperware container with a hole cut into the top. The container is filled with both moss and dirt. When geckos lay their eggs, they will dig down underneath the dirt and hide them. They will lay a clutch of two eggs about once a month. The best way to incubate the eggs is to leave them! As long as you have a naturalistic set up, the gecko will have laid her eggs in the best spot that she deemed possible. But, be aware, hatchlings should be removed as soon as possible as the adults will eat them.

Eggs should hatch between 75 to 100 days. A small slit will appear in the egg and the new baby will push his way out. You should not help the hatchling out of his shell. This could cause major problems! Some believe that by having to work so hard to get out of the egg, it prepares them for life ahead and makes them as strong as they need to be. By interrupting this process, you could potentially weaken your gecko.

Crested geckos will mate readily with little or no help from you. Although the mating is rough and looks painful for the female, it is the natural process! Do not interrupt! The male will chase the female around the enclosure until he catches her. He will bite her head to get her to stay still and proceed with his business.

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