Crested Gecko General Reptile Care Guide Courtesy of ReptiFiles
|(Correlophus ciliatus) Difficulty: Easy
Crested geckos are an arboreal species of gecko native to New Caledonia, a group of islands between Fiji and Australia. They are most common on the islands Grande Terre and Isle of Pines. They get their name from the eyelash-like crests on their heads, which also make them incredibly cute!
Bamboo - Tricia Koczor
Crested geckos were thought to be extinct until 1994, when a tropical storm revealed that populations were very much alive and well. Today they are thriving both in the wild and in the pet trade.
These geckos are omnivorous, eating mostly fruit with occasional insect prey. They are also crepuscular, meaning that they are most active during dawn and dusk.
Crested geckos measure about 8 inches long from snout to tail and weighing 35-45 grams as adults. It takes crested geckos about 15-18 months to reach sexual maturity, with a 15–20-year lifespan.
Although crested geckos are generally light tan to dark brown, they can also change color! This process is called “firing up,” making the dark parts of their bodies darker and the light parts lighter. No one is entirely sure why cresties do this, but it seems to happen when they are excited.
Chip - Tricia Koczor
- 2’x2’x2’ Meridian PVC Panel Reptile Enclosure
- small fan
- 5.5” dome heat lamp
- 1x 40w incandescent heat bulb (white)
- plug-in lamp dimmer
- infrared thermometer
- digital thermometer/hygrometer with a probe
- 18” UVB bulb and fixture
- LED plant grow light(s)
- live or artificial plants
- climbing vines
- magnetic feeding ledge
- zip ties
- plug-in outlet timer
- pressure sprayer
- calcium supplement
- crested gecko diet
As you choose an enclosure for your gecko, keep in mind that since cresties are arboreal, height is better than width or depth. While 2’x2’x2’ is the recommended size for adults, juveniles can be transferred to their adult enclosure after reaching about 10g or so. If you do this, you may wish to provide multiple feeding stations to make food more accessible for a small gecko.
Can multiple crested geckos be housed together in the same enclosure?
Some gecko keepers choose to house more than one crested per enclosure. I do not personally endorse this practice, as I believe that the risks of cohabitation outweigh the potential benefits. However, here’s a breakdown of the risks so you can decide for yourself:
- 2+ males: Please don’t! In almost every species, males housed together **will** fight and injure/kill one another, and crested geckos are no different. I know a breeder who chooses to house unsexed juveniles together. None showed signs of being male, but one day he came home to one dead gecko and another with serious injuries — two of them had “grown up,” and they were both male.
- 1 male & 1+ females: This can work, but the geckos should be carefully supervised to make sure they don’t injure one another. Furthermore, please don’t cohab a male and female together unless you’re trying to breed them. They *will* mate and lay eggs!
- 2+ females: This is the setup that is most likely to work. Multiple females have been known to get along as long as they “move in” at the same time and are similarly sized.
A good rule of them is that for every additional gecko, the enclosure needs to get at least 5 gallons larger.
Keep in mind that cohabited geckos are more likely to lose their tails and may be injured in inter-gecko scuffles for dominance. Look out for tail nipping, crest biting, weight loss, and unusual behavior. If any of the above are observed, separate them immediately!
Lighting, Temperatures & Humidity
Even though crested geckos are crepuscular/nocturnal, they do benefit from having some kind of light during the day. According to the UV Tool, crested geckos (referenced in the paper as Rhacodactylus ciliatus) should receive 14 hours of light per day during the summer and 10 hours of light during winter, 6 months each. This helps regulate their circadian rhythms, seasonal cycling, and improves activity, appetite, and overall health.
Many people will tell you that UVB is not necessary for crested geckos in captivity—that they get all the vitamin D3 they need from high quality prepared diets. While it is true that not having access to UVB won’t necessarily kill a crested gecko, there is a growing body of evidence that providing UVB substantially increases health and quality of life for reptiles previously thought not to need it.
Furthermore, UVB bulbs also produce UVA light, which is a spectrum of light that reptiles can see but humans can’t. They see it like an additional color. Imagine if you had to live without the rainbow of colors in the visible light spectrum—seeing only in black and white. Wouldn’t that be dull?
For this reason, ReptiFiles recommends UVB lighting for all reptiles, including crested geckos. Since cresties are crepuscular and typically hide behind leaves during the day, you don’t need anything particularly strong.
Many people claim that it’s perfectly fine to keep a crested gecko at room temperature without a heat source, but it’s important to remember that crested geckos are ectotherms, which means that they can’t produce their own body heat and rely on natural heat sources (ie: sunlight) in their environment to help them regulate their metabolism and digest food. In my experience, the most common cause of lethargy, poor appetite, and illness in crested geckos is lack of access to a heat source.
- Basking area temperature (top of enclosure): 82-85°F (28-29°C)
- Cool area temperature (bottom of enclosure): 70-75°F (21-24°C)
- Nighttime temperature: 65-72°F (18-22°C)
The best heat source for a crested gecko is a heat lamp. White or clear low-wattage incandescent/halogen bulbs work very nicely.
The exact wattage you need will depend on enclosure size, design, room temperature, and other factors, but start with the 25w and go up or down from there depending on your needs.
If you are using a small 5.5″ dome lamp for your heat bulb, then I recommend starting with the 25w bulb. Dome lamps are also compatible with dimmers, which can be a very handy feature for controlling the basking temperature in your gecko’s enclosure.
Keep in mind that a basking area may not be safe in enclosures that are too small to accommodate an appropriate thermal gradient (ex: Kritter Keepers)!
Crested geckos thrive between 60-80% humidity. This can be maintained with daily misting and a moisture-retentive substrate. Make sure to let it dry out to around 50% or even 40% before misting again—constant moisture encourages mold and mildew growth, which can make your gecko sick.
Misting is also the best way to make sure your gecko stays hydrated, as while they will drink out of a dish occasionally, they vastly prefer to lick water droplets off plants and the enclosure walls.
Depending on how well your terrarium holds humidity, mist at least once in the evening, and then again in the morning if needed. Your gecko will drink the droplets off the terrarium walls and decorations.
Do not use distilled, softened, or even filtered water for misting. Tap water contains minerals that are vital to your gecko’s health. Yes, this means you’ll have to clean up water spots, but it’s worth it. Here’s why:
PRO TIP: Hard water deposits come off easily when you scrub with a lemon juice-soaked cotton ball. Severe buildup can be scraped off with a razor blade.
Layer the substrate 2-4″ thick to aid in moisture retention and ambient humidity. Natural substrates should be spot cleaned daily and replaced monthly. For best results, use with a drainage layer to prevent the substrate from getting soaked.
I prefer natural substrates because they hold humidity better and they’re a lot more attractive. However, these substrates have loose particles and can pose an impaction risk to individuals smaller than 13g.
Bioactive substrates and enclosures are nice because they use symbiotic relationships between the animal (in this case, crested gecko) and certain detritivore species to break down waste. The result? Essentially a self-cleaning terrarium.
If you have a young crestie or wish to skip the risk altogether, consider the following options.
- paper towel
- blue shop towel
These are cheap, easy to clean/replace, and favored by many keepers. Should be spot cleaned daily, and disposable substrates should be replaced weekly.
Decorating the Terrarium
Since crested geckos are a tropical species, their terrariums are a lot of fun to design! However, as you select and arrange decorations for your gecko, keep in mind these 3 basic requirements for crested gecko terrarium decorations:
- Hiding places
- Jumping/climbing potential
- Water accumulation
The best decorations perform 2 or more of these functions. Here are some ideas:
- vines (learn how to make your own with this tutorial)
- live plants
- artificial plants/flowers
- cork bark/tubes
- birdhouse hide boxes
- PVC pipes
- bamboo, free from paint or dyes
- food dish platform
Feeding Your Crested Gecko
Generally speaking, prepared diets are not the best way to feed a reptile. The ingredients are typically full of fillers, and they don’t provide a balanced diet.
In the case of crested geckos, I make an exception. Thanks to the exhaustive efforts of some really smart people, there are nutritionally complete prepared diets on the market ready for your gecko to chow down. Who made the cut?
- Black Panther Zoological (BPZ)
- Leapin’ Leachie
- Zoo Med (new formula only)
These brands offer high quality formulas with a range of flavors to suit your individual gecko’s preference.
If you are feeding your gecko a prepared diet that already has bugs in it (Pangea With Insects, Repashy Grubs N’ Fruit), technically feeder insects are not needed for the gecko’s survival. But they make good source entertainment and exercise for the gecko, and they help juveniles grow faster, as well as fatten thin adults.
In other words: even with a good crested gecko diet, crested geckos still need bugs. Offer insects 1x/week for best results. If you notice that your gecko is getting fat on this schedule, reduce the number of feedings.
- Dubia roaches
- Small hornworms
- Black soldier fly larvae
How often crested geckos need to eat depends on age:
- Juveniles (0-12 months old) — Crested gecko diet daily, insects 1-2x/weekly
- Adults — Crested gecko diet every 2-3 days, insects 0-1x/weekly
Once you get your crested gecko, the first thing you’ll want to do is pet and cuddle it. How could you not, with those big eyes and that soft, suede-like skin? But moving to a home can stress a gecko out, so you need to wait 2 weeks before the cuddles begin.
When you start handling your gecko, do it over a soft surface like a bed or couch. In the wild, cresties are surrounded by vines and branches, so they can do “leaps of faith” from great heights and just catch a new perch on the way down. That’s not the case in captivity, but that mindset is genetically programmed into them. So, if your gecko tries to leap off of your hand, having a soft landing place ready can prevent injury.
Start your handling sessions at just 5 minutes long, every other day. It’s not a lot of time, but it gives your gecko time to recover and realize that you aren’t a predator. Once your gecko is consistently calm during handling, you can gradually extend the handling sessions to 15 minutes at a time. Even when perfectly tamed, try not to have him/her out for more than 20 minutes/day.
If your crestie is flighty, try something called treadmilling. While the gecko is perched on one of your hands, place your other hand in a cup shape 4-6 inches in front of it. When the gecko leaps, switch hands. Eventually s/he will calm down.
Another trick you can try with a flighty gecko is to handle them during the day. They will be sleepy at this time, so they move slower and are less likely to jump around.
Don’t forget to wash your hands before and after each handling session. And if a child is handling the gecko, be sure to supervise closely. As you handle your chameleon, keep your movements slow, and never restrain it, instead allowing it to walk from one hand to another. Never grab your chameleon out of its enclosure!
Care information courtesy of ReptiFiles.
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