Kasey Talks Critters Episode 2 With Maddie Smith - Crested Geckos
Hey Zen Friends! Welcome to the second episode of Kasey Talks Critters. This is a show that I want to bring you once a month where I sit down with animal professionals and we discuss a particular species. Today we're going to talk about crested geckos with my friend Maddie Smith. She is amazing. She's a YouTuber. She is a crested gecko breeder, and she's actually one of the Zen Habitats gurus. So, for those who are not familiar, we call our customer service representatives gurus. So, when you chat with a customer service or guru rep on our website, you're actually talking to a real person. It is not a robot. And we have people live 8 a.m. to midnight every single day. So, any questions you have just go to ZenHabitats.com and just click on that little chat notification. So, the first thing I want to talk to Maddie about is why do you think crested geckos are so cool?
I think crested geckos are awesome because they're great for beginners up to advanced keepers. You can make their care as basic or as enriched as you choose to, and they will thrive even with pretty basic stuff. So, if you're a beginner and you're just starting out, you're afraid to dive into like doing bioactive or experimenting with lights and heating gradient. And then as you grow as a keeper, you can also grow with their care. So, I think that's really special.
That's awesome. I do think that these are really good for people who are starting out with reptiles. I do love crested geckos. They're just so cute. So, let's hear a little bit about your current job and how did you get here. How did you start working with animals?
So, I have actually been in the animal field since I was pretty young. I started volunteering with Animal Rescue when I was, I think, 12. And then I moved on to working for a dog groomer. Then I moved on to being a wildlife rehabilitator in Ohio. I went on to be a vet assistant and then started with a dog food company and then started with a different dog food company and then started getting into breeding reptiles and doing YouTube and now I'm with Zen Habitats and I'm still breeding reptiles and doing YouTube.
Nice. Oh, I love it. And I actually didn't know that. You also worked with wildlife. I worked in wildlife rehabilitation as well. You just became more of my favorite person than you were before.
Yeah, it was it was a lot of fun. Very, as you know, tiring and exhausting. But yeah, very rewarding at the end of the day.
Absolutely, for sure. It takes a lot out of you, but it is a very, very rewarding career, for sure. Absolutely. So, I think I'm going to just talk a little bit about my experience with crested geckos. So, when I started as a vet tech about eight years ago, crested geckos weren't that popular, bearded dragons were definitely the big reptile pet. But over the years, it’s been crested geckos. These have been blowing up. So, like my most of my experience has been in, like, I'd say, the last three years, working with them more like hobbyist style. Like, so I have a personal one at home. I have a couple here at the office that I take care of. You know, I saw some appointments for them, but other than that, like, I've never done breeding or anything like that. So, when did you first get introduced to crested geckos?
So, my first introduction to crested geckos was actually when I worked as a vet assistant. So, I was in every job that I've had basically up until I was 18 was, I was kind of grandfathered in because I knew someone. So, I worked at as a vet tech when I was 15 and 16, which is younger than you should be able to work. I think they're you're supposed to be 18 to work at PetSmart or any of the like affiliated businesses. So, I worked at the Banfield that was privately owned in our local PetSmart and we had a crested gecko return because he dropped his tail. And my friend really, really wanted him. But of course, you have to be, I think, 18 to adopt one of the animals from PetSmart. And I didn't know any of the front staff because I worked in the vet and since I had an employee number, they just automatically assumed I was 18 and let me adopt the animal. So, I adopted her first crested gecko for her and that actually started her career of breeding crested geckos herself. So, she started before me. So, she started attending reptile expos and breeding like pretty high-end animals pretty early on. So, I was surrounded by that. And then when I moved out of my parents’ house and had a little bit more room, that's when I started getting into crested gecko breeding. So that was like about four or five seasons ago now.
Wow. That's amazing. It's so fun to see everyone's evolution and how they got to where they are. So, thank you for sharing that with me. That's wonderful. I think now we can get sort of into the nitty gritty about crested gecko care and then we can I'm going to ask you some questions that were asked from our fans on our social media platforms. Let’s get into, why do you think there's so many in captivity?
I think there's so many in captivity just because they breed in captivity so well, pretty much anybody can breed crested geckos. Should you necessarily jump right into breeding crested geckos? Maybe not. But they are very, very prolific in captivity. They started out in very small numbers in captivity. So just the fact that now we're producing millions and millions of them a year is ridiculous. And I think unlike, you know, leopard geckos and bearded dragons, you will see some crested geckos in rescue. But it's honestly very surprising how many you find that get snatched off of like places like Craigslist and rescue very, very quickly. I think they're just a very up and coming pet to have, even though they are still very popular already. It's ridiculous how many people still want them. You can attribute their high numbers in captivity because they're very prolific and lots and lots of people want them.
Yeah, I think that's wonderful too, because up until what was it like, mid-nineties, they thought crested geckos were extinct in the wild, which I think is crazy. Next question, I guess this one you kind of touched on, but it's how tricky are they to establish and have you found any methods that tend to work to get them acclimated to your home?
Honestly, crested geckos have been one of the easiest animals I've had to establish, and some of them take longer than others, and babies definitely take a little bit longer than adults or well started animals. I always, always start my animals in a sterilized tub that is size appropriate with paper towel and plants and they start very, very well in that. I think it makes it very easy for them to find their food and you can also monitor them super easily so you can see if they have any issues with their feces or anything and check for parasites. It's also very good to get a vet appointment if you are unfamiliar with reptiles, so that way you can get a professional opinion and get a fecal exam just so you can rule anything out. In the beginning. But I think they're very, very easy to establish, especially if you're not immediately putting them into a huge bioactive enclosure because sometimes some will adapt to that just fine, other ones will have a bit harder time finding their food in that situation since they're coming from a breeder set up who typically have their animals in sterile tubs. So as long as you're starting them in a quarantine setup, I found that they're very, very easy to establish.
Thank you for sharing that information. So, I guess my next question for you is, do you think they're going to be even more popular in the future, or do you think they kind of peaked on their popularity?
I think definitely that they're going to be more popular in the future, especially with the new morphs popping up. Not only is there an interest in them in the United States, there's a huge interest in them in Korea and also in places like China and also, of course, over in Europe. So, kind of there's a big worldwide interest in them and there's people importing and exporting constantly. It just seems like the popularity of them is growing and growing. And I think there's still some are growing to do honestly.
So, what kind of owner? I mean, we kind of touched on this again, but what kind of owner do you think crested gecko would best suit?
I think a crested gecko would benefit from lots of different situations. They're great for apartments and also great for houses because once again, they don't take up very much space, even with a pretty decent sized enclosure. I think the biggest thing to keep in mind is that they are heat sensitive. So if you live somewhere that doesn't have great air conditioning or if you don't have air conditioning and it gets over 80 degrees typically in your house, it might not be the best choice for you because they can go into a heat stress very easily if you get over 80 or 80’s ambient temperature, I should say. So, I think anybody that has a pretty like temperate climate or air conditioning or ability to keep an enclosure cool is fine.
Since this is a Zen show, does Zen Habitats make an enclosure that is appropriate for crested geckos?
We do. We have our two by two by two, which is equivalent to, I think, 60 gallons. So that's a great size for them. The two by two by two, there's also a two by two by four, which is like mansion material for crested geckos. I can't even imagine how small they would be in there, but if they'll use it, hey, like give it to them. So yeah, the two by two by two and the two by two by four, Zen Habitats enclosure would be a great option.
I know I've definitely had dreams of the two by two by four and like loading it with plants. Like I know you would never find the gecko, but I like, yeah, I think it would be amazing because it'd be like real trees for them. So, I want to segway into questions from our fans, and I know we're being a little redundant, but one of the top questions is, are they tolerant for beginner errors?
Yes, they're very tolerant of beginner errors. I think the easiest mistake you can make with them is overheating. If I get over 82 in the room, I'm hauling up like air conditioner. The other thing that will kill them very, very quickly is drying out too much or being oversaturated. Oversaturation kills babies way faster than drying out. I would say just making sure that there's airflow into the enclosure. It's not sitting soaking wet; humidity does not equal wetness. So having a good dry out period during the day and then bumping the humidity up during the night. Usually, I let my enclosures dry out entirely during the day and then I really soak them at night and having that good, wet, dry cycle will keep their shouting and their respiratory health in check. So, I think the easiest mistakes you can make are overheating or under or oversaturation.
Yeah, no, absolutely. I totally, totally agree with that. It's it can be very difficult for some people to understand the difference between, like you said, wetness and humidity. I'll can influence. So, this goes into that as well. So, we have a fan in the UK who was who mentioned. So, the UK is going through a massive heat wave right now. Very scary stuff. And she was or they were wondering how do you keep them cool? Because right now the UK is about 40 degrees Celsius, which works out to be 104 degrees Fahrenheit, which is something that they're not used to. So, what would you suggest for these crusty owners in the UK who are struggling with these high temps right now?
Definitely so, I have an emergency backup air conditioner that kicks on when it gets too hot. I'd recommend if you don't have that, if you have a fan to make like kind of an at home like swamp cooler, put ice and water behind a fan and blow it into the room. Really pick up the fan temperature in there. Keep in mind, when the fan is going, it's going to dry out the enclosure faster. So, you're going to need to mist more often because when there's a lot of dryness, you just really want to keep that enclosure nice and cool. So, misting it, I would say probably two or three times a day, especially if the fan is constantly drying it out. Just try to keep it lightly misted it at all times so there's constantly a source of water for them to drink. Also, giving them a water bowl is a really good option. Make sure that it's not a ginormous water bowl for a little baby, of course, but give them a size appropriate water dish that they can drink if they want to. Also, what we can do if something gets too hot, put a frozen water bottle on the top of the enclosure. So that way there's just like cool air and water going down into that tank.
Absolutely. I've also used a little PC fan on top of my enclosures, just to kind of create some more air flow. So then when you mist it, it's kind of like blowing the mist through. And I've had luck with that because even though we're in New England, it does get hot sometimes. So, I have a couple more questions from our fans. One is, is there a way to tame an adult who likes to run away?
So, you can try to tame an adult that's going to run away, keep in mind these animals, don't necessarily want to be held. Mine are pretty chill because I handle them from a very small age and I'm weighing them once a week and even just weighing them once a week when they're young and having like, you know, constant interaction with me, cleaning them twice a week is enough to get them like this. Just get them used to handling and then honestly even if you just keep track of your geckos, weigh them once a week. That's just a really good way to do it, like a small handling session once a week. So, they really get used to us being handled.
Yeah, no, absolutely. And that's one of my techniques that I try to recommend for people who are like learning to or trying to get their animals acclimated to handling. Weighing is an important tool that we should be using for growing animals and sick animals, just baseline anyways. But it's great to use it as a handling opportunity. So, this last one is a little interesting, the question was, can they grow at different rates? They have a four-month-old, crested gecko that's only about four grams. Not that they're necessarily doing anything wrong, but maybe there's a nutritional deficiency. But is it also a genetic factor where they just grow smaller?
Yes. 100%. I think genetics play a big role in how fast they're growing. I've noticed a lot of geckos from the pet store, maybe they're getting a rough start that we're not seeing in terms of nutrition, but also, they seem to be lengthier as adults. It also depends on how big of a tub you have. If you start babies in smaller tubs, they tend to grow better than if you were to put them right in a big enclosure, in my personal experience. So, I would say, yes. If you feed them bugs, they will grow so much faster than if you just feed them Pangea. So, I do bugs twice a week typically. And then I do Pangea every other day and they grow very, very well. I've had some hit 40 grams within their first year, but typically I see about 30 grams. So, I think bugs are a very big boost when it comes to growth.
Yeah, I do agree with that. I like the Pangea variety that does have the insects in it, but I still provide some live insects, especially for the growing guys, because I just think they just need a little bit extra, a little bit of help.
Yeah, I try to give bugs two times a week to all of my geckos. I think out of the several hundred that I've had passed through here, I've had probably about a dozen that do not take insects, and most of them are adults that have never taken insects. So yeah, but what I'll do for those guys is on the days where the other ones will get bugs, I'll actually add a little bit of cricket powder and a little bit of extra calcium to their food to help them get like a little bit of extra insect protein.
Yeah, no, absolutely. I think that's fantastic. Well, I think I went over most of our animal questions. Now, I kind of want to ask you stuff about you. So, if you were to give advice to someone wanting to pursue a career just like yours, what advice would you give them?
In terms of crested gecko breeding, I would say soak up as much information as you can for at least one year before you start making financial decisions for yourself because you will thank yourself later. It's so easy to jump in and say, “Oh, I want this or I want this. Like, this is cool.” And you're spending, you know, maybe $75 or $100 on a breeder, and that's all you have at the time. But you're just so excited to get started, but you don't really know what the minimum weight is. You don't know how to incubate eggs; you don't know how to take care of babies. And then you are producing these animals that might be a little bit harder to sell because you don't have a name for yourself. And also, potentially you're going to lose some hatchlings because you don't know how to take care of them properly. So, I would say soak up a lot of information and Facebook is the best and also simultaneously the worst place to find information. So, joining crested gecko Facebook groups trying to find a mentor that's been a hobby for a while. I don't want to say I'm necessarily a mentor, but I have helped a couple of different people with crested gecko breeding for a while. I'm always happy to help people. And there's other people in the community that are definitely happy to help and answer questions and anything. If you post on the groups, a lot of people will answer you and just look into the person's reputation before you immediately take it to heart. But yeah, finding a really good mentor is a great way to start. And I think it's very hard to go wrong when you have a reputable mentor that's like guiding you through it. So that's a great place to start.
I think that's excellent advice and really like that goes along with pretty much anything like mentorships is very beneficial for growth, for personal growth and professional growth. So yeah, I love that. Thank you, Maddie. Such a good community and culture. I love it. Is there a common myth about your profession that you want to debunk?
I guess the biggest thing that I would say the most common myth, I think, is that people who breed reptiles are hoarders. Because I get that a lot. Which like is not true based on like hoarding definition. And yes, we have a lot of animals, but all our animals are very, very well taken care of. If anything were to come up like we're immediately at the vet. So, I think the biggest thing is to judge a breeder based on what they show you and what they see. If they're showing you filthy enclosures and they're keeping adults in like tiny, tiny little tubs, like that's not what you want to go for. You want to go for somebody that is keeping adults with enrichment. And they're adults look healthy. They don't have a bad reputation for selling sick animals or anything. But yeah, not all breeders are created equally. So, I think the biggest thing is to just judge them based on, you know, how you would want your animal to be cared for.
Absolutely. What would you say is your biggest challenge that you're facing in your current projects that you're working on? Is there anything that you, you know, you find to be a challenge and how are you tackling that?
So, I think the biggest challenge I have is really trying to narrow down exactly what I want to do. I have a billion different avenues I want to take with my geckos and it's exciting to see all these new things and want to like jump into them and do them. But I'm really like trying to laser focus on exactly what I want to do. I do love variety, but I'm trying to figure out what I really want us to be known for. In terms of like geckos and everything. So, I think the hardest thing for me honestly, is just trying to figure out where I want to go with my projects over the next few years. It's kind of daunting, but that's probably my hardest thing.
I think that's important because it's not just about right now. Because of all the crested gecko morphs and all the variations, it sounds very overwhelming. This one can be about anything. If you were to go back and give your 18-year-old self one piece of advice, what would it be?
I would just say to myself, probably like, stay true to what you want to do. Don't divert off of the path of where you want to go, because it's so easy to get excited with reptiles and everything and like just try to take on all these projects. So, I would just say like narrow down what you want to do before you do things basically.
Yeah. I think that's definitely very good advice again for a multitude of different things. So very good. Yes. I hope for our younger listeners too. You know, that gets you into a mindset if this is the kind of role that you want to pursue, you know, take the take the words to heart about trying to focus. It's very easy to get excited about all of the different things and then you get overwhelmed and then really who ends up suffering is the animals that you can't take care of. So yeah, you got to like to make sure that you are focusing and spending the time and the energy on what you can actually achieve.
Yes. And burn out very much. I've seen a lot of people who are very new to reptiles get super excited and dove into dozens of different species at one time and then they're like, “I'm overwhelmed, I'm anxious. And this isn't as fun as I thought it would be.” And they get burnt out and then they just get rid of all the reptiles and then they're just done. So just take it one step at a time. If you're new to reptiles, start with one species. Really try to work on perfecting everything you possibly can with that one species. By the time I was 18, I've already had reptiles for like ten years. So, it wasn't as new to them at that point. But still, I think everything stands just, you know, laser focused on what you want to do. And think about a five-year plan.
Yeah, I think that that's great advice. So, my last question is, is there one question that you wish that I asked you that I didn't ask? And how would you answer that?
I guess the one thing I could say that's interesting about crested geckos is they're great for people that have like a high price range or a low-price range. You can find them very, very cheap. Honestly, I've seen crested geckos get sold on Craigslist for $30 or $40. And I've also seen crested geckos get sold for like $30,000 to $40,000. As long as you have the money to take care of the animal, crested geckos could potentially be in your budget.
Yeah, absolutely, huge price range. And based on what level in the hobby you are, are you just like a beginner hobbyist or are you like a big full-fledged breeder with like multiple $40,000? I want to meet that person. It's not me, but very cool. Oh, Maddie, thank you so much for sitting down with me today. I think we went over a lot of really great information. I hope this helps our fans who are interested in crested geckos or already have crested geckos. Is there anything else you want to say to our fans?
Get a crested gecko!
Yes, go get a crested gecko. So, with that, this is the conclusion of the second episode of Kasey Talks Critters.