The Definitive Guide to Crested Gecko Care
A New Caledonia native, the crested gecko is a good beginner reptile to own. They are okay with moderate handling so if you are looking for a pet to handle, this gecko is a great choice. Crested geckos have a unique look with their lack of eyelids with some sporting sweet eyelashes and it’s fairly simple to provide proper crested gecko care.
Crested Geckos in the Wild
Commonly found jumping around in the rain forest canopies of South Province, New Caledonia, Correlophus Ciliatus (formerly classified as Rhacodactylus Ciliatus) are a semi-arboreal gecko that feed on a diet of insects and fruits.
This nocturnal species doesn’t have eyelids, but rather a transparent scale that will keep their eyes moist while they use their tongue to clear away debris. They will also drop their tail when threatened by a predator and unlike many other geckos, is unable to grow it back. Dropped tails happen both in the wild and in the house, both of which are usually due to stress.
Crested gecko adults are commonly found at a size of 8 inches from head to tip of tail (around 5 inches if the tail has dropped).
Is a Crested Gecko Right for You?
Crested geckos make great beginner pets and are fun to observe and handle. They have the ability to live up to 15-20 years, but stay relatively small compared to other pet lizards.
Their diet is simple and you can supply a year of food for about $20. Not too shabby. The crested gecko does require specific enclosure temperatures and humidity, but they can live their full lives in a relatively small tank. Also, it is recommended that more vertical space is considered which lessens the footprint of the cage.
There are a ton of different morphs allowing for a selection among an assortment of colors and patterns. These gentle creatures make a great beginner reptile.
Choosing a Crested Gecko
There are a couple of considerations to keep in mind when you decide to purchase a crested gecko. Let’s take a look:
- Age Considerations – Cresties are available in many sizes. Young hatchlings are usually available when they are about 4 grams in weight (depending on diet, ballpark figure of 6 weeks old). The difference in care between a hatchling baby and a juvenile or adult is that the hatchling will need misting twice daily, shouldn’t be over handled (for the first couple of months) and will need a smaller enclosure. Otherwise, their requirements are the same.
- Eating Habits – Always choose a gecko that has established healthy eating habits. If you purchase a young one that hasn’t and mix it with the stress of being re-homed, you may find it tough to get them to start eating. Ask the breeder/vendor about the feeding habits and what they’re currently feeding on.
- With or Without Tail – Crested geckos in captivity usually lose their tail from an aggressive tank mate or getting it caught in say the tank lid when the owner is shutting it. Any type of pinching or holding by the tail can cause it to drop as well. A lot of us owners enjoy having the tail on our cresties, but they’re perfectly fine without it and it doesn’t hurt when they lose it. Usually you can find the ones without tails for cheaper.
- On Foot or Online – There are a ton of crested gecko morphs available in the pet trade. It’s not common to see crested geckos in the common pet shops like Petco and PetSmart. Your best bet is either online or my personal favorite choice, a reptile expo. A reptile expo will give you that opportunity to talk to the breeder and look at their whole selection. Prices can vary depending on location and morph. I’ve seen from 35 – hundreds of dollars.
The Crested Gecko Diet
A nutritionally balanced diet is crucial to providing proper crested gecko care.
Now, if you’re a potential reptile owner that doesn’t want to constantly deal with live feeder insects, the crested gecko is perfect for you. These little lizards have an extremely simple and cheap diet that is just too easy!
They are a bit picky and you should offer several different items in their diet rotation. Adults and hatchlings eat the same thing, just eat more/less.
Let’s break it down:
Crested Gecko Diet only (no crickets or roaches!) – There are two brands of commercial feed that are high quality and regarded as the best among crestie enthusiasts, Repashy and Pangea. If you go this route, you want to get the mixes that include insects. You can feed them in small sauce cups (I used a small water bottle cap when mine was a hatchling).
- Repashy Crested Gecko Diet – Grub ‘N’ Fruit Crested Gecko Diet – Mix one part powder to two parts water (go for a thickish consistency). Replace after 24 hours. Feed 4-5 times per week.
- Pangea Crested Gecko Diet – Fruit Mix with Insects – Mix same as Repashy. Replace every 48 hours (after the initial 24 hours, add some more water as it may be dried out). Feed 4-5 times per week
Crested Gecko Diet with Crickets or Roaches – With this method, you will feed the Repashy or Pangea powder diet 3-4 times per week and add gut loaded cricket 2-3 times per week. You should lightly dust the crickets with the Repashy Calcium Plus vitamin supplement. Adding feeder insects to the mix may allow your crested gecko to grow quicker.
Custom/Homemade Diet – Some advanced hobbyists prefer to create a custom type of food blend for their crested gecko. Although this diet gets the closest at mimicking how they eat in the wild, for most, this is not recommended. This is due to the fact that you need to constantly check health (calcium sacs, weight loss, etc) and understand all the different levels of nutrients required to allow your gecko to thrive.
Fruit – Only feed as an occasional treat and do NOT feed citrus fruits. Stick to fruits such as mango, bananas, strawberries, blackberries blueberries, peaches, apricots and other non-citrus fruits.
Water – You can provide a small water dish, but most crested geckos drink the water off the side of the tank when misted. Use a dechlorinator like Reptisafe.
Crested Gecko Habitat
You have many options when setting up a crested gecko tank. You can go from a standard setup all the way to a fully bioactive terrarium/vivarium!
Size and Dimension Recommendations
The size of the crested gecko cage will be dependent on the age. When they are young, a small plastic tub or medium/large Kritter Keeper is recommended as the smaller enclosure allows them to feel more safe and also find their food easier. As they get older, they can move up in size.
As crested geckos are arboreal or at least semi-arboreal, you want more vertical height than horizontal length. Here are the sizes
Baby Hatchling – A 6qt plastic sterilite tub can work here. You can also use a 10 gallon or medium to large Kritter Keeper.
Adult Crested Gecko – Some will say a 12x12x18 inch is sufficient, but I prefer a 18x18x24 inch for a single adult crested gecko. You can use a 20 gallon tank as well
Types of Enclosures
- Glass Tank – A 20 gallon glass tank will suffice for an adult crestie. A horizontal tank is not preferred, but it will work.
- Plastic Tubs – If you have several crested geckos (or ou plan to), it may be more cost efficient to house them in plastic tubs. Make sure to get one with a good amount of floor space and height for them to roam around. Obviously, not the best choice for display purposes.
- Exo Terra Terrarium – These are by far my favorite because it makes for a great glass display if you build out a vivarium style setup. These come in multiple sizes and can be found online and in most pet shops. Highly recommended! You can find them a good bit cheaper at reptile expos.
- Zoo Med Terrarium – Similar to the Exo Terra’s, these are great display units for a crested gecko. Doors open from the front and a removable screen on top.
- Homemade – There are ways to DIY an aquarium to stand vertically which can be a good option if you are handy.
Temperature and Humidity
A really cool thing about crested geckos is that they are low maintenance. They do not require any special heating, but do have humidity requirements. The main thing is to avoid getting the enclosure too hot. Temperatures above 82 degrees F will stress out the gecko and can prove fatal. They will also not fare well in temperatures below 60 degrees F. Think about it like this – If you’re comfortable inside your home, the temperature will be OK for your crestie.
- Daytime Temperature Range – 72-80 degrees F
- Nightime Temperature Range – 65-72 degrees F
Humidity – Keep above 50% RH (relative humidity) at all times. You want a couple of hours of RH at 85-95%. This will take some experimenting to work with your setup and ambient temperature, but a good rule of thumb is to mist heavily at lights off and provide a light mist at lights on. The humidity should reach high levels during lights out, but be near 50-60% by the time you turn the lights on. You want to make sure to get down to 50-60% RH to allow the enclosure to dry out a bit.
Lighting and Heating
As crested geckos thrive at ambient temperatures in the 70’s, they don’t have any specific lighting and heating needs although they should get 12-14 hours of light a day. This can be achieved through the natural light that comes into the area the gecko is located.
Of course, you can use lighting for display purposes and to be able to view your lizard better. You just need to make sure that your lights do not raise the temperature to an unsafe level.
There are a couple of substrates that work depending on what setup you go with and there are definitely a few no-no’s.
Don’t use sand or wood chips. Walnut husk also won’t work.
You can use paper towel (doesn’t look that great) and change it out often. I used paper towel when I had my hatchling in a small tub and it worked great.
For a more realistic look, you can go with coco coir, also known as coco fiber. This substrate is commonly found in popular pet stores and online. You can get it in loose form (something like Eco Earth) or in brick form (where you put it with water to expand). This is a great choice for a top layer in a bioactive enclosure.
Leaf litter can also be used and makes spotting feces a bit easier. Larger leaves also provide great hiding spots.
There are a few items that you should include in the enclosure for your crestie.
- Food and Water dishes – As a hatchling, I’ve used things like shallow bottle caps to provide food and water (also misting). As they get older you can use larger plastic disposable food and water cups. There are many available commercial food holders that you can attach to the side of your glass enclosure. Use these if you provide a lot of climbing areas (you should). Cresties tend to stay towards the top or middle of the tank, so having the food dish midway to the top is perfect.When introducing a crested gecko to a new home you should keep an eye on where they tend to stay. After a few days you can put the dish near the area they spend the most time at so they can easily find their food.
- Hides – Crested geckos need multiple hides to feel safe and reduce stress. This can be a cave, a leaf, a plant, etc. Provide different options for your crestie.
- Thermometer and Hygrometer – These are mandatory. There are plenty of accurate digital two in ones available online that you can use. These are going to gauge the temperature and relative humidity to allow you to monitor your crested geckos habitat.
- Stuff to climb – These can be large plants, both real or fake. They also have these really cool vines that you can cut and bend around to build some sweet tightrope walking opportunities.
In the densely packed rainforests they come from, they jump from leaf to leaf, branch to branch. Try to mimic that. They enjoy being able to jump to and from different areas.
Crested Gecko Healthcare
Providing proper husbandry and diet and minimizing stress are key to a healthy crested gecko. Although hardy lizards, crested geckos can be susceptible to the following:
Metabolic bone disease (MBD) – This disease is common in reptiles and comes on due to the imbalance of calcium and required vitamins in the body. Disfigurement and swollen limbs are common symptoms of MBD.
Parasites – Rapid weight loss or lack of energy can be a sign of parasites.
Dehydration – Caused by improper humidity levels and lack of misting.
Respiratory and Bacterial Infections – Due to lack of ventilation and consistently high humidity levels.
Handling a Crested Gecko
Crested geckos are easily handled, but they can be quite jumpy at first. With any reptile you intend to handle, you should always give a month after acquiring to allow them to settle in and acclimate to their new surroundings. If you’re impatient, two weeks will do, but put priority on making sure your pet is comfortable.
Warning: If handling causes too much stress, they may drop their tail. It doesn’t affect them and they won’t hate you for it 🙂 But if you like the look of the tail, this is a perfectly fine pet to have without ever handling it.
Start with 5 minute sessions and work your way up to 20 to 25 minute sessions per day. Always let your gecko know your presence to not scare them and then either pick them up or coax them to hop on to your hand.
At first, a lot of crested geckos will want to walk to the edge of your hand and jump. Little daredevils they are. You can allow them to hand walk by putting one hand in front of the the other as they continue to walk forward. I like to let mine jump from one hand to the other at times as well.
Make sure when handling that you are low to the ground so if they do jump and you fail to catch, they don’t have a far fall.
Crested Gecko Care Items
Shedding – Shedding is part of the crested gecko growth process. During shed, make sure they don’t dry out by providing regular misting and proper humidity levels.
Providing top notch crested gecko care doesn’t need to be complicated. The diet is straightforward and now you know the proper enclosure requirements to allow your lizard to thrive.