Scientific name: Rhacodactylus ciliatus
Size: SVL of 4-6 inches with a TL of 7-9 inches.
Weight: 35-70 grams
Lifespan: 15-20 years
Crested geckos, are just one of the many fascinating designer geckos to come out of New Caledonia. These geckos have taken the pet trade by storm, rivaling even leopard geckos. With easy care requirements and the many color, pattern, and structural morphs on the market. They have been referred to as the designer koi of the reptile world. The possibilities seem endless for the future morphs, and almost anyone can find one they like. With a good size, excellent disposition, and colors, crested geckos may become the most popular pet geckos. Now that feeding them has become even easier, and that some diets are so complete that you do not need to feed insects. Feeding and caring for them has become extremely easy.
Crested geckos, like so many New Caledonia geckos, are endangered and protected by CITES and the New Caledonia government. Discovered in the 1800’s crested geckos were hardly regarded scientifically, and only a few specimens were taken, while the pictures took the world by storm. They were not found again, and were presumed extinct. However in 1994, after a hurricane/tropical storm, a single gecko was discovered on one of the many islands that incorporates New Caledonia. This single animal sparked immediate world interest, soon many others were found, these first animals started off the captive populations in Europe and North America today.
Crested geckos being arboreal, require enough room to climb. There are two main types of cages that are preferred by hobbyists today. These are screen cages, and plastic/glass aquarium type displays. There are pros and cons to both types of caging.
Screen cages are easy to clean, space efficient, and allow crested geckos to climb to a comfortable level. However screen caging does not hold in humidity well and this can lead to problems with shedding, and dehydration. However this can be easily remedied, you can cover two sides of the cage with plastic wrap, glass, or plexiglass. This will allow for ventilation, and will hold in humidity. Another option is to install a mist system, or manually spray the cage down twice a day. A misting system can be expensive, however, I feel that if you have little time to spend manually misting a cage then it is worth it. You can set them up on a timer and it will mist while you are at work, school, or wherever else life takes you. Manually misting gives you as much control and you can decide when to mist the cage yourself. Either way works well, and misting is a good way to be sure that your animal is drinking and that your plants stay watered, if you choose to use live of course.
Glass cages hold humidity well, come in many different shapes, and can allow for a crested gecko to find a good place to rest. Plastic critter keepers are great for hatchlings as they can easily find their food, and they hold humidity well, keeping the geckos hydrated. Plastic and glass cages have drawbacks, however. For instance when geckos are climbing the glass, and they happen to poop, the poop will stick to the glass. This can be frustrating to clean. Also with hard water, water stains can appear, this can detract from the cage’s attractiveness. The best way to clean this is to take a razor blade (BE CAREFUL) and scrape off the water stains. Also finding a screen top for the cage can be difficult, however there are many now available. Pet stores may carry a wide range of suitable screen tops. Make sure the top you get fits securely, and that your gecko cannot escape.
Cage size is important with crested geckos. They need enough room to climb and have floor space to move around. A good cage size for a pair of crested geckos would be a 20 gallon tall.
Now that we have the types of caging suitable for crested geckos, we should move on to the types of cage furniture, and substrates also. Many people prefer paper towels, or newspaper for a substrate. Although not as aesthetic as other substrates, it is great because poop can be seen and cleaned accordingly, along with lessening the chance of impaction. However many people wish to take a more attractive approach to caging crested geckos, so some good natural substrates, are coco bedding, unfertilized topsoil without perlite, orchid/cypress bark, and peat moss. These substrates have pros and cons. One of the main problems with natural substrates is drainage. After a while the soil, peat moss, coco bedding, etc can become packed down, because of the constant drying, and soaking of the bedding. This can be easily remedied, by adding a small layer of gravel to the bottom or by using the Bio-Active Substrate System in the How-To section. The main problem with natural substrates is that you increase the likely hood of impaction if you feed insects. This can be remedied by feeding in a separate container, or by adding a small container that the insects cannot get out of but the gecko can get into. I use a small Gladware food storage box. I find that the crickets I feed cannot escape the 6X6X4 box and my gecko can get in and out of the container with ease.
Rocks, Wood, and Artificial Structures
To increase the appeal of the cage, there are many different types of rocks, wood, and artificial structures available to you. Many of the plastic fish structures available can also be used for gecko vivariums. I would stay away from anything with sharp corners as these geckos enjoy to jump and roam and accidents can happen. Rocks can be found outside, purchased at pet stores, or a local home improvement center. All rocks should be cleaned before putting them into your pet’s home. This can be done by washing them in a mild bleach solution, 10% bleach to water, or by putting them into the stove for a short amount of time and killing any nasty organisms. Be careful not to stack the rocks in such a way that if they fall they could potentially hurt your gecko. An easy way to solve this problem is to take some aquarium sealant, available at many pet stores, and essentially gluing the rocks together. On the subject of wood, there are many types of wood that can be used in crested gecko cages. However with the high humidity that crested geckos need, many woods might mold or rot in this environment. However, some good woods are Malaysian drift wood, cypress drift wood, ghost wood, and other tropical hardwoods.
There are many types of plants, however, not all are good for a gecko cage. Some very good plants are sansevieria, pothos, ficus, miniature palms( avoid fishtail palms), peperomias, bromeliads, elephant ears, and other plants that can take high humidity. You can find many of these plants online. Avoid plants that you do not know the name of, or that are dangerous to children. Remember they may look pretty to us, but they can still be dangerous to your gecko. Avoid any plants with many spines, or when you break off a leaf it seems to produce a large amount of liquid. These are plants natural defenses and the liquids could produce an irritating response if accidentally ingested, or if it gets into the eyes.
Temperature and Lighting
Crested geckos, being nocturnal, do not need any special lighting or UV lights, although your plants may need it. So it is not necessary to have heat lamps affixed to the cage, as the temperature should not go above 85*F for long periods of time, and better yet, should stay below 80* F. Humidity should stay in the 75- 80 % range. If using a UV light, choose a low wattage bulb as you do not want to cook your gecko. Crested geckos do not need a UV light as already stated; however, it could help with the processing of calcium, although artificial means of getting vitamin D3 (calcium synthesizer in reptiles) works fine. More on calcium and D3 will be in the corresponding section of this care sheet.
Choosing a Crested Gecko
Whether you get your gecko from a pet store or online, it is important to not just buy the first gecko you see. This is impulse buying, and it can lead to foolhardy choices. One of the first things to look for is the general appearance. I do not mean color, or pattern but its body shape. Is it skinny, obese, gravid, male or female, can you tell, does it have a tail, is having a tail important to you, does it have any obvious wounds, is its pelvis twisted, does it have caked feces, etc. these are all important questions to think about. If you are ordering online, can you tell in the pictures if it looks nice and healthy? Ask the seller questions about the gecko. If they are a good breeder, they will be happy to answer your questions. If at a pet store or ordering online, ask about its feeding habits and what it is eating. Now look at the colors, and decide if you like the colors or patterns. Now remember that babies will change color. They may not stay red, and in fact, most do not. However, pattern does not change much, if at all, so if you are looking for a specific color an older juvenile may be a better choice for you. Also when choosing a gecko, look for clear alert eyes, a straight back lacking bends and kinks. If the gecko has a tail, look for it to not be wavy and kinked. Avoid animals with twisted pelvises, and any animal that looks weak. If at a pet store, look to see if there are mites on the geckos. If so avoid buying them and if you were handling them wash your hands quickly to stop the spread from reaching your own home. Look at the cage they are in. Does it reek? Are there dead animals in the cage? Are feces smeared everywhere? Obviously you may not be able to make these observations if ordering online, however many breeders post pictures of the setups they have. Try to find out if the breeder is respected, or just a scumbag out for money. This could be by joining online forums, and communities, one great site is the BOI (http://www.faunaclassifieds.com/forums/index.php). This website is a godsend for new people to the hobby to find out who is respected and who is not. Always look for the breeder’s status on this website, and try to remember a little patience as many have lives outside the hobby and juggle other jobs. Also when having an animal shipped, remember that the breeder cannot control the shipping company, so if they are late it may not be their fault. However, if the breeder did not pack the animal correctly then that is a problem which should be brought up with the breeder.
Feeding crested geckos could not be any easier today. There are a few commercial diets available, and generations of crested geckos have thrived on these diets. The most popular one would be the T-Rex Diet, invented by Allen Repashy of Sandfire Dragon Ranch. This diet is a complete diet, and the feeding of insects is not a necessity anymore. However, I believe that crested geckos need some natural stimulation and insect feedings once or twice a week will not hurt them. Allen Repashy has the largest collection of crested geckos in the world and he sustains his entire collection on his diet. The T-Rex Diet, is distributed by T-Rex and can be found at many pet stores and online. On the bottle of the diet there are instructions on feeding, however in my experience I find them somewhat incomplete. On the directions it says to mix the diet as 1 part Crested gecko diet, and 2 parts water. It may be liquid but should gel after a few minutes. This is not by measurement, but by weight. So if you have 4 grams of diet you need to mix in 8 grams of water. For feeding I find that the best bowls are the plastic 1 or 2 ounce condiment cups, these can be bought online, or at many stores such as Costco, or Sam’s Club. You can place the food bowl on the ground or use a “gecko ledge” that can be found at www.pangeareptile.com or simply make your own. These allow the geckos to find their food easily up where they would normally be at night. Other diets include the Clarks Diet which many geckos who refuse the T-Rex Diet will eat.
Baby Food Diets
Baby food has long been thought of as great for crested geckos. However, lately, more and more people are now realizing the baby food is not the best for crested geckos. This has to do with the fact that baby food is high in sugar and low in nutrients, thus it is like candy for a crested gecko. Although it is ok every once and a while, long term it could prove detrimental to your crested gecko’s health. Some breeders may be keeping their geckos on a baby food diet, however for the common person looking for a pet, the problems that can be associated with baby food diets are not worth it.
Calcium and D3
Crested geckos, like many geckos, are very vulnerable to calcium crashes and MBD (metabolic bone disease). Both can be avoided by feeding an adequate diet, and supplementing feeder insects. This includes that feeder insects be “gut-loaded” along with “shake and baked”. Gut-loading is the process of feeding the insects a high quality diet, and therefore better for consumption by crested geckos. You can feed your insects carrots, potatoes, commercial cricket foods, or you can make your own cricket food. “Shake and bake” is a term used to talk about the proper supplementation of reptilian food. Many people cake on the vitamin supplement powder, this is wrong. Think about it when you take a vitamin you take a very small pill. So caking on a bunch of powder is too much. The key is to lightly coat the insects with the powder. Remember a little goes a long way. Like all things there are extremes to supplementation, you can under supplement and you can even over supplement. Over supplementation was long regarded as a myth, and in some ways it is. Under supplementation is all too common, however over supplementation is almost unheard of. The main cause of over supplementation is too much vitamin D3. As said earlier, D3 is important in the processing and synthesis of calcium. In most reptiles UVB is necessary in the process of synthesizing calcium. However, in nocturnal geckos, such as crested geckos, it must be administered in the form of a vitamin supplement. Thus if one was to over supplement, then the excess D3 will synthesize the calcium and this can cause bone problems, joint problems, and other serious problems. Supplementation is important and should not be overlooked. New studies are constantly going on and as a result we will continue to learn more about it.
The Many Brands of Supplements
There are many brands of supplements available to the public. If one is feeding the T-Rex Diet, then it has a tested and proven formula of supplements already in it so further supplementation is not needed. I prefer Miner-All Indoor Formula. It contains D3 and calcium along with other necessary vitamins.
Hydration is important in all aspects of pet care. It is easy to provide crested geckos with water. A shallow water dish and daily sprays of water should be enough to hydrate your geckos. If your gecko is sick or injured, it is important to keep it well hydrated.
The best way to handle crested geckos is the hand-to-hand walk. This is moving one hand ahead of the other to give the geckos a place to walk and jump. Do not allow your geckos to “free roam.” This is a sure way to lose a gecko. Babies tend to be less handleable and not all adults are calm. Every gecko seems to have a different personality which keeps many people in love with them. Never grab a gecko by its tail, as this is the best way to cause the gecko to drop its tail. Crested geckos cannot “grow” their tails back. However this does not seem to affect them much as they quickly learn to live without there tails. In fact almost all wild crested geckos that were caught do not have tails. So a loss of a tail should not concern you as long as an infection does not occur. However, the process of losing a tail can be quite stressful on your gecko and thus should be avoided.
Crested geckos are one of the easiest reptiles to breed in captivity. When crested geckos copulate, often the males will bite the females around the neck and hold the female in place. Then the female will lay 2 eggs every 3 to 4 weeks after a successful breeding. If kept on paper towels, or another non-particle substrate, an egg laying container should be provided containing a damp 50-50 mixture of vermiculite and peat moss, or top soil. Check the lay box often to find eggs, so you can transport them to an incubating container. The incubating containers can have a substrate of straight perlite, vermiculite, or a mixture of the two. The perlite to water ratio should be 2:1 by weight. Also there is an easy to use incubation medium out called Hatch-Right. It requires no mixing and is ready to go when you open the bag. The incubation temperatures can be anywhere from 68-80*F. The lower the temperature the longer the incubation time will be. Lower temperatures also result in larger hatchlings, while higher temperatures result in smaller hatchlings. Incubation time can be anywhere from 60-140 days.
Sexing Crested Geckos
Crested Geckos can be sexed at a size of only 7 grams for males and 14 grams for females. The key is to look for pre-anal pores, which appear as little indentations or dots on the scales. Older males have an obvious hemipenal bulge, while females appear flat and lack pre-anal pores.
Crested Geckos make for interesting and rewarding pets, like all reptiles they require some specialized care. However with the ease in feeding and many different caging options available, caring for one has never been easier. It is no wonder as to why they are becoming so popular.