Crested geckos are a low-maintenance pet and are well-suited for children or novice lizard owners who have little time to devote to their daily care. One of their distinctive features is their eyelashes, which is why they are sometimes called eyelash geckos. These lizards hail from New Caledonia, an island country off the coast of Australia. They were once thought to be extinct but were "rediscovered" around 1994. Since then, their popularity as pets has continually increased.
Common Names: Crested gecko, New Caledonian crested gecko, eyelash gecko
Scientific Name: Rhacodactylus ciliatus
Adult Size: 7 to 9 inches, including their prehensile tails
Life Expectancy: 10 to 20 years
Crested Gecko Behavior and Temperament
Crested geckos come in a wide array of colors and markings (morphs). They get their name from the fringed crest that begins over their eyes and runs down their necks and backs, though the size of the crest varies.
Crested geckos have specialized toe pads that allow them to move along vertical surfaces effortlessly, and their prehensile tails add to their agility. They are also excellent jumpers.
Crested geckos usually have relatively docile temperaments, though they are a bit skittish and care is required when handling. They don't usually like handling, so avoid it if possible. They may try to jump away from you, which can injure them. Crested geckos may drop their tails if handled roughly or in an attempt to get away. Unlike other geckos, they will not regenerate their tails.
They will only bite if they feel threatened. Bites are startling; though they do not hurt, they are not strong enough to cause bleeding.
A minimum of a 20-gallon tall terrarium is sufficient for an adult, but a larger tank is better. Crested geckos are arboreal, active, and need lots of vertical space for climbing, so a tall tank is preferred. Two to three crested geckos can be housed in a tall 29-gallon terrarium. Males are territorial, so keep only one male per tank. You can use a glass terrarium with a screened side for ventilation, but some keepers prefer screened enclosures.
Crested geckos need room to climb, so provide a mix of branches, driftwood, cork bark, bamboo, and vines at a variety of heights and orientations. Add a variety of silk or sturdy live plants such as Epipremnum (pothos), Philodendron, Dracaena, and Ficus as they will hide in the plants for cover.
Every day, you will need to remove all uneaten food and spot clean to remove feces. Clean the entire terrarium and its decorations at least once a month using reptile-safe disinfectants. Depending on the substrate, you will need to replace it weekly or monthly to prevent bacterial growth.
As cold-blooded creatures, all reptiles need to regulate their body temperature. A daytime temperature gradient of 72 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (22 to 26.5 degrees Celsius) should be provided for crested geckos with a drop at night to 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit (18 to 24 degrees Celsius). Monitor with temperature gauges to ensure the cage does not overheat. Crested geckos get stressed at higher temperatures. A low-wattage red nighttime bulb makes a good heat source, and it also allows you to view the lizard at night when they are most active. Do not rest a heat source on the top of the tank as these climbing geckos could get too close and get burned.
Crested geckos are nocturnal; technically, they do not need special UVB lighting. However, some experts suggest that a low level of UVB lighting (about 5 percent) is beneficial for overall reptile health. Any added lighting will raise the temperature in the enclosure, so monitor that. Also, provide a gecko hideaway, so geckos can get away from the light if they want.
Crested geckos need a moderate to high humidity level of about 50 to 70 percent. Get a hygrometer (humidity gauge) to monitor levels daily. Provide humidity with regular misting with warm, filtered water. Depending on your cage setup, you may need to mist it a few times a day to keep the humidity up. Always make sure the cage is well-misted at night when the geckos are most active. If you are not around during the day or cannot physically mist the enclosure, get an automatic mister or fogger to add humidity to the cage at timed intervals.
Specific Substrate Needs
Most pet owners use a substrate to line the bottom of the cage. When selecting a substrate for a gecko, consider pet safety, ease of cleaning, and if the substrate aids in retaining humidity. Ideal substrates for a crested gecko are coconut fiber bedding, moss, or peat. You can also use newspaper or paper towels, although these are not as attractive.
Crested geckos are somewhat prone to ingesting substrate while hunting; if this is the case for yours, use sphagnum moss (either alone or over another substrate like coconut fiber) or paper towels. Paper towels are recommended for juveniles as they are more likely to swallow other substrates accidentally.
Although attractive, gravel (or pebbles) is not a suitable substrate since it is difficult to clean thoroughly and regularly. Avoid reptile sand and non-organic soil substrate because these are swallowing hazards.
What Does the Crested Gecko Eat & Drink?
Since they are nocturnal, feed crested geckos in the evening. Feed juveniles daily and adults three times a week.
A commercial crested gecko diet is usually well accepted and is the easiest way to ensure a well-balanced, nutritious diet. Supplement that food with crickets and other prey insects (roaches, waxworms, silkworms). Avoid feeding mealworms, since they have a hard, undigestible exoskeleton. For variety and to allow the gecko to exercise his hunting instincts, feed as many prey insects at one time as the gecko eagerly eats.
Insects fed should be slightly smaller than the space between the gecko's eyes and should be gut-loaded or fed nutritious foods before feeding to your lizard. To boost your reptile's vitamin and mineral intake, dust the insects with a calcium/vitamin D3 powdered supplement three times a week. You can dust prey items with a multivitamin powder supplement once a week as well.
Crested geckos will eat fruit several times a week. Try mashed fruit or jarred baby food. Favorites include bananas, peaches, nectarines, apricots, papaya, mangoes, pears, and passion fruit.
If you have difficulty finding a commercial gecko diet, provide a combination of insect prey items and fruit. This option is not the most balanced diet, but it will suffice in a pinch or for a short period. In this case, your best insect choice is crickets with the occasional addition of other insects for variety.
Provide a small shallow water dish with fresh water daily, though they will likely prefer to drink water droplets from leaves in the humid habitat.
Common Health Problems
Geckos are prone to a few health problems that are treatable by an exotic pet veterinarian.
- Mouth rot or stomatitis: Signs include excess mucus and redness around the mouth
- Respiratory infection: Symptoms are wheezing or drooling
- Skin issues: A rash, symptomatic of a parasitic infection; uneven or difficulty shedding which may be caused by inadequate enclosure humidity
Purchasing or Adopting Your Crested Gecko
Crested geckos are commonly sold, mainly because they are so easy to care for and have such sunny dispositions compared to other lizards. Even though they're widely available at pet stores, try to get your crested gecko from a reputable breeder. You can expect to pay $40 to $150 for a crested gecko; the price increases with the rarity of the color or morph.
When picking out your gecko, make sure your gecko can climb well, has a straight spine, and no visible ribs or pelvic bones. It should appear lively and alert. Also, it should have bright eyes, as well as a clean nose and vent (fecal opening).
Different Species of Geckos
If you're interested in geckos, check out:
Common Reptile and Amphibian Diseases. Veterinary Nursing of Exotic Pets.
Bacterial Diseases of Reptiles. Merck Veterinary Manual.