The crested gecko was once feared extinct, until the species was rediscovered in the 1990s. Since then it has become one of the most popular pet lizards in the world. There are a number of reasons for this including:
Ease of Feeding – A major concern among new reptile keepers is what their pet will eat. For snakes this often means keeping a supply of dead rodents in your freezer. For many lizards you’ll need to be comfortable buying, handling and feeding creepy crawlies. Fortunately the crested gecko, while it will indeed eat insects, may also feed exclusively one of several complete diets that are available.
Modest Size – Once upon a time the most popular pet lizards were species like water dragons and green iguanas, but such lizards grow far too large for most reptile keepers. The crested gecko, in contrast, reaches only a very modest size. Indeed, some might argue that cresties are perfectly sized; small enough to be easily looked after in the home but large enough that they aren’t overly fragile or difficult to care for.
Simple Environmental Requirements – Many rather more advanced lizard species require very specialist conditions. For example, many desert-dwelling lizards like Uromastyx require extremely high temperatures and very bright UV light. All this costs money and takes considerable effort to install and manage. Not so with crested geckos, which require only modest warmth, and if you listen to some authorities don’t even require any form of artificial lighting.
Docile Nature – Crested geckos might be a little bit nervous as babies but they normally calm down very quickly. After this crested geckos can be handled safely, which can really make this a “hands on” reptile ideal for people who want a lizard they can hold.
Specialist Supplies – Lastly, the popularity of crested geckos in recent years has meant that a number of products have been developed specially for the crestie community. This can make choosing equipment rather easier, because you can feel confident it is suitable for your lizard. If you look hard enough there are even a few crested gecko starter kits around that contain everything from the cage to a heater – just set it up and you’re all set to go.
If you’re considering getting your very own crestie then read on for our complete crested gecko care sheet, and feel free to ask any questions you may have in the comments section at the end…
Crested Gecko Cages & Vivariums
These modestly-sized geckos grow to a respectable size of some 6-8” inches in length including the tail. This means that unlike lizards like bosc monitors they don’t require a room-sized cage.
Crested geckos, sometimes known by their scientific name of Correlophus ciliatus, hail originally from the island of New Caledonia off the shore of Australia. Here they are normally found resting off the ground in humid rainforest areas.
All this gives us some pointers as to their captive requirements. Namely, crested geckos are arboreal lizards that appreciate room to climb. They also enjoy moderate temperatures and a relatively high humidity to be happy in captivity.
In captivity it is recommended that crested geckos are therefore kept in tall cages that provide room in which to climb and explore. In terms of dimensions an absolute minimum would be 30cm wide, 30cm deep and 45cm tall. Even better, a more suitable cage would measure 45cm wide, 45cm deep and 60cm tall.
This cage should simultaneously allow you to heat it (if necessary) while not permitting stale, stagnant air to build up with the high humidities recommended.
Possibly the best cage of all for crested geckos are Exo Terra terrariums. These are made from glass, which can make them easy to heat, yet have a neat metal grill for a lid. This not only allows excess moisture to escape, but also ensures that fitting lights and/or heaters is simple. The overall design is visually attractive and can really help to make your crested gecko cage the focus of any room.
Pleasantly, Exo Terras are available in a range of sizes depending on your budget and the space available in your home. I would suggest that this is the minimum size, while this model would be even more suitable.
Heating Crested Geckos
If you do some research online you will stumble across dozens of forum posts that claim crested geckos don’t need heating. “Just keep them at room temperature and they’ll be fine” you’re told. While there may be a grain of truth to this, there are a number of elements to consider first.
While it’s true that crested geckos tend not to thrive in overly hot conditions, the reality is that crested geckos seem to be most comfortable at temperatures of around 78-82’F (25-28’C). Note that this temperature represents (a) the temperature in the warmest part of the cage and (b) temperatures can also drop at night to the low 70’s without too many worries.
The question is whether “room temperature” in your home matches this. Unless you’re very lucky and live in a warm, tropical area then the answer is probably “no”. Being based in the UK, I’m out at work for most of the day, at which point my heating turns off. It’s not unusual for me to get home in the colder months to find my house somewhere between 55-60’F – a lot colder than the recommendations.
Therefore, unless you can say with absolute certainty that your home is a suitable temperature day-in, day-out, the reality is that your crested gecko will likely need a heater to thrive.
Here there are a couple of different options.
Firstly, you could consider the cheapest option – a heat mat. Heat mats can be easily attached to the outside of your crested geckos vivarium, perhaps by taping it to one side of the cage. In this way one side of the tank will be warmer than the other, creating the required thermal gradient.
Heat mats are cheap to buy and cheap to run, though they should be attached to a thermostat to prevent overheating. The downside of heat mats is that they only produce quite modest warmth, so if you house gets as cold as mine then a heat mat might not be able to raise the temperature enough for your gecko.
An alternative solution is to install a ceramic heater. Ceramic heater emitters get much warmer than heat mats, so are ideal in cooler climates. They’re also easy to fit in cages like the Exo Terra glass terrariums, though thanks to their increased power they can cost a little more to run. Just like heat mats, however, a ceramic heater should always be attached to a thermostat to prevent overheating.
Crested Gecko Lighting
One of the most controversial topics when it comes to crested geckos is whether or not they need artificial lighting. Many species of reptile – such as tortoises, turtles and the vast majority of lizards – require artificial sunlight.
The ultraviolet (UV) light produced by the sun helps reptiles (and humans) to produce vitamin D in the skin. This, in turn, plays an important role in absorbing calcium from the diet, a mineral that is crucial for strong skeletons and muscle function.
On the one hand, crested geckos are nocturnal, so would likely be exposed to very little ultraviolet (UV) light in the wild. There are many gecko enthusiasts who keep healthy crested geckos without any artificial lighting – though in truth they typically supplement their crested gecko’s diet with vitamin D in other ways.
At the same time, other crested gecko keepers have claimed that their lizards positively bask under their UV light, and that positive behavioural changes such as better feeding and breeding responses are seen as a result.
The jury is still out, and you’ll find lots of gecko keepers on both sides of the argument. Only you can decide which option is right for your situation. Personally, I like to provide a low-powered UV light for my geckos, under the assumption that its not doing any harm, and it might be providing a benefit.
Choosing a UV light for crested geckos is quite easy. Select a 2% or 5% UVB bulb, and if you’re using an Exo Terra cage then these can easily be fitted into one of the specially-designed vivarium hoods.
Tank Decor for Crested Geckos
In theory you can make your crested gecko cage as complex or as simple as you like. At its most basic some breeders simply line the bottom of crested gecko cages with paper kitchen towel and may perhaps consider adding a hide of some kind.
At the other end of the scale an increasing number of crested gecko keepers opt to deck out their vivarium to resemble a full-blown jungle with live plants, moss and more.
Most hobbyists sit somewhere in the middle, which is where I suggest that you start. Let’s look at some of the more important elements of tank decor…
The bottom of your crested gecko vivarium should be lined with a layer of substrate. This substrate serves a number of purposes; firstly it makes your tank look more attractive, secondly it helps to maintain suitable ventilation and thirdly it creates a more natural environment for your gecko.
Crested gecko keepers are not entirely in agreement as to which substrate is “best” though two of the most popular options are “Eco Earth” and orchid bark.
Eco Earth is a brand of reptile-safe bedding from Zoo Med and is made from composted coconut fibre. It can be bought in a loose bag, rather like one would with compost, or in a condensed block that needs to be soaked in water before use.
I have been using this substrate personally for the last few years and think it is fantastic. It looks great, is excellent at absorbing moisture and won’t struggle in damp environments like crested gecko cages.
Crested geckos, just like most reptiles, appreciate being able to hide away out of view. This is a self-preservation strategy that reptiles have developed over the years to help ensure they aren’t picked off by predators. This is especially important for nocturnal species like the crested gecko which tend to positively avoid bright sunlight, favouring the option to come out later in the day.
Possibly the most effective and popular solution is providing some cork bark. This can be laid on end and, if necessary, secured safely by gently gluing it to the wall of your crested gecko vivarium with some aquarium silicone.
Ideally your gecko should provided with multiple hides. This not only allows them to select the hide offering their preferred temperature but also increases the surface area over which they can run and hunt.
Crested geckos tend to prefer spending most of their lives off the cage floor. Providing food down at ground level therefore often isn’t quite as effective as offering it at height.
Fortunately a number of feeding “ledges” are available, often with built-in bowls to provide food and/or water. These typically attach either through suction cups or magnets and can be an ideal way of helping your gecko to feel at home.
While modern thermostats can be quite reliable it is always worth double-checking the temperature within your crested gecko cage. To this end I strongly encourage you to invest the few dollars it will cost to purchase a stand-alone reptile thermometer. I would personally advise you to stay away from the “dial” thermometers, which are often very inaccurate, and to instead consider either a digital thermometer with a probe or a temperature gun.
While some creative crested gecko keepers use live plants in their reptile’s cage this requires considerable time, effort and experience to pull off well. An easier option for making your gecko feel at home is to use artificial plants.
If you have memories of nasty plastic aquarium plants from your childhood then you might be surprised by just how much fake plants have moved on in recent years. The new breed of silk plants can look very lifelike indeed, bringing an extra element of interest to your crested gecko cage as well as offering yet more hiding places for your lizard.
Feeding Crested Geckos
One of the reasons for crested geckos becoming so popular among reptile keepers of all experience levels is just how easy and interesting they are to feed. You can essentially make feeding your crested gecko as easy or as difficult as you want.
The simplest food for crested geckos is simply to buy one of the complete ready-made diets sold specifically for cresties. Foods like Repashy typically come in powder form – simply add some water as per the instructions and you will have a thick paste that contains everything your crested gecko needs. Replace any uneaten food every 24 hours and your gecko will live a long and healthy life.
Crested geckos will also take a wide range of different fruits including dates, figs and papaya, either finely chopped or placed into a blender to create a fruit smoothie. This, also, should be replaced daily if any food remains uneaten.
Crested geckos may enjoy a range of live insects. While these aren’t crucial if you’re feeding a complete pre-made diet many crestie owners enjoy watching their gecko hunting and catching their dinner.
A range of feeder insects are available from reptile stores, with brown crickets being arguably the most popular option among crestie owners.
Some experts recommend cycling through the different food options, providing a basic diet of pre-made crested gecko formula, but supplemented one week with fresh fruit, and the next with live insects.
Whatever option you choose, your aim should be to offer as wide a variety of foodstuffs as possible, to ensure that your geck receives a full and complex array of different nutrients. The easiest route to a nutrient deficiency is simply feeding the same solitary food for weeks or even months at a time. Don’t, for example, just provide some mashed banana as your geckos sole diet unless you want them to live a very short life.
It is worth mentioning here the range of different vitamin and mineral supplements that are available for reptile keepers. As crested geckos are often kept without ultraviolet light they can be prone to metabolic bone disease, on account of deficiencies in either vitamin D or calcium. When this occurs, the skeleton can weaken and muscle tremors can occur; as you might imagine this can be very bad news indeed for your pet.
In order to avoid such deficiencies, supplements are available, which allow you to easily top up your crested gecko’s diet, rather like us popping a multivitamin pill each day.
There are a range of different supplements. “Dusting” supplements are some of the most useful, as these can be gently dusted onto feeder insects and/or fruit before it is given to your lizard.
In addition you will find “gut loading” supplements, which are fed to live insects. When your crested gecko eats these insects they will also consume their contents of their digestive tract, which will now be laced with additional vitamin D and calcium.
Water & Humidity
Crested geckos have a nasty habit of only very rarely drinking from an open water bowl. All the same, I believe it is good practice to include one just in case, so you can feel confident that are gecko always has access to a drink.
As mentioned in the “decor” section I suggest providing one or more feeding platforms, and it is therefore easy to provide open water in one of these bowls.
The water should be changed daily to ensure no bacteria have been allowed to grow, and the bowl should be regularly sterilized. I like to do this with a combination of reptile-safe detergent and boiling water, before allowing the bowl to dry thoroughly before use.
In reality crested geckos are much more likely to drink droplets of water from the walls of their vivarium, or the artificial plants that you have installed. Spraying your crested gecko cage is therefore an important part of routine care, which not only encourages your lizard to drink but also raises the humidity within their cage.
Most keepers spray their crested gecko cage once every day or two, with the humidity being allowed to fall between sprayings. Note the point mentioned earlier on, that suitable air movement should still be allowed to prevent a “stale” environment, in which fungi and bacteria can thrive. This is why choosing a cage with ventilation is important.
Note that over time the mineral deposits in most tap water can start to stain glass cages, making them look unsightly. If you want to keep your cage in the best possible condition you may want to consider using distilled or Reverse Osmosis water, where these minerals have been removed.
Handling Crested Geckos
Whilst young crested geckos can be a little “flighty” at times, they will normally calm down considerably as they grow. The key is to get your gecko used to handling, by engaging in regular, gentle sessions that each take just a few minutes. Over time you crested gecko will realize that you aren’t a threat, and will therefore remain calm while being held.
One factor to bare in mind if you plan to handle your crested gecko is that this species is capable of dropping its tail. While this process doesn’t do your gecko any long-term harm, it will make your gecko look quite odd. Crested geckos do not regrow their tails. In other words, if you’re rough enough to cause your gecko to lose its tail then you will forever have a tailless gecko.
Crested geckos make fantastic pets for reptile lovers of all ages, and are arguably one of the easiest lizards of all to keep. They’re therefore a great introduction to the hobby for anyone with less experience, or people looking for a pet that requires minimal time from them.
At the same time, the range of different color variations (morphs) that are appearing on the market also make the crested gecko an appealing option for more advanced keepers and individuals looking to breed their first reptile.
Choose your equipment wisely and follow the guidance in this crested gecko care sheet and you’ll be off to a flying start. Best of luck!
Feel free to comment below with any other questions or queries you might have, and I will try to respond when I can.
Photo by Chris Parker2012