Care of Crested Geckos
Care of Crested
Erica Livingston, CVT
and edited by Susan Horton, DVM
Photos by Melissa Borden
Cresties live around10-20 years and reach an average length
of 7-9 inches long making them a small lizard ideal for apartment
living. Crested geckos
are excellent climbers due to the lamellae on their toes and the
tip of their tail. Lamellae
are hair like structures which allows the crestie to “adhere”
to nearly any surface including hand of a keeper.
Cresteds do not have a fully prehensile tail like a
chameleon but they are capable of autonomy (“tail dropping”)
much like a leopard gecko, however, there is no regrowth of lost
tails. The most
regrowth noted on crested gecko tails is a small point
affectionately known as a “duck butt” by some keepers.
When this species was originally discovered in 1866 it was
thought that crested geckos did not have long tails since nearly
all the adults in the wild have lost their tails.
Like all reptiles, crested geckos have a Jacobson’s organ
on the roof of their mouth which accounts for the gecko’s
natural behavior of licking the terrain.
Crested geckos have an excellent sense of taste which can
be frustrating to owners trying to convert their pets to a
Hatchlings should be fed the powdered diet/baby
food/fruit puree every other day and appropriately sized insects
once a week. Adults
are fed powdered diet/baby food/fruit puree two times a week and
insects two times a week. Some
breeders feed their crested geckos daily alternating between
powdered diets/baby food/fruit puree and insects.
The number of insects offered depends on the amount of
insects the crested can eat in 10 minutes.
It is never recommended to leave insects, especially
crickets, unattended in the enclosure of crested geckos,
especially hatchlings, as they can inflict serious injury to
cresties. When it
comes to fruit puree, baby food, and powdered diets do not expect
to see a clean plate. These
guys will lap it up as they are hungry but do not always finish a
full portion. Learn
how much the gecko will eat by offering a serving and adjusting
the amount based on what is left over or if it is all consumed.
Geckos in general are eager hunters of insects
especially crickets and roaches such as Dubias.
If it moves, crested will enjoy it!
Meal worms can be used but are rather high in fat whereas
prey items like roaches or silkworms are higher in protein.
Insects, especially cockroaches and crickets should be gut
loaded prior to feeding out. Offering
these prey items healthy calcium rich greens such as kale and
Swiss chard is required for a positive calcium to phosphorous
ratio (this prevents and corrects metabolic bone disease).
Powdered diets are commonly sold in pet stores, at reptile
shows, and a number are available online.
A very popular powdered diet and possibly one of the most
balanced diets used by many keepers and breeders is simply called
Repashy Crested Gecko Diet and comes in a silver pouch.
Powdered diets are mixed with small amounts of water and
offered on a plate for ingestion.
Some geckos are raised on powdered diets and happily eat
the meal whereas those raised on baby food previously can be
rather finicky about the change.
There are several flavors available for the Repashy diet to
help even the pickiest eater convert over.
It is not highly recommended to feed baby food and/or fruit
puree as a staple of the crested geckos diet due to the high sugar
concentration and unbalanced vitamin and minerals.
Peach, guava, banana, and papaya fruit puree or baby food
can be offered on a small plate or shallow dish.
Never let this food sit longer than 4-6 hours to prevent
bacterial growth on the food.
Some keepers have been known to mix meat baby food and
fruit baby food together to add protein to the meal at a ratio of
1 part meat to 3 parts fruit baby food,
baby food, and or insects must be dusted with a calcium supplement
(one without phosphorous) 3-4 times a week and a multi-vitamin
once a week unless a powdered diet is being used. Powdered diets
tend to be rich in different vitamins and do not require further
finely ground powdered supplement is best as it adheres to insects
One of the reasons crested geckos are gaining such
popularity is due to their enclosure size. Hatchlings
under four months old can be housed happily in a 10–gallon
single adult gecko can be maintained easily in a 15-gallon or
20-gallon aquarium or a similar size enclosure.
A 15-gallon aquarium is a great size for a breeding pair.
Sweater boxes (transparent plastic storage boxes) with
ventilation holes drilled through the size are an excellent
substitute for aquariums. Full
screen cages are perfect for the necessary ventilation and are
relatively light weight and easy to put together.
When setting up an enclosure, height is the most critical
feature rather than width or depth.
Glass aquariums are easily turned on their ends to create a
taller enclosure. Similarly,
a keeper is looking to create their own cage a single adult can be
housed in a constructed 12” long, 12” wide, and 18” high
enclosure. A pair or
trio can be housed in an 18” long, 18” wide, and 24” high
lizards can be kept but this species seems to fare better when
kept in pairs or trios two. Make
sure that they are all female or one male and the rest female.
Males are extremely territorial and cages that are close to
each other should have cardboard or wrapping paper between them to
prevent stressful situations.
Also, the cresties must be the same size as one another to
There is much debate amongst keepers and veterinary
personnel whether nocturnal creatures like the crested gecko
require a UVB bulb. Many
breeders successfully keep and breed their geckos without the use
of a UVB bulb. It is
believed that despite their nocturnal habits, cresties in nature
would be exposed to some form of filtered UVB from the sun during
their resting period. In
the wild, crested geckos are also active just before night when
there is still sunlight, albeit fading sunlight.
The use of a ReptiSun 2.0 or 5.0 UVB bulb could be
beneficial and is recommended by Chicago Exotics veterinarians.
When positioned over head, no harm will come from the use
of a low level UVB bulb in a crested gecko’s enclosure as these
creatures do occasionally suffer from metabolic bone disease which
is primarily caused by the lack of calcium circulating in the
body. Never leave the
enclosure near a window. UVB
is filtered out through glass and plastic and the heat from the
window can prove deadly to crested geckos.
Newspaper is safe, easy to find, and very inexpensive to
use as a substrate. Sadly,
newspaper does not hold humidity well and is rather unattractive
in enclosures. Reptile
carpet, or indoor/outdoor carpet, is more aesthetically pleasing
and rather inexpensive also. It
has the added benefit of being easily cleaned in the laundry
machine (hang dry or dry flat, do NOT put it into the dryer!) and
cut to custom sizes for the enclosure.
and cypress mulch are particulate beddings that can be used and
are safe for most reptiles. These
substrates hold humidity well but will harbor mold if they are too
wet and need weekly changing as well as daily spot cleaning.
If aspen or cypress mulch is used, it is recommended to
feed crested geckos from bowls or in a different enclosure all
together to prevent accidental ingestion of the bedding which can
lead to impaction issues.
Picture by Melissa Borden
During the day the temperature in the enclosure should be
between 72 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
Temperatures above 85 degrees Fahrenheit can stress the
body of crested geckos and lead to overheating and eventual death.
In most cases, supplemental heating is not needed unless
the ambient temperature falls below 72 degrees.
Cresties are nocturnal and most do not bask but there have
been breeders who mention their gravid females basking.
However, offering a warmer end of the cage by utilizing a
under tank heating pad attached to the outside of one of the
enclosure walls or a ceramic heat emitter can be beneficial.
Ceramic heat emitters are lightless heating devices which
can become incredibly heated if not monitored properly.
Always make sure that the geckos do not have direct access
to heating devices to prevent accidental thermal burns.
Regardless of the heating devise used, a thermostat must be
utilized to ensure that the temperatures do not over heat the
crested gecko. Thermostats
are effective in not only maintaining proper husbandry but also
may decrease electrical use as well.
Generally, it is easier to maintain room temperature and
forgo supplemental heat unless necessary due to room changes.
It is highly recommended to use two thermometers in the
enclosure. If a
supplemental heating device is used then one thermometer should be
near it while the other one is near the floor of the enclosure.
A thermometer can be placed at the higher end of the cage
and the other at the lower end of the cage if there is no
supplemental heating devices used.
The humidity levels in the enclosure of crested geckos are
ideally maintained at 50% during the day and increased to 80% at
night as it would in nature. This
level of humidity can be achieved using a reptile fogger,
humidifier, or even frequent misting of the cage.
When misting the cage take care to mist the leaves, the
walls (if solid), and the gecko itself as they will lap the dew
drops of their skin as well as any surface it collects on.
A hygrometer is an instrument similar in design to a
thermometer but it measures humidity levels instead of
temperatures. The use
of this instrument will help monitor the cage and some can be used
in conjunction with reptile misters to ensure the humidity is
always appropriate. If
the humidity is too low, crested geckos will exhibits shedding
problems and even dehydration.
Hiding places are necessary for crested geckos to feel
secure. Hidings spots,
or “hides”, serve as an escape from perceived threats as well
as offer a place for the gecko to sleep during the night that
simulates their natural sleep spots of hollowed out trees.
PVC pipes and paper towel rolls make excellent and
inexpensive hides for cresties.
A great product to use in an enclosure for hides is cork
bark which comes in a half log or flat shape.
bark is very resistant to rot making it ideal in a high humidity
environment that crested geckos inhabit.
Branches for climbing can be drift wood and have a hollow
in them also for sleeping quarters.
Plants whether fake or real are essential for crested
geckos to feel secure and offer enrichment as well.
Real plants should be non-toxic and potted. It is possible
to set up a vivarium with the plants growing from the substrate
but it makes cleaning much more difficult.
Natural vivariums have the benefit of being beautiful and
enriching for the crested gecko.
A drainage layer is necessary and is generally made of
gravel. Natural plants
help keep the humidity higher naturally whereas fake plants are
much easier to clean if they are soiled and require no special
care at all. Birds
nest fern, staghorn fern, and dwarf tree fern are commonly used
live plants in natural enclosures.
Fake plants can be purchased from pet stores, craft stores,
and even the local dollar store.
With a little ingenuity and creativity keepers can create
beautiful fake vivariums.
A dish of clean water should be offered daily.
Some crested geckos will readily drink form dishes while
others will lap the dew off of leaves and enclosure walls.
A shallow water dish will also help to increase the
humidity in the enclosure. It
is very important that the dish be shallow!
These are not lizards that swim.
The older a crested gecko is, the easier it is to
definitely determine the sex of the gecko.
Males develop a large bulge under the vent on the tail.
This bulge is called a hemipenal bulge.
Generally, the earliest most people can sex crested geckos
is six months of age although some breeders can sex with fair
certainty as early as four or five months old.
The hemipenal bulge of males is usually wider than the tail
Copulation occurs at night generally.
The male will subdue the female by holding her neck in his
mouth and may bite hard enough to leave marks.
These marks are generally minor and removed with the next
shedding cycle. Females
lay two eggs every three weeks during breeding.
Male Crested Gecko photo
courtesy of Melissa Borden
lidded container with an access hole and several ventilation holes
is ideal for nest boxes and allows the crested gecko to feel
secure during egg laying. Vermiculite
or sphagnum moss is used as substrates in the nesting boxes to
promote nest digging and decrease stress on the female by offering
a natural feeling medium. The
vermiculite should be medium grade and mixed one part water to two
parts vermiculite by weight. Properly
mixed substrate will clump when squeezed together without water
dripping out of it. This
should be a few inches deep to allow digging.
If sphagnum moss is preferred, the moss should be soaked in
water until completely saturated and excess removed by squeezing.
Lightly pack this substrate a few inches deep.
Incubation is between 75 and 78 degrees Fahrenheit for
60-120 days. It is
recommended to transfer the eggs, being incredibly careful not to
alter the eggs position, to a Gladware or Ziploc container with
vermiculite and holes drilled in the top for ventilation.
Crested geckos new to a collection typically require a
few days to acclimate before handling is attempted.
This acclimation period also helps to preserve the tail
which may be dropped during handling if the gecko perceives itself
to be in danger. Generally,
crested geckos will tolerate handling for around 15-20 minutes a
day when they are fully acclimated.
Like most geckos, crested geckos do not require any
form of grooming although occasional help with a particularly
difficult shed may be needed but not often.
Crested Geckos: A Complete Guide to
Crested Gecko in Captivity
- Robbie Hamper
Geckos: A Complete Pet Owner’s Manual
- RD Bartlett,
Lizards Volume 1 -
Keeping and Breeding Lizards -
Manual of Exotic Pet Practice -
Mark Mitchell and
Thomas N.Tully Jr.
Windy City Reptile Group -
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provide helpful service to you and your pet. If you have any
questions, give us a call at 847-329-8709.
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