Crested Gecko Caresheet
Thought to be extinct until its rediscovery in 1994, the Crested Gecko - Rhacodactylus ciliatus, has come a very long way in a relatively short time, and now challenges the Leopard Gecko for the title of "most popular pet gecko". The crested gecko is native to New Caledonia, a chain of remote islands found quite some distance from the East coast of Australia. There are numerous common names for this gecko with such as "Crested Gecko" or sometimes "Eyelash Gecko", which comes from the distinctive raised scales that begin above the eyes, giving the appearance of eyelashes, and continue in a fringe along the edge of the head and along the back to the tail. The crested gecko is an arboreal species, meaning that it is adapted to a life in the trees and bushes of its island habitat. The "sticky" feet and the prehensile tail with a "sticky" tip are adaptations for this arboreal life and help the gecko to grip the smoothest surfaces - even vertical glass. Like many gecko species, the crested gecko may "drop its tail" when frightened or threatened by a predator. This natural defense often allows the animal to escape while the predator is distracted by, and perhaps consuming, the still wriggling tail. There is little no loss of blood when the tail is dropped, and most geckos quickly heal. Unlike many other gecko species however, the crested gecko does not regenerate a new tail to replace the lost, and will spend the rest of its life in a "tail-less" state. In captivity, the loss of the tail may be seen as a cosmetic defect, but it does not appear to have a negative effect upon the gecko's health, as the majority of adult crested geckos observed in the wild are missing their tails.
The crested gecko, like most other geckos is nocturnal, an important consideration for those considering a gecko as a potential pet. New owners sometimes worry that something is wrong with their gecko, since it seems so inactive during the day. One must remember that this is the time when a nocturnal gecko is sleeping. Imagine if you were viewed at 3 a.m. while you were sleeping - you might also appear rather "boring". The most interesting behaviors of the crested gecko can be observed once the sun goes down or the lights are dimmed.
Crested Gecko - Advantages
There are many reasons why crested geckos have become such popular geckos in the pet trade. Here are a few of the most compelling reasons why crested geckos are the perfect starter gecko.
1.) Feeding - Unlike the great majority of geckos, crested geckos do not require insects in their diet. A nutritionally complete powdered diet has been created for crested geckos. It is available at most pet stores and from many online sources.
2.) Heating and Lighting - Crested geckos come from a climate that is quite mild. Unlike the majority of geckos, room temperature (mid 60's - low 80's) is a healthy temperature range for crested geckos. No expensive / dangerous supplementary heat source is necessary. Also, since they are nocturnal, no expensive UV lighting is necessary.
3.) Handling - There are very few types of geckos that tolerate handling as well as the crested gecko. Most gecko species should be handled as little as possible to minimize stress. Most crested geckos will get used to handling, and biting is very rare and nearly painless. One must be cautious when handling however, as crested geckos can leap great distances with little or no warning..
4.) Health - Since all crested geckos that are available for purchase today are captive bred, there is much less chance for diseases and parasites commonly associated with the wild caught animals often seen at pet stores. These are hardy, robust geckos which tend to thrive as long as their basic needs are met.
5.) Personality - These acrobatic geckos with the "built in smile" captivate all ages with their interesting behaviors and attractive appearance. Most crested geckos quickly get used to the presence of humans and will go about their activities with little regard to their human audience.
Crested Geckos - Disadvantages
There are really very few obvious disadvantages. Occasionally I hear of people who complain that the gecko "isn't very interesting" or "I never see it". This is due to the nocturnal nature of the gecko. A dim red or blue bulb can be used to allow observation of the gecko at night if you wish to observe the gecko at its most active. One must also remember that these aren't dogs or cats. If you're expecting that kind of interaction, you will probably be disappointed. Of course there are geckos that are active during the day, but these bring with them the additional challenges of supplementary lighting and heating.
Another "disadvantage" of the crested gecko is that a dropped tail does not grow back. It has been observed that in the wild, very few adult crested geckos have a tail. Obviously they can do just fine without it. Dropping of tails is not a common occurrence, but it does occasionally happen, and it can be a bit upsetting to the gecko owner. It is probably more traumatic to the owner than it is to the gecko, so relax and enjoy your new little "frogbutt" gecko if this happens to you.
Housing, Heating, and Lighting
There are many housing options available to you and your crested gecko depending upon many factors such as the age / size of your gecko(s), as well as your personal preferences. Some keepers try to recreate the natural environment of the crested gecko as much as possible and go to great lengths to create natural habitats complete with live plants, natural substrate, and elaborate misting systems set up in expensive glass displays. Others go the opposite route and provide cage furnishings that are easy to dispose of and replace when soiled, such as paper towels and egg carton, and use modified plastic storage tubs for their animals. Although some may argue, either of these methods can successfully meet the needs of your crested gecko. Many keepers, myself included, choose something between these two extremes. I provide artificial silk plants which don't require any lighting, and can be easily cleaned and sterilized in hot, soapy water. I find the fake plants make the tanks more attractive to view, and the geckos seem to enjoy climbing and hiding amongst the foliage. I use paper towels or washable shelf liner on the bottoms of my cages which makes clean up easy, and encourages females to seek out a nest box which I provide for the purpose. I also use a mix of containers for my geckos. The smallest hatchlings are kept in a home-made rack which holds small "kritter keeper" containers. Juvenile / sub-adult animals are kept in plastic containers which I modify by adding a "screened opening" for ventilation and spraying. My adult breeders live in large 18" x 18" x 24" screen / plexiglass enclosures.
It is important to recognize that crested geckos are largely arboreal (adapted to a life in the trees), so supplying adequate vertical height to allow climbing is perhaps more important than "floor space". This can often be achieved by placing a horizontal tank on its end to give greater vertical space. Keepers of crested geckos often argue about what the minimum space requirements are for an adult crested gecko. While I have temporarily kept single males in 10 gallon tanks stood on end with no problems, it is probably best not to think in terms of "minimum requirements" when trying to meet the needs of living organisms. Crested geckos will actively utilize a large space if given the chance. A 15 - 20 gallon enclosure should provide enough space for a single crested gecko. If you plan on keeping more than one gecko in a tank, additional space will be required.
Housing Multiple Geckos: Despite our desire to attribute human characteristics to our geckos, they are by nature solitary animals. Many geckos will tolerate and become accustomed to the presence of other geckos, but it is doubtful that any gecko desires the constant companionship of another gecko. In other words... don't feel like you have to get your gecko a companion to make it happy. If you do choose to house more than one gecko in a cage, there are certain considerations to keep in mind.
1.) Multiple males should not be kept together. Adult males are highly territorial and generally will not tolerate the presence of other males. Some have kept juvenile / sub-adult males together successfully, but there is a risk that these "best buddies" will suddenly decide they would rather kill their cagemate rather than cohabitate with them.
2.) Multiple females may co-exist peacefully in a tank, but one must provide plenty of hiding / feeding locations to minimize bullying and harassment. All the females in the cage should be close to the same size, and behavior should be monitored to make sure that all of the animals are healthy and thriving.
3.) Do not house females with males until the female has matured and reached breeding size and age. If housed together too early, it is likely that breeding will occur before the female is physically mature enough to handle the stress of egg production. In the long run, this may very well decrease the productivity and lifespan of your gecko. When in doubt, wait a little longer.
4.) Some breeders keep a male with females all year long. If this is done, one must be careful to cool the geckos and reduce daylight hours for a period of several months in order to give the female a rest from egg laying. Producing multiple clutches of eggs in a season is stressful to a female, and controlling the number of eggs produced in a year will help keep her productive and healthy for years to come. I prefer to remove the males and house them separately for most of the year. Since females are able to retain sperm for months, they may continue to lay fertile eggs for months after being separated.
Quarantine: All new geckos added to a collection should go through a quarantine period to ensure that they are healthy and thriving before they are brought in contact, or even close proximity, to your existing geckos. I personally quarantine for a minimum of 3 months. Some breeders quarantine for less time and some may quarantine for more, but everyone should follow a strict quarantine period of some sort. I like to keep my quarantine animals in somewhat sterile conditions, with a paper towel substrate, egg cartons and some silk foliage. This allows me to more easily monitor food consumption as well as the feces of the new animal. All quarantine animals are kept separate in kritter keepers or other modified plastic tubs.
Crested geckos come from a temperate climate without a lot of extreme temperatures. They generally do well in the same sort of temperatures that humans find comfortable. They can easily tolerate temperature drops into the low 60's at night, and can tolerate temperatures to the mid - 80's for short periods of time. It is probably best to try to keep the temperatures of your geckos somewhere in the mid - upper 70's most of the time, with a slightly cooler nighttime drop. Keeping them slightly cooler than this will probably not cause harm, but will result in slower growth, and may discourage breeding and egg laying. Of greater concern is sudden spikes in temperature. Make sure you have plans on how you will deal with sudden hot spells. Temperatures can quickly rise above safe levels during summer heat waves, especially in upstairs rooms. A small window air conditioner or some other cooling device may be a life saver. Cages can also be temporarily moved to a cooler part of the house such as a basement if no other cooling options are available.
Crested geckos don't require any special lighting to meet their needs. In fact, most will likely take cover fairly quickly when the lights come on. Keepers who wish to keep live plants in their tanks will probably need to provide some supplementary lighting to meet the needs of the plants. Do not set a tank in direct sunshine! While this may be beneficial to the living plants, the temperatures can quickly rise to levels that are dangerous or even deadly to your geckos.
Nocturnal geckos are perfectly capable of moving about in their environment, finding their food, and interacting with their cagemates in what we would consider pitch black conditions. They do not require any additional light. Some keepers like to use a low wattage red or blue bulb which casts a dim light that allows them to observe their geckos going about their nocturnal activities. Most geckos seem undisturbed by these dim lights.
Crested Gecko Diet (CGD):
All of my geckos are fed almost exclusively "Crested Gecko Diet" or "CGD" which was developed by Allen Repashy, one of the pioneers in the captive breeding of crested geckos. This formula has been tested extensively over many generations of crested geckos and is, in my opinion, the simplest and most nutritious diet you can feed your Rhacodactylus geckos. Some older sources may still recommend feeding pureed baby food to your crested geckos. Some keepers may still feel that this diet is more "natural" than the powdered crested gecko diet, but in the long run, use of baby food is not nutritionally complete, is more expensive, and more likely to lead to health problems for your gecko. CGD takes the guesswork out of feeding and supplementation. If you feel that your gecko needs a little more variety in its diet, the Repashy crested gecko formula also comes in a "Two-part" formula where you can mix in a variety of "flavor nectars" to provide some variation to the diet.
Some keepers feed only CGD and never care to deal with live insects. Many crested geckos have been raised this way with no health problems. In the wild, insects make up a portion of the crested gecko's natural diet. Many who keep crested geckos feel that the addition of insects to the diet gives the gecko a little extra exercise, as well as mental stimulation. Plus, many find it fun to watch their"laid back" gecko become a fierce hunter stalking its prey before pouncing. The most commonly used insect food items are appropriately sized crickets (the length of the cricket should be no longer than the width between the gecko's eyes). The advantage of crickets is that they are widely available in almost any pet store. However, for those who work with larger numbers of crested geckos, or simply want to free themselves from the weekly trip to the pet store for more reptile food, there are other options that are easy to breed yourself. Many keepers establish breeding colonies of tropical feeder roaches. Before the word "roach" scares you off, these are not the wall climbing invasive roaches that we tend to associate with unclean living conditions. I keep several different species of feeder roaches. They are long lived, nutritious, easy to breed, and quiet compared to crickets. I have a never ending supply of nearly free reptile food and occasionally sell off some excess bugs to others. If you do intend to feed any insects to your crested geckos, regardless of what types, you must remember that the addition of insects will make it slightly more difficult to ensure that your geckos are getting the exact amounts of various nutrients they need. Any insects that are fed should be properly gutloaded (fed a nutritious diet before being fed) and dusted (coated with a reputable calcium powder). While I keep many species that exclusively eat insects, my crested geckos are fed insects quite sparingly.
Breeding your crested geckos is not something that should be entered into lightly. These geckos are quite easy to breed and are highly prolific. This may make it tempting to jump into the business of gecko breeding. Don't let false visions of dollar signs lead you into breeding geckos as a way of making money. Very few breeders are able to make any significant money from raising crested geckos. In fact, the majority of breeders may recoup some of their expenses by selling offspring, but are happy to just break even. Just because you may see someone else selling geckos for hundreds of dollars, don't assume that you will be able to sell your offspring for that kind of money, even if your geckos look much like the "big name" breeder's geckos. It is more likely that you will be selling at "wholesale price" until you have established a reputation in the business. That often takes several years.
My advice... don't be in too big of a rush to breed crested geckos. Some people are in such a hurry to become breeders that they pick up some "lower quality" animals just to get a jump start on the process of breeding, or because they can't afford to buy the "higher end" adult breeders that occasionally are made available. The results of such pairings are often less marketable than you might anticipate. Selling poor quality, inexpensive geckos is not going to help you establish a reputation as a quality breeder. This is often a path that ends in frustration and early burnout. Almost any crested gecko can make a wonderful and enjoyable pet, but not every crested gecko should become a breeder.
If you are determined and serious about breeding crested geckos, it's either going to take a pretty large initial investment to buy some quality adults, or it's going to take a considerable investment of time to buy some nice young stock which you can raise up become your future breeders. I recommend this second path. This gives you plenty of time to learn all about the care and keeping of crested geckos as you raise your young "future breeders". By the time they are ready to breed, you will have enough knowledge and experience to successfully raise some high quality, healthy crestie babies. Plus, you will get quite a bit of satisfaction and take great pride in seeing the first babies from animals you raised from hatchlings.
Under Construction.... More to come!