Crested geckos seem to be the stars of the arboreal gecko world. They’re among the most popular pet lizards. Enthusiasts refer to them as cresties, too.
Interested in getting a crested gecko? Here are a few things you MUST understand!
Table of Contents
Is This the Right Lizard for You?
Young children should never handle a crestie. They have fragile bodies and nervous temperaments.
While their diet and heating needs are low-maintenance, you need to mist them at least twice a day.
Never plan on handling your gecko for more than 20 minutes a day. That’s a maximum limit, and some nervous individuals may do better with even less handling.
Finally, they’re nocturnal – this means that your crestie will likely only be active at night!
If none of these drawbacks put you off, keep reading to learn more about the care requirements of these adorable little lizards.
- Crested geckos are native to New Caledonia
- They eat fruit and bugs
- In captivity, feed a commercially prepared crested gecko diet
- They rarely bite but can be flighty
- Cresties are arboreal (tree-dwelling) and nocturnal (active at night)
- Crested geckos don’t require supplemental lighting or heating – but they’re still preferred to provide a natural environment
- They’re poorly studied in the wild because scientists believed they were extinct!
About the Crested Gecko
Crested geckos (Correlophus ciliatus or Rhacodactylus ciliatus) are native to the jungles of southern New Caledonia.
In the wild, these New Caledonian geckos frequent bushes or small trees no more than ten feet off the ground.
Scientists believed this gecko species was extinct until they rediscovered them in 1994! Collectors and conservationists quickly swept them into the pet trade for preservation.
Since they went unstudied for so long, we don’t know much of their natural history.
Average Adult Length: 5-8 inches
Average Adult Weight: 35-55 grams
Crested geckos were named after the crest, or ridge, running from each eye down to the tail.
They’re also known as eyelash geckos because of the hair-like projections above their eyes. They resemble eyelashes!
They have wedge-shaped heads and large eyes. Their tail is vertically flattened – unless they’ve already lost it!
Wild-type crested geckos can be grey, brown, red, orange, or yellow, with or without tiger striping.
Crested geckos fire up when they wake up, usually in the evening. Their colors become bright, and their pattern takes on a new depth.
During the day, most cresties fire down. Their pattern is faded, and their color is drab.
There are many morphs to choose from that affect the gecko’s color and pattern.
Temperament and Behavior
Healthy, adult crested geckos are curious and alert. They may be flighty if they’re not accustomed to handling.
Since they’re arboreal, they tend to jump off their handler when spooked. There are many other reptiles that are calmer and easier to handle.
Cresties rarely bite.
Luckily, breeders focus on selectively breeding for calm temperaments that make great pets!
As nocturnal, arboreal reptiles, cresties are most active at night. You’ll likely find them exploring high up in their habitat.
Average Lifespan: 15-20 Years
Buying a Crested Gecko
Wild-type crested geckos cost $30 to $60.
The price of morphs varies wildly. The rarest and most magnificent morphs sell for up to $4,000! “Lilly white” is a crested gecko morph that can come with such a high price tag.
Sexed adult crested geckos are always more expensive than un-sexed babies and adolescents.
High-quality breeders may charge more than reptile stores, but their animals are usually healthier.
You should check your local city, county, state, and national laws before purchasing a crested gecko.
Some countries, like Australia, ban ownership of any exotic reptile – including crested geckos.
Crested geckos are legal in most, if not all, United States cities.
Crested Gecko Care
- Spray bottle
- Live insects
- Calcium powder
- Branches and plants
- Elevated feeding dish
- Commercial crested gecko diet (CGD)
- Glass enclosure (18″x18″x24″) with a screen top
Your crested gecko is going to spend at least 95% of its life inside a box – it may as well be a comfortable box!
Most hobbyists keep their crested geckos in glass tanks. They typically provide the perfect combination of ventilation and humidity retention.
Tanks with front-opening doors are even better. Crested geckos usually flee upwards when spooked. Frequently opening a screen top may eventually lead to escapes.
Screen cages can work, but they make it hard to maintain high humidity. Don’t use them if you live in a dry climate.
Minimum Adult Enclosure Dimensions: 18″ x 18″ x 24″ (L x W x H)
Crested geckos appreciate adequate height over anything else. They’re an arboreal (tree-dwelling) species. Tall enclosures are best for their overall well-being.
You may opt to keep your baby crested gecko in a smaller enclosure. A standard 10-gallon aquarium works well.
Small “baby crested gecko habitats” offer many benefits, including:
- Easier to decorate
- Cheaper in the short term
- Easier to monitor your gecko’s health
- Easier for the gecko to locate feeding station(s)
You’ll save money by skipping straight to the adult habitat. Be sure to provide multiple feeding stations in any large enclosure that houses a baby crested gecko.
Remember, these sizes are a minimum standard. Feel free to go bigger. Your crested gecko will appreciate the additional space and enrichment opportunities of a larger habitat.
Crested geckos are nocturnal creatures. They don’t require supplemental lighting to survive.
If you want your pet to thrive rather than merely survive, scientists recommend providing UVB light.
According to the Journal of Zoo and Aquarium Research’s UV Tool, crested geckos should experience the following day-night cycles:
- Winter: 10 hours of light, 14 hours of night
- Summer: 14 hours of light, 10 hours of night
Use a low-output UVB bulb designed for crepuscular or forest-dwelling species.
Follow manufacturer guidelines for basking and mounting distances.
Replace UVB bulbs every 6-12 months, even if they’re still emitting visible light.
Ideal Basking Temperature: 80-85°F (26-29°C)
Ideal Ambient Temperature: 70-75°F (21-24°C)
Ideal Nighttime Temperature: 65-72°F (18-22°C)
If you decide to provide UVB lighting, the fluorescent light fixture may give enough supplemental heat at the top of the habitat. This area is known as the basking zone.
Whether it will provide enough heat depends on the type of lighting set-up you use, the enclosure’s ventilation, and the average room temperature in your house.
If you need to provide additional supplemental heat, try using an incandescent lightbulb on a dimmer switch or a dimming thermostat.
Regardless of your situation, it’s crucial to provide a slightly warm basking area that does NOT exceed 85°F. Crested geckos are prone to overheating if the temperature climbs any higher.
Crested geckos, like all reptiles, are ectothermic. They use differing temperatures in their environment to thermoregulate, or regulate their body temperature.
Scientists have thoroughly studied and described thermoregulation and its importance.
A crested gecko that doesn’t have access to a temperature gradient (i.e., a “basking area” and a “cool area”) can’t thermoregulate.
Water and Humidity
Ideal Humidity: 60-80%
Crested geckos thrive in rainforests. They like things to stay humid and cool.
The easiest way to maintain proper humidity levels is with the substrate.
Allow the substrate to dry out thoroughly. The ambient humidity can safely fall to 40-50% temporarily. This practice prevents the growth of mold.
Once the substrate becomes dry, mist it or even pour water into it until it becomes damp. Moisture evaporating from the bedding keeps the humidity level high.
Lightly mist your gecko’s enclosure walls and decor at least twice a day. Crested geckos won’t drink from a water dish. They prefer to drink from surface droplets.
Decor and Environmental Enrichment
Believe it or not, decorating your crested gecko’s habitat is imperative for its mental wellbeing and physical health.
- Mental enrichment
- Hiding opportunities
- Exercise opportunities
- Climbing opportunities
- A surface for water droplets to collect
- Opportunities for your gecko to climb closer to heating elements to regulate its body temperature
You could go for a natural look, a themed playhouse look, or an upcycled look! Most keepers try to replicate the jungles of New Caledonia. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- PVC pipes
- Cork bark
- Elevated food dish
- Bird and rodent toys
- Plastic food storage containers
- Cardboard tubes (replace often)
Live plants are not mandatory for crested geckos, but they offer many benefits:
- Help maintain high humidity levels
- Offer climbing AND hiding opportunities
- Help create an attractive, naturalistic jungle biome
- Can be part of a low-maintenance bioactive set-up
Live plants need a bioactive substrate full of nutrients that sustain life. See our section about bioactive enclosures below.
Alternatively, you may keep potted plants inside your crested gecko’s tank. Here’s a list of hardy, terrarium-friendly plants.
Most experienced eyelash gecko keepers advise against cohabitating this species. There’s always a risk of fights, resource guarding, and more.
Some owners have managed to successfully house groups together. There are a few guidelines to follow when cohabitating:
- Ensure the crested geckos are the same age and size.
- Introduce both or all geckos into the terrarium at the same time
- Only cohabitate groups of females or one male with female(s)
- Two or more males will fight and injure or kill each other.
- Use a large terrarium, at least 18″ x 18″ x 36″ (L x W x H) for a pair
- If you want to house an entire colony, you may want to build a giant arboreal paradise.
- If you house a male with a female(s), you will end up with fertilized eggs.
- Offer multiples of every commodity: multiple feeding stations, multiple basking spots, multiple plants, and multiple hides.
Naturalistic substrates help maintain high humidity in the tank – and they look nice, too! Here are some excellent particulate bedding options:
- Coconut fiber
- Sphagnum moss
- A DIY tropical soil mixture
- A commercial reptile soil mixture
Intestinal impaction is a common issue for captive crested geckos. You can reduce the risk of substrate ingestion by covering the soil or coco fiber with a layer of leaf litter or moss.
Especially for younger crested geckos, you may want to go with these safe options instead:
- Paper towels
- Butcher paper
- Blank newspaper
It’s advisable to avoid the following choices or use them at your risk. Some keepers advise against them in an abundance of caution to avoid impactions, toxicity, or other bodily injuries:
- Cat litter
- Shelf liner
- Reptile carpet
- Coconut husk
- Bark, shavings, or mulch
- Conventional potting soil
- Anything with pine or cedar
Bioactive enclosures are another great option because they require little maintenance once established.
Bioactive set-ups take advantage of nature’s waste cycle:
- Crested gecko excretes waste materials. Shed skin and food particles also contribute to habitat waste.
- Waste materials are consumed by beneficial bacteria and invertebrates, like isopods and springtails. The waste is converted into soil nutrients.
- Soil nutrients are consumed by live plants.
The core of any bioactive set-up is the substrate. A homemade ABG mix is considered the gold standard:
- 1 part charcoal
- 1 part peat moss
- 2 parts coconut fiber
- 2 parts orchid bark
- 2 parts tree fern fiber
There are many commercial mixes available, too!
An additional bottom drainage layer of clay balls, or similar, will prevent the soil from becoming muddy and bog-like.
Diet and Feeding
Crested Gecko Diet
Crested geckos are one of the few reptile species that can thrive on a commercially prepared diet. Reputable brands include:
- Zoo Med
- Leapin’ Leachie
- Black Panther Zoological
Like some other reptiles, crested geckos don’t require live bugs.
If the formula you’re feeding doesn’t already include insects, you should offer live insects to your crested gecko a few times a week.
They’re great for enrichment and exercise!
Here’s a list of healthy feeder insects:
- Black soldier fly larvae
You can also offer fresh fruit as an occasional treat. Avoid citrus fruits and avocado. Pay special attention to high-calcium fruits, like:
- Prickly pear
- Passion fruit
Don’t feed fruit-based baby foods to your crested gecko. They can contain harmful preservatives and additives.
Crested Gecko Diet
Offer your crested gecko enough prepared liquid diet to last 24 hours.
It usually works out to be less than half a teaspoon of reconstituted dry mix.
On bug days, offer 3-6 appropriately-sized insects. They should be smaller than the distance between your crested gecko’s eyes.
Only offer one small chunk, smaller than the size of your gecko’s head, as a treat. You can also provide a drop of fruit puree as a treat.
Crested Gecko Diet
Adults (12+ Months): Every 2-3 days
Juveniles (0-12 Months): Every day
Adults (12+ Months): 1 time a week
Juveniles (0-12 Months): 1-2 times a week
Adults (12+ Months): 1-2x every month
Juveniles (0-12 Months): Avoid feeding fruit to juvenile crested geckos.
Mix commercial CGD powder with water. Aim for a smoothie-like consistency. Most brands include mixing directions on the label.
Offer the liquid diet in a condiment cup or bottle cap. Cresties prefer to eat off a level, elevated surface. You can construct or purchase an elevated feeding station.
Crawling insects, like grubs, should be placed in a similar elevated dish. Using a rimmed plate can help prevent escapees.
Roaches and crickets can run amock in the tank. They’ll encourage your gecko to hunt!
Fruit can be diced into tiny pieces, mashed, or liquified in a food processor. Offer it where you usually offer CGD.
As long as your crested gecko’s diet mainly consists of commercial CGD, you won’t need to add any supplements.
If you feed live insects, you’ll want to gut-load them and dust them with a reptile calcium powder.
If you provide UVB lighting, choose a calcium powder without added vitamin D3.
Gut load insects with high-calcium vegetables or commercial insect gut-load.
If your crested gecko regurgitates your food, check into these possible issues:
- Ensure that your crested gecko has access to temperatures in the upper 70s°F, at a minimum. Reptiles require heat to digest food.
- If you use particulate substrate, keep an eye out for any bowel movements. Switch to paper towel bedding, if necessary. Impaction is a common cause of regurgitation. Soaking your crested gecko in lukewarm water (no more than 80°F) may help it pass a stool.
- Avoid stressing your crested gecko unnecessarily. Stressors include excessive handling, a loud and fast-moving environment, and predatory housemates “stalking” around the enclosure.
- Sometimes, crested geckos overeat. If the regurgitation is a one-time occurrence, this is the likely cause.
A healthy, adult crested gecko can go several weeks without eating.
Ensure all environmental conditions are ideal (temperature, humidity, diet, lighting, decor).
Avoid handling your crested gecko if it’s not eating.
Try offering different flavors of CGD.
If it lives with another crested gecko, separate them immediately. Separation helps rule out stress or dominance issues as the cause and reduces the risk of diseases or parasites spreading.
If your crested gecko begins to lose weight, becomes lethargic, or doesn’t eat for three weeks, take it to a qualified reptile veterinarian.
After your gecko has had seven days to acclimate, you can begin handling it.
Start with short, five-minute handling sessions every other day.
You can gradually increase the length of time up to 20 minutes per day. Never handle your gecko any more than that.
Move at your gecko’s pace. Try to end handling sessions on a positive note before it becomes anxious or stressed.
Just like people, some crested geckos have bad days. Don’t force your crested gecko out of its comfort zone if it’s acting spooked. Try again tomorrow.
Even if your eyelash gecko is perfectly tame, your work isn’t finished! You must continue to handle it at least two to three times per week. Otherwise, it may revert to its skittish ways.
Always handle your crested gecko over a soft surface, like a bed or couch. Alternatively, you can handle it no more than a few inches above a counter or tabletop.
This practice is especially true in the beginning when your crested gecko is most skittish.
Wild crested geckos flee from predators by jumping and falling – onto the next branch down. In captivity, there are no extra branches – or hands – to catch on the way down.
A soft or close landing surface will minimize the risk of injuries.
A hand-over-hand technique, known as treadmilling, is the preferred handling technique. Flighty geckos will jump from one hand to the other rather than crawl.
Cresties are most calm and slow during the day. Daytime may be the best time to handle your pet.
Always wash your hands before and after handling your gecko – or any other reptile!
Determining the Sex
All you need to breed crested geckos is a healthy adult pair – but how do you know if you have a pair?
Crested geckos need to be over six months old to be sexed. Sometimes, their sexual organs don’t develop until they’re closer to one year old.
Male cresties develop a hemipenal bulge at the base of their tail. Females don’t have a bulge in their tails.
Females should be at least 14 months old before you breed them. Preferably, they’ll weigh more than 45 grams.
Males can start breeding at 9-12 months of age.
You can introduce a breeding colony of one male and up to four or five females, as long as the enclosure is large enough.
To induce breeding, keep the daytime temperatures at 75-79. Allow the temperature to drop by five degrees every night.
Mating usually occurs at night, so you probably won’t witness it. The male will bite the back of the female’s neck to hold her in place. The entire ordeal can last for several minutes.
The male may leave marks on the female’s neck, but he shouldn’t cause any significant injuries.
The female will begin laying eggs 30 days later. She will continue to lay a pair of two eggs every 30 to 45 days.
Ensure that there is a nesting box on the ground. A simple set-up is a plastic Tupperware container with an entrance hole. File down any sharp edges.
The container needs to be large enough for the female to turn around.
Fill the nesting box with damp media, like soil or moss. Check daily for eggs and moisture.
Calcium is essential for egg-laying females. Check her calcium sacs before breeding and every month after that.
If they start to look empty and depleted, remove the male and add an extra pinch of calcium without vitamin D3 to each feeding.
Did You Know? Geckos store their calcium in anatomical structures known as calcium sacs. Calcium sacs are located on the roof of the gecko’s mouth, in the back near the throat.
Crestie eggs need two things to hatch: humidity and time.
Construct a basic incubation container by drilling ventilation holes in a plastic shoebox.
Fill the container 2/3 full with damp incubation medium, like perlite, vermiculite, or sphagnum moss. The medium should be moist enough to hold water but not so wet that it drips when squeezed.
Carefully transfer the eggs to the incubation chamber. Put them in a dark, warm closet, and wait!
But what about the heat?! Crested gecko eggs develop and hatch just fine at room temperature. 72-78°F is perfect.
At these temperatures, eggs hatch in 60 to 70 days. At lower temperatures, the eggs may take up to 120 days to hatch.
When a hatchling is ready to emerge from its egg, it will cut an opening in the eggshell.
Some hatchlings stay in the egg for up to 24 hours, and others immediately come out. If you find a hatchling that hasn’t fully emerged, leave it alone! It may be absorbing the remainder of its yolk sac.
Leave hatchlings in the incubation container until they shed. Shedding should occur within 12 to 24 hours of emerging from the egg.
After they shed, house them individually in a small enclosure lined with a paper towel.
Try to keep things simple at first.
Supply one fake plant or vine for climbing and a humid hide with sphagnum moss.
Mist the tank twice a day.
Offer prepared CGD in a small bottle cap.
Keep hatchlings between 70°F and 80°F.
Spraying twice per day will keep the humidity level high enough. Ensure their enclosure has adequate ventilation. Humidity should drop to 50% before the gecko is due for its next misting.
Most crested geckos are ready to go to their new homes when they weigh three or four grams.
Health Care and Diseases
Signs of a Healthy Crested Gecko
If you have the chance to meet your crested gecko in person before you bring it home, look for the following signs of health:
- Hefty body
- Lively and alert
- Smooth appearance
- If the tail is missing, the stub is healed over
- Free of deformities or kinks in the spine
- Vent, ears, and nose are clear and free of discharge
It’s best to establish a veterinary-patient relationship before your crested gecko gets sick.
Just like you take your furry pets to the vet, you should take your scaly pets for check-ups, too.
Unfortunately, it’s challenging to find a qualified and experienced reptile veterinarian.
Try to get this task out of the way before you bring your pet home. You can bring him in for a new pet check-up to meet the doctor and ensure your crestie is free of parasites and disease.
If you’re having a hard time finding a suitable doctor, check out the Association of Reptile and Amphibian Veterinarian’s Find A Vet tool.
All reptiles shed, including crested geckos.
Adult cresties shed every month.
Young, growing crested geckos may shed as frequently as every week.
Reptiles shed more often when they are healing from injuries or battling external parasites.
Since baby crested geckos shed more frequently, they have an increased risk of encountering shedding issues. Difficulty shedding is known as disecdysis.
The main problem that hatchlings face is having pieces of shed stuck to their toes or tail. These remnants can restrict blood flow to extremities, causing the tissue to die off.
Always thoroughly inspect your reptile for leftover pieces after it sheds.
Signs of a Sick Crested Gecko
If you believe your crestie may be sick, keep an eye out for these warning signs:
- Soft bones
- Sunken eyes
- Wrinkly skin
- Losing weight
- Inability to climb
- Bone deformities
- Cuts and abrasions
- Pieces of stuck shed
- Uncoordinated movements
- Visible parasites, like mites
- Discharge from ears, nose, mouth, or vent
- Thin with ribs, spine, and hip bones showing
Stress is the number one contributor to health issues in crested geckos.
Stress weakens any living organism’s immune system. A weakened immune system allows diseases and parasites to take over.
Stress also triggers accidents. A spooked gecko may blindly jump onto a hard or dangerous surface and break a bone.
Stressed reptiles tend to avoid eating or drinking, which will cause them to lose weight and dehydrate. Those issues can result in disecdysis and organ failure.
Autotomy (Tail Dropping)
Autotomy is the process of an animal under threat casting off a body part. The body part typically wiggles and twitches, distracting the predator so that the frightened animal can escape.
In the case of eyelash geckos, they drop their tail. Watching a pet’s tail fall off can be traumatizing for unsuspecting owners!
How to prevent tail loss?
- Avoid spooking your pet
- NEVER hold onto its tail
- Tame it slowly and avoid forced handling
Unfortunately, after your crestie experiences tail loss, it won’t be able to regenerate the appendage. Tailless crested geckos are known as frog butts.
Signs of dehydration include stuck pieces of shed, wrinkles, and sunken eyes.
Avoid dehydration by misting the enclosure twice a day and giving your pet a stress-free environment.
Signs of overheating are lethargy and sticky skin.
Avoid overheating by always keeping the terrarium below 85°F (80°F for babies).
Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD)
Signs of MBD include swelling, a hunched spine, and neurological tremors.
It’s a common disease in all pet lizards due to improper diet.
Avoid MBD by dusting all prey insects with calcium powder and feeding primarily commercial CGD.
Prolapse is when the internal organs protrude from an orifice, in this case, the vent.
Prolapse can happen after mating or egg-laying. It can also occur spontaneously.
You can attempt to resolve the issue by applying gentle pressure with a wet cotton ball. If that doesn’t work, use honey or sugar water on the affected area.
You may need to take your pet to the veterinarian for emergency treatment. In the meantime, keep the area moist to prevent it from drying out.
A female crested gecko that is unable to lay her eggs has dystocia or egg-binding. Egg-binding can happen for several reasons:
- Calcium deficiency
- Bred at too young of an age
- Abnormally large or misshapen eggs
- Lack of suitable nesting material or site
If your crestie is lethargic and refusing to eat, check her belly. If she has dystocia, you’ll likely be able to feel the eggs in her lower abdominal area. Don’t apply too much pressure.
A 75-80°F bath may help her to pass the eggs.
If not, you’ll have to take her to your reptile veterinarian. She may need surgery to remove the hardened eggs—untreated dystocia results in death.
Unfortunately, dystocia is common in captive reptiles. Scientists have been unable to find consistent preventative measures, but treatment is well-studied.
Entamoeba invadens is a protozoan parasite that is notorious for killing off entire breeding colonies of crested geckos.
Symptoms include rapid-onset anorexia, lethargy, and dehydration.
Entamoeba infections are treated with moderate success with a drug called metronidazole. The earlier treatment you start treatment, the better the survival chances.
Pinworms are common intestinal parasites. They cause diarrhea, foul odor, and weight loss. You may even see worms in the feces.
Intestinal parasites are treated with fenbendazole.