Crested Gecko - Rhacodactylus ciliatus

Caresheet by Marla of
Photos and text Copyright 2004 © Marla Caldwell. All rights reserved. You may not reproduce this caresheet or any portion thereof for distribution of any kind (including, but not limited to, web or other print or electronic media) withour prior written permission by the author.


Crested geckos (Rhacodactylus ciliatus) are an arboreal gecko that is a fairly recent addition to the pet trade, having been generally thought to be extinct until they were re-discovered in New Caledonia off the coast of Australia in 1994. They quickly gained in popularity because of their charming appearance, affordability, hardiness, and easy care requirements. Now virtually all crested geckos in captivity are captive bred rather than wild caught, so it is not necessary to be as thorough in asking questions regarding their origin as it is with many other reptile species. They are nocturnal animals from a temperate zone and will not do well if exposed to conditions best suited to tropical or desert species. Crested geckos can come to enjoy being handled for short periods of time by a careful keeper, and are often quite entertaining to watch. Cresteds can easily be kept by a beginning keeper who carefully follows the information in this caresheet. Captive-bred baby geckos can generally be purchased for anywhere from USD$30 to USD$200, depending on breeder, expected coloration and morph.

Crested geckos have ridges or crests of scales beginning around the front of their eyes and continuing to about their hip girdles. Because of the crests above the eyes, they are also sometimes called "eyelash geckos." On some crested geckos, or "cresties" as they're often called, these scales are nearly gone, resulting in an appearance more like a gargoyle gecko (another New Caledonian Rhacodactylus gecko). On others the crests may be so long as to appear to droop, and many breeders find this trait desirable, referring to it as "hairy" or "furred" crested geckos. Cresties have approximately diamond-shaped heads, with broader heads being preferred, and tails that frequently look as if they've been spattered from birds overhead. Their tails are slender, unlike those of most desert-dwelling species, because they do not use them for water or fat storage, and may be dropped when the gecko feels threatened. If the tail is dropped, it will not re-grow, but it does not cause the animal any harm. Their toes have sticky pads on the underside, as does the tail tip, in order to enable them to climb nearly anything.

Other crested traits such as color and pattern are highly variable from one individual to the next, even between full siblings. Typically, crested geckos do not show their adult coloration until around the same age that sex can be determined, generally around 4 to 6 months of age. Hatchlings are commonly dark in color, often a reddish brown, which generally lightens up to a light brown and gradually becomes their adult coloration. Adult crested geckos can be light or dark brown, yellow, orange, deep red, bright red, dark green, grey, nearly black, or some combination of those with striping, layering, spotting, and mottling all possible. Hatchling crested geckos are typically under 2" long from snout to tail tip, while fully-grown adults can exceed 8" in length.

Temperature and Humidity
Crested geckos like the same temperature range as most of us prefer, from the high 60's to the low 80's (Fahrenheit). Temperatures above 80 degrees for extended periods of time will stress your gecko and could lead to health problems. For this reason, it is essential not to try to house cresties with species having high heat or basking spot requirements. You can provide a basking spot to your geckos, if you like, by using a low-wattage bulb to create an area in the enclosure that is a few degrees warmer than the ambient temperature, but please check to ensure that in the hottest spot the temperature does not exceed 85 degrees F or so. Crested geckos do require high humidity, but they do not require it on a constant basis. Misting 1-4 times a day (depending on housing and ambient humidity) should be fine, twice a day generally being perfectly adequate.

Housing should be fairly simple and small for the little ones so it's easy for them to find their food. Three baby cresties can live happily in a small vertically oriented Rubbermaid or 10-gallon tank on end, or two in a large critter keeper. For subadults to adults, any container equivalent to a 29-gallon tall tank (12"x30"x18") should work as a minimum size for two or three cresties. Cresties will generally get along well in groups of similarly sized individuals as long as they do not have to compete for territory. Height is more important than floorspace for cresties, and they need decent ventilation that can be provided in a Rubbermaid or Sterilite for ease of humidity maintenance by replacing most of the lid or the front with craft mesh, hardware cloth, or windowscreen. Mesh enclosures as used for chameleons can be used for crested geckos, but generally require more monitoring of humidity than enclosures with slightly less airflow. Cresties do not need any supplemental UV lighting, but you can use blacklights or red reptile lighting bulbs to view them at night when they are most active without causing them stress.

Paper towel or newspaper is great for little ones, especially if you'll be feeding live prey. You can also use coconut husk bedding, peat moss, or clean soil without additives. If you have little ones and a loose substrate, give them prey in a tall bowl, pitcher, deli cup, or similar container so that they don't get a mouthful of substrate while hunting, which can be disastrous if not spotted and fixed soon by the keeper. Once they're bigger you can skip the bowl if you want. Sand is not an appropriate substrate for crested geckos, as it does not hold humidity well and can cause impactions.

Cage Decor
Crested geckos are arboreal (meaning "tree-dwelling") and need to have surfaces to climb and places to hide. These surfaces can be nearly anything safe for your gecko (obviously a nice chunk of fiberglass insulation would be a Very Bad choice), such as cardboard tubes (paper towel rolls), eggcrate, cork bark, sticks (please bake them to kill any critters in or on them before giving them to your gecko), curtain rods, pieces of PVC pipe, clean stones, or just about anything that will stay put. Be creative! Your gecko won't mind climbing a light saber if that's what you provide. Real or artificial plants are a great way to create a natural-looking setup and your gecko will enjoy them, but please check with your veterinarian or poison control before putting a new plant in with your gecko to be sure it is not toxic. A very popular plant for crestie enclosures is pothos, which is inexpensive and widely available as well as being fairly sturdy. Ficus is also well suited to crestie enclosures. Make sure you mist your plant when you mist your geckos and give it occasional sunlight or exposure to UV lighting to keep it healthy.

Food and Water
Cresties normally drink rainwater from plant leaves in the wild and will drink from virtually any surface in an enclosure. Just make sure when you mist the gecko enclosure some water collects on surfaces for them to drink.

Feeding them is slightly more complicated, but simpler than many other pets. The simplest way to feed your crested geckos is to provide them with a small amount of T-Rex Crested Gecko Diet (a powdered formula designed specifically for crested geckos), prepared according to package instructions. T-Rex Gargoyle Gecko Diet is similar but higher in protein, and some keepers advise feeding it to hatchling or juvenile cresties or to egg-laying females.

Some small cresties may have difficulty finding their food if it doesn’t move, and in this case you can introduce it to him by dabbing a small amount on the end of his nose for him to lick off. Crested geckos have very small stomachs and will not eat very much at a time, but should be offered food at least three days a week, with four or five days being preferable. To make CGD and baby food last longer, freeze it in small ice cube trays, store in freezer bags, and just thaw to serve.

Crickets or mealworms (1-3 times weekly, or replaced by CGD): These can be purchased online or at many pet stores, and should be bought rather than caught to lessen the dangers of pesticides and parasites. "Gutload" either one with nutritious food such as oatmeal, corn meal, potato, apple, or chemical and dye-free commercial pet foods for at least 24 hours before feeding to your geckos to ensure they're getting a healthful meal. Cresties don't eat a lot, so what they eat needs to count. If feeding mealworms, select the ones lightest in color, as they have recently molted and will be much easier to digest than darker ones. If feeding crickets, offer ones that are no longer than the distance between your gecko’s eyes. Dust the mealworms or crickets with a calcium or reptile vitamin supplement before offering to your gecko. Alternating between vitamins and calcium seems to work well. It is very important that either your calcium supplement or your vitamin supplement contain vitamin D3, but not both.

Fruit (1-3 times weekly or added to CGD): Cresties of any age will also enjoy some fruit in their diet. The easiest way to provide this is to use commercially available baby food fruit. Favorite flavors include peach, apricot, banana, and mango. Avoid citrus fruits such as oranges or grapefruit and any processed baby food with added sugar or chemicals. If you cannot or do not want to buy the CGD, you can feed crickets or mealworms one to two times a week and fruit two to three times a week, but you should include calcium or vitamin supplement with every meal if you choose to do this.

Nutritional balance: It is important to maintain balance in the food that you provide your crestie. Since the T-Rex diets are formulated to be perfectly balanced, anything you do to change that balance should be offset by other food. In other words, if you feed the gecko diet with fruit babyfood, you need to offset the protein, calcium, and vitamin reduction you've just made by adding crickets or mealworms as described above or by adding calcium and herp vitamin supplements at alternating feedings. Failure to replace the lost calcium, in particular, can lead to metabolic bone disease (MBD) and death.

Crested geckos can be handled as often as daily if done carefully and with an eye on the gecko’s mood. Generally, juvenile geckos are much more likely to panic over being held than subadult or adult cresties are, and should be handled very little and only when needed when they are up to a few months old. Gradually increase the time they are handled when removed from the cage for cleaning, etc., until they are comfortable with being handled. Cresties will leap from one spot to the next, but will generally indicate through posture and staring at their intended landing area that they are about to leap and where they want to go before leaping unless they are startled or panicked. It is normally a simple matter to see that your crestie intends to jump and then put a safe landing pad, such as your hand, in the area he wants to go. You can also frequently keep cresties from leaping by putting one hand in front of the other for them to walk or jump to repeatedly.

It's best if you can get them at the same time and place or quarantine them, but cresties don't usually have health or parasite problems (except related to insufficient or too much calcium) and you'll probably be okay if you don't quarantine.

Other common health-related issues faced by crested gecko keepers include:

  • Dropped tails – Most adult crested geckos in the wild do not have tails. Loss of a tail affects the gecko’s appearance, but not its quality of life as long as the stump does not become infected. If your gecko drops its tail, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly before handling your gecko for the first day or two. It’s always a good habit to wash your hands before and after handling any animals anyway.
  • "Floppy tail syndrome" – Some crested geckos will have their tails flop to one side and stay there. It affects their posture, but does not affect their ability to get around. Experts debate whether this is caused by insufficient calcium intake or lack of good climbing furniture (resulting in geckos hanging out face-down on the straight walls of enclosures for long periods of time). This is easily prevented by ensuring you provide enough climbing furniture and calcium (either by feeding the commercial diet or by adding calcium supplement to your gecko’s food). Once your gecko has "floppy tail," it will not go away. Calcium deficiency can also cause metabolic bone disease (MBD), which can appear suddenly in cresties and may be fatal.
  • Not eating – If your gecko is having bowel movements, it is eating. Many new keepers think their geckos are not eating because their food intake is so small, but they are normally eating all they need. If you are concerned, try hand-feeding your gecko, dabbing small amounts of food on the tip of its nose or letting it lick off your finger. If you are certain that your gecko isn't eating, you need to take it to the veterinarian.
  • Sexing – At generally four to six months of age, male crested geckos will begin to display a distinct bump just under the base of the tail. Females may have a slightly rounded appearance, but males will develop a distinct, prominent bulge. The "cresticles," as I like to call the bulge, may take a few months to become prominent enough to be certain the crestie is male.
  • Incomplete sheds – If your gecko is having trouble shedding, your humidity is too low. Normally, you won’t even see a crested gecko shed because they will do it quickly and eat the shed. It is essential that any stuck shed on toes is removed, because letting it remain can cause constriction of blood vessels to the digit, resulting in a lost toe. If there is stuck shed on your gecko’s toes, moisten a cotton swab with water and carefully rub it against the toes. The shed should loosen and release. You may need to repeat the procedure, but should not need to pull to get the skin to release. You can also try putting your gecko in a "humid hide," a plastic food storage container with damp paper towels covering the bottom and holes for ventilation, for several minutes at a time to help the shed along, or providing a good rough surface in the enclosure such as a piece of the rough half of Velcro tape stuck to the side.
  • Aggression – Male crested geckos can be aggressive toward one another, particularly if they have to share too small a territory or were introduced to each other after one or both of them reached sexual maturity. If housed together from hatchlings in an adequately sized enclosure, they will not normally fight. To prevent injured geckos, do not introduce one male to another male’s enclosure.
  • Not sticking – If your crested gecko’s toe pads aren’t sticking to the side of the enclosure, it generally means that it will soon shed. Make sure your humidity is high enough for a good shed and provide some rough-surfaced climbing furniture (plants, cork bark, eggcrate) that doesn’t require your gecko be at its stickiest to be able to climb and hide.
  • Missing gecko – If your gecko has escaped, check all nearby surfaces, particularly walls, windows, bookshelves, and other vertical climbing surfaces. You are most likely to find him within a few minutes of his escape or at night when he is most active. Try putting out a dish of his favorite food someplace that you can see but that he’s still likely to consider safe. Listen carefully for the thud of small feet hitting when he lands from a leap and for things such as books or candles getting knocked about. If your gecko’s enclosure is still securely closed but he is missing and you have checked all the possible hide spots (including substrate), then you have probably housed a very small gecko with a much bigger gecko and it has become an expensive meal.

Shopping Lists
Minimal shopping list:
  • 1 Rubbermaid/Sterilite, appropriately sized for geckos OR 1 aquarium/terrarium with screened top
  • 1 jar calcium with D3 and 1 jar herp vitamins without vitamin D3 OR 1 jar plain calcium and 1 jar herp vitamins with D3
  • 1 roll paper towels OR 1 newspaper or other suitable substrate
  • 1 plastic spray bottle for misting
  • 1 bottle gargoyle or crested gecko diet
  • jar lid or other shallow dish to feed gecko diet in
  • eggcrate, cardboard pieces, baked sticks, or whatever else you can find to make hides and climbing surfaces
  • 1-3 crested geckos

Recommended shopping list:

  • 1 large critter keeper for when you're cleaning out their cage
  • 1 Rubbermaid/Sterilite, appropriately sized for geckos OR 1 aquarium/terrarium with screened top
  • 1 piece of galvanized steel or plastic craft mesh to replace part of the Rubbermaid lid for better ventilation and easier misting
  • 1 jar calcium with D3 and 1 jar herp vitamins without vitamin D3 OR 1 jar plain calcium and 1 jar herp vitamins with D3
  • 1 plastic spray bottle for misting
  • 1 bottle gargoyle or crested gecko diet
  • 1-2 jars fruit babyfood
  • 1 Kricket Keeper
  • 100 crickets (2 or 3 week size for baby geckos)
  • cricket water OR Cricket H2O with Calcium
  • peat moss or non-additive potting soil
  • tall bowl or dish to hold crickets in enclosure and prevent ingestion of loose substrate by juvenile cresties
  • 2 jar lids or other shallow dishes for CGD and standing water source, which some will use and some will not
  • pothos, English ivy, or other hardy non-toxic plant that does well in low-light conditions
  • baked sticks or store-bought bamboo stakes for climbing surfaces
  • any kind of ground-level hide such as terra cotta plant pot, plastic food storage container, or other easy-to-clean, sturdy hide
  • 1 Rhacodactylus book by Philippe de Vosjoli, Frank Fast, and Allen Repashy
  • 1-3 crested geckos