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Crested Geckos (Rhacodactylus ciliatus)

New Caledonia

One of the great accomplishments of herpetoculture has been to establish self-sustaining captive populations of the crested gecko, a species once believed to possibly be extinct. It has become one of the most widely bred and kept gecko species in the trade, only second to the popular leopard gecko. Like the latter, it comes in a wide range of morphs from solid color to striped and spotted with shades of brown, yellow, red, white, and green. Besides their wacky appearance, crested geckos tend to be docile and rank among the easiest to keep of all lizards.

Size

Up to 8 inches. Snout-to-vent length up to 4.7 inches.

Sexing

Adult males have pronounced hemipenile bulges and larger cloacal spurs than females. Juveniles with a 2.5 inch snout to vent length can be sexed with some reliability by experienced hobbyists using manual eversion of the hemipenes. By three inches, right before the cloacal bulge develops, males will show preanal pores visible with an 8x photographer's loupe.

Longevity

Fifteen or more years.

The crested gecko tail

The crested gecko is one of the few gecko species that will not regenerate a tail when lost. Although stores and members of the public are fixated on crested geckos with full tails, the fact is that in the wild almost all adult crested geckos are tailless and this can be considered the normal adult condition for this species.

Housing and Care

Enclosures

Crested geckos are arboreal and fare best in taller enclosures, including all glass tanks with sliding screen tops or the screen cages commonly marketed for chameleons. Juveniles should initially be raised in a ten gallon tank or in a large plastic terrarium. Adults will require at least a 20 gallon high tank with screen top for up to four animals. A 29 gallon enclosure is better and will allow for more attractive landscaping

Numbers per enclosure

If you want a good chance of a crested gecko retaining its tail, the best is to raise it individually until it becomes adult. Adults are less prone to bite off each other’s tails but it happens. Crested geckos can also drop tails when stressed or threatened. Because males will fight, particularly in the presence of females, crested geckos are best kept in groups of one male and up to four females.

Vivarium Design I: Bare Bones Method

Crested geckos can be kept successfully in simple setups with just newspaper as a substrate and a shelter and climbing areas made of cork bark or stacked egg crate cartons. This is the preferred method of most breeders. Under these conditions female crested geckos will almost always lay in a container filled with moist substrate. Water is provided in a shallow container. The enclosure is misted lightly every evening if relative humidity is too low.

Vivarium Design 2: Naturalistic Setups

Crested geckos are best displayed in naturalistic setups with live plants. Many will spend the day in the open resting in foliage. This approach is ideal for those who want to enjoy their pets and observe their behaviors. However, it is not the best system for breeding because eggs are laid directly in the substrate and will require regular digging to uncover.

Substrates

A peat moss or ground fir bark based potting mix without perlite will work well with crested geckos. Some vivarists will add 10-20% fine orchid bark or coir to the mix. The substrate should be kept moist but never soggy.

Landscaping

Provide cork bark as vertical and horizontal shelters as well as for climbing areas. Proven live plants with crested geckos are Ficus benjamina with branches bent to provide more or less horizontal perching areas, pothos, and Dracaena deremensis 'compacta' which provides many rest areas between the stacked leaves.

Heat and light

Crested geckos fare best with daytime temperature of 78-82 F and nighttime temperature dropping in the low 70s. In winter a two month cool period with daytime time temps between 68°F and 72°F and night temps dipping to 62-68°F will give these geckos a rest period that will optimize their subsequent breeding performance. Heat can be provided by subtank heat pads. The energy efficient T-Rex Cobra Heat Mats perform well for this purpose and are readily used by these lizards. Some keepers will tape a pads to the side of an enclosure but we have found that crested geckos readily use these placed under the tank with a portion of the pad under about 25-50% of a cork bark shelter. Heat mats are ideal in rooms with cool winter night temps. Crested geckos do not require additional light if kept in a room with a window. In naturalistic setups, an incandescent bulb in a reflector type fixture will provide daytime heat as well as light for plants. The temps should be 76-84°F with the warmest area the perches closest to the lights. At night, turn lights off.

Relative Humidity

In dry areas, light misting using purified water will help raise relative humidity.

Maintenance

Like day geckos, crested geckos have the unpleasant habit of selecting the enclosure sides as the prime site for depositing their runny feces. Maintenance will require regular spraying of the sides with a hand sprayer and using paper towel, a plastic scrub pad or single edged razor to clean up the mess. If feces are on landscape materials, spray and let the waste fall in the substrate. It will get broken down.

Water and Feeding

Water

Clean water should be available in a shallow water container at all times. Babies kept in a galls tank or plastic terrarium can be watered through misting at night every one to two days.

Feeding

The key to reducing tail loss in juveniles raised in groups is lots of food. For those not wanting to deal with crickets, you can raise this species on three servings of the T-Rex Crested Gecko Diet developed by world famous crested gecko breeder Allen Repashy. The diet has been tested by numerous experts including Frank Fast and Philippe de Vosjoli and it has proven one of the best diets ever developed for captive maintenance of a reptile with several generations raised exclusively on this diet. An option used by many breeders is to offer the Crested Gecko Diet twice a week and crickets of the right size supplemented with a calcium/D3 powder once a week. A few breeders maintain their crested colonies on an exclusively supplemented cricket diet. The Crested Gecko diet is mixed with two parts water by volume and placed in shallow containers such as jar lids or small plastic deli cups. Figure a quantity about equal to the volume of a lizard's head per feeding. Leave the food in the enclosure for 36-48 hours before removal.