Crested Gecko: Rhacodactylus ciliatus
The Crested Gecko is native to New Caledonia . It is perhaps the best pet reptile to be “discovered” in the past century. Previously thought to be extinct, numerous Crested Geckos were found happily living on several islands off of New Caledonia as well as on the mainland in the 1980's. Since their rediscovery their capture and import has been ended. Not only comical and beautiful, these little guys are extremely hardy and easy to care for! They also acclimate well to regular gentle handling and some even appear to enjoy being taken out of their cages and held.
7 to 9 inches (half of this being its tail)
Over 15 years if properly cared for.
Perhaps the best part of keeping Crested Geckos is that they do not need to be fed live prey. They are an omnivorous species, which in the wild eats both insects and rotting fruits and flowers. In captivity they can be fed an excellent powdered diet produced by Allen Repashy. This diet comes in multiple flavors as part of a two part mix and can be ordered from Julie Bergman at The Gecko Ranch. It is mixed with water to make a nutritionally complete food that Crested Geckos just love! Alternatively, a fruit and meat baby food, vitamin/ mineral supplement/ honey/ spirulina/ bee pollen mix can be used in conjunction with insects such as mealworms, waxworms and gutloaded, mineral powder dusted crickets. The complete powder is easier to use and less likely to cause nutritional deficiencies than home made diets.
If feeding Allen's diet solely most keepers feed either daily or every other day, leaving the dish in there for a second night. Since the Crested Gecko is nocturnal, feeding at night time just before lights out is recommended. If feeding live prey with the diet, insects and diet should be fed on alternating nights. Crickets should not be larger than the width of the head of the smallest gecko in the tank. All crickets should be properly gutloaded and dusted with mineral powder (no phosphorous)/ vitamin supplement before feeding. Some Cresteds may also eat mouse pinks, but these should not be fed more than once weekly.
DO NOT FEED WILD INSECTS OR INSECTS FOUND AROUND THE HOUSE – THEY MAY CARRY DISEASES THAT COULD BE DEADLY TO YOUR PET OR BE COVERED IN PESTICIDES
Crested Geckos can be housed in either screen or glass/ plexi enclosures. In drier areas it is recommended that glass/ plexi cages be used to provide adequate humidity. In areas with higher humidity screen cages are excellent for providing adequate ventilation. Cages should be permitted to dry out entirely during the day following a heavy night time misting. Housing should be chosen to permit this to occur, otherwise problems with molding of the housing from too high of humidity can occur, or the animals can have retained shed due to low humidity.
Since the Crested Gecko is arboreal (lives in the trees) it strongly prefers a cage that is taller than it is long. Young geckos can be kept in small (1-2 gallon) cages until they are about 10 grams. Housing that is too large (ie 30 gallon tank for a hatchling) should be avoided when keeping very young geckos as they may have trouble finding their food. A single adult gecko can be housed in a 20 gallon long aquarium set up on its long end, or in a screen cage measuring 1 foot long X 1 foot deep X 2 feet high. Multiple males should not be housed together as they will fight to the death. Females can be housed together, though some may have personality differences and quarrel. If this occurs they should be permanently seperated- females that take a dislike to each other rarely get over it. Overall the females seem to enjoy each others company, often being found curled up under leaves together. If males and females are housed together mating and egg laying is almost guaranteed. Juveniles should be kept in like sized groups as larger ones can and will bully smaller ones, preventing their access to food.
Paper towels or cage liners are by far the easiest substrate to use, though not very aesthetically pleasing. If males and females are housed together with the intent of breeding they will make finding the eggs much simpler, however. For a more pleasing set up cocofiber can be used as a substrate and planted nicely. Caution must be used if feeding insects on cocofiber however, as the geckos may ingest it when feeding. Reptile barks can also provide a nice substrate, though they carry the same risk of ingestion. NEVER use pine/ cedar chips intended for small mammals as they can make your gecko very, very ill.
Crested Geckos love their vertical space. Bamboo poles and vertically placed cork flats will make your geckos very happy. They are also especially fond of plants, such as Pothos (which is extremely hardy), both live and fake. The more hiding places that you give your gecko the less stressed it will be, and consequently healthier. If you are going for a sterile, easy to clean set up egg crates make excellent, though not pretty, hiding places and maximize surface areas for your geckos.
Grooming and Hygiene
Cresteds require very little actual grooming. Most important is to maintain adequate humidity to prevent retained sheds. In the case of a retained shed the gecko can be carefully soaked in warm water, or placed in a small plastic container (with holes punched) with damp paper towels for 30 minutes twice daily until the shed is removed. Always wash your hands before and after touching your gecko or habitat contents to help prevent transmission of Salmonella and other infectious diseases.
Crested Geckos prefer to be kept at room temperature (from 65- 80 degrees F). They experience stress at temperatures over 85 or under 65 degrees. If your house is unusually cold a 75 watt incandescent bulb may be placed outside of the cage on top of the screen to serve as a basking spot. Bulbs should never be placed in a manner that will allow your gecko to burn itself, nor should heat rocks ever be used as they have a high risk for thermal burns.
As a nocturnal species your Crested Gecko will likely not come out when the lights are on, nor do they have any lighting requirements. If you are going to plant your tank a full spectrum bulb is recommended. If the house is extremely cool a 50 watt basking lamp may be used to provide a warm spot.
Provide a constant supply of clean, fresh, filtered, chlorine-free water in a shallow bowl that cannot be tipped over. Using a plant mister, mist your Crested Gecko heavily twice daily. They will eagerly lap the water off of the surfaces in their enclosure, and the misting will provide much needed humidity.
Change water in the bowl daily; remove feces daily. Thoroughly clean the tank at least once a week.
Normal Behavior and Interaction
Crested Geckos are a nocturnal species that will spend all day sleeping. Once they get up in the evening they are amusing to watch wandering around their cage. They seem to enjoy each others company greatly and often sleep together during the day. At night it is not uncommon to hear the rustle of leaves during little tussles as well as growls, squeaks, barks and yips as they talk to each other in the same cage, and to geckos in other cages. Cresteds are normally amenable to handling with a little bit of patience and work. Very young animals (under three months) should be handled very little, if at all. Older juveniles and adults can be handled for as much as they tolerate, which will vary from individual to individual; some never really settle down, while others are happy to sit on a shoulder or desk for hours at a time.
Two warnings should be heeded, however. First, Crested Geckos love to jump! Animals that are not accustomed to handling should be kept close to the ground until they have lost their desire for flight. Second, if your Crested Gecko drops its tail it will never grow back (unlike many other species). These stumpy Cresteds suffer no long term negative effects, but never regain their beautiful, prehensile tails. Rough handling and overly stressing your gecko should be avoided if you want your pet to retain its caudal appendage.
Signs of a Healthy Pet
Active and alert
Clear nose and vent
Common Health Issues and Red Flags
Mites: Although mostly uncommon in a private collection, mites are a possible complication. They will most likely be noticed first around the eyes or the corners of the mouth as little round, black/brown or red creepy creatures. They can be treated by many commercial products available at a local pet shop or by a veterinary strength solution available from your veterinarian. Be sure to follow the directions on the product. Treatment of mites usually takes close to a month of continuous care as eggs can hatch daily and must be 'taken care of' ASAP. These little bugs have an extraordinary reproductive rate. If you have more than the one infested reptile, take extra precautions not to transfer the mites from one to another.
Impaction: If you are keeping your Crested Gecko on a natural substrate and feeding insects/ lizards/ pinkies it will likely ingest some of the substrate at each feeding. In small quantities this will not be overly harmful, but in large quantities your gecko may become impacted with substrate in its intestine, a condition that is almost invariably fatal. Prompt treatment by an exotics vet may save your pets life.
Calcium Deficiency: Without adequate calcium in your Crested's diet, aside from a slow growth rate, you will more than likely encounter Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD). The first symptom usually noticed is uncontrolled twitching of the geckos toes or legs, a floppy jaw, or a kinked tail. This can be a fatal disease if not treated promptly. If this problem occurs, we suggest raising the amount of calcium in the gecko's diet immediately. If there is no change in a few days, consider veterinary care as an option. This is most common in breeding females. Feeding Allen Repashy's Complete Diets will prevent the occurance of MBD and can also help to treat it.
Internal Parasites: A common disease causing internal parasite in Crested geckos is Entameoba invadens, which needs to be diagnosed and treated by a veterinarian. If left untreated too long it can be fatal. Other internal parasites are also possible in Cresteds, and can be diagnosed by your veterinarian via a stool sample. Signs of E. invadens infection include weight loss, lethargy and generally poor condition.
Egg Binding: Egg binding is relatively common in female Rhacodactylus geckos with the Cresed being no exception. All female geckos are at risk, though those on poor diets or bred too young are at a higher risk level than those that are of proper breeding size and on a good nutritional plane. Signs of egg binding include failing to drop both eggs in a clutch, failing to lay a clutch at the expected time, anorexia and lethargy. Egg binding is normally an emergency by the time it is recognized, and typically needs to be corrected surgically. If you suspect egg binding take your chahoua to a good exotics veterinarian with an interest in reptiles as soon as possible.
If you suspect any of these conditions, please contact your exotic animal veterinarian. The typical small animal practitioner may not have sufficient knowledge in this area. Even this guide is general in nature and should not be used to diagnose your pet.
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