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So you decided to buy a crested gecko – or at least you’re interested in this fascinating and cute little reptile. Let’s start with the first introduction on this tiny reptile that’s also called the eyelash gecko or crestie.
A crested gecko is a lizard that originates from New Caledonia. It’s an arboreal pet that is active from dusk to dawn (crepuscular). Crested geckos were only recently rediscovered but have become a popular pet reptile in a matter of a few decades.
Crested geckos are among the most popular pet reptiles around the world, especially for beginners. Its cute look and friendly nature make it a perfect pet for people that want to care for a reptile and don’t want a heavy-maintenance pet.
In this guide, I’ll take you along from start to finish. You’ll learn everything there is to know about crested geckos, how to prepare for one, where to buy both the crested gecko and the supplies, and how to care properly for it.
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Introduction to Crested Geckos
History of the crested gecko
Crested geckos originate from the South Province of New Caledonia, a group of islands located in the south-western Pacific Ocean. They were first discovered in 1866 by Alphone Guichenot, a French zoologist. He gave them the scientific name Correlophus ciliatus.
In 1883, crested geckos were reclassified and renamed Rhacodactyllus ciliatus; the ciliatus part of their name is Latin and refers to the crests over their eyes. These crests resemble eyelashes, which is how they got their other name, the eyelash crested gecko. Today the original scientific name is used for the crested gecko: Correlophus ciliatus.
Up until very recently, cresties were believed to be extinct. But in 1994, a group of German herpetologists undertook an expedition to New Caledonia following a tropical storm. They discovered populations of cresties, alive and kicking and doing their thing!
Today, there are three separate populations in the South Province: one on the Isle of Pines, and two on the main island of Grande Terre (split into a group near the Blue River and a group near Mount Dzumac).
Crested geckos are (semi-)arboreal (tree-climbers) and live in forests with high levels of humidity – which is why, in captivity, it’s so important to provide them with tall, humid tanks containing branches and foliage. They have webbed legs and toes which enable them to climb and jump acrobatically throughout the forest canopy.
Crested Geckos as Pets
Before I get into the reasons why the crested gecko can be your perfect pet, I’m going to give you the basic data and a little bit of background.
Appearance of crested geckos
Crested geckos have distinct look with a triangular shaped head and the unique “crests” that have given the name, eyelash (crested) gecko to it. Crested geckos start as hatchlings with a slender body and a long tail but as they grow older their body becomes more robust. It’s possible for a crested gecko to lose its tail for a number of reasons that have.
|Body length (including tail)||8 to 10 inches (15 to 25 cm)|
|Tail length||4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 cm)|
|Weight||30 to 45 grams|
|Lifespan||10 to 15 years (up to 25 years)|
In this part, we’ll be getting more into the anatomy of the crested gecko. To start let’s take a look at a crestie.
You probably won’t notice this from the image but crested geckos are quite large compared to other geckos. They have a very robust body that measures approximately 4 to 4.5 inches (10 to 11.5 cm) in length (snout to vent). Their tail is almost as big as their body and measures between 4 and 6 inches (10 to 15 cm).
Picking up a crested gecko won’t cost you a lot of strength. They’re light-weight and will weigh 32 to 45 grams on average. There are off course cresties that will weigh a little bit more.
Head and Body
Crested geckos have a head that’s shaped like a triangle. The head and shoulders have a row of spikes that start from the eyes. These spikes or “crests” are scales that give the unique look to the crested gecko.
Crested geckos have very tiny teeth but a large number of teeth, some 177. The teeth are continually replaced so gaps might be seen. They will rarely try to take a nib at you but even if they would bite, you probably won’t feel a lot more than a little pinch. It’s very rare for them to break the skin when biting.
As crested geckos are active during the night they need to have eyes that function in the dark. The eyes are large and are stationarily positioned on each side of their heads, giving them a 360-degree vision.
During the daytime, the eyes will have a small pupil that only allows a minimum of light to enter their eye. At nighttime the pupil will be wider to let more light in so they can see a lot better in the dark.
Crested geckos don’t have eyelids, just as is the case for some other reptiles. But they have to keep their eyes moist so you may see your crested gecko licking its eyeballs from time to time. Licking also removes any dust or debris. It may seem weird at first but you will get used to this weird little habit.
Crested geckos have a membrane over the eyes. They are able to tear and these tears will flow in the membrane en keep the eyes clean.
Crested geckos don’t appear to have ears but they do have very well-developed ears. The large openings you notice on the side of the head are the ears. A membrane covers these openings and protects the ear.
The skin of a crested gecko is – like that of other geckos – covered with fine scales. You can easily see this when you watch the skin from a small distance. Crested geckos have a fairly thin skin. Still, the thin skin of a crested gecko is quite durable and is made to withstand shaving against the bark of trees.
A crested geckos’ skin consists of two layers: the dermis and the epidermis. They will outgrow their old skin and go through a process of shedding just like snakes do. Before they shed their skin, the color of the skin will become gray and look duller. The crested gecko will pull off their old skin themselves with their mouth. It’s normal to see the crestie swallow the old skin. This is also called ceratophagia and is possibly some sort of defense strategy that has its origin in the wild.
The skin of a crested gecko can become darker or lighter depending on certain conditions. It’s possible that this has an advantage as camouflage in the wild.
Legs and toes
Crested geckos have robust legs. The feet have five toes and each toe has an adhesive pad. This pad is made up of lamellae, millions of minuscule hairs, which give the gecko the ability to climb and walk on almost any surface. The toes can curl upwards when they don’t want to stick to a surface.
The tails of a lot of geckos are stored with fat. But the tail of the crested gecko is very long and slender. At the end of the tail, there is an adhesive pad which helps to stay attached to small branches.
The tail of a crested gecko tends to break off easily in the wild. In captivity, most crested geckos will keep their tail if handled with care. Still, it’s possible that your crestie will lose its tail. When it falls off it won’t regenerate contrary to other geckos.
The female crested gecko has two ovaries and male crested geckos have two internal testes. Males don’t possess a penis but have two structures called hemipenis. The hemipenis is found behind the cloaca at the base of the tail. At this point, I won’t get into the sex of a crested gecko since this is a more advanced topic.
Crested Gecko Morphs
Crested geckos are polymorphic, which means that there are different color and pattern variations. In the wild, crested geckos come in a variety of colors including red, orange, yellow, brown, and gray. Morphs are typically patternless, white-fringed, and tiger. In captivity, breeders are capable of creating all kinds of beautiful morphs with strange names like moonglow.
To give you a basic idea of the kind of morphs you might encounter, I listed some of the most popular morphs below:
Interested in more information about morphs?
Check out our helpful and illustrated guide on crested gecko morphs.
Is a Crestie a Good Pet for You?
Now that you know what a crested gecko is, you probably want to know if it’s a perfect pet for you. This is not an easy question to answer because it depends on a lot of different factors, which I’ll try to cover.
Is a crested gecko a good pet? A crested gecko can make an excellent pet for older children and adults. They’re low-maintenance pets that can be tamed easily and will form a bond with you. Contrary to most pets the crested gecko is most active at night. Crested geckos can be held as solitary pets and in a small group. For new reptile owners – and even for experts – it’s a very suitable pet.
Questions to ask yourself
When you consider buying a pet it’s important to know if you can take for it. Before you buy yourself a crested gecko you need to know a bit more about its needs. Below are some of the most important questions that will finally determine if a crested gecko is right for you.
- does it require a lot of space?
- does it need a lot of attention?
- how easy it to take care of?
- are they easy to handle?
- is it easy to feed?
- does it match my budget?
- can I take care of it for as long as it lives?
- is it child-friendly?
Does it require a lot of space?
Crested geckos are active creatures that love to climb around in their cage. Cresties can be kept as a single (solitary) pet but can also be kept in a small group. You should adjust the terrarium size to the number of crested geckos you want to house. If you’re a beginner, I would recommend that you get just one crested gecko.
The most popular housing for crested geckos is a vertical terrarium or vivarium with enough room for branches and plants.
To give you an idea of the space you need: a terrarium for one juvenile crested gecko (older than 6 months) will need to have at least the following measurements:
- 12 inches (30 centimeters) wide
- 12 inches (30 centimeters) deep
- 18 inches (46 centimeters) high
If you want to house an adult crested gecko or a pair of crested geckos you’ll need to have a terrarium with at least the following measurements:
- 18 inches (46 centimeters) wide
- 18 inches (46 centimeters) deep
- 24 inches (61 centimeters) high
Remember that this is the minimum size of the terrarium and that a bigger terrarium will usually be better. An adult should be placed in a 20-gallon terrarium or larger.
So contrary to most other pets, the crested gecko is a tiny pet that doesn’t need a lot of space. You’ll only need a terrarium for it. Cresties can be housed almost anywhere, even in small apartments. You don’t need an entire garden or piece of land for it. Only a small place in your home.
Does it need a lot of attention?
Crested geckos are nocturnal animals that will seek their hiding places during the day. If you – like a lot of people – spend most of the day working, your crestie won’t mind. This is ideal as you can spend time with it after you come home from work.
Be aware that they are quite skittish animals that are amazing climbers and jumpers. So they may not be that easy to handle the first days or weeks. Once they get to know you this will change. It also helps if you buy a younger crested gecko so they can bond with you. Also never take the gecko by its tail. It can fall off as a defense mechanism and won’t grow fully back.
If you don’t want to handle your gecko that’s no problem. A lot of gecko owners consider their pets as “show” or “exhibition” pets and don’t handle them except for cleaning the terrarium.
How easy it to take care of?
Crested geckos need a nice terrarium and regular feeding. You don’t need to take them out for a walk or comb their hair. Feeding them is very easy and while you can handle them it is not necessary. They are a kind of pet that you can just look at and see what kind of funny business they are up to.
Are they easy to handle?
Geckos aren’t dogs or cats. This means that they don’t like to be handled all the time. You have to remember that crested geckos are still a quite “new” pet that isn’t used to being handled by humans all the time. But if you do things right you can handle them from time to time. Just make sure they’re not stressed or their tail may fall off.
They will rarely bite and if he bites you, you probably won’t feel it. It’s a bit like a fish biting your skin.
Is it easy to feed?
Feeding a crested gecko isn’t that difficult. It’s as easy as giving food to your dog or cat. There are a few popular brands of crested gecko food (meal replacement powders or pellets) around. You can find these in most pet shops and they don’t cost much. If you like to give something extra you can also occasionally feed them insects, worms and fruit.
A little note: cresties don’t need to eat every day. They should be fed about three or four times a week.
Does it match my budget?
A lot of pets have hidden expenses like vet bills. But crested geckos are quite straight forward. Of course, there are the so-called starter costs. You’ll need to buy a terrarium, substrate, plants, food and your crestie. Cresties and their gear don’t cost a lot. Still, you can expect these costs to be between $200 and $300 depending on where you live and the quality of the gear you want. You can go all in and buy a crested gecko of $3000 or you can get one that costs $40.
The most important recurring cost is food and that doesn’t cost a fortune. You don’t need to take a crested gecko to a vet on regular visits like other pets. Still, it’s best to budget some money each year for veterinary costs so you won’t be taken off guard when you do have to take your crestie to the vet.
Can I take care of it for a long time?
This is one of the most important questions you need to ask yourself. Although there isn’t known a lot about the life span of crested geckos there is some consensus that they live 15 to 20 years in captivity. This means that you need to be certain that you or your children will take care of it for that time. If this is a little bit too long of a commitment, you can also try looking at pocket pets that have a shorter lifespan such as hamsters or rabbits.
Is it child-friendly?
Crested geckos are really friendly animals that can bond well with their owners. If you’ve got children, you want to be sure that your pet is child-friendly. Children can be really interested in pets and want to hold and play with them. A crestie won’t usually bite and they are easy to take care of. So easy that a child can do this. It’s a perfect pet to introduce your (older) child to herpetology.
In general, they’re child-friendly animals but you’ve still got to be careful. You have to make a distinction between young and older children. In either case, you should always supervise your child when it handles an animal for the sake of the animal and your child.
It’s best for young children to not have access to the terrarium and to just let them watch the crested gecko in its terrarium.
Older children can handle a crested gecko but they should always use both hands when doing this. Make sure that your child knows the right way to pick them up and handle them.
Why wouldn’t you want your children handling your pet?
It’s fairly simple. Your child might not know the right way to handle such a little and fast pet and grab it for example by its tail. Or while handling, your child can make sudden movements that make the crestie afraid.
If your crested gecko gets frightened it will try to escape (and might fall). An escaped crestie can be really difficult to catch because it’s tiny and fast. The resulting stress can also cause harm to your crested geckos’ health.
An important reason why your children shouldn’t handle your pet is that cresties can be the carriers of some bacteria and fungi that can be dangerous for humans. The most common infection that can be transferred is an infection with the Salmonella bacteria. People with a weak immune system, like children, are more susceptible to these infections. So limit the handling by your children and always let them wash their hands before and after handling.
When not to get a crested gecko
I advise you NOT to get a crestie as a pet if your perfect pet:
- gives and needs a lot of attention
- likes to cuddle with you
- is active during the day
In that case, you should get a more suitable pet like a dog or a cat. You also need to be sure that you’re willing to take care of your pet lizard for at least a decade or two.
Crested gecko or leopard gecko?
Crested geckos are not the only suitable gecko for people that want to get a reptile. In fact, a lot of people online might suggest that you should get a leopard gecko instead.
A leopard gecko can indeed make an excellent pet and also is considered to be low-maintenance. But crested geckos and leopard geckos are different on so many points. Honestly, there are so many differences that I won’t bother you with them in this article. The only thing they seem to have in common is that they are both excellent starter pets.
I would suggest that you read more about the differences between crested geckos and leopard geckos in this article and decide for yourself. If you ask my opinion I would highly recommend getting a crestie because they are very easy to take care of and are also a bit easier to feed.
To Sum It Up
crested gecko, eyelash gecko
dense rainforests of New Caledonia
10 to 15 years (up to 25 years)
arboreal and nocturnal
Is a crested gecko able to climb and jump?
Crested geckos are arboreal geckos that love to jump and climb on branches and leaves. They’re expert jumpers and climbers and you need to be very careful when handling them.
Is a crested gecko a nocturnal creature?
Crested geckos are crepuscular and nocturnal animals, meaning they’re primarily active at dawn and dusk and tend to hide away during the daytime. It’s possible that your crestie also is a little bit active during the day especially when it’s disturbed in its sleep.
Do I need to be an expert to care for a crested gecko?
No, as already mentioned above, the crested gecko is an excellent pet for beginners and experts. They are low-maintenance and don’t need any special care. There are special meal replacement powders to feed and they don’t need to be handled like other pets.
Now that you know what a crested gecko is and if it’s a suitable pet for you, you can continue to the next chapter in the guide: Preparing for a Crested Gecko.
Let me ask you a question
Convinced of getting a crestie? Or do you still have questions? Don’t be afraid to let me know in the comment section. Also, be sure to check out the Reddit forum about cresties.