The eye-lash crested gecko (Rhacodactylus Ciliatus) is among the most popular and simplest reptiles to have as a pet. They do not require anything high-tech or complicated or fancy for housing, lighting, or food. But as a warning, they are addictive! You can't have just one!
They have a smooth, soft body that can feel like velvet when in your hands (or as they climb along your arm), feet that enable them to climb the decorations in their tanks and the walls of the tank, and their signature "eyelashes" over their eyes. Add to this the wide range of vibrant colors and patterns, and you can understand why they have become SO popular.
Remember, as with ANY pet, they are not meant for short-term. With proper care, these geckos can live at least 15 to 20 years. One really needs to be sure that this is the right pet for your environment, your pocket-book and your intent. They are depending on you for their life.
Before you get a male or a female, a baby or a juvenile or an adult, you need to have the housing addressed and ready. The basics are the same across the board, but let's break it down. The first thing to know is to NEVER put more than one gecko in the same tank! It doesn't matter how big they are are, or how big the tank is ... JUST DON'T! Males are very territorial and will hurt (or kill) the other, and females are fairly similar but not always quite as violent. In either case, you will at best end up with one smaller than the other (guess who is eating all the food and being a bully?) and maybe a lost tail. At worse you will find one or the other dead.
The crested gecko does not need extra heating, but does need a set day & night light rotation. Most Exo Terra or Zoo Med terrariums have available light hoods (not the round lamps), and you do not need neccessarily to use any lighting like UVB or such, but this is still open for discussion. Try to have some natural light available, if possible, but do NOT let the sunlight hit the tank directly, as this can cause the internal temperature to rise. Mine do perfectly well on 9w spiral bulbs from the local Dollar Store. It is easiest to use a timer for the day & night lighting, and they are easily found too.
If you choose to start your collection off with a baby, it will most likely be unsexed (tricky to tell the gender until about 10g but I have seen babies be sold as young as 1 or 2 months old, and as little as 4g), and handed to you in a small plastic deli cup or container. This is NOT its normal housing! I would generally set a baby/hatchling up in what's called a "Kritter Keeper" immediately once they hatch, and these keepers come in a variety of sizes. They are clear acrylic terrariums, and I house my babies in a small one (9" L x 6" W x 6.5" H) with just the bare basics for decorations to make it easier to monitor the baby gecko’s health. If it is too big the baby can get lost and also have a hard time finding food which can result in a dead baby, and that no one wants. For flooring, I use a simple paper towel. You want to be able to monitor the baby for eating and pooping, so this is the best. You will need to add a small place for it to hide in during the day as this type of gecko is nocturnal and will not be very active during the day, in most cases. I use a small half log deco and some small fake leaves along the back wall. You can also use a very small terracotta planter but be sure to brace it against rolling – better to be safe than sorry.
When the baby gecko reaches a weight of about 7 - 14g you can safely rehouse it into a larger terrarium, such as a 12" x 12" x 12" tank. I would keep using paper towels for flooring, but you can "upgrade" a few things, if you will. You can use the same half-log hide, or look into a slightly larger one if you want. Since they do like to climb, it would be of great benefit to add some hanging vines and some items to climb on, such as twisted or bendable thick vine or an official tree-like structure (available at PetCo or PetSmart). Make sure it will support the gecko weight. You can get whatever decorations and such you want - you don't want it too sparse either. The gecko needs to feel secure to reduce any stress from activity around the tank, so the more places to hide, the better it will feel. At this stage, you can also look into a small feeding ledge since they do like to eat OFF the ground. As babies they don't care so much, but as they grow it is their preferred method. As well, there is less chance of them getting stuff into their food and water. Mind you, like any pet, they will still poop where you don't want them too. It's in their nature!
At the weight of 15g or so, you can move them into a larger tank, such as an 12" x 12" x 18" terrarium. This is a taller tank, but most of the decorations will be fine from the smaller one. In fact, I would recommend using the same decorations etc tank to tank when you can (granted some stuff will need to be bigger, of course) as I have found them to be very particular in where things are. They do not like when you re-arrange their furniture. The only main differences at this point would be some longer hanging vines (like the ones with the suction cups to hold them securely to the glass), a bigger hide and a larger feeding ledge.
When they reach a weight of 30g or so (about a year and a half in) then you can safely move them into their forever house, as I call it. You can go bigger, but why? They are quite content in a terrarium of 18" x 18" x 24" and there is enough room for some great decorating. You can do a lot, and have fun. All my males, for example, have a skull of one type or another in their tanks, and the females all have bright flower vines. For decorations, there are some great items you can get at your pet store, but I have found some great stuff at the Dollar Store too. I have 2 or 3 tanks with the ceramic Japanese lanterns which my guys love to curl up inside of. The tanks do come with either a rock-type foam background, or if you can find the funds, go for one of the Exo Terra special edition ones. They do one each year, and you can use that to base your decorating around. I have an older one (bought used) with the Aztec background, so I decorated around that for the crested that lives inside. It never hurts to check what the used places have too, like kijiji or craigslist or whatever you have available. You might be surprised what you can find. You want stuff for them to hide in and climb on that also looks nice. Also, be sure to check the aquarium stuff for some great tank items. Just be sure to remember that the geckos will be climbing, so avoid anything with sharp or jagged edges. I recommend against using branches etc you grab from outside, as there is a high risk of parasites and chemicals and other unsafe things that will very likely tag along. Do not add a waterfall or anything of that sort, as crested geckos can NOT see standing water very well, and thus there is a risk of drowning.
If you feel safe in doing so, you could look at different flooring, too. When my geckos get to a safe age, I usually change them up from paper towels to a substrate, like "plantation soil". It's a hard brick that you soak in some water so it goes from a rock to dirt. You want to watch the crested gecko for a bit on this, as there may yet be a concern for impacting. Some cresties will eat the dirt (silly things they are) and if it gets inside and they cannot pass the dirt out the other end, it can be a major health risk. I have found it to be more of a risk depending on their food at that time as if they are eating crickets off the dirt, they will more easily eat the dirt too if not careful. Just take the time and make sure it is broken up, and there are no sticks or pebbles in the dirt for them to eat.
There is also the repti-carpet option. It is easy to clean and such, but it can hurt and damage their feet... yes, they do have teeny tiny nails that can get caught and ripped by the carpet. It is more suited for other reptiles, like leopard geckos. Some people like "eco earth" (same brick idea) but it holds moisture and humidity more than I like. You can add moss in the corners and along the edges for a means to add humidity and they can hide in there if the gecko wants. Some people like to do a naturalistic set up, with real plants, soil, hydroponic balls, drainage, and such. It looks amazing, but it can be more complicated. I will leave that option for you to research. Sorry.
Regardless of which size of gecko you choose, there are a few constants, like the day/night rotation, and temperature & humidity levels. They are originally from a tropical area, but have been captive bred for so long that the "old" climate is no longer as suitable for them. They do not need any extra heating, and can actually do well at normal room temperatures of between 72F and 80F (22C to 25C for those otherwise), but they do NOT do well above this temperature. I have found it helps to use a fan or even an AC unit in a different room and a fan to circulate that cooler air. The higher heat can cause the geckos stress, which can lead to them not eating, and worse. Keep this in mind when debating a gecko, because if the temperature control is not an option, then neither is a gecko. Let's just be smart. On the same note, a back-up plan in case the power goes out on a hot day, or in the cold of winter, is simple and smart. One idea is a cooling pack, or even a smaller area than the room to cool them off (bathroom with cool water running etc) or some way to keep them warm when the temperature drops with a power outage. Remember, in either case, it is a TEMPORARY thing - and not meant for long term. For daily care, you should do a thorough misting of the tanks each night, and let it dry during the day. You can use a spray bottle from the Dollar Store, but be sure it is set on a gentle wide-area spray. Just as you don't like get sprayed, they are not fond of it hitting them directly. I tend to spray the walls and decorations of the tank enclosures as they will more likely get their water from the dripping leaves and such, with the occasional visits to their water dish to lay across it or lap at it with their tongues. In my experience, I have found the need to get new bottles regularly based on the amount of spraying to be done - it wears out the head of the spray bottle and it simply fails to spray. So again, the Dollar Store is great. With the misting, you can help get the nightly humidity up to 90% or so (which is where you want it). During the day, as things dry, the humidity is fine dropping to about 55% or so, because if it is too humid around the clock, it can lead to skin infections and shedding issues for the crested gecko, as well as cause constriction around the toes and tail. The humidity levels are important to help them shed properly, and a flat dish of water helps to maintain the humidity in the tanks. If a gecko gets dehydrated, the dorsal (back) skin will look like a small mountain range when rubbed or pinched. It is essential to keep your gecko properly hydrated, with clean water dish and nightly misting.
There are a few options for cleaning the tanks, but it breaks down to personal choice. When cleaning ANY of the tanks, you should always be sure to remove the gecko into an alternate container. Some use deli cups and lids, while others use a small critter keeper. Just remember to put a damp (not soaking wet) paper towel in the container as the gecko may poop or such while in there. In the baby and younger gecko tanks, you should replace the paper towel weekly. Obviously the food dish should be replaced at each feeding, and make sure there is no food or poop in the water. Yes, they love to do that, and trail food footprints all over. You can dispose or wash & re-use these dishes if you want, too.
There are a number of cleaning products on the market designed for helping get poop and hard water marks off the tank walls, and there are also basic simple options. Some people swear by the basics of white vinegar and water, with a lot of rinsing to be sure there is no residue left behind on the walls from the cleaning. A favorite product of mine is called "Healthy Habitat" and it is so simple to use. Once you have cleared any substance (poop or food) off the walls (just the dried pieces the geckos have decorated with), I will spray a small bit onto a small scrubbing brush, or if it is a particular mess, I will spray it directly onto the glass walls, then I scrub away at the mess and the hard water stains. You should be able to feel a difference when it has got the hard water off the walls, and then you take a cloth and hot water to rinse it off. After that, I use an old hand towel to dry it all off before putting fresh dirt and replacing the decorations and gecko back into the tank. I do have a couple other items yet to try since I ran out of Healthy Habitat and the store has closed down, but so far I am not a fan of the Flukers Cleaning bottle with the scrubber attached to the head of the bottle. It seems a bit soapier than I like, but I have yet to try the other items.
The crested gecko is not a picky eater, but like any being, there are some exceptions. While in the wild, they generally enjoy over-ripe fruit and live bugs. But remember, they are captive bred now, and thus the wild aspects do not apply as much. They do still enjoy bugs and fruit, but not as wild caught bugs for example. In the past, baby food was the recommended main source of food given to crested geckos, but it has since been since been found that baby food lacks the necessary nutrients geckos need, as well as a big contributor in MBD (metabolic bone disease) which leads to a damaged and deformed reptile. There are better options now on the market, with my favorite being the REPASHY line of gecko foods. I recommend any of that line, but I have found my cresties will most enjoy the Repashy Crested Gecko MRP (meal replacement powder), the Repashy Grubs 'N' Fruit Gecko Diet, and the Repashy Crested Gecko MRP Mango Superblend. It's simple to use, and they will eat it up. It lists to mix 1 part powder and 2 parts water, but I find it is better with a smaller ratio of water. It makes a bit thicker but you can try it the 2 to 1 ratio since it is a matter of trial & error to find what your geckos will eat. Like humans, gecko tastes and desires can change, so I usually alternate which mix I will feed them to give the variety. There are other brands out there, but I feel that if you are going to give the crested gecko the best care possible, then go with the better food. Don't be alarmed if during the cooler months you notice them eating a bit less than normal, as this is normal. If it is too hot they can do this too.
Some additional options are crickets, dubia roaches, and Calci or Phoenix worms. As before, there are some items NOT recommended to feed to your gecko, such as mealworms (the shell is hard for them to digest and breakdown), and waxworms (very fatty). You don't want to offer the insects daily, but rather once a week. I dust the crickets that I feed my geckos with calcium powder (Repashy SuperCal MeD) before letting them feed on the treat. The crickets serve a dual purpose - it gives them calcium but also a chance for some exercise aka they hunt the crickets, and it is a blast to watch at times too! The rule of thumb is to get crickets no bigger than the width of the gecko's head. To be safe, I have (in the past) asked the staff at my local PetSmart to bag the crickets into separate bags for each of my geckos, so I can dust and put into the individual tanks. Be aware that not all geckos will eat them, but that's just the way they are; just like picky eating kids. I do have the other extreme with at least one of my cresties that loves his crickets to the point I can barely get them into his tank before he is hunting them down. Keep in mind that if the crickets are too big, or there are too many, the crested gecko may NOT eat them and the crickets may cause harm to the reptile. Try to not give more than 5 crickets or 3 roaches at most at a time. I have not yet tried my cresteds on the dubia roaches, so I can't really say much about them. There are some who love them as they do not roam free in the gecko enclosures, and can be fed to them as young as 3 weeks old.
As bugs go, do NOT use crickets etc that are captured outside as they can (and most likely do) carry parasites and will have gotten into pesticides and other chemicals. This toxic stuff is not needed inside your reptile's stomach. Either buy from a reliable and trusted source, or raise your own. Expos are a great source if you are near a location where they hold expos regularly, or buy from a known pet store.
With the right care and attention, captive-bred eyelash crested geckos can live around 15 or more years, grow upwards of 45 grams with the tail, and there are some that will exceed that and reach near 70 grams. They can grow to be about 8inches/20.3cm from nose to tip of the tail. The larger the size the more of a health risk it can be for the gecko, similar to it being a health risk for people. An overly heavy gecko can have reproduction risks, and make them susceptible to MDB even. I have a couple in that range, and am working on ways to get them back to a proper weight by giving a thinner food mix. It’s a slow process, but it IS working.
As the gecko grows, it will shed its skin, similar to other reptiles. If the humidity is right, the gecko will start the process by licking its nose to start the process. From there, it will either chew it off or rub against something to get the skin off. You will be hard pressed to find any of the shed afterwards, as the gecko will normally eat the shed skin. When the gecko is in the first stages of the shedding process, I have noticed they appear to be a slightly duller skin tone than normal. In order to assist them in the shedding, be sure to keep moisture and humidity at the correct levels. An incomplete shed has a risk of causing constriction to the tail and the digits. If you are seeing this happening, you may need to check the humidity level of the enclosure - it may be too damp or too dry. The humidity should be around 90% when you mist the enclosures at night, and be sure it dries out a fair bit during the day. If the reptile is having shedding issues, you can give them a bit of a sauna to help. This entails a small tupperware container with a very moist papertowel (lukewarm, NOT hot) and a few holes for breathing. With this in place, you can let them sit there safely for about 15 mins but do not walk away from it! Be sure to monitor your pet always during this sauna. When the time is done, you can try to help remove any shed by rubbing it gently with your fingers or with a cotton swab.
Eyelash crested geckos do not actually have eyelids, so this can mean a couple things to be aware of. When they are sleeping, the pupils with be tiny thin slits. If they are not hiding (like they should be during the day, being a nocturnal creature) you may see this. You may also get the chance to see the gecko lick its eyes, which is how they clean and moisturize their eyes.
There are a lot of colors and patterns (morphs) found on the eyelash crested gecko in the wild, and with captive breeding even more combinations have come about, with more and more being found every year. The gecko can also alter their color and intensity. While they are sleeping, they will tend to be a lighter or more muted tone. But when they are awake at night and more active, the colors can be more intense and vivid. This is also known as being "fired up", and can be triggered with night misting and with a UVB light.
These geckos are a climbing gecko, or arboreal, and are very good at jumping. Obviously, this means taking extra care when handling, when moving to clean the enclosure, and feeding. You should be sure to handle the gecko in a safe place, where it will not have a great distance to the floor if it jumps. I have had several of my cresties jump from my hands while I was standing, and they have landed on the bare floor (no carpet) with no ill after-effects. If anything, they have scared themselves to the point they will let you pick them up with little chance of more jumping. They can jump fast, and the babies & juvies can be very fast moving, as well. With time and practice, you will be able to tell when they are getting ready to jump, but they can still fool you!
Most crested geckos will take to being handled well, but this can take time and practice as well. You want to start with small interactions, and wait a few months of age if it is a hatchling as I have found the younger they are, the more hyper-sonic they will be. To start, even with the babies, you should just let them get used to your hands by placing one inside the enclosure without trying to touch or move towards the gecko. It will move towards your hand when it is ready and feels no threat from you. When ready, you can put one hand flat in front of the gecko, with fingers just under or around it, then use your other hand to lightly touch the crestie's back or rear legs to encourage it to move forward onto your hand. They tend to accept the open flat hand better than a "claw" reaching at them from above. Once the gecko is sitting in your hand, you can then let it walk from hand to hand by placing your open flat hand in front of the other. It gets them used to you and gives them some exercise. My cresties will use their tongue to "taste" the skin to be sure of who it is, but they also know me otherwise. You should handle the gecko regularly to check the reptile health, but not all of them will like it - some will tolerate it well, while others will not care about being handled. Be sure to start with a short amount of handling time, every few days, and then building up to about 15 mins or so. You can form a bond with them, but it will not be the same as cuddling with your cat or dog of course. I have some cresties that will not have anything much to do with handling (but working on them) but then I also have some that will sit calmly on my arm for 2 hours or more! If you take the time to give your crested some one on one, hands on time, you can achieve some great results.
The crested gecko also has a tail that can wrap around branches and fingers to slow down its jumps and also to help with balance. The tip of the tail has ridges very similar to the toes, which helps greatly when the gecko is moving downwards along a branch, for example. The tail also has a defensive aspect, as the gecko will "drop" the tail if it is in a situation where it fears for its life, whether by a predator or simply a very loud noise that can scare them too. It will drop the tail which will keep moving and wiggling after it has dropped as a way to distract the attacker, enabling the gecko to make it's escape. The area where the tail drops from will heal fairly well (keep them on paper towels and the enclosure immaculate) but will NOT grow back. You will most likely just see a nub or something there, and after a short time they will be fine with balance etc again. A tail-less gecko has no less personality and attitude than any other gecko, but may be referred to as "frog-butt" gecko. I personally have a male and two females without tails, and they are just perfect.
When they are born, and even until they reach 5 to 7 grams, it can be hard to tell the gender of the crested gecko. A male gecko will start to develop a bulge (the hemi-penile bulge) behind their vent around 5 grams of weight, but sometimes it can take longer to be noticed. A juvenile male can be determined by looking at their ventral (the bottom) of their back legs, with either very good eyes or a by using a jeweler's loupe (10x or better in strength) to see if there is a line of pre-anal pores, or not. Females may develop a fatty deposit around this same area, which can be deceiving. All crested geckos will have two small white bump on either side of the vent (referred to as the cloacal spurs), whether male or female.
It is very important to know which vet in your area is able to help maintain the health of your reptile prior to getting a reptile pet. Not all vets are able to handle reptile pets. There are certain things to look for in regards to ensuring it is a healthy reptile. You want to look for clear, bright eyes equal in size, a clean vent ("butt"), the tail straight without any kinks or sharp curves when the gecko is at rest, and the skin is free of open sores, mites, or random bits of stuck shed.
If you are adding a crested gecko to an already existing collection, it is highly recommended to quarantine it for at least 2 months, with some suggesting 3 full months. During this time, you must be sure to clean your hands thoroughly (even under the fingernails) before handing the new addition after handling any of your current collection so as not to transmit anything, and thus nullifying the point of the quarantine. If possible, keep the new gecko in a separate room and tend to it after your other geckos. Think of it like a baby in way too, monitoring it for proper eating, pooping and general health. A proper waste will be a combination of white or clear liquid stuff (urates) and more of a solid brown pellet (feces).
It is a good idea to get a decent scale for weighing the geckos and monitor their growth and weight. Be sure it will weigh to the nearest tenth of a gram for the best results, and take a weight of the gecko once or twice a month. A drop in weight can be an indication of a health problem, so a regular weight check can catch an issue early.
If the tail is bent to one side from the vent, or flops over the gecko's body, this is commonly called FTS "floppy tail syndrome." It used to be thought to be caused by a lack in calcium, but is now thought to be caused by the gecko sleeping on the wall with the head downward from the tail (causing the tail to flop forward) or by a weak genetic line in combination with sleeping habits. It can also cause hip problems in the gecko, so it is not a good thing all around. It can be avoided by ensuring there are a multitude of items for the gecko to sleep on that encourage it to wrap the tail around, preventing the flop action.
A wavy or zigzag tail can also be a sign of dehydration, or a diet low in calcium. A diet low in calcium can lead to MDB (metabolic bone disease), and can be identified by swollen legs, a soft or mushy looking jaw, and the lack of ability to cling to surfaces. If this happens, it can lead to brittle bones, so be sure to watch the diet includes the proper amount of calcium. There are a few ways to check the calcium level of your crested gecko stores, and the best is to gently rub the sides of its mouth with your fingers (index & thumb) which will in most cases encourage the gecko to open its mouth. You will see two tiny white bags at the back of the geckos mouth, the male having smaller bags as he does not need the calcium for the eggs like the female does. You should only need to check the calcium if you are seeing issues with the eggs as too much of this mouth/handling can cause undue stress.
Any health issues beyond these, TAKE IT TO A VET!
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Some awesome resources for care:
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