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Rhacodactylus Ciliatus (Crested Gecko)
Origin: This animal originates from New Caledonia.
Size and Longevity:
Approximately three inches at birth, the Crested Gecko can average eight to ten inches in length as an adult. With proper care these reptiles can live 10 to 15 yr. in captivity.
This is one of the easiest geckos to care for. They thrive in captivity and are easy to breed and handle. The Crested (also called the Eyelash) gecko is arboreal with a prehensile tail making it a great climber and jumper. The ‘fringe’ starting over the eyes continues down the head and sides of the body. The setea on the footpads permits this climber to negotiate most smooth surfaces with ease. There are also lamellae pads on the tail tip. The tip of the tail is used as an ‘additional hand’ permitting the lizard to move from limb to limb and stretch to reach nectar or lunge for an insect. The Crested gecko is often referred to as a ‘Crestie’ and has the entertaining ability to change color. Though it may appear drab at times, they can alter to a bright orange, yellow, red, green or even a dark brown. Some specimens have shown black spots. Though newer to the pet industry, this ability already has avid Collectors busy working on new morphs.
Habitat and Caging Requirements:
Reptiles are Ectothermic (having a body temperature that varies with the environment). In most cases, the Crested gecko does very well at room temperature needing no heat source as it requires a daytime range of 70 to 75 degrees F. Avoid temperatures above 80 as this reptile originates from a cool forest climate and will stress in higher temperatures. Accurate temperatures should be determined with a digital probe thermometer or an infrared temperature gun. The temperature can drop as low as 65 F. at night with no ill effects and most reptiles benefit from a cool down at night. Temperatures below 65 degrees F. for a prolonged period can result in respiratory infections. The reptile will move around within its habitat to obtain thermoregulation (control of its body temperature).
High humidity can result in respiratory issues as well as mold and skin problems. A relative humidity of approx. 60-80% is recommended for this animal to insure health and proper sheds. The moisture level can be measured with a hygrometer. A screen top should be used on the cage to reduce too high humidity. Mist plants, bedding and the sides of the tank at least once daily, 2-3 times a day is recommended. The gecko will drink droplets from the glass or furniture (vines, cave, etc.) in the tank. A shallow water bowl should be provided for drinking and cleaned as needed, at least once daily. A dark hide (commercially produced coconut ½ shell or a small reptile cave) should be provided in addition to permit the animal to feel secure while it sleeps during the day. If slate/rocks are stacked, be sure they are secured and cannot slide to injure or crush a pet.
Think vertical space for this climbing reptile. Exercise is part of your pet’s health. Net enclosures are not recommended since this gecko requires a semi-humid habitat. Provide vines, branches and sturdy plants for climbing and hiding (clean weekly as needed). For adults, substrates which hold moisture such as bed-a-beast, orchid bark, eco earth, coconut fiber, cypress mulch, sphagnum moss and peat mulch can be used, or two or more can be combined. The easiest substrate to clean is paper towels. Babies and young animals should only be housed on paper towels. It makes it easier for young animals to find their food and catch insects reducing the risk of impaction (ingestion of particles that clog/block the intestines) as well as making it easy to monitor the new gecko’s droppings. Clean as needed, at least weekly. Stay away from wood chips, sand or other fibrous ground cover for Crested geckos of any age.
A 20 gal. long tank stood on end will house one individual comfortably or commercial habitats are available. Due to being territorial, two males cannot be kept together however you can house one male with two or more females. Several females can be housed together if the space is adequate. Always provide as much space for your pet as you can afford.
If a male is kept with females, they will breed.. Either toss newly laid eggs or be prepared to incubate and care for the young.
Temperature and Lighting Requirements:
Crested geckos are nocturnal (active at night) so UVB lighting is unnecessary. However they do need a white light source to simulate a day/night cycle. Bright light from a window works fine during summer months and on days that are not overcast. Daylight should be provided for 12-14 hours a day. A low wattage red spectrum light located above the tank may be used in the evening to encourage normal activity for viewing since the reptile doesn’t see in the red range and will think it is dark. If a light is used, it is recommended to hang it above the tank – not resting on the glass.. Glass conducts heat well and can overheat your pet or result in burns. This is a vocal species capable of emitting clicks, squeaks and grunts. If you are a light sleeper, the bedroom is not a good place for the tank.
Your objective is to provide the pet with a temperature gradient to move around in and not exceed its cool and hot requirements. There is no “so many watts for so many gallons” formula to offer you. The temperature in the habitat will vary depending on the light source you use and your ambient room temperature. It must be established and monitored. This animal requires 12-14 hr. of daylight a day which can be provided with a normal low wattage household bulb hung above the tank or by locating the habitat near a bright window but NOT in direct sun. It requires a day time temperature not exceeding 80 degrees F. and can drop as low as 65 F. at night without health issues.
Feeding and Nutrition:
Get to know your pet’s tail! Odd as that may sound – it is the indicator of his overall health. If the tail stays the same and he’s not eating? He’s okay. Reptiles do have periods where they just lose interest in eating and don’t need calories.
If you do not have an accurate reptile/postal scale, the easiest way to do this is to photograph the reptile the day it arrives. The settling in period may cause some to get uneasy and not eat. This doesn’t mean they are in trouble. If it takes two weeks before he eats – it just does! Take another picture once he resumes eating and compare them. If his tail is the same – he’s fine. So there is no need for you to stress, or to cause him to, because you are pestering him with your worry!
Since this animal is nocturnal it doesn’t get sun to help it process vitamin D. MBD (Metabolic Bone Disease) is a real concern. Vitamin or calcium powder should include Vitamin D3 (aids with the absorption of vitamin D) unless a MRP (Meal Replacement Powder) is being used and it contains the vitamin. This vitamin is mandatory for nocturnal animals. Babies’ gut loaded (fed good foods prior to being fed to your pet) insects should be dusted (place the insects in a baggie with small amounts of the vitamin and calcium powders and shake to coat them) 3-4 times a week and an adult’s gut loaded insects should be dusted 1-2 times weekly. Calcium powder without D3 should be provided in a shallow bowl within the habitat at all times.
Insects can pose an impaction risk. Your animal’s head is the feeding guide throughout its life. Insects should be no larger than the space between the reptile’s eyes to avoid a choking or impaction risk. If on occasion you can’t find insects of the proper size – offer more of a smaller size instead of one that is too large.
There is a bit of controversy about whether or not Cresties need live insects as part of their staple diet. The research is too new to determine the long term effect of denying your pet feeder insects. If you aren’t too squeamish, it is recommended that the diet also include gut loaded and dusted insects. Crested geckos are omnivores (feed on both animal and vegetable substances). Their natural diet consists of fruit, insects and nectars. In captivity however, many keepers are using a fairly new commercial Crested Gecko Diet (CGD) manufactured by T-Rex (formulated by Allen Repashy) and mashed or pureed fruits such as bananas, apricots, peaches, pears, passion fruit, papaya, mangoes and commercial baby food fruits supplemented with calcium powder as the staple diet. When using a MRP (meal replacement powder) be sure to read the ingredients and determine if vitamin D3 is included. If so then do NOT use calcium or vitamin supplements that contain D3 when dusting the insects. Too much of this vitamin can result in an overdose. Many keepers add powdered bee pollen to the fruit mix to more closely duplicate the nutrient content of flower nectar which is part of the gecko’s wild diet while others say it is unnecessary.
Staple & Supplemental Insects:
The staple diet should be an insect which can be gut loaded (fed nutritious foods before they are fed to your reptile). Crickets and roaches are the preferred bugs of choice due to the ability to gut load them easily. Both are available for purchase on line or crickets can be obtained at your local pet store. Please do NOT feed your pet wild caught insects as this introduces fertilizer, pesticide, petro-chemical, fungal, bacterial and parasite issues.
Variety is the key to life so you can spice things up for your pet by offering new food items. Supplemental insects include nutritious soft grub-type worms such as Silk (seasonal & feed on Mulberry leaves) or Phoenix (highest in calcium) and if size appropriate, Superworms (all can be ordered on line or at most pet stores). Meal worms have a very high chitin shell content compared to the little meat ratio and are not a good staple insect. They are very hard to digest and pose impaction risks for young or sick animals. Butter and Wax worms should be offered sparingly as a treat item only due to their high fat content, but are useful to put weight on a reptile in trouble.
Feed your young pet all the gut loaded and dusted insects it can eat in half an hour to an hour, depending on how bad a hunter it is. This is a good reason smaller and uncluttered enclosures are a good housing for babies. Increase the size of their home as they grow and become better hunters. Aesthetically pleasing is not always best for the pet. Feed an adult all it can take in 20-30 min. Remove uneaten insect as they pose many problems. The insects are not gut loaded beyond an hour. They will clean the dusted powders off in an hour. They will climb on and bite your pet. They will graze on the feces and then – do you want your pet to eat them? Many reptiles bothered by insects left in their habitat will cease to eat at all.
Handling and Care:
Juveniles and adults alike take well to being held. Rough handling can result in a dropped tail.. The tail will NOT regenerate so added care should be used during handling.. The tail is important to the health of the animal as fat reserves are stored there. In the event a tail is lost, the animal should be separated from others and housed on clean paper towels until the wound heals to reduce the risk of infection and ensure the animal is getting enough to eat. A tail can be shed as a defensive reaction to being handled. As with any new animal, it will need a “settling in” period. The animal should be observed but not handled when it first arrives for a full week, possibly two. It may not eat for several days, up to a week, until it feels secure in its new surroundings and begins to eat. During this time, the animal should not be handled. It should not be handled until you are sure it is settled and eating well.
If your animal is still not eating within a week, double-check your husbandry (housing size, floor substrate, hides, temperatures, humidity, etc.) with reliable instruments. His basic requirements must be accurately accounted for. Peel and stick or round meters are simply unreliable. An animal being housed too cool or too hot cannot digest properly and may not eat.
The temptation to hold a new animal is overwhelming. We know this. We have the same impulse. Resist it. This can’t be stressed enough: “Give your gecko time to settle in.” Your pet will acclimate more quickly and you will reap the benefit of owning a happy and healthy animal. Give it time to adjust to the sights, sounds, heat, light and smells of its new home. It takes time. Handling causes stress and delays eating. During this time, talk softly to your new pet when cleaning or feeding to help him get used to you.
After 1-2 wk. the long awaited moment will arrive. This has given you time to observe your pet and come to know its particular habits. Wait until the pet is awake and active. When you begin to handle your pet start slowly for the first few days and keep handling minimal (1 – 2 minute once a day) to permit the animal to become secure that when you touch it, it will not be harmed. A ‘hand over hand’ method is recommended. Place the animal on your forearm and allow it to walk the length of your arm. As it nears your hand, place the other arm under and forward of the first, permitting the reptile to walk from one hand to the other arm without being restrained or frightened. Be diligent and prepared to prevent the animal from jumping or falling with an open hand to block it. Avoid grabbing the reptile or making big/fast movements. When returning it to the habitat, simply cup a loose hand over the pet using your fingers as a ‘cage’ to prevent it from jumping or running and to stress the reptile as little as possible.
Slowly increase the time of handling by 2-3 minutes every few days to give the reptile time to trust you and in no time at all – you’ll have a trusting pet that will enjoy time with you.
Do remember – the tail will NOT regenerate. Use care when handling.
Determining sex can be difficult for the novice at any age. Your new gecko will need to be six to nine months of age or older to easily determine sex visually. Determining gender in younger animals is very difficult. You can gently lift the gecko clasped between your pointer-finger and thumb or turned it gently onto its back in your palm and observe the vent area. A male will have a central hemipene bulge on the tail side of the vent and a faint “V” shaped row of slightly enlarged pores on the ‘tummy’ side of the vent.
The female can have this row of pores, but they will be very small and not shiny. She will lack the bulge on the tail side of the vent.