The Cute Crested Gecko, Once Thought Extinct, Is Now Bred by the Thousands

By: Mark Mancini  | 

crested gecko
Crested geckos (Correlophus ciliatus) love to climb, so if you get one as a pet, make sure to supply some vertical challenges. Alan Tunnicliffe Photography/Getty Images

Less than 30 years ago, the crested gecko (Correlophus ciliatus) was presumed extinct. Now it's one of the most popular pets in the world.

"Cresties" are small lizards with big personalities. Anyone looking to acquire their first reptile could do a whole lot worse. Correlophus ciliatus doesn't need much space and its heating requirements are easily met. Better still, this is the rare beginner's lizard that can get by without eating insects.

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Tales of the South Pacific

A French territory in the Pacific, New Caledonia sits around 900 miles (1,500 kilometers) east of Australia. It's made up of numerous islands and is notable for having one of Earth's largest coral reef structures.

Wild crested geckos — or "eyelash geckos," as they're sometimes called — can be found on the southern tip of the main island, Grand Terre. The lizards also reside on the nearby Isle of Pines and its surrounding outcrops.

Written references to these critters date as far back as 1866. Yet by the late 20th century, scientists began to worry that the species might've died out. Fortunately, sightings of live geckos on the Isle of Pines in 1994 proved otherwise.

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Leaping Lizards

Let's just say crested geckos aren't pandas. Following the '94 rediscovery, collectors soon found that Correlophus ciliatus would eagerly mate in captivity. Today, breeders and private hobbyists hatch them by the thousands.

Cresties grow to be around 8 inches (20 centimeters) long, with their tails accounting for almost half of that body length. And here's a fun fact for you prospective owners: The tail on this species is prehensile. It can grab hold of branches and other objects.

Like a lot of prehensile-tailed animals, the crested gecko is an avid climber. Wild ones like to scamper through shrubs and low-lying trees. Also, they can bridge the gaps between twigs by leaping for short distances.

Finally, cresties have toe pads lined with hair-like structures that allow them to scale vertical surfaces — including glass.

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Home Sweet Home

There is a lot to know about the science of crested gecko husbandry and if you're serious about getting a crested gecko, we'd urge you to check out resources like the Reptiles magazine online care guide or Phillippe de Vosjoli's 2012 book, "Crested Geckos: From the Experts at Advanced Vivarium Systems."

Having said all that, here's a basic introduction to housing your crestie.

Any pet that can scale glass walls needs an escape-proof enclosure. Most owners keep their grown geckos in 20-gallon (76-liter) glass terrariums with secure screen mesh lids. Babies can be held in a setup measuring half as large.

If you have to choose between a tall, skinny cage and a wider, shorter one, pick the former. Remember, crested geckos love climbing.

To that end, provide the animal with a few dried branches and maybe a small plant (of either the real or artificial sort — click here for a list of gecko-safe plant species). Be sure to leave some open spaces as well; cluttering benefits no one.

Hiding spots, where your lizard can retreat from prying eyes, are another must-have. Make sure to get a food dish and a water dish as well. Line the floor of your cage with reptile-friendly moss, mulch, coconut bedding or reprocessed paper.

crested gecko
A New Caledonian Crested Gecko (Rhacodactylus ciliatus) smiles for the camera.
Gilles MARTIN/Getty Images

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Heating and Handling

Keep your terrarium's humidity level at 50 to 70 percent. Monitor this by investing in a good hygrometer. While you're at it, buy a cage thermometer, too. Crested geckos need daytime temperatures of 72 to 80 degrees F (22 to 26.5 degrees C). Allow their homes to get slightly cooler at night.

Nighttime happens to be when cresties are at their most active. Whether they need ultraviolet lighting by day is a matter of some debate. However, an overhead heat lamp should definitely be on your shopping list. We'd recommend getting one that doesn't emit much — or any — light. Nocturnal animals prefer dim habitats.

Crested geckos are on the slow side, making them easy to handle. Never pick one up while it's shedding its skin, though. And because moving is stressful, refrain from holding any newly bought cresties for at least two weeks.

Handling sessions should be limited to 20 minutes or less. Be gentle and don't grab the tail. Let your pal crawl across your arms, or over your hands. Just be mindful of the fact that — once again — cresties do jump.

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Feeding Time

Pet stores now stock their shelves with nutritionally complete, pre-packaged crested gecko food formulas. Most are designed to be mixed with water before serving; check the labels for details. Lots of different flavors ("watermelon and mango," "banana and papaya," etc.) are available.

A crestie can be kept happy and healthy when fed nothing but these formulas. However, for variety's sake, some owners choose to give them live crickets dusted with calcium powder. Small pieces of bananas, mangos and certain other fruits can also be offered as treats.

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