Crested and Gargoyle Geckos

(Rhacodactylus ciliatus & Rhacodactylus auriculatus)

Native Range:

Almost unbelievably, the Crested Gecko was thought to be extinct from the turn of the century until it was rediscovered in 1994! Now, due to the efforts of herpetoculturists, it is one of the most commonly kept and bred species. Like all other members of the genus, R. ciliatus & R. auriculatus are found only on the Islands of New Caledonia. There they inhabit forested areas, hiding under tree bark and in crevices during the day, emerging at night to hunt. Unique in appearance, large in size, and easy to care for, these geckos are quickly becoming established in the pet trade.

Size:

Approximately three inches long at birth, they average about eight to ten inches in length as adults. Juveniles are miniature replicas of the adults. Crested Geckos are rather variable in appearance, being colored browns, tan, yellow, rust, orange or even red. Various patterns of tiger striping may be present, and some specimens may exhibit black speckling scattered across the body and head. Many have a light ‘lichen’ pattern on the tail. This variability has already coined a number of trade names to describe the various colors, and more will be invented soon.

Handling:

These geckos will rarely attempt to bite, although they may do so if restrained. Handle gently, without pinching or squeezing. Remember that the tail may break off if handled roughly, and unlike most geckos it will not regenerate. Crested geckos are very calm and slow-moving, walking along until pausing to measure distance carefully before making a slow frog-like leap. If frightened, they may scamper up an arm and then stop to look back and see where the problem is. Until accustomed to handling; the gecko should be handled inside the cage or while sitting on the floor. A frightened gecko may leap out of the keepers’ hand and take a fatal fall if held while standing.

Caging:

Just about anything can be used, with a ten or twenty gallon aquarium being adequate for a single adult. When selecting a cage, pay special attention to the humidity needs of these lizards. Screen covers may provide too much airflow. These geckos have well developed adhesive lamellae and can easily climb smooth surfaces. As with many members of the genus, R. ciliatus possesses a unique adhesive pad under the tail to assist it in climbing. They are strong jumpers and climbers, and climbing and hiding areas should be provided. Cages should be equipped with a secure cover as keepers have reported their geckos having the strength to push up a loose screen cover and escape.

Substrate:

Some breeders prefer to maintain their specimens on plain paper flooring, while others suggest use of damp cypress mulch to aid in increasing humidity. Experiment to see what works best for you.

Food:

A variety of small insects and arthropods are eagerly accepted by these geckos. Hatchlings will feed on two to three week crickets and wax-worms. As they grow, provide larger crickets, wax-worms, and mealworms. Adult specimens will take an occasional pinkie mouse. Dust food with a calcium powder about twice a week to provide additional calcium for growing bones. Adults may be supplemented once weekly, unless females are producing eggs. This uses huge amounts of calcium, and supplements should be made daily. Additionally, crested geckos will eat fruit flavored baby food. Peach, nectarine, and banana are favorites, and vitamin or mineral supplements are easily added. Offer small amounts in a shallow dish about three times weekly. Several keepers add powdered bee pollen to the fruit mix, in hopes of duplicating the nutrients content of flower nectar more closely.

Humidity & Water:

Provide clean water in a shallow dish. Humidity should be moderate, and these geckos seem to enjoy occasional misting. If kept too dry, these geckos often experience shedding problems, particularly the toes. Stuck sheds on toes may harden and constrict the blood flow to the toes, causing loss of the toes. It may be necessary to reduce ventilation of the cage to increase humidity within. A humidity level of 50-75% seems adequate.

Heating & Lighting:

Conditions in their native habitat are quite mild, with average temperatures ranging from 65 to 85F, dropping to 55-65F in the winter. In most cases, normal household temperature is fine and no special heat source need be provided. No special lighting is required for these nocturnal animals.

Reproduction:

Adult males appear slightly bulkier than females, and can be distinguished by the presence a pair of very prominent hemipene bulges. Juveniles cannot be sexed until four to six months of age, when the hemipene bulges begin to appear. Do not keep more than one male per cage as they will fight. Eggs are laid in pairs, usually every four weeks. This will continue until the females’ fat and calcium reserves are depleted. If properly cared for, most females will lay from 16-20 eggs per season. Incubation averages 72 days, depending on temperature. Incubation temperatures ranging from 70-83F have all proven successful, and many breeders report that the temperature may even be allow to fluctuate within this range. Unlike many other geckos, the incubation temperature apparently plays no part in determining the sex of the offspring.

© 2000 VMS Professional Herpetoculture (http://www.vmsherp.com)