Crested Gecko Behavior & Health

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In our introductory article to crested geckos, I mentioned the first time I encountered one of these lizards at a reptile expo in the late 90s. Crested geckos had only been rediscovered a few years earlier, so I wasn’t terribly familiar with the species. But while chatting with the lizard’s owner, I started to suspect that these lizards were going to become very popular.

We’ve already discussed how easy these lizards are to care for, but as I watched this little gecko move around his temporary habitat, it became obvious that they are entertaining to watch too. They stalk crickets in a cat-like fashion, and they often hang out in places that made them easy to observe. They even lick their eyes every once in a while, which is adorable to watch.

But I still had one big question rattling around in my mind: I wondered if these geckos were easy to handle. After all, there are numerous other attractive and easy to keep geckos on the market, but many don’t respond well to handling.

So, I asked the keeper about handling the lizard. A wry smile crept across his face, as he placed his fingers under the lizard’s chin. This simply caused the little gecko to crawl right up in his hand. From there, the gecko calmly explored his newfound perch, while flicking his tongue from time to time. From that point forward, I became convinced that these little guys were going to become incredibly popular. All these years later, it turns out I was right.

We’ll talk more about some of the common behavior crested geckos exhibit and discuss the best ways to handle them too. We’ll also provide a few tips for recognizing the subtle signs and symptoms that may indicate that your pet is sick.

Crested Gecko Behavior & Body Language

Crested geckos are typically deliberate lizards, who move cautiously and carefully through their habitat. They may occasionally pounce on a cricket or leap from one perch to another, but they spend most of their time simply clinging to their preferred perch in the enclosure.

In fact, you’ll likely find that your crested gecko will seem to have a favorite place to hang out in his habitat. This tendency can be helpful for keepers. If, for example, your lizard begins hanging out in a different part of the enclosure, you may want to investigate the situation carefully.

It is possible that your pet is perfectly healthy, and he just decided to switch things up for a day. But it can also indicate that he is suffering from an illness or that there is something wrong with his preferred perching location. Perhaps the temperatures in the habitat have strayed from his preferred range, or the perch may have become soiled with feces, urates or shed skin.

Similarly, it is important to familiarize yourself with your pet’s body language, as deviations from the norm may indicate a health problem. It’s difficult to characterize the typical body language of crested geckos, but you’ll certainly learn how your gecko typically carries himself after caring for him for a short time.

Just try to note differences in his walking speed, the height at which he holds himself above the substrate or the way he carries or waves his tail. Not all differences indicate a problem, but they deserve further scrutiny.

Crested Gecko Common Behavior

Crested geckos exhibit several different unusual and interesting behaviors. Try to familiarize yourself with the three discussed below, so you’ll know what to expect when you bring your new pet home.

Skin Eating Behavior

Crested geckos often consume their shed skins. In fact, the first “meal” for most hatchling crested geckos will be their shed skin! However, there’s no reason to worry if your gecko doesn’t eat his shed skin – some refrain from doing so from time to time.

This is actually a common behavior of many different lizards, and they probably do so to avoid wasting any minerals or nutrients contained in the skin.

Tail Wagging Behavior

Tail wagging is one of the most interesting and entertaining behaviors crested geckos exhibit. They do so in a variety of different ways and for a variety of different reasons.

Sometimes, crested geckos will wag their tail when they feel threatened. This is likely an attempt by the lizard to focus any imminent attack on the tail, rather than the head. They will often jettison their tails following these types of displays, so don’t touch your pet’s tail if he starts wagging it back and forth.

Crested geckos will also wag their tails in other contexts, although it can be tricky to decipher their motivation or reasons for doing so. In some cases, it appears to be their way of communicating with other crested geckos. At other times, it may be associated with elimination behaviors.

Vocalizations

Although some crested geckos remain pretty quiet, others are rather vocal creatures. These lizards will emit a variety of sounds, including chirps and squeaks. Unfortunately, it isn’t always entirely clear why they emit these vocalizations.

In some cases, the vocalizations seem to be defensive in nature. In other situations, their vocalizations appear to be emitted for territorial reasons. It is possible that they also play a roll in helping males to attract females.

Crested Gecko Unusual Behavior

From time to time, you may see your crested gecko exhibit unusual behaviors. This is usually no cause for concern (we all do strange things from time to time – why should geckos be any different?). However, it should cause you to observe your lizard a little closer than usual, to ensure that he is healthy.

For example, crested geckos who are suffering from intestinal illnesses may spend more time than normal trying to defecate. They may also defecate more often than usual. In such cases, you’d want to take your lizard to the vet.

As another example, crested geckos who are having difficulty shedding may begin moving in unusual ways, as they try to free the stuck skin. They may even use their mouth to help free the skin, which can make it appear as though your lizard is biting himself.

This type of problem rarely requires veterinary assistance. Instead, simply moisten a paper towel and gently rub the area with the attached skin. Just be careful that you don’t apply excessive pressure or grip your lizard too tightly while doing so. If the skin won’t come free easily, return your gecko to his enclosure and repeat the process the next day (assuming the lizard hasn’t resolved the problem himself in the meantime).

How to Handle a Crested Gecko?

While it is important to avoid handling your gecko too frequently, as this can lead to stress, most will tolerate occasional and brief handling sessions.

Even if you aren’t interested in directly interacting with your pet very often, you’ll occasionally find it necessary to do so. For example, you may need to inspect your lizard closely for signs of injury or illness. You’ll also need to remove him from the habitat during routine cage maintenance too.

Fortunately, it is pretty easy to handle a crested gecko. We’ll explain the process in detail below:

  • Start by removing any other pets (such as dogs or cats) or unruly children from the room. This way, if your lizard should leap to the ground, he won’t be in immediate danger. It may also be helpful to dim the lights slightly to make your pet feel safer.
  • Open the habitat and place your hand inside. Be sure that you do so quickly and deliberately. This will help prevent your lizard from feeling stressed or fearful while you gather your nerve.
  • Place one or more fingers in front of your lizard’s face. Don’t be alarmed if your lizard flicks his tongue or tastes your skin – this is just his way of learning about his surroundings.
  • Try to gently slide your finger or fingers under your gecko’s chin. Apply gentle, upward pressure at the same time. This will often stimulate the lizard to crawl onto your hand.
  • Once your pet has walked completely on your hand, you can remove him from his habitat. Try to let him walk around on your hands without directly grabbing him or impeding his movements.
  • When it is time to return him to his habitat, make sure you let him walk from your hand to his favorite perch on his own.

Use Caution to Prevent Your Pet from Shedding His Tail

As mentioned earlier, crested geckos will readily shed their tail if frightened. Most keepers want to avoid this, as crested geckos don’t regenerate their tails the way some other lizards do.

Fortunately, if you simply handle your pet gently and avoid touching or grasping his tail, you can usually avoid this problem. Additionally, be sure to pay attention to your pet’s body language. If, for example, he begins exhibiting signs of stress during a handling session, quickly and gently return him to his habitat.

It is also wise to watch for tail-wagging behaviors. Crested geckos often begin wagging their tails when they’re threatened, and they’ll often drop their tail shortly after doing so.

Illnesses and Diseases: The Signs of a Sick Crested Gecko

Like many other reptiles, crested geckos rarely display obvious signs of illness. Accordingly, it is important for keepers to observe the animal closely so that they can take prompt action when necessary.

Some of the most notable signs that indicate your crested gecko may be ill include the following:

  • Food Refusal – Crested geckos may stop eating if they are suffering from internal parasites, gastrointestinal infections or improper husbandry (typically inappropriate temperatures).
  • Nasal Discharge – Any type of discharge that comes from your pet’s nose may indicate the presence of a respiratory infection.
  • Lethargy – Crested geckos who don’t exhibit typical behavior patterns and activity levels may be suffering from a variety of illnesses, ranging from respiratory infections to nutritional deficiencies.
  • Malformed Limbs or Jaws – Crested geckos can suffer from metabolic bone disease if they don’t receive enough calcium in their diet. This can manifest as soft or misshapen bones.
  • Poor Sheds – Poor sheds don’t necessarily indicate a health problem, but if they occur frequently, it may suggest that your lizard is dehydrated, stressed or ill.
  • Diarrhea – Loose or watery stools can be a symptom of gastrointestinal infections or parasite infestations.

If you notice any of the symptoms discussed above, you’ll want to take your lizard into your vet. Most of these problems can be treated, but prompt action is necessary. Remember, most reptiles don’t display visible signs of illness until they’ve been sick for some time.

One other important tip: Because crested geckos (like most other reptiles) can harbor bacteria that are dangerous to humans, always be sure to wash your hands with soap and water after handling your pet.

Conclusion

As you can see, crested geckos exhibit a number of interesting behaviors that make them very entertaining lizards to care for. Be sure to make some time to simply sit and watch your new pet. It’s probably most rewarding to do this shortly after turning the habitat lights off at night, as this is the time when crested geckos become most active.

In addition to the sheer entertainment value this provides, it’ll help you learn your pet’s typical body language and behaviors. This will help you recognize potential health problems quickly, so you can address the problem or obtain veterinary care if need be.

We hope that this information about crested gecko behavior and body language has been helpful. With luck, this will not only help you enjoy your pet more, but it will also help you be a more attentive keeper. If you’ve enjoyed this article, be sure to share it with your crested-gecko-keeping friends. This will help improve the experiences of fellow keepers and the lives of crested geckos everywhere.

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Ben Team

Ben Team

Ben is a life-long environmental educator who writes about the natural world. He’s kept and bred a diverse array of reptiles and amphibians over the last three decades, but he’s always been particularly fond of snakes in the genus Morelia and monitor lizards. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia with his beautiful wife and spoiled-rotten Rottweiler.

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