Crested Geckos: Enriching the Captive Environment
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Crested Geckos: Enriching the Captive Environment
By Jennifer Greene
There are a myriad of care sheets out there today on exactly how to raise, breed, and maintain Crested Geckos. The majority of these care sheets are quite basic, and focus on the simplest method possible of maintaining your geckos and simply keeping them alive. While these care sheets are the best way to get started in caring for your new gecko pet, they do sadly lack in options for those who want to go above and beyond simply keeping their gecko alive. What about the person who wants to set up their geckos in a more naturalistic way, or wants to offer their gecko more than just a powdered diet? Many folks get trapped in a simplistic set up and maintaining their geckos with the bare minimum, which works if you have large numbers of them or want their care to be as simple and streamlined as possible. But what about the person with a pet or two, who wants to do more than just have a gecko in a box? This article should help you find ways to enrich the captive environment for your Crested Gecko, in addition to any of your other Rhacodactylus species - Leachies, Gargoyle geckos, any of those types of geckos.
The first place to start with cage enrichment is to simply increase the size of your gecko's cage. Many keepers start off in a fairly small cage, especially for baby geckos, which is adequate. It is often much simpler to maintain babies in a small cage, but this same attitude does not necessarily apply to adults. A couple of adult crested geckos can live in a 20 gallon tall tank, which is 24" wide by 20" tall, and 12" deep. However, to really get the most out of them, try keeping them in some of the larger natural terrariums - the 36"x18"x18" for example, up to the 36" x 18" x 36" cage. These larger sizes allow you many more options in cage decor, lighting, and microclimates within the cage.
A larger cage offers the space Crested Geckos will use to leap from perch to perch, such as from the branches of a small ficus tree or from cork pieces. In a truly large enclosure, you can plant a couple of small ficus trees and then along the back of the cage, prop up some cork flats and/or cork hollows. Crested Geckos love to sleep in cork hollows, and you will likely find that yours pick the same cork hollow or flat piece to sleep in day after day. Try not to add too much decor to your cage, though. It's important to keep large gaps between branches and vines so that your geckos have space to jump. To see for yourself how much your geckos love jumping, flip the lights back on after you've had them off for half an hour or so. Your geckos will be out and active, and you'll likely even hear the distinct "Thonk! Thonk!" of them landing on the sides of the cage.
If you have a hard time affording the large glass aquaria that are ideal for setting up a more naturalistic looking cage, consider using a large mesh cage a few days a week. You can get a fairly large mesh Reptarium for a fraction of the cost of a similar sized glass aquarium, but Reptariums are lightweight, easy to set up, and easy to dissemble if need be. The perk of a Reptarium over/in addition to a glass cage is that during suitable weather, you can put your Crested Geckos outside. Do not put them outdoors in direct sunlight, or in temperatures below 65 or above 85. However, within that range, some exposure to natural sunlight is an excellent way to bolster your usual care regimen for your gecko. It is true that as nocturnal animals, Crested Geckos do not get much exposure to direct sunlight and high levels of UVB the way a desert animal such as a Bearded Dragon would. However, mild amounts of UVB still penetrate into shaded areas, so wild geckos would still receive small amounts of UVB, making it something to consider including in the captive environment (although geckos can and will survive without UVB if supplemented correctly). Keep in mind that UVB does not penetrate easily through glass or window screens, so while keeping your gecko's cage next to a window may brighten the cage up, it will not receive the same beneficial UVB as it would if it were outdoors.
If keeping your gecko outdoors is not an option (your climate is too cold or too hot for too much of the year), consider lighting as another way to enrich your gecko's captive life. Use of a 5.0 UVB bulb on cages 12" or taller is an excellent way to provide the kind of moderate UVB that is all your gecko needs. If your home's ambient temperature is 75 degrees or cooler, you can also use a small basking or daylight bulb to create a small heat gradient within the cage. In a large cage, you can place several cork hollows under the heat light, and offer your geckos the option to sleep in the warmer end of the cage or the cooler end. You'd be surprised at how often your gecko will seek out warmer temperatures, perhaps not basking outright like a diurnal lizard would, but sleeping directly under or behind the exposed basking spot. The option to seek out warmer temperatures also makes it easier for your gecko to digest meals, making it an option to feed a wider range of prey items.
Many caresheets recommend feeding exclusively the Repashy Crested Gecko Meal Replacement Powder, or MRP for short. While the MRP has been designed as an exclusive diet, it can be beneficial for your gecko to have food items other than that. Live insects such as crickets are relished, especially by younger geckos. Insect prey items should be lightly coated in a calcium powder containing D3 (for geckos housed exclusively indoors), or in a plain calcium powder for those that get regular and prolonged exposure to natural sunlight. If you have large adult Crested Geckos, consider offering regular sized to giant sized mealworms once a month. Not all geckos will consume mealworms, but offering them once in a while to add variety to your gecko's diet is not a bad thing.
In addition to live insects, you can also mix canned insects into your gecko MRP. ZooMed Canned Caterpillars are often relished, especially by Gargoyle Geckos, and if you don't want to try live crickets then canned ones are an option instead! Just mix in a few with your MRP and wait to see them eat them. Your geckos may not immediately eat the canned insects, and if that's the case, try skipping a meal or two before offering the canned insects again. If your gecko is healthy, just skipping a meal won't hurt it at all - but it will sharpen its appetite, making it much more willing to try new foods. One more thing to add to the MRP for variety is fruit. You can use the ZooMed canned fruit Mixins, especially if it is hard to find nice, mushy tropical fruit in your area, or you can use overripe fresh fruit. You don't need a ton of fruit, just a little bit, but the extra sweetness is relished by the geckos. Try different fruits until you find what your gecko enjoys the most!
A word of caution on adding fresh fruit to your gecko's diet: don't put in too much! For example, when adding it to the mix I prepare for my geckos, I use only roughly one teaspoon per 2 or 3 spoonfuls of MRP. In addition, this is only done every other time I offer the MRP - this is to ensure that my geckos get the nutrients in their MRP without getting picky and eating only the fresh fruit. Variety is great, and it is good to spoil your geckos with fresh food, just keep in mind that the MRP does contain all the vitamins and minerals your gecko needs. Make sure that your gecko gets MRP at least every other feeding to ensure a balance of appropriate vitamins.
In closing, keep in mind that it's important to match your enrichment options to your situation, and to use a bit of common sense when deciding what to try. A large cage with nothing in it is not any better than a smaller cage that's adequately furnished, and if it's too cold or too hot outside you will not be benefiting your gecko by putting them outside. Experiment with changes to the diet gradually, and don't be discouraged if it takes a couple of tries before your geckos start to regularly eat canned insects. Crested Geckos operate at cooler temperatures than many other species of pet reptiles, so their appetites and activity levels are lower than what you may expect. Give them time, and try one thing at a time! With the addition of a few enrichment options, your gecko will likely become more robust, colorful, and active. Female geckos that are laying eggs should maintain a better weight and bounce back more quickly after each clutch, improving their overall and long term health. There's nothing to lose by enriching your gecko's captive environment, and only health to gain!