Do you have a new crested gecko?
Do you want to make sure you have the setup for its habitat just right?
A properly set up habitat is essential in keeping your pet happy and healthy for a long time, but it may be tricky if you’re new to this fun reptile.
We’ve got you covered with this guide for crested gecko habitat setup.
Crested Gecko Native Habitat
Learning a bit about the crested gecko’s native habitat will help you understand how to create the best setup for an enclosure in your home.
The crested gecko is native to New Caledonia, which is located in the Pacific Ocean just 750 miles east of Australia.
The environment on the island consists of dense tropical rainforest, and the crested gecko spends much of its time near the bottom of this lush canopy, where the temperatures are cooler.
The average temperature for this area ranges between 71-75° degrees Fahrenheit (24° C) and will occasionally reach more than 80° degrees Fahrenheit (27° C).
The low temperature of New Caledonia rarely drops to around 50° degrees Fahrenheit (10° C).
The crested gecko will spend most of its day hiding in cool vegetation, but the gecko becomes more active when the sun sets.
While it may seem difficult to replicate the crested gecko’s natural environment in an indoor enclosure, we will go through the step-by-step process of creating the best habitat for your pet.
Providing your crested gecko with a natural enclosure will allow it to feel more comfortable and live a healthier life.
Choosing An Enclosure For Your Crested Gecko
The size and type of enclosure are the two most important factors to consider when setting up a habitat for your crested gecko.
Your local pet store will usually offer a wide variety of enclosures and will usually have someone on hand to answer any questions you may have.
Be sure to choose a vivarium specifically made for reptiles, as a regular glass aquarium made for fish does not offer enough ventilation.
The Best Type of Enclosure
A glass vivarium is the best type of enclosure for the crested gecko, as it allows the proper humidity to be achieved within the habitat.
A wooden vivarium is not ideal because it will not support the high humidity requirements without being modified.
Mesh cages allow the crested gecko to climb freely, but the constant draft will make your gecko more susceptible to respiratory illness.
The enclosure will also need to have a mesh lid to prevent the crested gecko from escaping.
The Best Size of Enclosure
Since crested geckos are avid climbers, the ideal vivarium should be taller than it is wide.
This will allow you to grow tall plants for your gecko to climb up and into, giving it natural hiding places where it feels safe.
The optimal size of the vivarium depends on the age and size of the crested gecko.
Hatchling and small juvenile crested geckos will do well in a 1.5-5 gallon vivarium, and larger juveniles can live in a slightly larger enclosure up to 10 gallons.
Adult crested geckos should have a vivarium of at least 20 gallons for a single reptile or 30 gallons for two geckos.
The smaller-sized vivarium is better for the hatchlings and juveniles, who may have difficulty catching food in a larger enclosure.
The younger crested geckos also aren’t as adept at climbing yet, so they do not need the extended climbing space.
An excellent habitat for a single adult crested gecko is this one from Exo Terra.
The glass vivarium measures 18″ x 18″ x 24″ inches (46 x 46 x 60 cm) and features front opening doors for easy access for feeding, cleaning, and controlling the temperature and humidity.
Adult male crested geckos should never be housed together because they will become aggressive and fight each other.
A male may be safely housed with one or more females as long as there is ample space in the enclosure, but it is advised to periodically remove the male to keep him from becoming too aggressive.
Remember to Avoid:
- Glass aquariums made for housing fish due to their lack of proper ventilation
- Mesh cages because they are too drafty
- Vivariums need to be longer than they are tall since crested geckos need the vertical climbing space
- Housing two male crested geckos together
The Best Substrate And Plant Life For Your Crested Gecko Enclosure
When you have found the best enclosure for your crested gecko, the next step is to choose a proper substrate.
A substrate cushions the bottom of the vivarium enclosure and aids in keeping the optimum humidity within the enclosure.
For hatchling and juvenile crested geckos, the best type of substrate to use is paper towels.
Since young crested geckos may have more difficulty eating without accidentally ingesting some of the substrates, paper towels are the preferred choice to avoid impaction.
Impaction occurs when a gecko ingests foreign particles it cannot digest, and these particles form a mass in the stomach.
This mass prevents the crested gecko from having a bowel movement, and if the condition is not treated promptly, it will become fatal.
A paper towel substrate is also inexpensive, easy to clean, and holds enough moisture to help stabilize the enclosure’s humidity.
Once your crested gecko reaches adulthood, you will be able to switch the substrate to a more natural option and create a bioactive substrate capable of supporting plant life.
The substrate should be at least 3″ inches (7.5 cm) deep in the bottom of the vivarium, so the crested gecko will have plenty of room for digging.
How to Create a Bioactive Substrate for Your Crested Gecko Enclosure
A bioactive substrate is the first part of creating an enclosure resembling the natural habitat of a crested gecko.
Bioactive enclosures not only contain a natural substrate, but they are able to support plant and insect life as well.
Small insects, known as “custodian insects,” are added to the substrate mixture to help break down waste and aerate the soil for healthy plant growth.
A bioactive enclosure is practically self-sustaining as long as the proper temperature and humidity requirements are met, and it is very low maintenance when it comes to cleaning.
There are many commercially available bioactive substrate mixes consisting of soil, sand, peat moss, coconut coir, orchid bark, and cypress mulch.
Soil should make up at least 40%-50% of the substrate mixture and not contain any pesticides or fertilizers.
The peat moss and coconut coir help retain moisture, while the sand, orchid bark, and cypress mulch help with proper drainage.
Adding certain types of good fungi and custodian insects such as springtails and isopods will help the bioactive setup thrive and help maintain the enclosure’s cleanliness.
You should add a top layer of leaf litter to add nutrients for the custodian insects, and it should be removed and replaced if it becomes soiled.
The Best Plants for Your Crested Gecko Enclosure
When choosing plants for your crested gecko enclosure, be sure to choose ones without any added pesticides or fertilizers whenever possible.
Many plants sold in pet stores are specifically animal friendly, so be sure to check them out.
The easiest plants to keep in a bioactive enclosure include pothos, creeping fig, weeping fig, rabbit’s foot fern, and bromeliads.
These plants are all hardy, fast-growing, and do not require a lot of light.
These tall, leafy plant varieties will support your crested gecko’s need to climb as well as provide it with plenty of natural hiding places.
When placing the plants in the vivarium, be sure to avoid overcrowding by having at least 50% free space in the enclosure.
Substrates and Plants to Avoid
Substrates consisting of cedarwood shavings should be avoided as they are very toxic to crested geckos.
Reptile carpets are not ideal for a crested gecko enclosure due to the high humidity requirements.
You should also never use cat litter or gravel as a substrate because these significantly increase the chance for your crested gecko to become impacted.
When choosing any sand to use in the bioactive substrate mix, be sure to use play sand, as it is less dusty and is non-toxic when used in small amounts.
NOTE: We don’t recommend sand.
Likewise, the soil used in a bioactive mixture should be organic to avoid any pesticide contamination.
Some plants to avoid using in a crested gecko enclosure setup due to their toxicity include:
- Voodoo Lilies
All of these plants contain high amounts of oxalates or other toxins, and they will make your gecko ill if it ingests any of them.
For more information on bioactive substrates we have an article on how to set up a crested gecko bioactive substrate that goes into deeper detail on the topic.
The Best Lighting For Your Crested Gecko Enclosure
Once you have placed the substrate, custodial insects, and plant life in the vivarium, it is time to choose the proper lighting.
Since the crested gecko is a nocturnal animal, meaning it is more active after dark, some reptile enthusiasts believe you do not have to supplement the enclosure with special UVB lighting.
It has since been suggested to provide a low level of UVB lighting, around 5%, for benefits to overall health for your crested gecko.
When you are using any lighting, be sure to angle the light from the back to the enclosure’s front.
This lighting angle will provide a nice temperature gradient while giving the crested gecko plenty of dark places to hide and cool down.
UVB lighting also helps the crested gecko synthesize vitamin D3, which is essential for the proper absorption of calcium.
If you want to learn more about what UVB does for these reptiles read our post titled “Do crested geckos need UVB to live?“
A calcium deficiency will lead to metabolic bone disease, which has no cure and is fatal to crested geckos.
Proper lighting is also essential if you have a bioactive enclosure with live plants, as they will need the light to grow.
When choosing plants for your crested gecko’s enclosure, be sure to research the optimal lighting requirements for each plant to ensure they will thrive within the habitat.
Lighting also raises the temperature in an enclosure, so be sure to monitor this carefully to avoid overheating your crested gecko.
Use a timer to set a light cycle of 12 hours on, 12 hours off to provide your crested gecko with equal days and nights.
Never place the light directly onto the mesh enclosure lid because the crested gecko could get burned if it climbed to the top and touched the bulb.
Providing The Proper Temperature In Your Crested Gecko Enclosure
Because of the slight rise in temperature caused by certain types of lighting, you should always monitor the enclosure temperature.
Crested geckos do well in temperatures ranging from 70 to 80° degrees Fahrenheit (27° C).
If the temperature of your house stays within this range, there is no need to add any heat lamps or other heating sources to your crested gecko enclosure.
Never let the temperature of your crested gecko enclosure go above 82° degrees Fahrenheit (28° C).
Prolonged exposure to high temperatures will lead to death in a crested gecko due to stress and dehydration.
Remember, never place a light or heat source directly onto the mesh lid because the gecko may decide to climb to the top of the enclosure, and it could get burned quickly.
Crested geckos are cold-blooded animals, which means they rely on external temperatures to regulate their body temperature.
Unlike other reptiles, however, the crested gecko isn’t known to be a basking animal, so it relies on the ambient temperature to warm them.
The temperature at night should never drop below 65° degrees Fahrenheit (18° C), even for short periods.
Maintaining Proper Humidity in Your Crested Gecko Enclosure
When you have the substrate, plant life, lighting, and temperature requirements met, you are ready to start maintaining the proper humidity.
Invest in a good digital hygrometer to measure the humidity in your crested gecko enclosure every day, as humidity is an essential factor in a proper crested gecko setup.
The optimal humidity for a crested gecko enclosure should be between 50%-80%, with a fluctuation throughout the day.
To add humidity to the enclosure, you will need to lightly mist the entire habitat with purified water until the humidity reaches 80%.
When the humidity in the enclosure drops to 50%, lightly mist the habitat with purified water once again until the humidity goes back up to 80%.
Repeat this process throughout the day, allowing the humidity to drop to 50% before misting again to keep the enclosure from becoming too moist.
If you are not able to be around during the day or night to mist the enclosure, invest in an automatic mister or fogger.
These handy devices will add humidity to the gecko enclosure at timed intervals.
Be sure to check the hygrometer regularly if using an automatic mister or fogger to ensure the enclosure is not becoming too humid.
Also, be sure to use distilled or reverse osmosis water with the automatic mister or fogger to avoid harmful bacteria.
Allowing the Bioactive Enclosure to Cycle
Once you have your crested gecko enclosure set up with the proper substrate, plant life, lighting, temperature, and humidity, you should allow the enclosure to run for at least one month before adding your crested gecko.
This will allow the plants to properly root in and for the custodial insects to breed and form a routine.
During this time, you should strive to maintain the proper temperature and humidity at all times.
When you finally add in your crested gecko, maintaining the optimal environment will be second nature, and you will have learned what to do to control the temperature or humidity.
This one-month time period also allows for the nitrogen cycle to occur, making it much easier to maintain a stable environment.
Adding a Hide and Other Decorations to Your Crested Gecko Enclosure
While crested geckos need a place to hide to feel safe, it is usually unnecessary to add an artificial hide as long as you have a few well-placed leafy plants in the enclosure.
Placing a hide on the vivarium floor is usually a waste because crested geckos rarely spend time on the bottom of the enclosure.
A crested gecko would much prefer to climb amongst plants all day.
To further aid in their climbing adventures, there are branches and logs to add within the enclosure.
Most pet stores sell these branches and logs specifically for reptiles, with each type of wood serving a particular purpose.
Cork bark is naturally mold resistant, so it is an excellent choice for a humid crested gecko enclosure.
Although not as mold-resistant as cork bark, Mopani wood is also an excellent and affordable option.
To offer various climbing surfaces and interesting shapes to the crested gecko enclosure, add a few grape wood branches.
These branches are on the expensive side, but their gnarly offshoots create plenty of ways for your crested gecko to climb.
If you choose to add wood you find on your own, you will need to disinfect it before placing it into the crested gecko enclosure.
To disinfect the wood, first, scrub the wood in a 5% bleach mixture.
After scrubbing, preheat your oven to 300° degrees Fahrenheit (149° C) and bake the wood for 30 minutes.
Baking the wood will sterilize it and make it safe to add to the enclosure.
Some safe woods for your crested gecko enclosure include birch, oak, and maple.
Decorations to Avoid in Your Crested Gecko Enclosure
Avoid using real rocks in your crested gecko enclosure because they are heavy and may cause injury to your pet if they fall on them.
Instead, use one of the many fake rock options available in most pet stores to create ledges and places to climb.
The fake rock products are made of foam and are painted very realistically, and they attach to the vivarium walls with aquarium-safe adhesive.
Adding a Feeding Ledge to Your Crested Gecko Enclosure
After you have everything else set up in your crested gecko enclosure, you will need to accommodate your pet’s eating habits.
Since crested geckos spend most of their time climbing, you will need to create feeding ledges to place their food up off the ground.
Any food or water dishes placed on the bottom of the vivarium would likely be ignored as the crested gecko rarely ventures to the ground.
There are specially made reptile feeding ledges, which attach to the wall of the vivarium and usually offer enough space to accommodate a small bowl for food and another for water.
In addition to always having a dish of fresh, clean water available at all times, a crested gecko will also lick water droplets from plant leaves, so be sure to mist the plants regularly as humidity allows.
Where To Place Your Crested Gecko Enclosure
When you get your crested gecko enclosure completely set up, the final thing you will need to consider is placement.
Where you place the enclosure in your home will have a huge impact on the stress level of your crested gecko, as well as its overall health.
You can check out our post on signs of stress in crested geckos to see if you need to make some changes.
To make your crested gecko more comfortable with you, place the enclosure at waist height or slightly higher.
Always approach your crested gecko from the same level as the animal to avoid startling it.
The crested gecko should be able to climb as high as the top of your head
Place the enclosure in a quiet area of your living room or a dedicated reptile room.
If you choose to keep your crested gecko in a separate room, be sure it is a room you will have to pass by frequently during the day.
This avoids any chance of neglecting your crested gecko and encourages you to interact with it so it will become comfortable with you.
Be sure there is proper lighting and temperature in the room at all times as well, especially if keeping your gecko in a separate room.
Where to Avoid Placing Your Crested Gecko Enclosure
Keep your crested gecko enclosure away from open vents, radiators, direct sunlight, and cold spots.
A crested gecko will suffer from heatstroke if kept at too high of a temperature, while lower temperatures will cause respiratory diseases.
You will want to avoid placing your crested gecko enclosure in your bedroom because the reptiles are very active at night and will likely wake you up as they make noise.
Never place your gecko enclosure in a garage or shed, as not only are these rooms usually colder than other rooms in the house, but exhaust fumes are also very bad for your pet.
Avoid placing the enclosure in a closet because this makes it too easy to forget about your crested gecko accidentally, and a dark closet does not provide a healthy environment.
How To Properly Maintain Your Crested Gecko Enclosure
A bioactive enclosure needs less maintenance than a traditional reptile habitat, but there are things you should be doing regularly.
Most of the cleaning will involve keeping the glass free from dirt and other smudges.
Plants will need to be trimmed regularly, and more leaf litter will need to be added about every six months.
You may also choose to add beneficial fungi and a few trace elements to the substrate every few months to provide some extra nutrients for the custodian insects.
Use a plastic fork to turn and aerate the substrate every couple of months to keep it from becoming compacted and to provide more air in the soil for plant life.
This aeration will also open up new areas in the soil for the custodian insects to inhabit.
Shelving, branches, and other decorative objects may be removed periodically for deep cleaning.
Here’s our post on how to clean crested gecko tanks to give you a step-by-step process to go by.
By following these steps for setting up a crested gecko enclosure, you are giving your gecko the best type of habitat for maintaining its health and happiness for many years.
These simple guidelines, along with careful monitoring and maintenance, will allow you to establish a routine for the proper care of your crested gecko.
It is important to create the best crested gecko setup in addition to a healthy diet and regular vet check-ups.