Are you worried your crested gecko is stressed out and aren’t sure what to do about it?
If so, keep reading.
We’ve compiled a list of signs of stress in crested geckos, as well as several helpful tips for keeping them happy in the enclosure you’ve set up for them.
Crested Gecko Aggression
One of the most obvious signs of stress in crested geckos is aggressive behavior of any kind.
We’ll get into some more specific behaviors soon, but it’s important to always look out for aggression in your gecko’s behaviors.
Some of these aggressive behaviors include snapping, biting, lunging at you, or otherwise being resistant to your presence.
Even approaching an aggressive crested gecko is often a challenge, as they will carefully watch your every move and quickly lash out if you get too close.
While cresties are fairly low-maintenance, docile reptiles, they are also quite flighty animals who can leap long distances with almost no warning whatsoever.
Thankfully, the crested gecko’s teeth aren’t particularly sharp, so if your gecko does manage to take a bite out of your hand after lunging at you, it’ll likely be more surprising than painful.
Still, aggression, in general, is a top sign of a stressed crestie.
Typically, this means there’s an issue with their enclosure setup, but aggression also commonly presents in geckos who aren’t being handled properly.
Check out our tips for happiness at the end of this article for ways to remedy this issue as a crested gecko owner.
Your Crested Gecko Jumping/Running Away From You
Not all crested geckos display aggression when they’re stressed.
Most of them are more prone to fearful behavior rather than aggression when exposed to a stressful element of their environment.
A stressed, afraid gecko will avoid your presence at all costs, often leaping and skittering off to the corners of their enclosure any time you approach.
While it’s normal for a crested gecko to be a bit skittish when they first meet their new owners, it isn’t normal for them to constantly be fearful and alarmed.
This is especially problematic if you’ve had your gecko for several weeks or months, and they still just won’t let their guard down around you.
Usually, like with most of the signs of stress on this list, this indicates an issue with the gecko’s enclosure setup or improper handling.
Tail Waving In Crested Geckos
Have you ever noticed your crested gecko wiggling its tail?
Interestingly, this tail slithering behavior isn’t necessarily always a sign of stress.
In some cases, it’s a courtship behavior intended to attract and show interest in a potential mate!
However, if your gecko hasn’t been around any other cresties lately, tail waving is almost always indicative of stress otherwise.
It is believed tail waving in crested geckos is typically used as a defense mechanism intended to distract predators.
Since they can drop their tails, cresties will often catch the predator’s attention with their tail and drop it in front of them.
This gives them a chance to escape while the predator munches on their tail (or is simply baffled by the display and caught off-guard).
If your gecko is waving their tail at you frequently, they likely perceive you as a possible predator and a danger to them.
If there are no other geckos around them and they aren’t displaying any other mating behaviors, tail waving indicates stress.
Crested Gecko Mouth Gaping
Crested geckos are normally pretty non-threatening and even goofy-looking lizards, but they appear pretty fearsome when they open their mouths!
Unfortunately, while this behavior looks kind of cool at first glance, it’s also often a sign of stress.
To be clear, not all instances of your gecko’s mouth opening indicate them being stressed.
In some cases, your gecko is likely just yawning.
In other cases, it’s a sign of potential mouth rot if they don’t seem to do it in response to anything in particular.
However, if your dear crestie opens their mouth at you whenever you approach them, they’re stressed out by your presence.
This is somewhat normal if you’ve just brought your gecko home; some individuals are more skittish than others, and it’ll take time for your new pet to adapt to its new habitat and surroundings.
Mouth gaping becomes an issue, though, if your gecko is displaying this behavior excessively even after several weeks or months of living with you.
Look out for other behaviors on this list in combination with this one, like:
- Attempting to bite you
- General aggressiveness and irritability
- Rapid breathing
Your Crested Gecko Has Heavy, Rapid Breathing
Although crested geckos are a bit jerky and flighty by nature, they shouldn’t be panting or breathing heavily constantly.
Like humans or any other animal, rapid, heavy breathing is typically a sign of stress and/or fear.
Look at your gecko’s neck when you approach them. Is it contracting and expanding rapidly when you come around?
If so, they’re probably a bit stressed or upset by your presence.
This often means you’re either handling them improperly, have just brought them home, or there’s an issue with their enclosure setup.
Either way, rapid breathing is a clear indicator your gecko is on high alert and likely stressed out.
Lack Of Appetite In Crested Geckos
One of the great things about keeping crested geckos is their diverse diet.
Since they’re omnivores and not particularly picky animals, you have a wide variety of nutritious foods at your disposal to offer them, from various fruits and veggies to an array of insects for them to munch on.
A healthy, happy crested gecko will have a strong appetite and gladly pig out on just about any safe food you offer them, though some will have individual preferences for certain foods, too.
But if your gecko is refusing anything you give them, something is wrong.
Stress typically causes animals to eat less or, in severe cases, not at all.
Even the gluttonous crested gecko will experience a significant loss of appetite if something is off when it comes to their enclosure setup or if you’re handling them improperly.
This loss of appetite often becomes problematic quickly, typically leading to sudden weight loss or other health issues.
Stress is likely to blame if you’ve determined your gecko isn’t ill and still has a poor appetite.
For more reasons your crested gecko isn’t eating, click the link to see our article.
Your Crested Gecko Is Hiding
Like we touched on earlier, crested geckos are somewhat skittish animals by nature.
It takes time for a crestie to warm up to its owner, so to some extent, hiding from you is to be expected in the first few days or even weeks after you bring your new pet home.
It’s fairly common for your new crestie to run from you and hide away in the corners of their enclosure at first, but if it’s been months and they’re still hiding from you every time you come around, they’re almost definitely stressed out.
This stress typically comes from the way you handle them; if you’re too aggressive or rough with your gecko, it makes sense for them to hide from you.
Hiding means your gecko, for whatever reason, sees you as a potential threat and doesn’t trust you just yet.
Crested Gecko Digging/Burying In Substrate
Digging is another interesting behavior, in part because it has a few different meanings.
While excessive digging is sometimes a sign of stress from a gecko’s enclosure setup, it is also commonly displayed by gravid female geckos preparing to lay their clutch of eggs!
Additionally, some geckos simply enjoy digging in their substrate from time to time.
In some cases, though, digging is a way for your gecko to either hide from you or regulate their body temperature if their enclosure’s temperature or humidity settings are incorrect.
With this behavior, it’s important to look out for others on this list to confirm whether the digging indicates stress.
If your gecko is about to lay eggs, the digging is completely normal.
If your gecko doesn’t dig excessively but rather from time to time for short periods, they’re probably just exploring their enclosure and displaying normal behavior.
But if your gecko is displaying other signs of stress and is constantly digging with no clear reasons, they are likely stressed out, either by their enclosure setup or by your presence.
Your Crested Gecko Is Barking/Chirping
Crested geckos are rather chatty animals.
Compared to many other reptiles who are silent most of the time, cresties are surprisingly vocal!
Many reptile pet enthusiasts love this behavior, often displayed by these unique little geckos.
There are many potential reasons why a gecko would vocalize, and there are a few different types of vocalizations they are known to emit, depending on the situation.
Whistling, for example, is commonly used by females to show interest in a potential mate.
They will also often squeak at males to get their attention!
The vocalizations you’ll need to look out for, though, are barking and loud chirping.
These sounds are almost always indicative of the gecko being either surprised or upset by something near them.
Possible stressors which would cause a gecko to bark or chirp include other animals in their presence, improper handling, and improper enclosure setup.
Regardless of the cause of the barking, though, this behavior is typically used by cresties as a warning to signal they’re experiencing severe stress, fear, or are just unhappy.
Tips For Keeping Your Crested Gecko Happy And Stress-Free
Create A Safe, Comfortable Habitat
Now you know the signs of a stressed-out crested gecko and how to identify them.
Next, we’ll get into some tips for properly housing a happy, healthy gecko.
One of the most common stressors of crested geckos is an improper enclosure setup.
If your gecko’s habitat is uncomfortable for them, they will become more and more stressed over time, in some cases even refusing to eat or come near you at all.
Be sure your crested gecko habitat has the following conditions to make your pet feel safe and comfortable:
- Lots of vertical climbing space
- Branches and lots of plant cover to climb on and hide in
- Adequate humidity/moisture levels (at least 60% to 80% depending on the time of day)
- Proper temperature with a gentle heat gradient (from around 70 to 80°F at most)
- A water dish to drink from
- Proper substrate to retain moisture
Handle Your Gecko Gently
Another crucial tip for keeping your gecko happy is to always handle them as gently and carefully as possible.
Additionally, don’t rush to handle your gecko immediately after bringing them home!
Give them time to adapt to their surroundings first, particularly if they’re still a baby crestie.
Young cresties are very fragile and jumpy babies!
Check out our full guide on how to tame crested geckos.
It helps to ease your gecko into being handled before just plucking them from their enclosure and holding them.
For example, place your hand in the enclosure for a few minutes at a time to get your gecko used to your presence and your scent.
Do this every day until your gecko becomes more comfortable being near you.
Over time, approach them and give them a gentle pat on the head or back once they allow you to get close.
Eventually, your gecko will allow you to actually pick them up and handle them directly!
Be gentle, and always handle them over a cushioned surface to break their fall if they happen to get scared and start squirming.
Offer Occasional Treats
Even the most grumpy, irritable gecko will warm up to you in time if you offer them plenty of treats.
As we touched on earlier, crested geckos have a diverse diet, so you have many potential tools at your disposal!
Hand-feeding is a great way to slowly build trust with your gecko and get them to be more comfortable around you.
For example, offer them a small piece of safe fruit like mango or banana every day so they will come to associate you with tasty food!
Some will even enjoy eating a bit of baby food from time to time, provided it has no added preservatives or sugars.
Just be sure to offer them a balanced, proper diet in addition to these occasional treats, as certain fruits are extremely high in sugar and will cause mouth rot if fed in excess.
Alternatively, you have the option of purchasing a powdered food like the ever-popular Repashy Grubs’ N’ Fruit.
Just add a bit of water, stir it up, and it’s an instant, delicious smoothie your gecko will love!
Allow them to lick it off a spoon or, if you’re feeling adventurous, let them lick it off your finger.
Ensure Proper Humidity Settings
Improper humidity settings will stress your gecko out and potentially cause lasting health issues like respiratory infections or bacterial infections.
Ensuring proper humidity is essential to safely housing a crested gecko and keeping them happy!
Humidity levels in your crestie’s enclosure will fluctuate a bit depending on the time of day and whether or not you’ve just misted the inside of the tank with a spray bottle.
Ideally, though, it should hover around 60% to 80% at most.
Keep The Enclosure Clean
There are many factors to control for in your gecko’s enclosure, from temperature to humidity to the setup of decorations like branches and hides.
Most importantly, though, you’ll need to keep the tank as clean as possible.
Remove any waste or uneaten insects promptly in daily spot cleans.
Depending on the substrate you’ve chosen for the enclosure, you’ll need to replace it entirely, either weekly or monthly.
This will prevent any harmful bacteria and fungal growth from accumulating in the enclosure, and your gecko will be a lot happier as a result!
Provide Hiding Spots
Since they are fairly shy creatures, crested geckos need lots of hiding spots in their enclosure to be happy and comfortable.
Be sure to provide your pet with plenty of branches and lush plant cover for them to hide away in when they’re feeling a bit skittish.
Additionally, it helps to place an actual hide or two somewhere in the enclosure.
For example, a simple hide box like this one from Hamiledyi even has a removable water tank on top to increase the humidity inside!
If you want something a little more natural-looking, though, there are plenty of hides on the market which mimic caves and dugouts your gecko will love.
These little mossy caves from the Galapagos Store are perfect for making your pet feel cozy and safe.