Like many reptiles, crested geckos have some incredibly unique physiology–all the way down to their toes!
Their wide, sticky, flexible toes can cling to just about any surface they encounter.
However, these toes are also very fragile, and they require special, attentive care to prevent issues like a stuck shed, metabolic bone disease, lost toes, and more.
Crested geckos’ toes curl upward naturally as they climb and cling to surfaces using tiny sticky hairs called setae. Specific issues in captivity like improper humidity, incomplete shedding, injuries, and lack of calcium often result in crested geckos’ toes not sticking properly or even toe loss.
If you have any questions about the health of your crested gecko’s toes, you’re in the right place!
Read on to learn more about why these little lizards’ feet are so flexible and strong yet also so prone to health issues and what you should do to keep your pet’s feet in excellent condition for years to come.
How Many Toes Does A Crested Gecko Have?
Crested geckos have five flat, sticky toes on each foot. Each toe is covered in microscopic sticky fibers called setae, which divide even further into smaller, sharp-edged structures called spatulae. Geckos can cling to nearly any surface using their uniquely structured feet and toes.
Aside from rare cases of polydactyl geckos, which sometimes have more than five toes on at least one foot due to an extra toe gene, nearly all crested geckos have five toes per foot.
As with most gecko species, the entire surface of the crested gecko’s feet and toes are entirely covered in setae and spatulae.
Interestingly, these fibers or “hairs” are adhesive structures made of a very similar material as the protein keratin, which makes up our fingernails, hair, and skin.
The sharp edges of these fibers create something known as Van der Waals force by putting stress on very small areas at many different angles simultaneously.
This allows the gecko’s feet to cling more securely to surfaces, even at a vertical angle!
On the tip of each flexible, double-jointed toe is a small yet slightly sharp claw.
Though their claws are tiny, if you look closely at a gecko in person, you’ll be able to spot them easily.
These claws help crested geckos even further with traversing the dense rainforests they are native to.
Combined with their small size and low body weight, crested geckos can leap from branch to branch with ease, relying on their toes to latch onto whatever surface they land on.
Why Do Crested Gecko Toes Curl?
Crested gecko toes naturally curl upward on the ends when they aren’t climbing at steep angles. They only apply the entire surface area of their toes to something when they need an especially strong grip. Otherwise, they will curl up the tips of their toes, so they aren’t as sticky.
You need not worry if you’ve ever noticed your crested gecko’s toes curling up a bit on the ends.
In most cases, your gecko simply recognizes they don’t need to cling for dear life to most surfaces when they aren’t climbing up steep inclines.
Since each one of their toes is double-jointed and controlled individually, crested geckos will lift the ends of them as they walk across flat surfaces.
Due to their unique foot structure and keeping the ends of their toes lifted most of the time, crested geckos can move more quickly with less resistance when they aren’t climbing.
This gives them a much quicker escape from potential predators in the wild and is often used in conjunction with their ability to drop their tails.
In short, your gecko’s toes are curled most of the time upward out of convenience.
Since they don’t need to cling to every surface they walk on, they usually don’t utilize all of their setae at once.
The easiest way to do this is to curl up the edges of its toes to reduce the setae contacting a surface.
Keep in mind, though, only the tips of your gecko’s toes should be curling upward naturally.
If the toes seem bent at odd angles, are curling inward, or are curled due to stuck shed, you will likely need to intervene or seek out the assistance of a reptile veterinarian.
In certain cases of illness, improper shedding, or injury, blood flow will be blocked off from the gecko’s feet or toe tips, which sometimes requires amputation.
Why Do Crested Gecko Toes Turn Black?
While slight color changes are expected, particularly while your gecko is shedding, their toes should never turn completely black. This is a sign the tissue is necrotizing due to a lack of blood flow to the toes and is typically caused by incomplete shedding brought on by incorrect humidity settings.
Many geckos change color slightly depending on the time of day, mood, or lighting settings in their enclosure or the wild.
However, this is not normal if you notice your crestie’s toes look very dark, shriveled up, bent/broken, or extremely dry.
When any tissue begins turning brown or black, this is usually a sign the limb or body part is not getting enough oxygen and blood flow to stay healthy.
This is especially true for your gecko’s toes, as they are very fragile, to begin with.
The skin on their toes will necrotize, or die off, very quickly if, for example, a piece of a stuck shed is constricting their toes and limiting blood flow.
While normal shedding is known as ecdysis, the condition of a stuck shed is referred to as dysecdysis.
Fortunately, if you’re a diligent reptile owner, you’ll notice plenty of warning signs before any of your scaly friend’s toes start falling off. Some of the most obvious warning signs include:
- Improper/low humidity levels (anything lower than 60% is dangerous for crested geckos)
- Unusual color around the toes
- Pieces of shed skin stuck to the toes
- The gecko physically struggles to remove shed skin on their toes by rubbing, biting, etc.
- Loss of stickiness on the gecko’s toes/struggling to adhere to surfaces like normal
For help with humidity, check out our article on crested geckos and automatic misters.
- Day/Night Temperatures
- Humidity & Timing Control
- Alarm When Temps Reach Unsafe Levels
Can Crested Geckos Lose Their Toes?
Crested geckos are prone to losing their fragile toes, most commonly due to improper shedding, injury, or bacterial infection due to an injury. Fortunately, your gecko usually shouldn’t have any significant issues shedding properly if they are housed in a safe enclosure with 60% to 80% humidity.
Although extremely quick and agile, crested geckos are also tiny and delicate.
This is especially true when it comes to gecko feet!
While wild geckos are sadly often subject to natural selection if they become injured, your gecko thankfully has you to rely on when it comes to their health and safety.
The main reason why both wild and captive crested geckos lose their toes is due to incomplete shedding and/or injury.
These conditions often result in either harmful bacterial infections or a sudden lack of blood flow to the ends of the lizard’s toes.
Like leopard geckos and bearded dragons, many other captive reptiles are also prone to stuck shed on their toes and tail tips.
For instance, sometimes wild geckos up taking a tumble from the tall branches they often climb on, in turn falling onto a sharp or rocky surface, resulting in damaged toes.
Other potential possible lost toes include incomplete sheds due to sudden humidity fluctuations or previous injuries.
In captivity, you have plenty of ways to prevent your fragile little lizard from damaging its toes.
By simply keeping humidity within a safe range, you’re helping to ensure your pet has enough moisture in the air to facilitate a comfortable shedding process.
Additionally, offering your gecko lots of surfaces to climb (and fall) on will help prevent them from sustaining any major fall damage.
A soft layer of substrate at the bottom of their enclosure will also give them a comfortable surface if they happen to misjudge how far they need to leap.
Be sure there are no sharp edges or rough surfaces your gecko would potentially harm themselves on.
Do Crested Gecko Toes Grow Back?
Unfortunately, like their tails, crested geckos cannot regrow their toes if they lose them. If your gecko loses a toe or has one amputated, you will need to ensure they don’t lose any more toes, as this will slightly affect their balance and climbing ability.
Although many geckos have unique regenerative abilities, crested gecko feet and toes do not grow back when lost.
Also, depending on the toes lost, your gecko will likely struggle a bit to re-learn how to climb and walk after a toe injury or removal due to stuck shed, infection, etc.
For example, a gecko who has lost four toes on a front foot will likely have a lot more trouble than a gecko who has lost only one pinky toe.
It is surprisingly common for geckos to lose toes due to improper care in captivity, though.
Most reptile experts and breeders have seen many geckos with missing toes or even entire feet who can live long, happy lives despite their slight disabilities.
In all likelihood, if your gecko has lost a toe or three, it will likely be able to bounce back quickly with a bit of diligence and care on your part.
See a vet as soon as possible if any toes need to be amputated, and keep a close eye on your gecko’s foot as it heals.
Be sure to address any issues which caused the initial toe injury, like improper humidity settings or a potentially dangerous enclosure setup.
It will take time for your gecko to adapt to walking, climbing, and jumping normally after a toe amputation.
Monitor your pet closely for any issues as they heal, and don’t be afraid to call your vet if you have any questions!
How To Identify And Remove Stuck Toe Shed
Occasionally, your gecko will need some help removing pieces of a stuck shed, particularly on their toes and tail. Pieces of stuck shed look white or grey and feel very dry and brittle. You’ll need to use warm water, a cotton swab, and tweezers to very gently remove the pieces of a stuck shed.
In most cases, stuck shed occurs due to low humidity settings, though some geckos naturally struggle more with shedding than others.
To identify if your gecko has stuck shed, just take a close look at their feet and toes.
Crested geckos with stuck sheds commonly have small pieces of dry, flaky, and/or brittle greyish white skin stuck to the ends of their toes or claws.
There are two main methods for removing stuck shed from your gecko’s toes, but they both use the same supplies:
- A small plastic cup or bowl large enough to fit your gecko in comfortably
- Paper towels
- Warm water
- Cotton swabs
If the stuck shed is not yet very severe, you will likely be able to simply soak your gecko’s foot in a bowl of warm (but not hot!) water for a few seconds and then gently remove the stubborn skin with moist cotton swabs and tweezers.
Alternatively, for more severe cases, you have the option of creating a miniature “sauna” to moisten the skin on your gecko’s toes.
First, place some warm, very wet paper towels in the bottom of the plastic cup.
Poke a few small air holes in the cup, so your gecko can breathe comfortably.
Place your gecko in the cup, put the lid on, and let them sit in the container for 10 to 15 minutes.
The warm water on the paper towels will slowly create condensation, a lot like a sauna.
Unfortunately, your crestie won’t love this process, but it should loosen the stuck shed enough, so you are able to gently pluck off what’s left of it with your tweezers and cotton swab.
If this method doesn’t work after two or three attempts, you’ll need to contact a reptile vet.
Crested Gecko Toes Not Sticking: Reasons Why
There are many reasons why a crested gecko’s toes would become less sticky than usual. The most common culprits are low humidity, dirty surfaces in their enclosure, stuck shed, calcium deficiency, and various illnesses and injuries.
If your gecko’s toes are suddenly not as sticky as they used to be, you’ll probably notice your pet struggling to climb on and cling to surfaces.
The first thing you should keep an eye out for is any sort of illness, malnutrition, or recent injuries.
When crested geckos become sick, injured, or stressed, they can’t climb as well as usual.
Additionally, a stuck shed will also make it difficult for them to cling to surfaces in their enclosure.
Alternatively, if the enclosure hasn’t been cleaned in a while, keep in mind dirty or greasy surfaces are much harder for your gecko to cling to than clean, smooth ones.
If your gecko isn’t ill or injured and their enclosure is clean, check the humidity settings using a hygrometer designed for reptile enclosures.
Your gecko’s enclosure should ideally already have one of these, but if they don’t, you’ll need one as soon as possible.
Humidity should always be between 60% and 80%, with humidity on the lower end at night and the higher end during day.
Finally, a nutritious diet with a calcium supplement will also help keep your gecko’s bones strong to prevent metabolic bone disease.
This illness commonly weakens, bends, and breaks bones in reptiles who aren’t getting enough calcium in their diet.
Without enough calcium, your gecko will struggle not only to climb but also to move, eat, and carry out essential life functions in general.
For help with this mineral, check out our guide to crested gecko calcium by clicking the link.