How To Pick Up And Handle Crested Geckos

Many new crested gecko owners are excited to interact with their friendly pets but are unsure how to handle them carefully. 

You are probably aware of the possibility of your crestie dropping its tail in stressful situations. 

To prevent your pet from enduring unnecessary stress, it is important to learn the safest techniques for interacting with it. 

As a general rule, to pick up a crested gecko, place your hand on the bottom of the enclosure and wait for them to climb on. If your gecko doesn’t, and you need to remove it from its tank, gently scoop it up under the belly and feet with an open hand. Support the whole gecko with light but firm pressure.

Once you have successfully gathered your gecko in your hand, you will need to be aware of its general personality and how it prefers to be handled. 

Let’s look at the common behaviors associated with cresties and discuss the best ways to handle them at all stages of life. 

how to pick up a crested gecko

Picking Up Your New Crested Gecko

Bringing home your new pet is an exciting time. 

Although you may be ready to start interacting with your new gecko the minute you get through the door, it most likely does not feel the same. 

Changing environments is very stressful for most reptiles. 

When you bring your gecko home, they do not understand what is happening or why they are moving to a new place. 

Since there is no way for us to communicate our good intentions to our reptiles on day one, it is necessary to allow them time to adjust to their new home.

As a general rule of thumb, you should wait to handle your new crestie for 2 – 4 weeks. 

We know this seems like a long time at first, but these geckos live for an average of 15 – 20 years; you will have plenty of time to bond with your pet. 

Allowing your gecko a few weeks to adjust to their new environment will allow them time to understand you are their new caretaker. 

Since cresties are known for dropping their tails as a defense mechanism, it is best to keep their stress levels to a minimum.

Part of proper crested gecko care is giving them attention, but you must do it safely! 

If your gecko drops its tail with no provocation, you may have a pet with a relatively anxious personality. 

This is nothing to fear. 

Although cresties cannot regrow their tails once they are dropped, living without a tail will not gravely impact their lives. 

If you have adopted a baby gecko, it is highly advised to avoid holding it under any circumstances until it weighs between 8-15 grams.

Wait until your gecko is a minimum of 10 grams in weight before picking it up. 

For reference, a baby crested gecko will usually weigh between 2 g and 3 g. 

Adopting an adult crestie will allow you to handle your pet sooner. 

If you are confident in your reptile handling abilities, you may offer your hand to your pet once the minimum two-week period has ended. 

If the gecko refuses your advance or runs away to hide in its tank, remove your hand immediately. 

The gecko is likely not adjusted to its environment yet and may need more time before it feels comfortable climbing onto your hand. 

It is best to wait an additional two weeks before extending the offer again.

For a crestie who has had a previous owner or who has an outgoing and curious personality, you may luck out and get it to accept your first attempt at picking it up.

During the first few weeks of handling your new crestie, it is best to keep the interactions short and sweet. 

We do not suggest handling your pet for longer than a three-minute session. 

Do not handle your new pet every day. Instead, engage in handling sessions a few times per week until a strong sense of trust is formed. 

Do your best to get to know your new pet’s personality while it is in its enclosure. 

These animals are nocturnal, so your best chance of observing its activity in the tank is after its evening feeding or later on in the night.

Mealtime provides another opportunity for you to build a rapport with your crestie. 

Once your pet realizes you are there to feed it for every meal, it will likely begin to trust you.

The best option for picking up your pet gecko for the first time is to take it slow and allow it to come to you.

Handling Adult Crested Geckos

Adult pet geckos are much more durable than babies. 

When they are fully grown, they usually weigh between 40 g and 60 g and are easy to hold in the palm of your hand.

Successfully picking up your gecko for the first time is the beginning of a new way for you to gain its trust. 

These animals are generally very friendly with humans and enjoy physical interaction.

Cresties are arboreal, meaning they spend most of their time hanging out in trees. 

They have microscopic projections on their toes called lamellae. 

These projections allow the animals to stick to almost any surface, giving them the ability to climb vertically.

These sticky toes will also play a positive role when handling your pet. 

If you’re interested in learning more about their toes, we have a post on crested gecko toes you should check out.

They will allow it to have a firm grip on your skin, making it easy for them to climb around your fingers and from one hand to the next.

Hand walking is one of the most highly recommended methods of handling these geckos. 

Hand walking is a simple method where you continuously place one hand in front of the other, allowing your crestie to walk across them like a tiny treadmill.

This will teach your pet you welcome its interaction, and you will always support it.

While practicing hand walking, you need to keep your hands close to the ground. 

Cresties are known to jump and leap from surface to surface. 

To take proper care of your pet, you will need to remove any risk of it falling.

If you are the owner of a jumpy gecko, the best thing to do is learn its signals before it leaps. 

Focus on reading its body language, and if it looks as though it is gearing up to pounce, keep your hand steady.

You do not want to make an abrupt movement as your pet is leaving your hand. 

This will cause its calibration to be off, and it may miss its landing target.

Some owners with stable house plants enjoy playing with their geckos close to the branches. 

This gives the pets the option of continuing to hand walk or leaping into the leaves to hang out.

Keep in mind even a friendly gecko will have its moments of not wanting to play. 

If you offer your hand for your pet to climb onto and ignore it or move to another part of the tank, take this as a sign of needing some alone time.

As a breeder, you need to know when your gecko is carrying eggs. 

It is best to limit handling a gravid female. 

You want to maintain a low risk of stress and injury for your pregnant female. 

Occasional handling is acceptable if she advances toward your hand, but it is advised to keep handling sessions short and close to the ground. 

Handling Baby Crested Geckos

Cresties are considered babies from 0 – 6 months. 

During this time, you must refrain from holding your pet. 

We know handling such a tiny and cute pet reptile is tempting, but you must wait until your gecko has reached a minimum of 10 g before making your first attempt to hold it. 

While 10 g is our suggested minimum, it is best to get your gecko up to 15 g before holding it more regularly. 

A baby crestie is very quick and will jump at a moment’s notice. 

Since these babies are such delicate creatures, they are very susceptible to injury. 

Even a fall from a few inches has the potential of seriously injuring your pet.

Once a baby crested gecko has reached the appropriate weight, it is safe to handle it in necessary situations. 

Some examples of a necessary situation include moving your pet to clean its tank or measuring its weight. 

When your pet grows into its juvenile stage of life (6 – 18 months), handling sessions becomes increasingly appropriate. 

As the gecko grows and gains weight, you will be able to play with it more frequently.

Check out our crested gecko size guide for more information on how quickly these pets grow and what you can expect.

Similarly to handling your adult gecko for the first time, it is best to keep the first couple of sessions of hand walking your young crestie brief and spaced out. 

Offer your hand to your pet a few times per week until you are both fully comfortable with this kind of interaction.

Crested Gecko Signs of Stress

As much as you love crestie cuddles, they may not all the time. 

Familiarizing yourself with signs of stress in your pet crestie is important when becoming an owner. 

This is especially true for new owners who are beginning the journey of handling their geckos.

Handling an uncomfortable gecko is certainly a time to be aware of these stress indicators. 

However, it is also important to be familiar with the general warning signs of a stressed-out pet in its habitat.

Common Stress Indicators

  • Lethargy
  • Weight loss
  • Excessive hiding
  • Labored breathing
  • Sudden movement/attempt to get away
  • Arched back
  • Gaped mouth
  • Tail twitching/waving
  • Squeaking
  • Firing up

The first three items in this list are indications your pet is stressed out in its current environment. 

Keeping more than one gecko per enclosure is one of the leading causes of stress in these pets. 

As naturally solitary animals, another gecko in the tank will likely be perceived as a threat.

Another reason for lethargy, weight loss, or excessive hiding is a general dislike for the environment. 

Many crestie owners black out the sides of their glass enclosures to limit the activity seen by the animals.

Having appropriately decorated backgrounds or solid black walls will help your pet feel safe in its tank. 

Excessive noise and movement outside of the tank caused by other pets or small children have the possibility of freaking your gecko out.

If other vital aspects such as temperature and humidity are not monitored correctly, they will negatively affect your pet’s health. 

For example, keeping intense lighting on the enclosure is unlike the natural environment of these reptiles. 

The healthiest geckos live in habitats which simulate their native surroundings.

The rest of the items on the list above are all warning signs you will need to look out for while handling your pet.

Labored breathing and sudden attempts to get away are signs the gecko does not feel comfortable with how or where it is being held.

When a gecko is arching its back or twitching and waving its tail, it is indicating it feels threatened or senses danger. 

Tail twitching is especially important to be aware of.

As mentioned previously, cresties are capable of dropping their tails when they are stressed. 

In the wild, tail dropping is meant to act as a defense mechanism. 

The dropped tail will distract the predator while the gecko attempts to get away.

In situations where your gecko has a gaping mouth when you attempt to scoop it up, you should immediately remove your hand. 

The gaping mouth is a way of your pet warning you not to mess with it.

Squeaking is another signal to look out for. 

If you are in the middle of a handling session and your gecko starts to squeak at you, it warns you to put it down. 

Although the high-pitched squeak sounds cute, it is a crestie’s version of a yell. 

You can learn more about why crested geckos squeak in this post.

Firing up is the final major signal your gecko may be stressed out. 

When a crestie is fired up, its colors become darker and more pronounced. 

This is sometimes a sign of stress, but it also occurs naturally when a crestie is active.

Learn more about why crested geckos fire up in our guide on the topic.

If your crestie is signaling to you it is stressed out in any way, the best thing for you to do is safely place your pet back in its enclosure.

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