When I began keeping crested geckos, I found myself worrying about whether or not they were “happy” and concerned that they might be “bored”.
Reptiles in the wild spend most of their time finding food to eat and regulating their body temperature. As pets, these needs are provided for more quickly and easily. So what should they be doing with their time?
On the one hand, lizards probably don’t have the same needs for “happiness” as humans do.
On the other hand, if we can provide our geckos with an environment that encourages them to carry out their normal behaviors, they will be more active. This activity means they will be healthier, and as a side benefit, more entertaining to us.
- Enrichment is the process of changing a crested gecko’s habitat to provide them with opportunities to hunt and explore. Try to create an enclosure with a variety of perches, hiding spaces and areas to inspect. Making these changes will quickly spark their interest.
- You can also give your gecko out-of-the-cage experiences where possible.
- A happy gecko will be seen in different parts of its enclosure at different times, even though it may stay still in one location for awhile.
- Every gecko has its own personality, and even with all the enrichment possibilities you add, some are “explorers” and some are “couch potatoes.”
Crested Gecko Enrichment Ideas
“Enrichment” does not mean teaching a gecko to do tricks, but rather, providing a fulfilling habitat for them to display their natural behaviors.
In the wild crested geckos are active climbers and voracious hunters.
The crested gecko is native to an island in New Caledonia with a high forest canopy, flowers (to get nectar from), and small creatures to hunt down and eat.
A minimal gecko setup can be as simple as a humid enclosure with a place to hide, a food bowl and a piece of cork bark to sit on. It won’t be very interesting for them, and it is likely they will spend most of their time just sitting.
An interesting and engaging enclosure would include a variety of environments, including open and sheltered spaces, sturdy plants, and perches of different diameters set at different angles. The best enclosures will have resting or hiding spots at different vertical levels from the ground to near the top of the cage.
Here is the path to creating an enriching environment for a happy crested gecko.
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Make Sure The Enclosure Is The Right Size
I got my first crested gecko when he was a month old and kept him in a 12”x12”x18” enclosure for a number of years.
Eventually it dawned on me that he was going stir crazy because the enclosure was too small. He was either flinging himself around, or spending a lot of time at ground level in his hide.
Years later I adopted another gecko and it took me some time before I had a larger enclosure for him.
In both cases, moving them to an 18”x18”x18” or 18”x18”x24” enclosure significantly reduced both the “crazy” and endless hiding behaviors.
Add Perches, Hiding Places, Plants And Areas To Explore
You should aim to provide a variety of perches, hiding places and areas for your gecko to explore.
In my opinion, the most interesting and enriching setups are naturalistic, planted spaces.
In the picture below, my 16 year old crested gecko Spencer’s cage has:
- Plants (Pothos)
- A piece of driftwood at the bottom
- A magnetic ledge
- Smaller shelves set into the background
- A fake vine and a hide at the bottom (where Spencer likes to spend his days)
The plants provide arboreal hiding places and structures to climb, in addition to texture and surface areas to explore. A variety of stable climbing and resting places, combined with the plants, results in a complex, enriching environment.
Plants can be placed directly into the substrate, placed in pots or both.
Avoid fragile plants because the gecko will crush them during its “explorations”.
Pothos and sansevieria are good choices. Plants with sharp spines, or sticky sap should be avoided.
Feed Live Prey
Geckos are active and entertaining feeders.
Although they can be fed a simple Crested Gecko Diet (CGD), most will swoop down from the walls of the cage to grab live prey that’s offered.
Geckos particularly enjoy catching crickets, locusts and roaches.
If the gecko doesn’t eat all the feeder insects, I have never had a problem leaving a few extra in the enclosure as a source of ongoing snacks. However, if your gecko is in poor health, then avoid leaving feeder insects in the tank.
Author Tip: Mealworms and superworms are difficult to use as feeders since they will likely just dig themselves into the substrate.
Change The Décor Periodically
Pieces of wood, ceramics, stone, and even Lego structures can be added and removed from the cage. This will give your gecko different objects to climb on and explore. Be sure that all items placed in the cage have no sharp edges and that they’re stable and won’t fall over if climbed on.
Changing cage furniture weekly can be too stressful, so give them a few months to get used to the new item and to explore it before you change it.
The location of the feeding dish can be moved on occasion, but if you have a finicky eater, avoid this.
Take Your Gecko Out Of The Cage
Even though juveniles tend to be more skittish than adults, it is a good idea to get your gecko used to being handled. The hope is that when they mature, they are comfortable being picked up and transported from place to place.
You can also find safe places to let your gecko explore.
A small bathroom (with the door closed and the toilet seat down) has many areas for climbing. The area around the kitchen sink can also be a good space.
By contrast, a crowded living room is not a good idea. You should also keep them away from other pets, small spaces they could squeeze into, or permanent structures (like radiators) they could get behind.
When my crested gecko Spencer was younger, he used to accompany me into the kitchen to “help” me prepare his food (pictured above).
Keep these explorations short and avoid them if your lizard is too skittish to be held. I have one gecko that never comes out of the cage for this reason.
Allow For Different Personalities
Currently I keep five crested geckos.
Four of them I have had since they were very young (three of the four hatched in my house) and they are most likely to be moving around their environments in the evenings.
My fifth I received as a young adult. He had grown up in a rack system in a plastic tub and has never tolerated being held. He spends nearly all his time in his magnet hide and comes out occasionally.
Some geckos are less active than others, either because of their early life experience, or just because of their “personalities”.
Author Tip: Do not expect your gecko to be active in the daytime, no matter how much “enrichment” you add.
It is more likely that an unmoving gecko during the day is asleep. Spencer spends most of his days on the bottom of the cage inside his ceramic hide. He has also been known to wrap himself in pothos leaves while sitting on his driftwood.
If you have tried all the “enrichment” ideas, given it several months, and found that your gecko doesn’t seem to be “interested”, you may just have a “couch potato”!