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Gargoyle geckos (Rhacodactylus auriculatus) are 6-8” long, arboreal lizards native to New Caledonia. They are typically found on the islands of Grande Terre and Isle of Pines, and prefer a tropical forested habitat.
Gargoyle geckos have a large head, sticky toe pads, a muscular prehensile tail, and bony protuberances near the neck. Like most geckos, gargoyle geckos do not have eyelids. In the wild they are typically pale with a brown to black striped and/or reticulated pattern, but in captivity they are selectively bred to bring out their natural reds and oranges and increase contrast.
Gargoyle geckos are hardy, easy to breed, easy to care for, and tolerate humans well, making them extremely popular as pet lizards. With good care, they can live up to 20+ years.
Minimum terrarium size for gargoyle geckos
The absolute minimum terrarium size for a single gargoyle gecko is 18”L x 18”W x 24”H. Of course, larger is always better! For example, a 24” x 24” x 48” has only a slightly larger footprint, but provides your pet with tons more space to utilize.
Can you keep two gargoyle geckos together?
Housing multiple gargoyle geckos in the same terrarium is not recommended, and may result in fighting if attempted. This is especially the case for males, which will often fight to the death. However, it’s safest not to cohabitate females either.
How to quarantine a gargoyle gecko
Note that it’s best to quarantine your new gargoyle gecko first. Whether your pet is wild-caught or captive bred, quarantine is still important. Quarantine is the practice of keeping an animal isolated and under sterile conditions in order to reduce the potential spread of disease.
Even if you don’t have other reptiles that could potentially get infected by anything the gecko might be carrying, maintaining quarantine conditions for the first 3 months will enable you to more easily monitor for concerning symptoms and more easily treat them as well. You can do this with the same enclosure that you plan to keep the gecko in long-term, or you can do this with a modified tub turned on its short side. As long as it is set up appropriately, a tub can make appropriate short-term quarantine housing.
Some rules for successful gargoyle gecko quarantine:
- Keep the gecko in a separate room from other reptiles.
- Do not use the same equipment for the new addition as for your other reptiles.
- Fully disinfect the enclosure weekly.
- Get the gecko checked by an experienced reptile veterinarian and treated for parasites if needed.
- Observe for symptoms of disease or illness.
A gargoyle gecko should be completely healthy before being transferred out of quarantine to its long-term setup.
Do gargoyle geckos need UVB?
Technically they can survive without it, but we still recommend providing appropriate UVB lighting for gargoyle geckos. UVB lighting helps provide a clear day/night cycle, provides all of the vitamin D that your pet needs, strengthens the immune system, facilitates better digestion, and other benefits.
The best UVB bulbs for gargoyle geckos housed in an 18” x 18” x 24” terrarium are:
- Zoo Med T8 ReptiSun 5.0, 18”
- Zoo Med ReptiSun 5.0 Compact Fluorescent, 26w
- Arcadia ShadeDweller Kit, 12”
For best results, house the UVB bulbs in a reflective fixture. Position the lamp on the same side of the terrarium as the heat lamp. UVB is blocked by glass and plastic, so placing the terrarium in front of a window doesn’t count as “free UVB” — in fact it can make your terrarium too hot due to the greenhouse effect. Don’t forget to replace your bulb every 12 months!
Lights should be on for 11 hours/day during winter and 13.5 hours/day during summer to simulate seasonal changes in day length. All lamps should be turned off at night.
How to measure UVI
The strength of a lamp’s UVB output is measured in UV Index, or UVI. Coincidentally, this is the same measurement that the World Health Organization uses to measure risk of skin damage from exposure to solar radiation. Fortunately, you don’t have to worry about your gecko getting skin cancer as long as you use UVB correctly. The best way to measure UVI in your pet’s enclosure is with a Solarmeter 6.5.
To use the Solarmeter, hold the device vertically at the height of the basking surface, with the lens pointing directly up at the lamp. Gargoyle geckos should have a basking UVI between 1.0-2.0, with UVI everywhere else in the enclosure being lower. Although there is a basking distance recommended in the previous section, note that factors such as the density of your terrarium mesh as well as the exact hood you’re using for your UVB lamp will affect the exact distance needed.
Best temperature for gargoyle geckos
Despite the popular myth that gargoyle geckos only need to be kept at room temperature, they do benefit from having a low-temperature basking area. After all, they’re still reptiles, and that means they need a range of temperatures in their enclosure that allow them to thermoregulate.
Gargoyle geckos should have a low basking temperature between 82-85°F, as measured by a digital probe thermometer with the probe positioned in the basking area. The cool zone of the enclosure should stay between 70-75°F, and nighttime temps can drop as low as 65°F.
Best way to heat your gargoyle gecko
There are many options for heating a reptile enclosure: incandescent bulbs, halogen bulbs, red bulbs, blue bulbs, mercury vapor bulbs, ceramic heat emitters, etc. Which one is best for your pet? Does it matter?
It does, in fact.
Generally speaking, the most effective way to provide heat for a gargoyle gecko is with a low-wattage incandescent bulb in a hood fixture during the day. White heat bulbs are the best way to imitate the warmth of sunlight indoors, and have a less intense output than halogens, which is perfect for heat-sensitive New Caledonian geckos. Do not use ceramic heat emitters (CHEs), red bulbs, or blue bulbs, as these are not as effective.
How to measure terrarium temperature
Measure temperatures with a couple of digital probe thermometers. One probe should be placed on the basking surface, and the other probe should be placed on the cool side of the enclosure. With the readouts from both of these devices, you will be able to monitor your pet’s temperature gradient at a glance.
If you notice that your basking temperatures are too warm, dial down the bulbs’ heat output with a rheostat. If they are too cool, you will need higher-wattage bulbs.
Best humidity levels for gargoyle geckos
Gargoyle geckos are a tropical species, so the humidity inside their enclosure should be fairly high: 60-80%. Humidity levels should be allowed to naturally rise at night and dry out a bit during the day.
Humidity should be measured via digital probe hygrometer, with the probe placed in the middle of the terrarium.
How to manage humidity for gargoyle geckos
Increase humidity by misting your gecko’s enclosure 1-2x/day with a spray bottle. Mist first thing in the morning and then again at night if needed. If you have a busy schedule, you may want to consider installing an automatic misting system.
Because humidity levels naturally rise at night, you may also want to consider installing a reptile humidifier, particularly if you live in a dry climate. So you don’t accidentally saturate the enclosure, connect the fogger to a humidistat to regulate the fogger’s use.
Don’t reduce the amount of ventilation in your enclosure as an effort to reduce humidity fluctuation. Ventilation is key to helping your gecko stay healthy, and reducing air flow increases pathogen concentration. It’s okay to let the enclosure dry out a bit during the day!
Best substrate for gargoyle geckos
Providing a layer of naturalistic substrate (“bedding”) will help maintain correct humidity levels and also helps make your enclosure more attractive! We recommend the following substrates for gargoyle geckos:
Layering clean, chemical-free leaf litter on top of the substrate can also help with humidity.
Substrate should be at least 2” deep and completely replaced every 3-4 months. Remove poop and urates daily, along with contaminated substrate.
What to know about cleaning a gargoyle gecko enclosure
Replacing your gecko’s substrate is a good time to give the entire enclosure a good cleanout. Here are some general steps to follow:
- Remove your gecko from the enclosure and put it inside a temporary, escape-proof holding container.
- Remove all substrate and décor.
- Vacuum and wipe down the enclosure to remove leftover particles.
- Apply a reptile-safe disinfectant to the floor and walls of the enclosure and let sit for the disinfectant’s recommended contact time.
- Meanwhile, soak branches, rocks, hides, and other décor in a disinfectant rated for porous materials for the recommended contact time.
- If required, rinse the enclosure and the accessories with clean water to remove disinfectant residue. Allow everything to dry.
- Pour new substrate into the enclosure. Mix in water until uniformly moistened but not wet.
- Arrange décor.
- Reintroduce your gecko to the clean setup.
Some veterinary-grade disinfectant options that work for both porous and nonporous materials are F10SC, CleanBreak, and bleach solution. However, for porous materials, bleach solution should be in a 1:10 dilution, while you should use 1:50 for nonporous.
Can bioactive work for gargoyle geckos?
Absolutely. Bioactive vivariums can be a good choice of housing for gargoyle geckos because they are better at maintaining appropriate humidity levels and are generally more attractive than other options, which is especially nice if your gecko likes to hide most of the time. Bioactive vivariums have the additional benefit of eliminating the need for total cleanouts, and a healthy vivarium always has a fresh, earthy aroma.
Some downsides of bioactive for gargoyle geckos are that they require at least one month to get established before the animal is introduced, the plants that you use need to be sturdy enough not to get trampled, and bioactive is usually more expensive to set up in the short-term. CUC (Clean Up Crew) organisms may occasionally escape, and maintenance in the form of plant care and occasional partial soil replacements are still necessary.
If you want to put together a bioactive setup for your gecko, you will need all of the supplies recommended in this article, plus a few more things:
- bioactive-ready substrate mix
- clean leaf litter
- sturdy live plants (nontoxic)
- 6500K LED or fluorescent grow lamp, spanning most of the enclosure’s length
- CUC organisms to maintain the soil
While it’s possible to mix your own tropical bioactive substrate, if this is your first attempt at bioactive, you’re most likely to have success if you use a pre-mixed bioactive substrate available commercially, such as through Bio Dude or Josh’s Frogs.
Good options for CUC for a bioactive gargoyle gecko vivarium include: dwarf white isopods, powder orange/blue isopods, springtails, mealworms, and superworms.
How to decorate a gargoyle gecko terrarium
An empty terrarium makes for a bored gecko, reducing its quality of life. Keep your pet entertained and engaged with its environment with the strategic use of décor items that encourage it to exercise natural behaviors!
Since gargoyle geckos are strictly arboreal, at bare minimum you will need a branch for your gecko to bask on and some live or artificial foliage for it to hide in. However, it’s best to include other items, such as:
Live plant options for gargoyle geckos
Gargoyle geckos may not be particularly heavy, but they are arboreal, and that means any plant you put in the enclosure must be able to support their weight during climbing and jumping activity
Here are some plants for gargoyle geckos:
- Spider plant
Larger, older plants are more expensive to buy, but they are also sturdier and more likely to support your gecko’s natural behaviors.
Are gargoyle geckos bad climbers?
Gargoyle geckos are fairly clumsy climbers, and this can be worrisome for some owners. After all, if they’re naturally arboreal (tree-dwelling), shouldn’t they be better at climbing?
As far as arboreal geckos go, gargoyle geckos are far from the stickiest. Instead, they rely on their claws to do most of the climbing for them, so while they may not be particularly adept at climbing glass, they can climb up bark. Gargoyle geckos should still have access to wide, strongly textured climbing objects that will allow them to climb safely.
What to feed to a gargoyle gecko
Gargoyle geckos are omnivores, which means that they need to eat both plant- and animal-based foods to get the right nutrition. In the wild, they primarily eat insects and fruit, but they also sometimes eat small lizards. As pets, it’s best to feed them high-quality, specially-formulated crested gecko diet (CGD) supplemented by live insect feeders.
How often gargoyle geckos need to eat depends on age:
- Hatchlings and Juveniles (0-12 months) — CGD daily, insects 1-2x/week
- Adults (>12 months) — CGD every 2-3 days, insects 1x/week
What are the best crested gecko diets?
Not all commercial gecko foods are equal — some are higher quality than others. Here are the most reliable:
- Zoo Med
- Leapin’ Leachie
- Black Panther Zoological
- Gecko Pro
For best results, use a rotation of at least 3 flavors and/or brands of CGD to provide a source of sensory enrichment for your pet!
What are the best feeder insects for gargoyle geckos?
Live feeder insects are an important part of a gargoyle gecko’s diet both in the wild and in captivity. Here are some good options likely to spark your gecko’s interest:
Feeder insects should be gutloaded for 24-48 hours prior to being offered to your gecko in order to maximize their nutritional content. For best results, use a high-quality commercial insect diet such as Arcadia Insect Fuel or Dubia Diet, plus water crystals for hydration.
Offering an occasional pinky mouse, green anole, or house gecko as a treat is likely to be appreciated, but too frequently is likely to cause obesity.
Do gargoyle geckos need vitamins?
Providing drinking water for gargoyle geckos
Of course, don’t forget small food and water bowls and a feeding ledge! Since gargoyle geckos are arboreal, they prefer to eat and drink up off the ground. And no, misting may not be enough to keep your gecko properly hydrated — reptiles need consistent access to fresh water, available in a bowl.
Change the water daily and scrub the bowl with a reptile-safe disinfectant weekly, or whenever it becomes soiled.
How to handle your gargoyle gecko
Reptiles generally don’t appreciate petting and handling in the same way that dogs and cats do. That being said, gargoyle geckos usually tolerate handling well. Here are some tips for success:
- Don’t grab the gecko from above. Instead, scoop from below.
- Support its entire body and all four feet.
- Start with short handling sessions at first, then gradually make them longer.
- Put the gecko back in its enclosure only when it’s calm.
Your gecko may be a bit jumpy at first, so let it hop from one hand to the other until it has calmed down.
Taming tips for gargoyle geckos
Gargoyle geckos have a reputation for being great beginners reptiles, so they’re often also perceived as easy to tame. However, this isn’t always the case. Gargoyle geckos can be skittish and jumpy, especially when they’re young. Even if you have a calm gecko, you still have to work to gain their trust, and be especially careful to create a positive association with yourself in their mind. It’s best to encourage your pet to come out of the enclosure and climb onto you on their own, rather than simply grabbing them whenever you’re in the mood for handling. Never grab a reptile out from its hiding place, as this is a very effective way to make it feel unsafe.
Treats and hand-feeding are very effective for teaching your gecko that you are not something to be feared, since hunger can motivate your pet to move outside of its comfort zone. Use soft-tipped feeding tongs if you’re nervous about being bitten.
How to provide enrichment for a gargoyle gecko
Enrichment is the practice of strategically providing items and activities to encourage a captive animal to exercise natural behaviors. This also helps increase activity, reduce stress, and generally increase the animal’s welfare.
Some argue that reptiles are “too dumb” to benefit from enrichment, but this is false. All reptiles can absolutely benefit from enrichment when it is provided in appropriate ways. Here are some ways to provide enrichment for gargoyle geckos:
- Rearrange the enclosure. If total overhauls are too stressful for your pet, move one thing every so often at your pet’s pace.
- Scatter feeding. Instead of offering their food in the same place every time, try moving the feeding platform every once in a while to stimulate your gecko’s foraging instincts.
- Supervised explore time outside of the enclosure. Make sure to keep them away from situations that you can’t get them out of.
When should you take a gargoyle gecko to the vet?
Dogs and cats aren’t the only pets who need veterinary care — geckos get sick and need professional help the same as any other pet. If you notice that your gargoyle gecko has any of the following symptoms, make an appointment with an experienced reptile vet right away:
- Mucus discharge from the mouth/nose/eyes
- Persistent lethargy
- Unexplained weight loss
- Persistent lack of appetite
- Straining/inability to defecate
- Large patches of missing scales
- Open wounds
- Swelling or bumps anywhere on the body
- Sudden, unusually aggressive behavior
You can find a reputable reptile vet near you with the ARAV Find a Vet tool.
This care sheet contains only very basic information. Although it’s a good introduction, please further your research with high-quality sources. The more you know, the better you will be able to care for your pet! Here are some more sources we recommend checking out:
- The ReptiFiles Gargoyle Gecko Care Manual
- Moon Valley Reptiles
- Crested Geckos in Captivity (With Notes on All Rhacodactylus Species) by Robbie Hamper
Photo by Generish, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.