Most crested geckos are easy to “tame” as they are generally laid back and non-aggressive. However, if you are new to owning reptiles then you should learn some tips and techniques for handling your new pet. Some crested geckos can be more high strung, so if yours squirms, nips or tries to get away you will also want to make sure how to safely hold a reluctant gecko.
Most crested geckos do fine with only weekly handling during cleaning. This is a good time to monitor health, check weights, and socialize them so they are used to people. We do have a few favorites that are naturally more calm and receive extra attention and handling because they seem to enjoy it.
When handling, there are two main areas of concern – falls to the hard ground and the loss of the tail. If you have a “frog butt” that has already lost his tail, you don’t have to worry about the second. These geckos are from densely packed forests, so they instinctively perform “leaps of faith” into the air. In the wild, it’s highly likely they’ll land on a tree branch to get away from potential predators or unwelcome advances from other geckos. They are great for grabbing on to things on their way down, which you will probably find out in the first 5 minutes of holding your pet! They will treat you as a living tree, and if they jump away from you, bring your hand up to catch them as they fall and they will willingly stick to you like they would a tree branch in their native environment. If they land on the ground in the wild, they are usually cushioned by leaf litter and low-growing plants. These geckos have loose folds of skin that they use to partially sky dive and make their landings softer. Still, be careful when holding crested geckos over hard floors like wood, ceramic, tile, concrete, etc. Especially babies or gravid females ready to lay their eggs. Even carpeting can cause problems, as fibers and hair can get stuck to geckos when they land. This can constrict on their extremities or be ingested to cause impaction.
Probably the biggest fear for a new owner is having their crested gecko drop his tail. This often happens when a crested gecko is stressed during handling. One sign of stress is breathing heavily, when you can see their chest moving in and out, not just the more relaxed throat bobbing. Also look out for tail twitching or waving, especially in an “S” formation. That means “back off” or they may drop their tail. Tail drops are usually no problem for the gecko. It’s more about the human keeper’s emotional attachment to the tail and the desire to keep it intact.
Also, it is very likely your gecko will relieve himself on you at some point during your handling session. If this bothers you, you can put them in a deli cup with damp paper towel to see if they will use that as a toilet instead of your hand.
Jumpy Babies, Teenagers & Gravid Females
The age and reproductive status of crested geckos can sometimes indicate how difficult they may be to handle. Luckily, geckos grow out of these phases and eventually most are reasonably well-behaved pets.
Tiny, jumpy babies are nerve-wracking for a new owner. That’s why we usually recommend a sub-adult or older juvenile. Around 8-15 grams is usually good for a beginner. All geckos can be unpredictable, especially when settling in to a new home. Some babies that are laid back for a breeder become really rambunctious in a different environment. Same goes for adults, too. It’s not uncommon for personality changes during the settling in process.
Some geckos handle change just fine, but captivity in general is stressful, unfortunately, and some animals handle it better. It’s a good idea to not handle new arrivals for the firs two weeks to minimize stress and get them to eat. Even a friendly gecko can get stressed by strangers trying to hold them. Let him get familiar with his new tank and new routine.
Teenage geckos seem to go through mood swings due to physical changes, growth spurts and hormones. Many seem to go crazy for bugs around this time, too. Keep your fingers away from hungry mouths and make sure they don’t mistake you for food before picking them up!
Handling a gravid female can also be a challenge. A female that is carrying eggs is often mistakenly called pregnant – but this term applies to animals that give live birth instead of laying eggs. You don’t want to cause a gravid female stress, which in rare instances can cause her to hold onto the eggs and become eggbound. Dropping a gravid female could cause the eggs to rupture inside her, causing dangerous internal problems. This is very rare, so just be cautious when handling. Some females can be nippy after laying eggs, and seem to guard them. Let her be, avoid handling her directly, but be sure to retrieve the eggs from the lay box within about 24 hours.
To assist in the settling in period, replace food and water in late afternoon while your gecko is asleep to avoid stress. Swap out paper towel weekly. Slowly incorporate handling into their routine to avoid too much at once.
Handling during the day is easier with a jumpy gecko. At night they are alert and ready to run.
Use a technique called “hand walking”, in which you let the gecko run or jump from one hand to the other. It’s a big like handling a jumping slinky but you can usually get used to it pretty quickly. So will your gecko!
Start up slowly by only handling them when cleaning their enclosure. Put them on a branch or in a cardboard tube instead of trying to grab them. Go slow. When hand walking them, do so only for a minute or two at a time every other day – after they’ve settled in, are comfortable with their tank and started to eat. You can increase this to about 15 minutes. After a few months, you may have a gecko who will hang out with you during the evening, but always expect them to dart away.
The good news is that most geckos can tame down within a month. However, you may have a gecko that just doesn’t tolerate handling as well, or is always jumpy. Although you may not be able to change their personality, you can likely improve handling considerably if you do so consistently and in short sessions.