How to Care for Your Gargoyle Gecko
Gargoyle geckos (Rhacodactylus auriculatus) are small arboreal lizards native to the tropical forests of New Caledonia, particularly the islands of Grande Terre and the Isle of Pines.
Gargoyle geckos are typically 6-8” long, with large feet, sticky toe pads, a prehensile tail, and a large triangular head with bony knobs near the ears. Like most other geckos, they do not have eyelids. They are typically cream-colored with a brown or black pattern, some being more heavily patterned than others. They may also have red, orange, or yellow markings. Gargoyle geckos are selectively bred in captivity for brighter colors and more distinct patterns.
Gargoyle geckos are one of the most popular pet lizards in the US, due to their small size, hardiness, ease of breeding, ease of care, and tolerance for human interaction. This also makes them good pet reptiles for first-timers. With good care, they can live 15-20 years.
How much space do gargoyle geckos need?
Gargoyle geckos are not very active compared to other arboreal lizards, but they still need an enclosure that is large enough to allow them to thermoregulate and exercise other natural behaviors. A single gargoyle gecko should be housed in absolutely no smaller than an 18” x 18” x 24” terrarium, although larger is always better, and will be happily used!
Cohabitation (keeping multiple gargoyle geckos in one enclosure) is not recommended, and may result in fighting if attempted. This is especially the case for males that are housed together.
Do gargoyle geckos need UVB?
They can survive without it, but it’s still recommended. UVB gives them all of the vitamin D that their bodies need, stimulates better appetite and activity, and generally allows them to be healthier than they would be without.
Gargoyle geckos do best with low-strength UVB as part of their enclosure. 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”
The UVB bulb should be housed in a reflective fixture and placed close to the heat lamp, about 6” above the basking branch. UVB is blocked by glass and plastic, so you can’t give your gecko UVB by placing its terrarium in front of an open window. Also make sure that the fixture your UVB bulb is in does not have a clear plastic bulb cover.
Gargoyle geckos should receive 11 hours of light during winter and 13.5 hours of light during summer. This simulates natural seasonal changes in day length and encourages healthier hormonal rhythms.
What basking temperatures do gargoyle geckos need?
Despite popular myth, gargoyle geckos do benefit from having a basking area. After all, they’re still ectotherms, which means that they need a temperature gradient in their enclosure to help them regulate their metabolism and stay healthy.
Gargoyle geckos should have a low basking temperature between 82-85°F, as measured by a digital probe thermometer with the probe placed on the basking surface. The cool zone in the lower regions of the enclosure should stay between 70-75°F. Heat lamps should be turned off at night. Nighttime temperatures can drop as low as 65°F.
Provide heat for your gecko by imitating the sun with a low-wattage heat lamp placed on one side of the enclosure. Do not use ceramic heat emitters (CHEs), red bulbs, or blue bulbs, as these are not as effective.
What humidity levels do gargoyle geckos need?
Gargoyle geckos need a high humidity environment with an average humidity of 60-80%, as measured by a digital probe hygrometer with the probe in the middle of the terrarium.
Misting your gecko’s enclosure with a sprayer first thing in the morning and again at night will help create the right humidity levels. It also provides an important source of drinking water!
What substrate is good for gargoyle geckos?
Although gargoyle geckos are an arboreal species and don’t spend much time on the ground, placing a layer of substrate on the floor of the enclosure helps maintain humidity. As an added perk, it also tends to make the enclosure more attractive.
Ideally, this substrate should resemble what gargoyle geckos naturally live on in the wild — in this case, tropical soil. It should have small particles and hold moisture well. 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 décor can you use in a gargoyle gecko terrarium?
It’s terribly boring for a gecko to be stuck in an enclosure with nothing in it except substrate and food/water bowls. It doesn’t matter how big the enclosure is if you don’t put things in it for your pet to use and interact with. Gargoyle geckos appreciate a fairly densely planted enclosure with either live or artificial plants, which can make their terrarium a great piece of home décor!
At bare minimum, you will need a couple branches for your gecko to climb on and some live or artificial foliage for it to hide in. However, it’s best to include other items, such as:
Gargoyle geckos are poor at climbing smooth surfaces like glass, so it’s best to cover the glass walls of the enclosure with a textured foam or cork background to increase the usable surface area in the enclosure.
What do gargoyle geckos eat?
Gargoyle geckos are omnivorous, which means that they need to eat a balanced diet of plant and animal matter in order to get the nutrition that their bodies need. In the wild, they primarily eat insects and fruit, but they are also known to eat small vertebrates like young crested geckos. In captivity, 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
Best crested gecko diets: Pangea, Repashy, Leapin’ Leachie, Zoo Med, Lugarti, Black Panther Zoological, Gecko Pro
Remember, the key to great nutrition is variety! Pinky mice or very small lizards can be offered as an occasional treat.
Although crested gecko diet doubles as a vitamin supplement, you will need calcium powder to dust on feeder insects. We recommend Repashy Supercal NoD.
Although your gecko will get most of its drinking water from daily mistings, it’s a good idea to also provide a wall-mounted water dish. Change the water daily and scrub the bowl with a reptile-safe disinfectant weekly, or whenever it becomes soiled.
Do gargoyle geckos like to be handled?
Few reptiles actually “like” to be held, but gargoyle geckos generally tolerate handling well. Be gentle, and whenever possible, pick up the gecko from below instead of grabbing it from above — this approach is less scary and stressful for them. They may be a bit jumpy at first, so let them hop from one hand to the other until they have calmed down.
*This care sheet contains only very basic information. Although it’s a good introduction, please do further research with high-quality sources to obtain additional information on caring for this species. Here are some other great sources to read. Some of them may seem to be specific to crested geckos, but as a general rule, crested gecko care and gargoyle gecko care are very similar:
Photo by Generish, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.