How to Care for Your Gargoyle Gecko
Table of Contents
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. 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!
Is it safe to house multiple gargoyle geckos together?
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, but can also happen with females.
Gargoyle gecko quarantine procedure
It’s best practice to quarantine your gargoyle gecko first. 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 enclosure that you plan to keep the gecko in long-term, or you can do this with a tall plastic tub. 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 gecko 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?
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.
How to measure UVB for a gargoyle gecko
UVB strength is measured by UV Index, or UVI. This is most accurately done with a device called a Solarmeter 6.5. When you hold the Solarmeter vertically near the basking surface at the height of the gecko’s back, the device should read between 1.0-2.0.
Factors such as the density of the mesh over your enclosure and the exact fixture you’re using can affect exactly what basking distance is needed to achieve the right UVI.
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.
How to heat your gargoyle gecko
Provide heat for your gecko by imitating the sun with a low-wattage heat lamp placed on one side of the enclosure, with a branch or vine directly underneath for the gecko to perch on. Ideally, there should be foliage or some other type of cover close nearby to help the gecko feel more secure about basking.
Do not use ceramic heat emitters (CHEs), red bulbs, or blue bulbs, as these are not as effective.
How to measure temperature
To measure your basking temperature, use a digital probe thermometer with the probe placed on the basking surface. To measure cool side temperature, use another thermometer with the probe placed lower in the enclosure, in the shade. This will allow you to monitor the temperature gradient.
Do not use analog or stick-on thermometers, as you will not be able to get accurate readings, which can be potentially harmful to your pet.
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!
How to increase and maintain humidity
Misting your gecko’s enclosure with a sprayer first thing in the morning and again at night (if needed) will help create the right humidity levels. Moisten the substrate by mixing water into it as needed can also help stabilize humidity levels.
It’s also a good idea to run a cool mist fogger/humidifier at night, because humidity levels are naturally higher at night in the wild. Connect the fogger to a humidistat to maintain nighttime humidity levels no lower than 80%.
Although gargoyle geckos need plenty of humidity, keep in mind that the enclosure needs a humidity cycle, not stagnation. If there isn’t enough ventilation to allow the enclosure to dry out at least a bit during the day, then your gecko is more likely to get sick due to increased pathogen growth. Installing a small computer fan on top of the enclosure to help keep things moving may be necessary.
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.
How to clean a gargoyle gecko enclosure
When you replace your gargoyle gecko’s substrate, this is also a good opportunity to completely clean out the entire enclosure:
- Remove your gecko from the enclosure and place 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 decor 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 pet to the clean setup.
F10SC, CleanBreak, and bleach solution (1:10 dilution) can be used for disinfecting porous materials. The same can be used for nonporous materials, although the concentration of bleach solution should be changed to 1:50.
Can gargoyle geckos have a bioactive setup?
Gargoyle geckos are definitely compatible with bioactive when it’s done properly. Bioactive setups can work great with gargoyle geckos because it helps stabilize humidity levels. Plus, bioactive eliminates the need for routine total cleanouts, tends to have a fresh, earthy smell; and is generally very attractive to look at.
On the other hand, bioactive setups can be inconvenient because the vivarium needs at least one month to get established before adding the gecko, you need plants that can withstand gecko traffic, and larger CUC critters are likely to get routinely eaten. Setting up a bioactive enclosure is also usually more expensive than other options, and it’s best practice to partially replace the substrate on a regular basis to help reduce pathogen concentration and keep the soil healthy.
To create a bioactive setup for your gargoyle gecko, you will need all of the usual supplies mentioned in this article, as well as:
- bioactive-ready tropical substrate mix
- clean leaf litter
- sphagnum moss
- live, nontoxic plants
- tropical CUC (Clean Up Crew) organisms to maintain the soil
If it’s your first time setting up a bioactive vivarium, it’s best to use a commercial bioactive substrate mix, such as Bio Dude or Josh’s Frogs, rather than mixing your own, as this reduces your likelihood of error. Appropriate CUC for a gargoyle gecko vivarium include dwarf white isopods, powder orange/blue isopods, springtails, mealworms, and superworms.
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 live plants can be used with gargoyle geckos?
Since gargoyle geckos are climbers, any live plants you decide to use in the enclosure must be sturdy enough to support the weight of the gecko without getting crushed, so sensitive varieties are not a good idea. Here are a few options that work well in a humid, moderately-lit environment:
- Spider plant
Note that larger plants are usually sturdier, which is one argument for using a taller enclosure such as a 2x2x4.
Are gargoyle geckos good climbers?
Gargoyle geckos may live in trees and shrubs, but they also have something of a reputation among pet owners as being a bit clumsy, which can come across as saying that gargoyle geckos are poor climbers/too clumsy to do so safely. Is this true?
As far as arboreal geckos go, gargoyles aren’t the stickiest. This simply means that they’re not the best at climbing smooth surfaces like glass and plastic, so it’s best to use more textured climbing materials like cork bark. Providing plenty of appropriate climbing opportunities from a young age encourages healthy muscle tone and reduces incidents related to clumsiness.
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
Prepared diets for gargoyle geckos
There are many high-quality and trustworthy crested gecko diets (CGD) that can be used as the primary source of nutrition for your pet. Here are some with the best reputations:
A varied diet is important to complete nutrition and providing a source of sensory enrichment. Strive to use a rotation of at least 3 different flavors of CGD with your gecko.
Feeder insects for gargoyle geckos
Although technically gargoyle geckos can survive on just high-quality CGD, it’s best practice to offer feeder insects as well — especially when the gecko is young and growing. Here are some suitable options:
For best nutrition, feeder insects should be gutloaded and hydrated with a high-quality insect diet such as Arcadia Insect Fuel for at least 24-48 hours prior to feeding.
Do gargoyle geckos need dietary supplements?
How to provide drinking water for your gargoyle gecko
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.
How to tame your gargoyle gecko
Taming a gargoyle gecko means teaching it to trust and feel comfortable around you. This requires consistent positive interactions to build the trust relationship. While a negative experience or two won’t ruin your taming efforts, it can slow them down, so it’s best to be consistent. It’s best to encourage the gecko to come out of the enclosure and climb onto you on its own, rather than forcibly grabbing it. Avoid removing it from its hiding places, as hides are supposed to be safe, private places.
Using treats, or tong-feeding, is a great way to bribe your pet into interacting with you and learning to trust you!
Enrichment ideas for gargoyle geckos
Enrichment is what good zoos use to keep their animals happy, active, and engaged. Some say that reptiles are too stupid to benefit from enrichment, but this is false. Reptiles, including gargoyle geckos, can absolutely benefit from enrichment when it is provided in appropriate ways for a small nocturnal lizard.
Here are some ideas for enrichment activities that your gecko is likely to enjoy:
- Rearrange the enclosure. If total overhauls are too stressful, move one thing every so often at your pet’s pace. For some individuals, that may be once a month, for others they might like once a week.
- Organize a treasure hunt. Every once in a while, move the feeding platform to a new spot to stimulate your gecko’s foraging instincts!
- Offer supervised explore time outside of the enclosure. Make sure to keep them away from situations that you can’t get them out of.
Signs you need to take your gargoyle gecko to the vet
Veterinary care is an important part of having any pet, including gargoyle geckos. If you notice any of these signs or symptoms, make an appointment with an experienced reptile vet to get them checked out immediately.
- 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
Gargoyle geckos should be taken to the vet shortly after you bring them home, and then at least 1x/year for a general checkup and parasite check.
Outside of that, if you are concerned about your pet’s health due to a change in their appearance or behavior, don’t go to the internet for medical advice — book an appointment with a professional! You can find an experienced reptile veterinarian near you at ARAV.org.
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:
- 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.