What is the Best Substrate for Crested Gecko Tank?

If you’re getting ready to create the ideal terrarium habitat for your crested geckos, you’ve probably already written down the essentials to cover.

You’re worried about the necessary space, temperature setup, humidity, lighting, diet, etc. In short, all of the basics that the gecko needs to remain healthy and thrive over years to come.

It’s understandable if the substrate isn’t high on that list. After all, geckos are climbers, and they rarely go near the substrate.

However, today’s article is set to overturn this optic. I will argue that the substrate is actually quite important for geckos for a variety of reasons. We will discuss these in detail today.

Do Crested Geckos Need Substrate?

In short, yes, crested geckos need an adequate substrate, despite not caring much about it normally.

That’s due to several reasons:

Humidity Regulation

Adult geckos require a humidity level between 60 and 80%, preferably fluctuating between these values. This will mimic the humidity levels in their natural habitat since nature is never stable.

So, the gecko’s habitat should display fluctuating humidity levels between day and night to provide the gecko with optimal comfort. Not enough or too much humidity for prolonged periods of time will hurt the gecko in the long run.

So, what role does the substrate play in this sense? The role of the substrate is to retain moisture and release it into the air gradually. This will keep humidity levels in the optimal range for longer, minimizing the need for spraying the gecko’s habitat too often.

This is a useful perk to have, considering that geckos shed quite often during their juvenile period.

We’ll discuss which substrate types are most proficient in this sense shortly.

Temperature Regulation

Geckos cannot regulate their own body temperature since they’re cold-blooded animals. This means that they rely on their environment to warm up or cool off, depending on their needs.

The problem is that the gecko’s environment cannot provide the temperature fluctuation that the reptile needs at a specific moment in time. So, the gecko needs to do something about it itself.

One way that gecko can regulate their temperature is by burrowing into the substrate and burying themselves there for a while.

The good thing about a moisture-retaining substrate is that it cools off the lizard when temperatures are too high and warms it up when it’s too cold. This provides the gecko with a quick way to boost its comfort when in need.

A Good Refuge

Geckos can get stressed at times, even in the most well-designed and reptile-friendly environments. If you have several geckos in the same habitat, they might get aggressive at times since geckos aren’t exactly the most social creatures in the world.

Temperature fluctuations or inconsistencies can also stress them out, just like humidity issues, diseases, improper diets, etc.

When geckos are stressed, they typically display a hiding behavior, and the substrate is the most useful location in this sense.

So, it’s not unusual for geckos to bury themselves in the substrate when stressed, no matter the reason. They won’t stay there too much, but it’s worth knowing why they do it.

Now that you know why the substrate can be so important to geckos, let’s look at the different substrate types you can have.

Different Types of Substrates for Crested Geckos

Before pointing out the most common gecko substrates available, we should mention one crucial aspect relating to vivarium substrates.

Most gecko owners use a combination of different substrates rather than relying on a single type. This is mostly due to the fact that all substrates come with pluses and minuses.

Combining them is an efficient way of getting more benefits while diminishing the downsides or even removing them.

Doing so will also better mimic the gecko’s natural habitat, where the substrate is formed by different textures. So, here are your available substrate options to use for your gecko habitat:

Moss

Moss comes in various types, with sphagnum moss being the most prevalent. This is a good option for tropical settings because moss is exceptionally good at retaining moisture and keeping the lizard’s habitat humid.

It’s also soft and imbues the soil with a more acid pH, which has been shown to eliminate some forms of bacteria.

The only problem with moss is the formation of fungus, which will increase the risk of fungal infections.

So, regular substrate cleaning is necessary to prevent that. It’s also worth noting that moss substrates are pretty expensive compared to other options.

Coconut Fiber

Coconut fiber isn’t really popular in the gecko community but can play its role in retaining humidity and enriching the reptile’s habitat. It works pretty well with soil and other substrate versions, as it’s not a reliable option when used alone.

It doesn’t hurt to test it out, provided you already have a well-established substrate in your vivarium.

Mulch

To put it simply, organic mulch consists of chopped wood matter and can come in various types. Cypress mulch is a good option since it retains moisture, inhibits unpleasant smells, and has a fresh, ‘green’ odor, reminding it of rainforest habitats.

It’s also biodegradable, meaning that you can both dispose of it easily or use it in gardening.

That’s because organic mulch isn’t too easy to clean. The good side is that you can use it for quite some time until it begins to develop fungi or lose its characteristics.

At this point, consider having a replacement ready to keep the habitat fresh and on-point.

Wood Shavings

Wood shavings are another good, clean option for substrate thanks to their readiness, multiple options available, and humidity retaining capabilities. The type of wood to choose boils down to your preference and whatever fits your gecko habitat better.

Cedar, pine, and aspen are all popular options, each differing slightly in terms of overall characteristics.

However, aspen shavings seem to be the most reliable option since they’re chemical-free and safer for your geckos. Cedar covers the other side of the coin as it contains a lot of toxic oils, making it unfit for use in closed terrariums.

Always assess the wood shavings you’re getting to make sure they’re appropriate for your geckos.

Bark

Bark is relatively cheap, excluding some options like fir bark, and it sits great in a gecko habitat. It has a decent moisture-retaining factor and will beautify your lizard(s) habitat quite well.

The only problem I can think of is that, while you can clean it, you need to replace it regularly.

That’s because it absorbs a lot of moisture and can develop fungi in the long run. And there’s nothing you can do to clean it up effectively.

Soil

We’ve obviously saved the best for last since the soil is absolutely vital for geckos. It’s everywhere in their natural habitat, so it’s only normal for the gecko to feel at home in a soil-packed habitat.

It also doesn’t hurt that soil is readily available everywhere, although I would advise caution in this sense. Garden soil can contain a variety of contaminants like herbicides and pesticides, even if you haven’t actually used any.

These chemicals can arrive in your garden via airborne transmission, and it doesn’t take much to kill your geckos. Especially since geckos will often ingest soil by mistake when hunting for some insect and other live prey you’re feeding them.

To prevent this, I recommend relying on store-bought organic soil that’s certain to be free of chemicals and other contaminants.

And naturally, don’t be afraid to experiment and mix soil with other substrate types for additional benefits.

How Often to Clean Crested Gecko Substrate?

I would say daily. This may sound like a chore, but each cleaning session shouldn’t take more than a minute or 2.

The procedure typically refers to removing poop and uneaten food to prevent them from decaying in the terrarium and fouling the environment. And that’s about it.

Doing so will keep the substrate cleaner for longer. When it comes to cleaning the actual substrate, the frequency and cleaning intensity differ based on the substrate’s type.

As we’ve seen, some types of substrates need complete removal after a while due to them harboring potentially deadly fungi.

Other options, like soil, don’t necessarily need replacement, so long as you keep them clean and free of dead organic matter.

How Often to Change Crested Gecko Substrate?

The frequency by which to change your gecko’s substrate varies based on the type of substrate and overall cleaning schedule.

If you’re already performing regular cleaning, you don’t need to change your substrate that often. Some substrates also require more frequent changing, depending on their type, no matter how often you clean them.

Bark and wood shavings will probably need replacement monthly due to their predisposition towards developing fungi.

You can minimize this risk by removing any droppings and food remains daily, but you won’t be able to remove them entirely.

When it comes to soil, you should probably remove it after 6-8 months of use. But this timeframe differs based on how many geckos you have and how messy they get.

A powerful nasty odor often indicates that the substrate is no longer viable, and it’s time to replace it.

Best Substrate for Crested Geckos

Finding the ideal substrate for geckos depends on the gecko’s age, among other factors.

Baby geckos don’t need the same type of substrate adults do for reasons which we are about to detail here:

Baby Crested Geckos

The baby geckos will do just fine with paper towels or plain paper. That’s because they don’t typically bury themselves and will spend most of their time climbing stuff.

Paper towels make everything easier to clean, allowing you to change them even daily if necessary.

Adult Crested Geckos

When it comes to adult geckos, things change a bit. Adult geckos will burrow through the substrate occasionally for reasons which we have already discussed. Choosing the right substrate for them is pretty straightforward once you understand their needs.

The ideal substrate needs to retain moisture and be soft enough to allow geckos to bury themselves with ease. It should also be well-aerated to prevent the formation of bacteria or harboring other pathogens that could harm the lizards.

And, obviously, avoid substrates that may contain various contaminants and chemical agents like pesticides.

I would recommend a mix of soil and moss, although soil alone is sufficient as it is. Soil is great for retaining moisture and providing geckos with the comfort and safety they need when stressed.

Just remember to clean the substrate regularly and remove any waste or food leftovers that may accumulate during a 24-hour period.

Fortunately, adult geckos only eat around once every several days, so you won’t have a lot of cleaning to do.

Is Bioactive Substrate Good for Crested Geckos?

First, let’s work with our terms a bit here. The bioactive substrate is a common definition for ‘biologically enriched soil.’ In short, we’re talking about a type of substrate showcasing a natural biological cycle.

This simply refers to organic matter decomposing into the substrate and feeding the substrate’s microfauna.

This is a critical process in any closed system because the microfauna feeds on dangerous pathogens like bacteria and mold.

The beneficial microorganisms will also decompose the dead organic matter and turn it into key nutrients for plants.

So, is bioactive substrate good for geckos? Yes, it is. The reason for that is that the bioactive substrate breaks down the reptile’s waste and effectively neutralizes it, feeding the plants and beneficial organisms inhabiting the substrate.

The ideal bioactive substrate should consist of a mix of different materials. These include soil, sphagnum moss, fern fiber, bark, etc.

The type of each component differs based on your preferences, expected outcome, and effect on your geckos. The substrate should also be mechanically safe. I say this because bark, for instance, can sometimes contain sharp elements that could hurt the gecko.

Geckos are known to grab mouthfuls of substrate occasionally, especially when eating or digging around. The gecko can get hurt if the substrate contains small rocks or sharp splinters.

Substrates to Avoid for Crested Geckos

There are a few substrate types to avoid for your geckos, partly due to them being ineffective and partly due to not meeting the geckos’ needs.

Several of them include:

  • Newspaper – It fails to provide adequate protection against dirt since all the moist waste will soak right in. The result is a smelly and filthy substrate that will do more harm than good. The newspaper also has zero value when it comes to enriching the environment visually or influencing the habitat’s humidity levels. Pretty useless and rather damaging all-around.
  • Carpet – This is an even worse option. Carpets will get instantly soaked with all types of filth, water, and other fluids, quickly turning into a hazard inside the terrarium. The wet material will also harbor a variety of dangerous pathogens and promote the production of mold and fungi. Easy pass.
  • Sand – Sand is another easy pass due to its predisposition towards compaction. The thicker the substrate is, the faster it will get compacted when wet. This will make it difficult for geckos to use it for their burrowing purposes. Sand also doesn’t hold moisture that effectively, so it’s pretty useless for a reptile habitat.
  • Gravel and rocks – Both should be avoided since geckos can ingest the particles and experience compaction and other digestive problems because of it.

You should also avoid over-the-counter improvisations like using cat litter and other unfit options.

It’s better to just stick to reptile-specific options designed specifically with geckos in mind.

Conclusion

Crested geckos don’t use the substrate too often. But, when they do, it better meets their needs.

Otherwise, they will become even more stressed and unable to relax and feel comfortable in their setting.

I recommend a mix of bioactive substrate elements for the best results.

Crested Geckos   Reptiles   Updated: July 7, 2022
avatar I’m Noah, chief editor at VIVO Pets and the proud owner of a playful, energetic husky (Max). I’ve been a volunteer at Rex Animal Rescue for over 2 years. I love learning and writing about different animals that can be kept as pets.
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