5 Reasons Why Your Crested Gecko is Burrowing

Reptiles and geckos, more specifically, display a different behavior compared to other pets. That’s partly due to their biology, because reptiles function differently, and partly due to their temperament.

If you’ve never had a gecko before, you need to prepare yourself for some rather unique behaviors. Today, we will discuss one such behavior, which is the gecko’s tendency to bury itself in the substrate. Why do geckos do it? Many people dismiss this question altogether, as they presume it’s just natural gecko behavior; nothing to worry about.

But that’s not always the case. The gecko will look for shelter in the substrate for a variety of reasons, and they’re not all harmless.

Why is My Crested Gecko Burrowing?

First, we should mention that the crested gecko doesn’t burrow as often as other species. They typically like to remain at a height, resting on a branch on the lookout for prey passing by. So, when the gecko does begin to bury itself in the substrate, that tells something about its state of mind.

Here are the main reasons for geckos burrowing through the substrate:

– Temperature

Geckos are thermosensitive, which is a reptile-specific characteristic. To put it simply, all reptiles are cold-blooded, so they cannot self-regulate their temperatures the way mammals do. The gecko will rely on its environment to regulate its temperature, and when that doesn’t happen, the reptile will look for a way out.

The substrate in the gecko’s habitat will retain humidity and provide the gecko with a safe refuge in case the environmental temperature is suboptimal. This is where an interesting phenomenon takes place. If the air temperature is too high, the gecko will bury itself in the substrate to cool off. If the temperature is too low, the gecko will do the same to warm up.

Either way, temperature imbalances are often responsible for the gecko’s burrowing behavior. For a clearer picture, geckos require daytime temperatures of around 75 F, give or take. At nighttime, temperatures will be obviously lower, around 65 or 60, which isn’t a problem since this is a natural temperature cycle for the lizards.

The gecko can manage improper temperatures, either too low or too high, provided it has the resources for it. It will bury itself in the substrate, look for shady areas, cool off with some water, or go closer to the heat source, depending on the situation. The problem arrives when the temperatures either fluctuate too much or remain at inadequate values for too long.

If you notice your gecko digging and burying itself in the substrate too often, check the temperature values first and foremost. If everything’s fine on that end, your gecko may be dealing with any of the following issues.

– Egg Laying

Crested geckos have an 8-month-long mating season and will produce a couple of eggs pretty much every month. The female won’t simply lay the eggs randomly but dig holes to buy them. This protective and instinctive behavior allows geckos to keep their eggs safe in the wild.

So, if it’s the female gecko that’s doing the burrowing, consider the fact that it may be gravid. Unfortunately, it’s pretty difficult to tell whether the female is carrying eggs unless you’re a gecko geek. The female’s abdomen won’t swell too much, and its behavior will only begin to change when the delivery moment approaches.

One of the signs comes in the form of the female digging holes to put the eggs in. To make sure that’s what’s going on, monitor the female for a couple of days to confirm the gravid-specific behavior. The female gecko will grow seemingly apathetic when the time comes and will eat less. It will also be less willing to be held, not that geckos like that too much anyway.

If you can confirm the gecko’s gravid state, use a nesting box to allow the female the privacy it needs to get the job done. You can then place the box into another terrarium to personalize the environmental conditions accordingly.

– Shedding

All geckos shed since this is their way of renewing their epidermal. Interestingly enough, all creatures ‘shed’ as well, including humans. It’s just that the process is different. With humans, the process is just as interesting as with reptiles, albeit completely different. We shed our skin gradually via microparticles and flakes that float into the air and gather on various hard surfaces.

It seems that we lose up to 40,000 skin cells per minute, allowing us to renew our skin’s entire outer layer in 2-4 weeks. Reptiles are more effective at the skin shedding business. It only takes about 30 minutes for them to complete the same process since they shed all of their skin at once.

When the shedding time approaches, your gecko will display a different behavior, becoming more irritable, avoiding contact, and looking for hiding spots. It might even dig itself in the substrate as means to moisten up its skin and scratch the shedding itch.

The gecko should begin to shed shortly, and you will see the lizard licking its skin around the snout and face to get things started.

You should always be mindful about your gecko’s need for privacy during this time. Don’t hold it, don’t try to help it by pulling its skin off, and provide it with optimal environmental conditions to ease the process. The gecko needs space, adequate temperature and slightly higher humidity levels (up to 80%) during nighttime. The higher humidity will aid in the shedding process.

Just make sure not to go overboard with it. Only keep the humidity at 80% for short periods. Otherwise, the entire thing may backfire. Excessive humidity will actually cause the old skin to stick to the lizard’s body which can cause skin rot and lead to infections.

So, keep an eye on that.

– Stress or Disease

These 2 go hand-in-hand since geckos will always display signs of stress when sick. That being said, not all stressed geckos are sick, so we need to consider these 2 differently.

  • Stressed Geckos

Geckos can experience stress for a variety of reasons, such as:

  • Improper environmental conditions – This is the first and most important factor to consider since it affects geckos directly and fast. If the temperature, humidity, or lighting aren’t optimal, the gecko will experience stress in the first phase. If the situation isn’t remedied soon, the reptile will face a variety of health problems, some of which can be deadly. Always keep the gecko in a stable and optimized enclosure to prevent this issue.
  • Improper diet – Adult geckos require 1 meal every 2-3 days since they have a rather slow metabolism. They prefer an omnivorous diet, comprising of insects and overripe fruits for the most part. However, they also need supplementation since their diet won’t be as diverse in captivity as it is in the wild. Calcium and vitamin D3 are necessary to keep the gecko healthy and prevent nutritional deficiencies which can kill the animal.
  • Improper lighting – The improper lighting (either too bright or too dim) won’t hurt the gecko immediately, but it will take a toll on its physiology gradually. Geckos need a proper light cycle, given that they are nocturnal creatures and tend to feed and be more active during nighttime. Provide your gecko with a steady light cycle to prevent stress and help them rest properly.
  • Bullying and fighting – Geckos are docile and friendly creatures when they don’t have to share their space with anyone else. It sounds pretty obvious, doesn’t it? Thank you! Well, the problem is when pairing geckos with other geckos, especially when they’re of the same gender and especially when they’re males. Male geckos will kill each other, no matter how large the terrarium is. At best, the weaker male will seek to hide underground, refuse to eat, and experience health problems shortly. At worst, death is guaranteed. Only keep one male gecko and 2-3 females, especially if you’re looking to breed them.
  • Other factors – We include here placing the terrarium in an overly circulated room, handling the geckos too often, cleaning their habitat too often, or simply interfering with their lifestyle.

Stressed geckos will have weaker immune systems, eat less, and appear more lethargic. All these will make the gecko more prone to diseases and bacterial infections, and you don’t want that.

  • Sick Geckos

While geckos are quite hardy in general, they too experience a variety of health problems in certain conditions. A variety of factors will contribute to those problems, including inadequate temperature and humidity, improper dieting, genetic predispositions, inbreeding, etc.

While you won’t be able to control all of these factors, you can control some. Provide your gecko with an optimized diet plan and health environmental parameters, and regularly monitor its habitat. This will allow you to detect health problems in time and provide the proper treatment fast.

So, if your gecko appears stressed, look for signs of disease and investigate the matter more closely.

– Sleeping

Yes, geckos will bury themselves in the substrate often when sleeping. That’s because, when sleeping, they are vulnerable to predators, so their instincts force them to find shelter in the ground. This is why your gecko substrate should be at least 3-inch deep

How Long Does a Crested Gecko Stay Burrowed?

If the gecko is burrowed due to temperature instability, the reptile may remain there until its body temperature is stable. This could last for 30 minutes, an hour or more, depending on each case. If the reptile is stressed, it might remain in hiding for longer, depending on the nature of the threat.

Eventually, the gecko will come out to eat and regulate its body temperature, so you shouldn’t worry if it appears to take its time. Also, geckos don’t tend to burrow through the substrate too often unless they have a good reason for that. So, if you notice your reptile burrowing through the substrate, investigate their behavior to understand what may be causing it.

Do Crested Geckos Burrow When Dying?

Crested geckos don’t typically burrow when dying, but that can happen at times. The gecko may burrow due to some disease issues causing the reptile significant discomfort and die while buried. But geckos don’t sense their deaths and bury themselves in the soil in advance.

Since we’re at this topic, it may sometimes be difficult to differentiate between a live, sick, or dead gecko, visually speaking. Geckos are often lethargic and like to rest motionless a lot during the day. They can also exhibit a ‘play dead’ behavior and won’t even react to the touch. This is mostly due to their low levels of energy when relaxing and warming up. Or maybe they’re simply sleeping.

However, if your gecko hasn’t moved for a while, you might want to check its vitals to make sure it’s still with you. Pick it up, check its thoracic movement, indicative of breathing, and shine a light into its eyes. If the gecko is alive, the pupils should dilate since that’s a mechanical reaction that the gecko cannot control.

The idea is not to jump to conclusions too fast. Geckos are famous for their lack of reaction at times, even when picked up. It doesn’t mean that the gecko is dead or dying simply because it doesn’t move or react when picked up. Maybe it’s in the process of shedding, maybe it’s stressed, or maybe it’s resting.

Conclusion

All geckos will bury some species more often than others. If your crested gecko tends to burrow too often, investigate the situation more closely since it’s not quite natural behavior. In most cases, the temperature is to blame, but occasionally other factors may be to blame.

Fortunately, you now have the knowledge to handle every situation adequately.

Crested Geckos   Updated: June 16, 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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