In this complete guide to the possible causes of a crested gecko having trouble climbing, we take a look at all the possibilities, from the benign and temporary, to the problems that need medical treatment.
- How do geckos stick to walls?
- Why is my crested gecko having trouble climbing?
- What to do about a crested gecko not sticking to glass
- Caring for crested gecko feet
Temporary reluctance to climb is a normal short term response to shedding. But long term changes in climbing habits can be a sign that something is wrong with your gecko’s health, or how you’re looking after them.
Geckos’ fantastic climbing ability is a huge part of their appeal. Let’s see what is mean when that ability doesn’t seem to be there any more.
How do geckos stick to walls?
How do geckos climb on everything anyway? Why do they stick, and why don’t they just slide back down from smooth surfaces like glass?
Crested geckos’ feet are amazingly well adapted for adhering to many kinds of surfaces. Their toe pads and the underside of their tail are lamellated, which means covered in lots of narrow plates, or scales. And each plate (or lamella) is covered in millions of microscopic hair-like structures called setae. Setae are very different to our own hair. They are extensions of the gecko’s skin, and they are packed with muscle cells that allow geckos to respond to different surfaces. The surface of each individual setae also forms a weak molecular bond with the surface they are walking on, called a Van der Waals force. Multiplied by millions upon millions of setae, the combined force is strong enough to hold on to smooth vertical surfaces.
Their ability to grip smooth vertical surfaces is so remarkable and highly specialized that NASA have spent decades trying to replicate it with manmade materials. But so far, nothing has quite rivaled the awesome natural prowess of geckos.
Why is my crested gecko having trouble climbing?
Crested geckos are famous for their climbing ability. But what about when that ability seems to desert them? There are several reason this can happen. Sometimes it’s obvious which applies to your gecko, and sometimes you’ll need to figure it out by elimination, or consult a veterinarian.
Firstly, not all crested geckos hatch with super sticky feet from the day they are born. Some hatchlings aren’t confident climbing right away, but they usually catch up over the first few weeks and months of life. Since there aren’t any laws restricting what age hatchlings can be sold at, if your lizard is extremely young, lack of stickiness might just be down to immaturity.
2. Limits on their abilities
Geckos are super-skilled, but not infinitely skilled climbers. Most geckos have problems climbing on smooth plastics, including the sides of perspex tanks, or whiteboards. This is because the molecular forces which hold them in place don’t form as strongly with plastic.
Crested geckos need relatively high humidity, of around 60-80%, and drinking water which is provided in an accessible way. One of the most common reasons they stop climbing is because the humidity is too low, which has caused them to become dehydrated. Or they don’t like the way their drinking water is presented. Geckos prefer to drink by licking water droplets from the side of the tank, rather than drinking from a bowl, and they can get dehydrated even with a bowl of water right next to them. Dehydration not only affects their physical ability to climb, and also how they feel about climbing. A dehydrated gecko is likely to feel very physically uncomfortable and distressed, and that will put them off the very idea of climbing.
4. Mineral deposits
In a glass tank, mineral deposits on the glass can also interfere with the Van der Waals forces, and limit crested geckos’ ability to stick. Mineral deposits can accumulate due to misting a tank with plain tap water, if you live in a hard water area. To remove mineral deposits, the gecko needs to be rehoused temporarily so the sides of the tank can be thoroughly scrubbed, and cleaning residues removed. In future, mist the tank with distilled water bought online or in pharmacies.
5. Too much condensation
Too much condensation on the glass can also prevent a gecko climbing confidently, by making the walls of the tank slippery. Large droplets of condensation on the walls of the tank also suggests that the tank is either too humid, or inadequately ventilated – which can lead to problems with fungus and mold too.
6. They’re about to shed
Juvenile crested geckos shed approximately once a fortnight to allow themselves room to grow. Mature geckos continue shedding every month or two, to keep their skin healthy. When they’re about to shed, fluid accumulates between their old skin and the new skin underneath, to work the old skin loose. This makes their grip less secure, because their feet aren’t properly attached to the inside of their old skin. If your gecko hasn’t shed for a while, and they’re suddenly spending more time on the ground, it’s likely that they’re getting ready to shed again now.
7. Stuck shed on their feet
The technical term for when a gecko fails to completely shed their old skin is dysecdysis. A crested gecko can have trouble climbing when dysecdysis causes some of their old skin to be retained on their toes. Misting the tank frequently during shedding can help prevent this, and giving them a wet flannel to walk on can help exfoliate away old skin from around their lamellae. If these things don’t work, ask a vet to help you remove the offending old skin (don’t try to do it yourself!) Anecdotally, some gecko owners think that lizards who had trouble shedding when they were young are more likely to have long term trouble climbing as an adult.
8. Nutritional deficiencies
There are several ways an inadequate diet can cause a crested gecko to have trouble climbing.
- Firstly, a shortage of calories can cause lethargy and contribute to dehydration, making them less inclined to climb.
- Secondly, a diet which has sufficient calories but lacks vital nutrients such as calcium, vitamin A and vitamin D, can lead to abnormal bone development and skin problems, which make it harder for geckos to climb
- And thirdly, some owners have speculated obesity caused by too many calories could make geckos too heavy for the stickiness of their feet to support them. It’s not clear how much truth there is in this, but since obesity is bad for them in lots of proven ways, it’s still a good idea to keep them at a healthy weight anyway!
What do crested geckos eat?
To keep them healthy, your crested gecko needs
- a commercial gecko diet from the store, based on fruit fortified with essential vitamins and minerals
- small numbers of live insect prey, such as small crickets
- and occasional pieces of fresh fruit.
If you’re not sure what your gecko should be eating right now, ask the breeder you bought them from or a more experience gecko owner for advice.
Our next reason why your crested gecko might have suddenly started spending more time on the ground and showing reluctance to climb is stress. Stress can be bought on by a move, and complete tank overhaul, or even a more subtle change in conditions. Crested gecko care is a specialist hobby, and it’s not to undertaken lightly. With the right husbandry, crested gecko lifespan can reach 20 years in captivity, so it’s not a short commitment either! Which is why we’ve written this guide to help you decide if you’re ready. If you haven’t already worked out the reason for your gecko having trouble climbing, consider asking a veterinarian or more experienced owner assess their lifestyle, and identify potential causes of stress.
Finally, illness can be responsible for a crested gecko having trouble climbing too. For example a bad parasitic infection can cause lethargy and diminished activity. And it’s possible that some neurological diseases can alter coordination and balance. Examples of neurological diseases aren’t well recognized in crested geckos at the time of writing, but they are widely reported in several closely related species, so it is a possibility. Ultimately If you feel like you’ve ruled out all other possibilities, it’s time for a trip to the veterinarian to assess the possibility of underlying medical causes.
What to do about a crested gecko not sticking to glass
If you notice your crested gecko having difficulty climbing, you can use this article to rule out some possibilities, and possibly even hone in on the exact cause. It helps to keep a diary of when they last shed, so you can judge how likely it is that they’re getting ready to shed again. Use a torch to check the walls of their tank for mineral deposits (take your gecko out first!). While they’re out of the tank, weigh them to check for sudden weight loss that can be a sign of dehydration, nutritional deficiencies, stress or parasite burden. If your gecko is showing any signs of being unwell, such as loss of appetite, sunken eyes, or changes in their droppings, take them to a veterinarian right away.
Caring for crested gecko feet
Gecko toes (and tails) are their super power, and they’re worth taking a bit of extra care of. Providing a moist, slightly abrasive surface to walk on every now and then (like a clean damp flannel) can help keep your gecko’s toes clean and free from retained shed. The next most common causes of foot malfunctions are dehydration and malnutrition, so make sure they’re getting an appropriate diet and water in an accessible way. It’s a good idea to get your gecko used to being handled from a young age, so that you can easily examine the underside of their feet and tail when needed. But if you spot any shed stuck on crested gecko claws, always get a veterinarian to help you remove it.
Crested gecko having trouble climbing – summary
Geckos are able to climb in smooth vertical surfaces due to the highly specialized lamellae and setae on their feet and tail. Many of the things which make a gecko suddenly unwilling or unable to climb are related to husbandry. For example mineral deposits on the inside of their tank, inadequate humidity making them dehydrated or interfering with shedding, and innappropriate diet. If the problem persists, always ask a veterinarian’s advice.
More gecko resources
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