Crested Gecko Food Pyramid
The pyramid is a guide to feed your crested gecko. You do not have to follow the schedule exactly (see special considerations). It is based off of research on the macronutrient and calcium requirements of various types of reptiles outlined in the Merck Veterinary Manual as well as individual scientific studies about wild crested gecko diets. This pyramid is also based off of what experienced crested gecko breeders have found to work for their animals.
The crested gecko food pyramid is designed to be a user-friendly guide. It may be helpful to feed foods in a "smoothie" form if your crested gecko will not readily accept a salad type meal. The foods on the bottom are the most important, however all the food groups are necessary for a healthy crested gecko. The key on the right side describes how many times to feed this food group per a week. When the pyramid level is broken in half, you can choose either food group. The larger the section, the more important it is.
This guide is made to combat the incomplete knowledge of crested gecko nutrition. Currently there are many complete diets on the market that work well for crested geckos. Before these diets, rampant misunderstanding of crested geckos’ dietary needs caused them to be almost impossible to keep in captivity. With this guide you should be able to make an informed decision on a commercial diet or be able to feed a healthy home-made diet.
There is no such thing as a complete guide to crested gecko nutrition because there is no realistic way for the in-home keeper to formulate a total diet. It is conventional wisdom that variety is key to combat an incomplete diet, but that isn’t always the case. For example, almost all the foods a crested gecko is fed will be deficient in calcium and iodine. This is simply a product of commercial agriculture raising plants and insects so that they grow as cost effectively as possible.
This guide will get you as close as possible to a complete diet without expensive scientific testing. The most important thing in any animal’s diet is feeding appropriate foods in appropriate ratios in order to get the correct balance of protein fat and carbohydrates. It will also help you understand other nutrients how to get them too.
Key Food Groups:
It is generally common knowledge that crested geckos are frugivores, but the term is misleading. All animals classified as frugivores supplement their diets with other plant and animal material. This is often overlooked when keeping crested geckos in captivity. The other issue with frugivores is that almost all fruit you can buy in the store is heavily domesticated and has little relation to the nutritional content of its wild relatives. Domestic fruits are lower in protein, vitamins, minerals and fiber while they are much higher in sugar content. Tropical fruits are generally a good choice, but are still much too sweet compared to their wild counterparts.
There is little species specific information on crested geckos' wild diet, but there have been observations of other species in the same genus. Leach's giant gecko was observed by Bauer and Sadlier (2000) to consume a diet of fruit, specifically figs. This reference is likely where the idea that crested geckos are frugivores originates, but this reference does not provide much other information on the components of the diet.
Some healthy fruits include berries, cantelope, dates, figs, guava, kiwi, mango, oranges, papaya and pineapple.
Insects are the protein source for crested geckos. Most commercially raised insects are deficient in several nutrients, including calcium, thiamin (vitamin B1), vitamin A and vitamin E. It is necessary to feed the insects a high calcium and vitamin A diet before feeding to your crested gecko. Gut loading is much more effective than dusting insects. The insects fed should also be low in fat content.
Studies on the gargoyle gecko by Bauer and Sadlier (1994), show that these animals eat a variety of arthropods as well as skink lizards and flowers. Considering that the crested gecko lacks the skull morphology to eat skink lizards, the evidence points to a large part of their diet consisting of insects for protein.
Ideal insects include crickets, roaches, hornworms and soldier fly larva (reptiworms). Insects that should be fed more sparingly due to their fat content include mealworms , superworms and waxworms.
Check out the nutritional analysis of some common feeder insects.
This is the part of a crested gecko’s diet that will bring in a diversity of nutrients and a ton of beta-carotene. Good vegetables are often bright in color and not too high in oxalates and phosphorus. Sometimes the healthiest foods are also the strangest, such as prickly pear leafs and hibiscus flowers. Flowers are especially natural, as gargoyle geckos have been observed eating them by Bauer and Sadlier (1994). Many crested geckos may prefer to eat vegetables in a "smoothie" form blended with fruit.
Some of the best vegetables include acorn squash, butternut squash, bell peppers, prickly pear leafs, hibiscus, common button mushroom, okra, and pumpkin.
Other good vegetables include asparagus, broccoli, brussel sprouts, carrot, green beans, snap peas, tomato, yellow squash and cucumber.
Check out the nutritional analysis of vegetables.
Greens are a powerful source of nutrition for crested geckos. They have more calcium, vitamins and other minerals than the average vegetable. A healthy green must be rich in nutrients like calcium, low in phosphorus and low in anti-nutrients like oxalates and goitrogens. Many crested geckos may prefer to eat greens in a "smoothie" form blended with fruit.
The best greens are escarole, endive, alfalfa and dandelion greens.
Other good greens are bok choy, collard greens, mustard greens, turnip greens, watercress
Liberally sprinkle a vitamin supplement on the crested gecko's food. A vitamin and mineral supplement is essential when feeding a home made diet to ensure no nutrients are missing, however there is quite a variety of supplements on the market. When looking for a supplement for a healthy crested gecko, as outlined here, there are a few key nutrients one should consider. Most fruits and vegetables are low in magnesium, iron and iodine. Make sure your supplement provides these nutrients as well as ample amounts of B vitamins. Often iodide is provided using kelp as an ingredient. Additionally, vitamin A should be provided in a a beta-carotene form. The average healthy crested gecko diet will provide more than enough vitamin A, and supplementing it in a retinol form can cause overdose. When offered as beta-carotene, a crested gecko’s body can process out the excess vitamin it does not need.
Gut load all insects with calcium and liberally dust on other foods. A calcium supplement should be purchased separately from a mineral supplement. This is because calcium needs to be supplemented in a much higher level than any other mineral. Most foods for crested geckos are deficient in calcium and calcium is required more than any other mineral in reptiles. Also be sure that your calcium or vitamin/mineral supplement has some level of vitamin D in it. Crested geckoes generally do not need access to UVB lighting (although small amounts may be beneficial). Calcium cannot be processed without vitamin D and wild insects do contain low levels of vitamin D. Wild insects should be mimicked by supplementing dietary vitamin D.
Bauer, Aaron M., Ross A. Sadlier. Diet of the New Caledonian Gecko Rhacodactylus auriculatus. Russian Journal of Herpetology. 1:2 (1994).
Bauer, Aaron M., Ross A, Sadlier. New data on the distribution, status and biology of the New Caledonian giant geckos (Rhacodactylus spp.). Amphibian and Reptile Conservation. 2(1):24-29 (2000).
These dietary guidelines are designed for an average, healthy, crested gecko. As with anything, if your reptiles are ill you need to consult a veterinarian for advice. That being said, there are some normal dietary considerations that apply to many crested geckos. If your crested gecko is sick, please visit our diagnostics page.
Many captive animals of all kinds suffer from obesity. The best thing you can do for an obese crested gecko is feed only lean insect species and exchange a portion of the fruit in the diet for vegetables. Obesity is deadly. It can cause liver failure and many other issues. Supplementing with a very small amount of omega 3 fish oil is also wise to prevent liver disease in obese animals.
Young crested geckos are growing fast and need more protein and calcium than older crested geckos. It is wise to increase the amount of insects offered to them. Fatty insects are also a good source of energy for young animals. Make sure all insects fed are gut loaded with calcium and vitamin A.
Not eating is a common occurrence with many pet reptiles. Usually the issue is with the temperature of the enclosure, or another husbandry problem. Ensure that your tank is up to standards and visit a
veterinarian. In the mean time, remember that eating any food is better than eating no food. Even if all your crested gecko will eat is banana baby food this is better than not eating anything at all. Work on getting them to eat healthy foods, but again, unhealthy food is better than no food. For tips and tricks to get your animal to eat see our "appetite stimulation" page.
There are many key nutrients in a crested gecko diet. Protein is a particularly important nutrient that many beginner keepers do not offer enough of. It is imperative to feed your crested gecko insects
as well as plant material.
The key nutrients are listed in alphabetical order.
Definition-natural plant flavonoid pigments that appear blue or purple
Function-a weak antioxidant that enhances color
Foods-acai, blood orange, blackberry, raspberry, blueberry, purple grapes
Definition-a red-orange pigment in plants that can be converted by some animals to vitamin A
Function-A vitamin A supplement for omnivores and herbivores that cannot be overdosed as well as an antioxidant that enhances color
Foods-carrot, pumpkin, sweet potato, spinach
Definition-an abundant chemical element that essential for life
Function-building blocks for bones and teeth and an essential element for cell physiology
Foods-calcium carbonate supplement, prickly pear leafs, collard greens, oranges, soldier fly larva, mustard greens, bell peppers
Definition-a biological molecule made of chemically linked sugars. Carbohydrates include, sugars, starch and fiber
Function-simple energy source for animals
Foods-almost all foods, especially plants
Definition-a chemical element that is an essential mineral
Function-Copper has many functions, including collagen formation, enzyme cofactors, incorporating iron into red blood cells and generation of energy from carbohydrates. It is usually abundant in foods for crested geckos and inhibits zinc uptake, so copper intake needs to be limited.
Foods-spinach, turnip greens. asparagus, beans, nuts, kale, mushroom, pumpkin
Definition-a biological molecule that is found in plants and animals
Function- a dense energy source and an energy storage method
Foods-waxworms, superworms, mealworms, nuts, seeds
Fiber - Click Here for More Information
Definition-a type of complex carbohydrate in plants that cannot be digested
Function-Fibers add bulk to the stool and give food for gut bacteria
Foods- all vegetables and fruit
Definition-substances that disrupt the production of thyroid hormones
Function-These anti-nutrients should be avoided in excess in order to maintain thyroid health of crested geckos. They are less harmful when proper iodine supplementation is provided.
Foods-cassava, soy, peanuts, strawberries, spinach, bok choy, broccoli, cabbage, kale, turnip
Definition-a chemical element abundant in the ocean that is an essential mineral
Function-key component of hormones made by the thyroid
Foods-kelp, ocean fish, shrimp, spirulina, scallops, standard table salt
Definition- A category of nutrients that makes up the bulk of foods. It includes protein, fat(lipids), carbohydrates and water.
Function-each macronutrient has a different function, but protein, fat(lipids) and carbohydrates can all provide energy. The ratios of these nutrients in a diet is extremely important.
Definition-a chemical element that is required by living organisms other than carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen
Function-builds bones, tissue, catalyzes biological reactions, transports oxygen and many more
Foods-all foods have some mineral content
Definition-a specific organic acid found in plants and animals
Function-binds with calcium to form kidney stones and prevent calcium from being used in the body
Foods-soy, nuts, beans, spinach, swiss chard, beets, collard greens, okra, blueberries, grapes, raspberries
Definition-chemicals naturally produced by plants that are not of conventional nutritional value
Function-functions vary but they are usually antioxidants, anti-inflammatory and promote liver health
Foods-plants, especially ones rich in color
Protein - Click Here for More Information
Definition-a biological molecule made of chemically linked amino acids
Function-maintains the structure of the body and excess can be used as an energy source
Foods-all foods have some protein, with insects being especially high as well as a decent amount of protein in nuts and seeds
Definition- an abundant chemical element that essential for life
Function-enables cell function and builds bones, but is easily consumed in excess in a crested gecko’s diet. Excess consumption impairs calcium absorption and can cause muscle disorders.
Foods-asparagus, beans, soy, seeds, cricket, mealworms, mushroom
Definition-A vital organic compound that an organism cannot synthesize on its own. They can be divided into fat soluble and water soluble.
Function-each vitamin has its own function in the body
Definition-a group of related fat-soluble nutrients (carotenoids and retinoids) that are essential for the body.
Function- In crested geckos carotenoids can be converted to retinoids. Carotenoids come from plants and cannot be overdosed, so they are the safest form of vitamin A for crested geckos. Vitamin A is needed for immune responses, night vision and many other functions in the body.
Foods- egg yolk, sweet potato, carrots, spinach, kale, dandelion greens, collard greens, mustard greens, pumpkin, butternut squash, cantaloupe, bell peppers, kelp, spirulina, tomatoes, papaya
Definition-a fat soluble vitamin derived from UVB light or dietary sources
Function- needed to absorb calcium and other minerals from food
Foods-UVB lighting is not necessary for crested geckos and vitamin D should be supplemented in the diet to mimic the natural vitamin D content of wild insects.
Definition-a fat soluble vitamin that acts as a powerful antioxidant
Function-protects against free radical damage, ageing and heart disease. It is especially crucial in a high fat diet. Most foods high in vitamin E are also high in fat, so a balance is difficult to achieve.
Foods-sunflower seeds, shrimp, greens. almonds, broccoli
Science Behind the Pyramid:
The proportions of the pyramid are based on macronutrient balancing. According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, omnivorous reptiles need a diet of 20-25% protein, 3-6% fat and 20-35% fiber on a dry matter basis. To achieve these macronutrient ratios the pyramid recommends how often to feed a portion of insects, greens, fruits or vegetables. There is a total of 18 portions of these food groups fed each week.
1 greens portions/12 total portions=8.3% greens
2 vegetable portions/12 total portions=16.7% vegetables
5 fruit portion/12 total portions=41.7% fruit
4 insect portions/12 total portions=33.3% insects
The most important macronutrient is protein. The diet aims to achieve a 20-25% dry matter protein content. Greens, vegetables, fruit and insects are typically 20%, 10%, 5% and 50% protein, respectively. Multiplying the % of protein by the proportion of portions gives us:
.083x20% + .167x10% + .417x5% + .333x50%= 22.1% protein
Therefor this food pyramid provides an adequate amount of protein. Using this same method fat and fiber can also be calculated. Greens, vegetables, fruit and insects are typically 2%, 2%, 2% and 18% fat, respectively. They are typically 25%, 25%,15% and 10% fiber, respectively.
.083x2% + .167x2% + .417x2% + .333x18%= 7.3% fat (goal 3%-6%)
.083x25% + .167x25% + .417x15% + .333x10%= 15.8% fiber (goal 20%-35%)