Advanced reptile keeping has turned to naturalistic enclosures to improve quality of life for captive animals, and keepers have naturally expanded to bioactive techniques to keep non-sterile setups healthy. As mainstream awareness rises, more new reptile keepers are curious about making enclosures for their pets.
Bioactivity breaks down waste in a natural cycle, replacing the cleaning required in synthetic housing. Making an enclosure bioactive requires that you provide a suitable substrate, populate it with invertebrate custodians, and establish the fungi and bacteria necessary to break down waste. Plants take up waste byproducts from the soil and filter the air. The entire system relies on the presence of custodian species and beneficial microbes to prevent the buildup of feces and harmful bacteria.
Designing a sustainable bioactive enclosure for your pet is more than just a cookie cutter recipe. Each species has specific needs, and that includes your plant and custodian species. It can be challenging to come up with a design that integrates all the features you want for your reptile while also providing a solid bioactive system that will stand the test of time.
My tip: Spend some time planning before you get planting!
In this series of articles, I’m going to walk you through the design and construction of a gargoyle gecko vivarium. The exact design choices are most suitable for New Caledonian geckos, but the process itself is applicable to any species.
Needs of the Gargoyle Gecko
The first phase of designing any enclosure is making certain it meets the needs of the main inhabitant. After studying gargoyle gecko information, I came up with the following checklist of elements I wanted to provide in the vivarium:
- Climbing features – Gargoyle geckos are arboreal, but unlike crested geckos, they don’t easily scale smooth glass walls. If the gecko is going to get anywhere, she has to climb or leap.
- Ceramic heat emitter – Supplemental heat is known to be beneficial for gargoyle geckos, and my own gecko’s behavior confirms that she likes to warm up in the evening.
- UVB lighting – While not required, UVB is another supplemental provision that many keepers swear by. In the wild, heat from sunbeams goes hand in hand with UV rays.
- Dark hiding spot – These nocturnal geckos usually remain hidden during the daylight hours, so if the gecko feels like hiding, she should be able to do so.
- Cool, humid retreat – Gargoyle geckos don’t do well if overexposed to high temperatures! Having a cooler cage area is vital so they can thermoregulate as needed.
Requirements for Bioactivity
These requirements are global, but the exact way you meet them depends upon the type of habitat you are creating.
- Substrate to support plants and invertebrates – For a gargoyle gecko, this will be a forest or jungle type substrate mixture. There are plenty of pre-packaged
- vivarium substrates and online bioactive recipes to choose from, but this isn’t just dirt! It also needs to be safe for the gecko to dig in, as she will occasionally lay eggs. Gargoyle geckos are more likely than crested geckos to visit the ground in general. Any enclosure besides the most arid will need a drainage layer under the substrate to prevent water from pooling into stagnant muck.
- Plants – Since this will be a forest setup, plenty of green is on the menu. Plants require light to grow, so plant bulbs are needed. Gargoyle geckos require frequent mistings but also thrive in drier conditions than amphibians or other rainforest inhabitants, so plants that require extremely high humidity or very dry soil are out. The plants also have to be sturdy enough to have a gargoyle gecko swinging off them and squashing them every night.
- Custodians – There are plenty of great choices when your enclosure isn’t too dry. The old standards of springtails and isopods are a given. These invertebrates are going to require hiding spots and food. Both are provided by leaf litter added over the substrate.
Gargoyle Geckos in the Wild
You can get some final guidance for your vivarium by doing a bit of natural history research and learning how your pet would live in the wild. Gargoyle geckos are from New Caledonia, a group of tropical islands in the Pacific Ocean, east of Australia. The summers have day temperatures
70-85°F and a long rainy period; the winters are just a little cooler and drier, 60-75°F. The climate is not as humid as other tropical locales due to very strong winds known as the trade winds, but relative humidity runs 70-80% throughout the year. Keep in mind that climate data is always an average taken under specific conditions. Microclimates, even within a single habitat, can be well outside the climate averages.
Digging deeper into their home, gargoyle geckos are found in southern New Caledonia, most frequently in a habitat called maquis. Maquis is a type of shrubland characterized by stunted trees and thick-leaved vegetation, plants adapted to the poor soil conditions. When gargoyle geckos are found in mature forest, they are almost always on the borders of roads and clearings. They do not share the exact same habitat as crested geckos, which live slightly higher up in the humid forest trees. Gargoyle perches, thin branches, are usually about 6 feet from the ground.
Understanding their habitat can tell us some interesting facts about gargoyle geckos. They live in warmth and humidity, but the habitat leaves them more exposed to the elements than their crested gecko cousins. They have evolved to make use of borderline areas with thinner branches and more open sky.
Stay tuned for our next article, Vivarium Construction, coming next week.
- Cantrell, Kevin. 2011. “Rhacodactylus auriculatus: An Overview.” Gecko Time (blog). March 22, 2011.
- De Vosjoli, Philippe, Frank Fast, and Allen Repashy. 2003. Rhacodactylus: The Complete Guide to their Selection and Care. Vista: Advanced Visions Inc.
- Plants of New Caledonia. “Maquis Plants.” Accessed June 25, 2019.
- Purser, Philip. 2007. Natural Terrariums. Neptune City: TFH Publications.
- Snyder, Joshua, Leslie Snyder, and Aaron M. Bauer. 2010. “Ecological observations on the Gargoyle Gecko, Rhacodactylus auriculatus (Bavay, 1869), in southern New Caledonia.” Salamandra 46(1): 37-47.
- World Weather and Climate Information. “Climate and Average Monthly Weather in Noumea, New Caledonia.” Accessed June 28, 2019. https://weather-and-climate.com/average-monthly-Rainfall-Temperature-Sunshine-fahrenheit,Noumea,New-Caledonia