$20 Crested Gecko Terrarium Tutorial

If you’ve ever spent more than five minutes with me–or dared step inside our house–you’ve no doubt noticed that we are an animal-loving family.  In fact, until kids start making an appearance, animals are our family.  We have 3 cats; two of which are kittens who, I am convinced, were sent to prepare me for mothering toddlers.  I have a pet corn snake, and hubby has a ferret, which we both respectively brought into the marriage.  And this week we added our newest child to the collection–a juvenile crested gecko.

Obviously–considering I kept a pet snake in my bedroom–I have a passion for reptiles.  Although snakes are my first love, for awhile I’ve been wanting to expand my herpetology skills into other species.  Geckos weren’t first on the list; I just didn’t find them that interesting.  But that all changed when I made the mistake of handling one at an expo.  (General Rule of Thumb:  If you don’t want me to love an animal, don’t let me hold it.)  It was love at first touch of his sticky feet.  He just climbed right up my arm, then sprang onto hubby and clung to the front of his shirt.  I love reptiles that are docile and easy to handle; I want pets that not only I, but also my kids, can play with.  I knew then that a crested gecko would be a great introductory reptile for my future kids.  (And considering that most reptiles have very long lifespans, this is a valid thing to consider even though we don’t have kids yet.)

Well, after making up my mind that I wanted one, I made the second mistake of mentioning that to my aunt, who breeds crested geckos.  Naturally she was eager to fan the flames of my new-found love.  Not even a week after we’d moved into our new house, she messaged me and basically informed me that she was sending me a gecko.  I did not object.

My new buddy arrived safe and sound last week, despite FedEx leaving him on the porch without ringing the bell (ugh!).  Here’s the gorgeous pictures my aunt took for her website, which shows his colors in full bloom.  In honor of the fact that she cataloged him as “Ewe Dirty Pirate,” I decided to name him Jack Sparrow.  (Another thing you might have noticed: I name all of my pets after movie/book characters.)


After you finish ogling my baby, go to my aunt’s website and get your own!  She’s a fantastic lady, and she has more pets than I do.  She’d be happy to answer your questions about gecko care and help get you started; she knows everything!  Mama T’s Cresties


But the impending arrival of this wonderful gift did leave me with one problem: where would I put him?

Since we’d just moved, I wasn’t in a position to invest in a full glass terrarium set-up, which would have run about $50-100.  I needed a budget-friendly set-up to house the gecko for a year, something that was cheap but still met the gecko’s needs.

There’s always the option of using recycled materials.  My experts (including my aunt) recommend that you can use paper towels to line the bottom of the tank and recycled materials like tubes or tubs as hiddie holes and decorations.  And while I might do a fully recycled terrarium one day as an experiment, I usually like my tanks to look somewhat realistic and decorative.  Could I make a terrarium that looked good with cheap materials?

Thanks to advice from my aunt, some savvy shopping, and a bit of creative thinking, the answer is yes!  I made the following terrarium for under $20.


It has everything gecko needs–a shallow water dish, a place to hide, and climbing space–and everything I wanted–a pleasing natural look made with inexpensive materials.  Here’s a list of all the materials I used with the price I paid:

  • medium “Kritter Keeper” ($10 at PetCo)
  • small rock dish ($3 at PetCo)
  • small cork log ($2 at an expo)
  • wood-print non-adhesive shelf liner ($1/roll at Dollar Tree)
  • decorative rocks ($1/bag at Dollar Tree)
  • artificial leaf garland ($1 at Dollar Tree)

I cut the shelf liner to fit the bottom of the tank.  It works great as replacement substrate because it can be wiped or rinsed off, and the gecko can’t accidentally ingest it (which is a known problem for cresties).  There’s also plenty left on the roll in case I want to replace it (or use it for other tanks!).

I actually already had the cork log in my collection of reptile supplies–my snake had long outgrown it.  But log pieces make excellent tank decorations, and they can be obtained very inexpensively at expos.  (You can find them at the pet store, but they’re usually overpriced.)

Even though I probably could have found a small dish at the dollar store to use for water, I didn’t want anything too deep, and I love the look of the rock dishes.  Thankfully, PetCo had mini ones for only $3!  The extra rocks are just for decoration, and there’s still more left in the bag that I can use in other tanks.

The leaf garland worked perfectly as climbing space for the gecko.  I wove it back and forth across the top of the tank and attached it by looping pipe cleaners through the slits in the vented lid, twisting them tight and trimming them short on the outside of the lid–no hassle or special tools needed, and no sharp edges were left.  (You can get pipe cleaners at the dollar store as well, if you don’t already have some in your craft collection.)  Now gecko has ample place to climb and hide.

I’m very pleased with the result.  So far Jack Sparrow seems to be content as well!

Obviously, he will need to be upgraded in a year or so to a permanent 20-gal terrarium.  In the meantime, I may need to spritz him more often, or cover half of the lid with plastic wrap, just to maintain the humidity.  But since spray bottles can also be found at the dollar store, this inexpensive terrarium set-up was a great way to get us started on a tight budget.

And since I saved so much money, that means I can go get a seventh pet, right?


Comment ( 1 )

  1. ReplyAngie Thostrup
    Great blog and nice job on the terrarium! I'm so glad he found a home with you where he will be well loved! :)