When I look at my gargoyle gecko, I see a cute, harmless little creature that wants nothing more than to relax, be held, and eat dubia roaches. But for many non-reptile people, the resemblance between my little gecko and a dinosaur is pretty uncanny. Of course, one of the first things people wonder about when looking into these beautiful creatures is their temperament.
So, do gargoyle geckos bite?
While they are a naturally good-tempered species that avoids confrontation, gargoyle geckos can bite when threatened or backed into a corner. In the rare instances gargoyle geckos bite, they do not have painful or dangerous bites and often let go quickly.
Below, we’ll cover specifics about what gargoyle gecko bites are like, why they bite, and ways to avoid getting bitten.
Do Gargoyle Geckos Bite?
As the old reptile saying goes, if it has a mouth, it can bite. But much like their handleable cousin, the crested gecko, gargoyles are known to be a placid species that would much rather avoid conflict than cause it. While bites are certainly not unheard of, most gargoyle geckos give plenty of warning and only bite by mistake or out of desperation.
While the calmness of the species can be generalized, certain individuals may be more prone to biting. A very reactive gecko may mistake your hand for food more often, and a particularly skittish gecko may feel cornered more easily. Geckos which are handled more often are also much less likely to bite than one that is a display reptile.
Do Gargoyle Gecko Bites Hurt?
Truthfully, the average gargoyle gecko bite is often more startling or scary than it is painful, but these little lizards do have the potential to cause some pain. Gargoyle geckos have a mixture of acrodont and pleurodont teeth, meaning they have sharp yet fragile teeth that are weakly fused to the jaw bone. These teeth are more equipped for chewing than tearing, and are able to fall out and regrow as needed.
While you certainly won’t need stitches, you can expect a small pinch and the possibility that your gecko may break skin if they bite. Luckily, it’s uncommon for gargoyle geckos to clamp down in such a way, as most bites are mistakes or warnings.
When and Why Do Gargoyle Geckos Bite?
While it’s easy to assume being bitten means your gecko hates you or is mad at you, gargoyle geckos are a passive species that don’t bite to prove a point. Instead, the reasons below are several key possibilities for why a gargoyle gecko may bite.
They Think You’re Food
No matter how docile or friendly a gargoyle gecko can become, at the end of the day, these little guys are still wild animals. In fact, it is not uncommon for many specimens to be wild-caught, and even captive-bred geckos are only often a generation or two away from a New Caledonian native.
And while captive gargoyle geckos may not have a lot of diversity in their prey, wild gargoyle geckos are known to eat a variety of arthropods, lizards, and even small mammals.
As a visual hunter, geckos rely on movement to inform them where their prey is. A hungry or reactive gecko may get overexcited and jump at any sort of movement, and it’s possible for some geckos to miss their target when you hand-feed them.
Depending on whether or not they realize you aren’t their target, a gecko may initially clamp down or let go immediately. As we’ll cover below, separate feeding containers can be a great way to avoid these mishaps.
They’re Scared or Stressed
Gargoyle geckos may be high up on the food chain compared to the bugs they eat, but these lizards have quite a few natural predators. Feral pigs or hawks are dangerous for any New Caledonian reptile, but as the smallest member of its genus, gargoyle geckos can even be a choice meal for rodents.
So of course the average gargoyle gecko would instinctively perceive a massive, towering human as a threat, especially outside of their comfortable crepuscular hours. Outside of camouflage or dropping their tail to distract predators, a cornered gargoyle gecko doesn’t really have any means to protect itself other than biting.
A gargoyle gecko may bite if they aren’t comfortable with you, but even the stress of being moved to a new area or changes in their cage can trigger this defensive response in otherwise tame geckos.
You Startled Them
Because they both lack eye lids and are naturally crepuscular, it is often very difficult to tell when gargoyle geckos are sleeping. Sleeping is a vulnerable state for such a small prey animal, and biting is only a natural reaction to being woken up suddenly.
It’s typically not a good idea to handle geckos during the day when they tend to sleep, and to give them plenty of notice before you go to feed or handle them. You can tell if a gecko is asleep if they are flamed down– that is, their colors are pale– if they are not moving, and if they are hiding. If possible, let sleeping geckos lie!
There are a variety of injuries and conditions that can impact pet gargoyle geckos, and they can be easy to miss. Conditions such as egg binding or internal parasites are easily overlooked if you don’t know what to look for and can result in significant behavioral changes and aggression.
Unexpected biting can be a response to pain, whether the cause is visible or not. In the wild, an injured gargoyle gecko is easy prey, and geckos can be more defensive in such a vulnerable state. When an otherwise even-tempered gecko begins to bite out of nowhere, consulting a vet is a good idea.
How to Avoid Getting Bitten by A Gargoyle Gecko
Although getting bitten by a gargoyle gecko may be more scary than painful, the experience is incredibly stressful for both parties. Luckily, preventative measures such as reading body language and consistent handling can help significantly decrease the likelihood of a bite.
Pay Attention to Their Body Language
Gargoyle geckos aren’t the most communicative critters, and gecko body language can be cryptic for beginners. Ideally, you can keep an eye out for stress and not push your gecko any further, but at the very least you should be able to heed explicit warnings. One of the earliest signs of stress in gargoyle geckos is rapid breathing or flightiness.
More obviously, your gargoyle gecko may issue several warning signals prior to biting. Similar Rhacodactylus geckos are known to hold their mouths agape as a direct indication that they are willing to defend themselves if necessary, and may even rise up on their hind legs. Gargoyle geckos are silent most of the time, but are known to produce a variety of noises to frighten potential threats. These sounds include high-pitched sounds that are used to startle predators.
Move Slowly But Confidently
As exciting as getting a new gecko is, it’s important to let your gecko settle in to their strange new environment before attempting to handle them.
Often, it’s recommended to wait a few days prior to attempting to feed your gargoyle gecko and to wait even longer before trying to hold them. Handling your gecko should occur only once they are comfortable with your presence and you are able to get near them without them showing signs of stress.
Conversely, when you do go to handle your gecko, your movements should be fluid and confident. Erratic and hesitant movements will likely confuse and stress your gecko, and may cause them to mistake you for food. In other words, it’s best to handle your gecko when both of you are comfortable around one another.
Handle them Consistently
Gargoyle geckos are not a domesticated animal, and the taming process is just that– a process. Truthfully, taming these wild creatures is more accurately compared to desensitizing them from their natural fear of people, and ideally even counterconditioning them to associate our presence with positive things.
A lack of exposure to handling or even your presence will significantly decrease your gecko’s tolerance to your presence and significantly increase the likelihood of a bite. There’s a balance between over-handling such a sensitive and neglecting the taming process
Tong Feed in a Separate Container
Although many geckos enjoy the comfort of their own territory to hunt in, there are plenty of benefits to using a separate container when it comes to feeding. Along with not having to worry about an insect making your gecko’s cage its home or making a meal of them, feeding your gecko outside of their cage can reduce the likelihood of biting.
It’s easy to accidentally condition your gargoyle gecko to associate you opening their cage with food, meaning they may be on alert the second their doors are opened. More eager geckos may jump at the first moving thing– in this case, your hand. By shifting your gecko to another cage for feeding, they will no longer be constantly on alert for potential prey.
Use Tongs, Not Hands to Feed
I get it– tongs are clunky and awkward, and sometimes it’s tempting just to grab a bug with your fingers instead of playing pick-up for five minutes. Unfortunately, making this a regular practice is pretty much begging to get bitten.
Even the most skilled of hunters can miss their mark occasionally, and in that case, your finger will become the accidental target. Worse, your gecko will likely begin to associate your hands with food and may even get aggressive at chasing them.
Tongs can be a pain, but not as much as a bite from your beloved pet.
Respect Their Boundaries
Gargoyle geckos are often docile and easy to handle, but that doesn’t mean they’re the cuddliest of reptiles. Wild gargoyle geckos are solitary in nature, and even situate themselves in different areas among trees to give each other plenty of space.
As a result, this species tends to tolerate being held much more than being poked or pet, and attempting to do so may earn you a warranted bite. Keeping an eye out for your gecko’s body language doesn’t end once you start handling them, and you should back off immediately if they show any signs of discomfort.
What to Do If Your Gargoyle Gecko Bites You
While all of the above steps will reduce the likelihood that your gargoyle gecko will bite you, it’s still important to know how to manage the rare bite.
Don’t Freak Out
Gargoyle gecko bites don’t usually hurt, but they can certainly be startling. Your first instinct to having a strange animal latch onto you may be to flail your hands around and scream, but this is a bad idea. For one, you may accidentally hurt your gecko. Furthermore, scaring them with loud noises and dramatic movements also makes it more likely that your gecko will bite down harder or bite once more. Worse, a gecko that has mistaken you for food may become more worked up over their trashing prey.
Overall, for as difficult as it may be to remain quiet and still while your lizard has their mouth on you, it’s important to do your best for the sake of you and your gargoyle gecko.
Reptiles can’t transmit rabies, but plenty of bizarre things can live in your gecko’s mouth, especially if they are wild caught. According to the CDC, even healthy reptiles and amphibians can carry Salmonella, a particularly dangerous bacteria that can result in illness.
Even though your gargoyle gecko is unlikely to break skin if it bites, washing your hands with warm water and plenty of soap is an important safety precaution. If your gecko does manage to break skin, an additional treatment of antibiotic ointment or cream is a useful preventative measure.
Let Your Gecko Cool Off
It may be tempting to not let your gargoyle gecko “win” after biting you, but pushing them any further is unlikely to do you any favors. Not only can you get bitten again, but there is the distinct possibility of worsening your gecko’s anxiety and even causing their tail to drop due to stress.
If possible, return your gecko to its cage and away from overwhelming stimulation. It’s important to keep a close eye on your gecko to make sure they don’t have any injuries, but this is best done from afar unless you suspect something is awry.
Before attempting to handle your gecko again, allow them to completely calm down. Ideally, they should be eating and drinking normally and not showing outward signs of stress. Your gecko will benefit from a quiet, dark, and familiar environment.
Once you and your gecko are safe and cooled off, it’s a good idea to try to identify why the bite occurred in the first place. Did you move too quickly with them? Did they mistake you for food? Did you ignore their warning signs?
Typically, the cause of your gecko’s bite is clear in hindsight.
Take extra care to avoid future bites and move slowly again. Being on either end of a bite is an unpleasant and potentially traumatic experience for a gecko, and a gecko that fears you is primed to bite. Paying attention to their body language and using gradual exposure should enable your gecko to tolerate handling again in most cases.
Gargoyle geckos are generally considered to be docile and easy to handle once tamed, but there are some exceptions to the rule. For some geckos, handling is simply too overwhelming and they are better off being exhibition animals. This is generally considered uncommon in gargoyle geckos, but in some cases it is best to admire your gecko from afar.
Nobody expects their animal to bite them, but the possibility of being bitten is simply part of owning a reptile even if there are some reptiles that are much less likely to bite you than others.
In the case of gargoyle geckos, bites are possible but unlikely. Typically, they only occur out of confusion or desperation, and in the rare cases a gargoyle gecko does bite, it is rarely painful. Even though a gargoyle gecko’s bite is typically harmless, it’s important to respect your gargoyle gecko’s boundaries and avoid the stress of a bite for both of your sakes.