Crested Gecko Morphs: Geckos Colors & Patterns
It’s true that crested geckos come in a vast array of shades and patterns. These are three very different kinds of crested geckos, and it took seasoned breeders to accept traits present in the wild inhabitants and refine them in captivity.
The word “morph” comes from the term “polymorphism”, which describes the existence of multiple visually-distinct types of one species of animal. A very familiar example is in Labrador retrievers: there are yellow, black, black, orange and orange labs. Each color is a diverse phenotype, but there is much more going on “under the hood” as it comes to breeding.
Do Crested geckos have morphs? Yes and no. They have many features that can be inherited, and some types are often called a morph — as with all the above-mentioned dalmatians, Harlequins, and pinstripes. Let’s talk about the differences between the crested gecko morphs and learn just a little bit about genetics 101!
Crested Gecko Morphs and Traits
Here is a fast morph guide to the various kinds of crested geckos and their associated traits. Because crested geckos are polymorphic, there is no simple Morph Calculator available like with different reptiles.
PATTERNLESS CRESTED GECKOS
A good body of any color: olive, chocolate, buckskin, near-black, red, orange, yellow and shades between.
Patternless crested geckos are a good source when breeding color into an already established line. Be aware that there are currently no fully black or white critters. Light yellow creams or unfired reds may be tagged “Moonglow” however aren’t white. Dark, near-black crested geckos do exist, however, are generally not patternless or have white heads, tails, fringe, etc..
Bicolor crested geckos are usually patternless but using a slightly darker — occasionally lighter — color in their dorsal (top of the back and head). Some bicolor includes a sign of a pattern on the dorsal but lack the cream of fire morphs (see below).
Tigers come in the same colors as above. Red tigers are somewhat rare on account of the fact that when they fire up, the reddish pigment usually permeates the darkened pattern tiger stripes. We’ve yet to see a red tiger beyond the juvenile stage (“hatchling red”) with dark, bold tiger stripes. Exotic creatures would be the most striking because of their high contrast.
We love all of them.
FLAME CRESTED GECKOS
Flames can be any color, however, their dorsal is usually patterned with cream. Whiter lotions are considered more desirable. The remaining portion of the body is usually solid color but there could be minimal patterning, unlike Harlequins (see below). The expression “fire” can be valid with this particular morph.
Chevron crested geckos are flames that have step-stone like “v” shaped patterns on their backs. This terminology is not as used today but is still a valid description of this dorsal pattern.
Tiger fires are potential but generally rare. Frequently tiger stripes on juvenile flames disappear if they become old.
A Harlequin includes a base color (typically red or near-black) using orange, yellow, or the top fashionable cream. See color patterns, below, for hot color combinations on Harleys.
Harlequins should need to pattern along the limbs; if there’s minimum patterning in your body it’s technically regarded as a flame (see previously).
Crested geckos with a great deal of white or cream pattern, particularly where the body layout breaks to the creamy dorsal area, are called extreme Harlequins. The dividing point is generally when the gecko has much more pattern than base color (at least 60 percent) or when the pattern breaks to the dorsum. This intense harlequin patterning can be mistaken for a tiger in a young gecko. Even adults can be confusing since it is tough to tell if it is a light-based gecko with Tiger patterning or even a dark-based Gecko with intense Harley patterning!
PINSTRIPE CRESTED GECKOS
Pinstripes are considered a single, independent feature whereas a morph is usually a set of traits or specific looks like flame, tiger or Harlequin, but they can be easily treated as a preservative. Folks find pinstripes!
The classic pinstripe is made up of elevated, cream-colored scales along the exterior of the dorsal. The remaining part of the trunk can have flame patterning, or it can be solid cream to match the pinstriping. A complete pinstripe is much more desirable than a partial pinstripe. If the pinstripe is broken and doesn’t form more than 80 percent of a complete, it could be considered to have pin dashing and wouldn’t be termed pinstripe.
Variations on the classic pinstripe are reverse pinstripe and phantom pinstripe. A reverse pinstripe is a dark line underneath the dorsal scales at which a traditional pinstripe would be. This can be used with a full traditional pinstripe for a dramatic effect.
A ghost pinstripe is a gecko with normally muted colors in the dorsal area — the average “flame” back is more like the rest of the body. Frequently the remainder of the gecko is rather muted in terms of colors too, they are typically not high-contrast, although this is not a defining feature. The most desired mix is really a muted dorsal region which keeps white pinstriping. The result is a generally understated gecko except for an extremely striking, bright white pinstripe outline. This may also combine with a reverse pinstripe.
Occasionally you’ll have a gecko that shows the opposite of a reverse snare: within the dorsum, there’s a dark line which runs across the region. Some have called this an “inverse” pinstripe, however, this is not a frequent term and finally, someone who works with this trait will presumably come up with something extra fancy and catchy. So then you’d be able to have a gecko display inverse and reverse on either a classic or phantom pinstripe! Together with the lateral striping below, you will have a multi-lined crested gecko with alternating colors.
Lateral stripes refer to stripes along the sides of the gecko and are often viewed on a classic pinstripe. These four stripe or “quad” stripe geckos are getting more popular, and range from faint dashes that resemble portholes all the way to a full stripe throughout the entire body. Some also call this trait that a “super stripe”; but others believe a “super” to have a black stripe down the center of the dorsum, making five stripes along the entire body of this gecko; even more if you’ve got reverse and inverse pinning. Crazy!
The greatest pinstripe for many is a full pinner with a strong cream back. These “cream straight back” crested geckos are stunning, presenting thick lotion in the dorsal region, blindsided by typical chevron or other markings. It’s like they have been frosted. Yummy!
Crested gecko dalmatian spots can also be considered a different trait. Spots can vary in size and color, with black spots being the most common and red, green and even white places appear to certain individuals. An abundance of stains or exceptionally large areas can be described as a “super dalmatian” characteristic. Generally, they want 100+ stains to qualify, but we don’t have sufficient time to count stains!
Dalmatian spots can look on any color or morph, but a lot of keepers prefer dalmatians to be otherwise patternless and allow the spots speak for themselves. A gecko without stains is known as “clean”.
Portholes are tiny white spots which have been prevalent in crested geckos since captive breeding began. Tiny pieces of white spotting seen on an animals toes, chest, stomach or nose might not be a genetic feature for whiteness, but only a result of unsightly pigmentation throughout incubation. This might be a motive white portholes are the only spots of white on some geckos.
Among the newer traits in crested geckos is larger white spots, typically clustered around the dorsal area so that it appears that the dorsum is “dripping” white stains down the body of this gecko. It is hoped that white spots and drippy dorsal regions are further developed as a feature or morph. See White Pattern below for more information.
Crested Gecko Colors
Crested geckos have pigments which could range from very mild lotion to very dark near-black; from buckskin and olive to reds and yellows. The extremes of light and dark are also popular. Note that pristine white “moonglow” as touted in a few out of date books and magazines tend to be as mythical as purple unicorns. What’s often described as a Moonglow is a fired down version of a reddish or yellow cream. Camera flashes can further wipe out the shade.
Crested geckos likely lack the pigments to make blue colors, unlike the more gaudy Day Geckos (Phelsuma spp.) So it’s very unlikely to have blue, black, green or purple crested geckos or any Rhacodactylus species. The nearest we have are olive, that is actually a combination of yellow and brown in the color spectrum, and so called lavender, which can be much more of a slate gray.
Also note that a crested gecko can change color based on environment or mood. This is described generally at the “fired up” stage — usually indicating a state of alertness or reaction to the environment. Usually, a sleeping gecko is “fired down”, and will change color to a darker tone during the nighttime. Do not worry if a gecko never flames or is always fired, neither say necessarily suggests that something is wrong. It is just part of their unique natures as individuals!
Firing has many factors behind it, so it does not necessarily mean the gecko is upset, stressed, or uncomfortable. It could help camouflage, communicate with other geckos, signal behavioral condition, or just be a response to certain stimuli such as humidity, smells, light, etc.. Fired up colors are more intense in brightness for red, orange and yellowish crusties or heavy black/brown in dark Foundation geckos. Fired down colors are usually paler; reds, for instance, are a really light grey bordering on white. Dark based geckos are usually a range between tan, brown, and grey. All these are sometimes labeled as “moonglow” or “lavender”, respectively, and therefore are considered controversial due to the fired down state vs. their true colors when fired up.
We’ve noticed that sent geckos are generally the most fired up when you start up their container and look at them for the very first time! A frequent trick for photographing a gecko’s true fired up colors is to set them in a deli cup, sprayed lightly, and set in a dark place for approximately 15 minutes. Interestingly, exposure to UVB rays from a special bulb or direct sunlight (unfiltered via glass) can lead them to fire up too, making their colors more intense.
Several factors affect color expression, like the environment, temperature, and humidity, hormonal conditions, aggression, and anxiety can create different color shades within the exact same creature.
Some combination of colors in Harlequins and flames have specific names. These aren’t thought to be true “morphs” but people will refer to them as such.
Creamsicle crested geckos are generally orange flames. Orange Harlequins with lotion pattern also be eligible. This term is occasionally applied to cream and red geckos, but this technique does not fit the ice cream soda for which the combination is named.
Blonde crested geckos are generally dark fires with or without pinstripes. The dark base color contrasts quite nicely with the creamy dorsal. Dark Harlequins with cream pattern also are eligible.
Halloween crested geckos are Harlequins with dark near-black and orange markings. The darker and more vibrant, the better! Neither black and gold or black and creams qualify.
Tricolor crested geckos are Harlequins with three colors.
MOCHA AND CREAM
Mocha crested geckos are usually brown to tan with cream markings. Not quite orange and not quite blonde! Very striking as tigers or inverse pinstripe flames.
CREAM ON CREAM
Creamy goodness at its best, an extremely rare color combination of a light-colored gecko with a cream dorsal. Sometimes seen as Tiger flames.
Most reptiles showing “wild type” color and pattern are called “normals”. Together with Crested Geckos, there is no “normal” phenotype. In the wild, there are varying levels of color and pattern. Even if we believe buckskins, olive or brownish geckos normal, there is still a high degree of variability between them. Total pinstripes and intense Harlequins are perfect examples of improving upon the wild form via selective breeding in captivity.
There’s more to a high-quality crested gecko than just color. We prefer big, wide heads with daring crests on a solid body. Frequently these guys with their wide heads are called “crowned” however we don’t measure, we simply put their enormous noggins.
The most recent theory on good structure comes from a long, cool incubation period. Genetics likely also plays a job but breeders have consistently found a correlation with their “winter babies” and good head structure.
Morphs vs Lines
Morphs are general descriptions of the physical qualities of an animal, while the term “line” refers to a certain breeder’s offspring out of selective breeding. This may continue to be important information if a breeder is well known for specific colors, characteristics, or other features. But it does become confusing when a line is used interchangeably with morph. Other breeders may produce these lines only if the couple both came out of this inventory. Should you create offspring from only 1 parent of this lineage, you need to consult with them as “out of XYZ lines”. Should you produce similar looking but unrelated animals, you should NOT use the line name for ethical reasons.
Lines are occasionally referred to as designer morphs but that gets tricky when somebody else also breeds similar animals, such as “lotion on creams”, “citrus”, “neon”, etc.. Many crested gecko breeders refrain from placing their lines in this manner to avoid confusing newcomers to the hobby.
The genetics behind these phenotypes can be masked with a normal look. A familiar instance of a recessive trait are albinos — that the normal albino lab rat. If you strain an albino to another albino — all of the offspring will probably be albinos. Should you breed an albino into the “ordinary” phenotype, the offspring will all LOOK like the standard parent. However, they will carry the gene for albino in them, in their “genotype”. We call them “hets” from heterozygous, meaning two different genes (to be specialized, distinct alleles of the very same genes). Bred to another het, they have a one in four chance of creating an albino, one in four of creating a genotypic AND phenotypic “normal”, and two in four of producing more hets. The albino and the genotypic ordinary are both homozygous when compared with their heterozygous (“het”) siblings.
Crested Gecko Genetics
It’s hard to compare crested gecko genetics into other, more recorded reptiles such as leopard geckos and ball pythons because most of those morphs operate on dominant and recessive genetics.
To put it simply, you can get cool items to pop out randomly, but then you want to selectively breed that through numerous generations.
Think about crested gecko morphs as dog breeds — when you breed dogs from two different breeds together, you don’t have a 25 percent likelihood of getting a complete Labrador or Pug and 50 percent chance of getting Labs that carry Pug genetics. You get a litter of pups that take some features from both parents and they can all look very different from one another!
The very best advice is to pair pinstripes into pinstripes, dalmatians into dalmatians if you are looking to create the morph or trait. Should you believe you have a truly distinctive specimen or want to try an oddball pairing, be aware that you may not get what you’re seeking. It may take several generations to enhance a feature, and you’ll have lots and lots and lots of baby geckos on the way! Be ready to house them your self or re-home them. Many prefer to buy geckos using a traceable lineage due to their morphs.
Crested geckos have color cells, known as “chromatophores” that make the colors (pigments) that we view. There are distinct types of chromatophores; they are called based on what color pigments they create. Xanthophores create yellows and reds. Another kind of chromatophore is “iridophore” that produces a blue color not by pigmentation, but from the refraction of light from compounds inside the iridophore. Additionally, iridophores that reflect white are called “leucophores”; in case crested geckos do not have iridophores they probably don’t have leucophores to generate the same white color found in certain fish (guppies, by way of example).
Be aware that this is a very simplistic rundown on chromatophores and color pigment. Further, neither the color genes or the pigment composition of crested geckos, or another New Caledonian Geckos like Rhacodactylus have been analyzed and published. It’s all up to amateurs to experiment and find the particular expressions of the color genes. We cannot “create” new color genes but we could alter the expression of pre-existing pigments.
There was speculation of a hatchling albino, but it passed out a couple of days after hatching, so its status is undetermined.
What would you look like? For starters, we’d have to drop the term “albino” since that refers to the color “white” and functions nicely for mammals but not other vertebrates. Albinism is because of faulty melanin production and may vary in level. There is also the expression “hypomelanistic” which identifies a reduced amount of melanin, with no explanation as to why like a problem with the pigment cells like in albinism. Leucistic animals are the ones which lack ALL pigment within the human body but retain color in the eyes, since early in development these structures diverge, allowing color development from the eyes.
To further add to the albino discussion, there are distinct kinds of albinos: T- and T+.
T- albinos do not even make melanin or its precursors (the tyrosinase enzyme) and are usually very mild. Either the gene is missing or changed off.
T+ albinism means the gene to make melanin (dark pigment) is present but there is a malfunction in the receptor so the melanin isn’t fully expressed. This can lead to brown shades and can contribute to hypomelanistic.
This is a really basic explanation, as tyrosinase problems can come about because of mutations, deletions and polymorphic forms of this T producing gene. That’s why there are some “traces” of albino leopard geckos: distinct genes or different versions of the very same genes may produce an albino.
So we must appear very closely at “odd” looking hypomelanistic geckos (lacking black/brown) to be able to ascertain the first “albino” crested gecko. There is some disagreement whether this is even a chance, as the chances are that an albino must have been expressed by today. Since most albinos are created by recessive genes, it is very likely that we don’t have it in our captive bred crested or alternative New Caledonian Geckos. It could possibly be a fresh mutation completely.
Everybody is interested in the latest and greatest looks in their chosen reptiles. There have been several oddities and notable differences in the past few decades. Many are in debate over whether the brand new appearances are real morphs vs lines. Since the term morph is used loosely in crested geckos, an individual could say that many of these are, or will be, morphs.
The selective breeding of crested geckos to grow the total amount of white or cream on the body has been one of the chief goals of breeders because the Harlequin morph has been coined. By copying the many highly patterned animals together, extreme Harlequins are now much more prevalent yet at the same time increasingly sought after.
There are two lines of white patterned geckos: AC Reptile’s Whiteout and Pangea’s (Matt Parks’) White-walled, though the latter term has become more generic and geckos outside his lineup are termed “white walled” should they exhibit a massive swath of solid white on either side. Lateral stripes might be present and often specify the upper reach of the white walls. Belly color may not be impacted by this pattern. It is thought that a gecko has to be a harlequin to show this routine, but it can be possible for flames to have an accumulation of white to your system but not the limbs. There may be a number of ways, genetically, to produce white pattern!
Lilly Exotics has announced a lineup of crested geckos with large white patterning that they think is inherited in a similar fashion as allelomorphic animals such as dogs, horses, ball pythons and leopard geckos. All these Lilly White crested geckos display apparently co-dominant white pattern which produces visual hets. But, het into het pairings of Lilly Whites have produced a non-viable “super” that includes no pigment even late in development. These geckos appear as dark eyed albinos or hypos. A head tip has also been reported in at least 2 offspring from the line that indicates potential neurological issues. Lilly Exotics believes that this may have something related to incubation temperatures for these particular offspring. While this line is currently hitting the market, more crossings could disclose whether this is an actual allelomorphic mutation, in addition to whether or not there are related neurological issues like Enigma leopard geckos and ball python spider morphs.
One of the most eccentric looking crested geckos is one called Patient Zero and is tentatively being called a Piebald. He’s owned by Matt Parks at Pangea Reptile, LLC. Cosmetic Zero lacks pigment on parts of his body. It is unknown if this is really a passable trait, and the expectation is to produce a pied variant of crested gecko like the ball python pied morph (view discussion of white patterning expression on the genetics page).
The last update was in June 2015 with no visible saying in direct offspring or possible hets. It’s quite possible that this is a paradox — a morph that doesn’t breed true — or a development mistake during incubation. This would imply Mr. Zero wouldn’t pass on his legacy of lost scale pigment.
The latest structural trait that could be described as a morph is the Soft Scale project developed by AC Reptiles. This line is interesting, as it is directly linked to this Whiteout line, with the feminine producing the first Whiteouts also producing Soft Scale geckos. Photographs of those geckos are hard to pin down the physical feature of the soft scale: it’s by touch which most people tell the difference. They do often seem like velvet or velour and texture like silk. As we don’t have one in our collection, we can’t give a complete description here.
All these geckos were introduced to the general public in 2016, so they’re infrequent. Beware anyone apart from ACR selling with this label, as it’s not likely you will find many actively breeding.
Axanthic means “lacking yellow”, and creatures such as this display just blacks, blues, whites, greys and silver — depending on other color or scale attributes. Another method of getting gray from a recessive mutation, like other reptiles like snakes, is with all the anerythristic (anery for short) mutation that eliminates the manifestation of red pigment. You would need to be familiar with natural coloration of a species to accurately tell the two apart, and also you would need to experiment to prove out the mutation. Generally, when a species conveys both red and yellow pigment, an axanthic might be grey/silver or even “cool” in color tone, in which an anery is cream/white with a “hot” tone. Browns aren’t likely within an axanthic. This mutation could create a solid black crested gecko!
To prove out axanthic in crested geckos, you could pair the grey gecko into a yellow. In concept, the offspring of these pairings may look normal (yellowish or another color, including grey as this is possible because of selective breeding) but be het for axanthic. In the future breedings, you would stop getting yellow but may produce reds in addition to visual greys. Browns would be unlikely due to the strong presence of yellow in the hot browns. By pairing the gray gecko to a reddish, you can prove out or rule out anery, as 2nd generation offspring would keep yellow and no red pigment together with grey and brown.
On the other hand, grey geckos may be an accumulation of accidental selection that just happened to strike the perfect combination with all the parents, meaning that it could be all up to future selective breeding to bring out the grays, and not have as big of an impact on the opposite colors. But who knows! Perhaps we’ll get grey & white geckos or even a gray tricolor variant if the attributes or mutations do not restrict the expression of the layout.
Since the axanthic crested gecko is believed to be a recessive condition, it is going to take more time to prove out compared to a co-dom condition which may be responsible for Lilly Whites, described above.