Leopard Gecko General Reptile Care Guide | Courtesy of Reptifiles
|(Eublepharis macularius) Difficulty: Easy
Leopard geckos are crepuscular, ground-dwelling lizards native to semi-desert and arid grassland areas of Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and Nepal. The spotted pattern which serves as their namesake also serves as camouflage among the packed earth, rocks, dry grasses, and shrubs characteristic of the landscape. However, as of 2019, they have also been found in dry, forested areas of Nepal.
Wild leopard geckos can be found in holes, crevices, under stones, and under a tree’s loose bark. They are particularly fond of living in old stone walls.
They are 7-10″ (17-25 cm) long, with females generally being smaller. In captivity, leopard geckos are known to live long lives: 15-20 years on average.
Leopard geckos are insectivores, which means that they eat primarily insects. In the wild, they eat beetles, grasshoppers, spiders, scorpions, and centipedes. They have also been observed preying on caterpillars, pinky mice, newborn birds, as well as smaller snakes and lizards.
Unlike most geckos, leopard geckos are unable to climb vertical surfaces due to the absence of setae on their toes. They also have eyelids, eliminating the need for using their tongue to clean their eyes—another characteristic of gecko behavior. However, they can detach and regrow their tail if needed.
- 48”x24”x16” Meridian PVC Panel Reptile Enclosure or 4'x2'x2' Meridian Wood Panel Reptile Enclosure
- dome heat lamp
- halogen flood heat bulb (white)
- plug-in lamp dimmer
- infrared thermometer
- digital thermometer/hygrometer with a probe
- 22-24” UVB bulb and fixture
- LED plant grow light(s)
- plug-in outlet timer
- calcium powder without D3
- soft-tipped feeding tweezers
Many other leopard gecko care resources recommend that leopard geckos should be permanently housed in a 10 or 20-gallon enclosure to prevent them from getting “overwhelmed” in a larger space, or stating that more room is simply “not necessary.” However, reptiles will utilize every inch of space that we make available to them, and larger, enriched enclosures encourage our pets to exercise more, which in turn keeps them healthier and helps them live longer.
As the reptile hobby comes to understanding our beloved reptiles better, we are realizing that they need more room than we have been giving them in the past. Floor space is the most important consideration here, as leos are terrestrial (ground-dwelling) lizards. That being said, they will climb if vertical space and climbing materials are provided.
Can multiple leopard geckos be housed together in the same enclosure?
Generally speaking, no. We do not recommend cohabitation for pet leopard geckos, especially not if this is your first pet reptile.
Multiple geckos housed together can result in dropped tails, severe bite wounds, and even broken bones. This is particularly the case for male geckos, but can also happen within groups of females. And of course, males and females should not be housed together unless you want babies.
Lighting, Temperatures & Humidity
Leopard geckos are crepuscular, which means that they are most active at dawn/dusk. While their eyes evolved for low light conditions, and they tend to be much more active during the night than during the day, this does not mean that they do not need lighting as part of their enclosure setup. UVB and daylight lighting should both be on for 14 hours each day.
Leopard geckos are capable of surviving without UVB lighting as long as they receive a high-D3 calcium supplement, but are most likely to thrive when UVB is provided. To get the right strength of UVB (measured by UV Index, or UVI), distance and obstructions must be considered.
The gecko should be able to get no closer than 10” to the lamp.
TemperaturesHumans are warm-blooded, which means that our body temperature is automatically regulated. Leopard geckos, however, are cold-blooded, which means that they have to move between areas of different temperatures to regulate their body temperature. In the wild, leopard geckos warm up during the day by sleeping in a warm burrow or patch of sunlight. In captivity, the best way to replicate the warming effects of sunlight is with a heat lamp.
- Basking surface temperature: 94-97°F (34-36°C)
- Warm hide temperature: 90-92°F (32-33°C)
- Cool zone temperature: 70-77°F (21-25°C)
At night, leopard geckos can tolerate a drop in temperature down to 60°F (16°C).
Generally speaking, a 75w reptile halogen heat bulb should be plenty. However, if you notice that the basking area is too warm, dial down the heat with a plug-in lamp dimmer or switch to a lower wattage bulb. If your basking area is too cool, you will need a higher wattage bulb.
Place one of the hides (I prefer the rectangular black box hides for this) directly under the heat lamp and place a slab of stone like thin flagstone, aquarium slate, or slate tile on top to create a basking spot. The hide underneath will be the warm hide. The heat lamp should be able to heat the warm hide to the target temperature, but this can vary depending on room temperature, the thickness of the rock, etc.
If your warm hide is not getting warm enough, add a thermostat-regulated heat mat under the hide box, covered with 1” of substrate to prevent direct contact. Place the thermostat probe inside the warm hide to regulate temperature.
To measure the general temperature of different areas of your terrarium, use an infrared thermometer (a.k.a. temperature gun). To passively track basking temperature, use a digital probe thermometer, with the probe placed on the basking surface under the heat source.
Leopard geckos do best in a low humidity environment, with free access to pockets of higher humidity. The ideal average ambient humidity is 30-40%. Humidity levels that are consistently too high or low can cause health problems for your gecko. However, it is natural for humidity to be lower in the warm area and higher in the cool area. It is also normal for humidity levels to rise at night and fall during the day.
That being said, it is important to your gecko’s health to provide them with access to an area of 70-80% humidity. This can be done with a “humid hide” — a cave or hide with a moistened substrate, placed on the cool end of the enclosure. This helps your gecko shed successfully and stay hydrated.
Providing substrate for leopard geckos is a controversial issue, but the short of it is that as long as a naturalistic substrate is used, and the gecko is adequately heated, hydrated, has access to UVB, and is otherwise healthy, there’s nothing to be worried about.
For leopard geckos, it’s best to use a well-drained, soil-like substrate that is similar to what is found in their natural habitat.
Decorating the Terrarium
Decorations play a vital role in your leopard gecko’s enclosure as environmental enrichment. Enrichment items encourage exercise, stimulate your pet’s natural instincts, and help promote overall wellbeing. And, of course, they make the enclosure look nicer! Without décor, your leopard gecko’s terrarium is just an expensive box of dirt.
Hollow logs, thick branches, ledges, and artificial or drought-resistant live plants work well as décor in a leopard gecko terrarium. You can also provide additional hideouts. Arrange these items in a way that encourages your gecko to climb and explore and provides a variety of places to sleep in during the day.
Feeding Your Leopard GeckoLeopard geckos are insectivores, which means that they eat primarily insects. In fact, they don’t eat anything but insects! How often leopard geckos need to eat depends on age: The general rule is to offer 2 appropriately-sized bugs per 1 inch of your leopard gecko’s length, or however much they can eat in 15 minutes.
- dubia roach nymphs
- discoid roach nymphs
- red runner roaches
- black soldier fly larvae
- darkling beetles
- Juveniles — fed daily
- Young Adults — fed every other day / every 3 days
- Adults whose tail is thicker than their neck — fed every 5 days
The key to providing a healthy, balanced diet for your pet is VARIETY. Provide as varied of a diet as you possibly can, and you will be rewarded with a healthier pet that always looks forward to mealtime.
All insect feeders should be lightly “dusted” with calcium powder to balance the calcium-phosphorus ratio. Multivitamin powder can be used every once in a while to provide extra nutrients. All-in-one powders provide a balanced dose of both at once.
Once you’ve brought your gecko home, it’s tempting to start playing with him or her right away. But wait 2 weeks after buying before beginning handling — your gecko needs time to settle into its new home, and handling on top of that can cause additional stress. If your leopard gecko hasn’t eaten by the time the 2 weeks are over, do not handle it and make an appointment with a certified reptile vet.
After the 2 week waiting period is over, introduce yourself to your gecko by putting your hand in its enclosure every night for a few minutes so it can get used to your scent and presence. They should already be relatively familiar with you, since you’ve been in their space replacing water, offering food, cleaning up, etc. Avoid applying lotion or other fragranced products before introducing yourself.
When you begin handling, start with 5-minute sessions every other day, gradually increasing the length of the sessions and escalating to daily. Support the feet, body, and tail. Never grab the tail, as it is detachable. Consistency is key to successful taming.
Stay close to the ground in case the gecko jumps. You want handling to be a positive experience, and injury is not a positive experience. You can also talk to your gecko and offer it treats. It doesn’t matter whether you handle it during the day or night, although the gecko might be less skittish during the day.
Care information courtesy of ReptiFiles.
Need to rehome your pet?
Don't let it loose! Remember - it is NEVER okay to release animals. Many pets released into the wild are unable to survive. If your pet does survive, it can become an invasive species that can be harmful to native wildlife, the environment, and the economy. If you are no longer able to care for your pet, you can reach out to friends, retirement communities, local shelters, or visit https://www.dontletitloose.com/rehoming-a-pet/ to find a rehoming partner near you.