What’s The Proper Lighting Setup For A Leopard Gecko?
If you are setting up an enclosure for your new Leopard Gecko or looking to add lighting or redo to your pet’s habitat, we will cover everything from heating to UVB in this article! It is important to keep in mind that there is no single correct way to set up heating and lighting for a Leopard Gecko. What may be best for one person may not be ideal for another. The key to success is trial and error in your environment. Don’t be afraid to test and adjust your setup to achieve the desired result!
Leopard Geckos are crepuscular animals, which means they are most active at dawn and dusk. Although they are most active in the dark, daylight also plays an important part in their daily cycle. Without daylight, a Leopard Gecko’s photo period may be thrown off and their health can suffer as a result. Leopard Geckos should have 14 hours of daylight during the summer months and reduced to 12 hours during the cooler winter months.
Although Leopard Geckos are most active in hours of mostly darkness, many have been observed emerging for short periods during the day to bask - especially in the hours of dawn and dusk. Leopard Geckos may also partake in a process known as cryptic basking. This process involves the animal exposing a small portion of their body to the light in order to absorb the beneficial effects of the lighting spectrum.
What Lights Are Best For Leopard Geckos?
The most natural source of heat for Leopard Geckos comes from above, just like the sun. A halogen bulb is the most efficient, natural way of heating your reptile. Halogen bulbs produce infrared A and infrared B rays, which are deeply penetrating rays of heat that are also produced by the sun. Your animal can bask more efficiently as the ability of these rays to deeply penetrate the skin of your reptile requires less basking time to receive the heat they require. Your halogen bulb should be hooked to a dimmer or a proportional thermostat to ensure the temperature does not exceed the safe range.
Deep heat projectors are also a good choice for Leopard Geckos. Though they do not produce visible light, they do produce infrared A and B rays like halogen bulbs do. DHP will need to be hooked to a proportional dimming thermostat in order to properly regulate their heat.
For many years, a myth circulated that Leopard Geckos required belly heat in order to properly digest. This goes against the natural instinct of reptiles to retreat further into the ground to cool down, and further above ground to warm up. It is important to note that the myth of Leopard Geckos requiring belly heat to survive is just that - a myth. In the wild, the sun provides Leopard Geckos with all of the heat they require to properly digest. They do not have a source of underground heating to provide belly heat, and will retreat underground to cool down, not to heat up. Offering overheat heating above a basking surface or warm hide will cause the hide or surface to absorb heat, which can offer belly heat. Truthfully, Leopard Geckos can absorb and utilize heat from any part of their body, not just their belly. Due to this myth, many keepers opt to use under tank heating like heat mats and heat rocks for their Leopard Gecko instead of overhead lighting. While many keepers still successfully keep Leopard Geckos with regulated heat mats, heat rocks should be avoided. Heat rocks are unable to be regulated and have been known to cause severe burns to reptiles.
Heat mats are still commonly used for reptiles and are a fine choice for Leopard Geckos. Though they are not as natural as overhead heating, they will provide your animal with the proper conditions to digest food when properly regulated. A heat mat can be controlled with an on/off probe thermostat. If you are having issues with your gecko's warm hide getting to a proper temperature with overhead heating, you may opt to add a heat mat in tandem to achieve ideal temperatures.
Do Leopard Geckos Need Night Lights?
Leopard Geckos are crepuscular, which means they are most active at dawn and dusk. They have eyes that are designed to navigate and hunt in the dim hours of dawn, dusk, and even darkness of the night. Adding a nighttime light source will interrupt your gecko's natural circadian rhythm and can lead to stress. Contrary to popular belief, reptiles CAN see light from the color red and blue, and their photo periods can be disrupted by using these “night lights." It is best to give your Leopard Gecko what is most natural for them at nighttime - total darkness.
Do Leopard Geckos Need Heat at Night?
It is natural, and even recommended for Leopard Geckos to have a drop in temperature at night. In the wild, once the sun goes down, the Leopard Gecko’s habitat cools down. Providing your Leopard Gecko with a nighttime drop in temperature down to 60ºƒ is recommended. By providing a temperature and light cycle fluctuation, you can closely resemble a Leopard Gecko's natural environment.
If the temperature in your home dips below 60ºƒ, you can add a heat source such as a low wattage deep heat projector or ceramic heat emitter on a thermostat set to mid-60’s to allow for a natural, yet safe range of temperature fluctuation of your gecko’s environment. In the past, many keepers have opted to use heat mats to offer a source of heat with non-visible light around the clock. We now know that it is ideal not to provide our animals with the same temperature 24/7, and a night drop in temperature is safe and recommended.
Do Leopard Geckos Need A Heat Lamp?
Leopard Geckos require heat to properly digest their food. While an overhead heat source is the most natural method of heating your Leopard Gecko’s terrarium, an under-tank heat mat on a thermostat may also be used.
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 during the warmer months and reduced to 12 hours in the cooler months.
Leopard Geckos are capable of surviving without UVB lighting as long as they receive a regular supply of dietary D3 calcium supplement. However, they 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 thickness of the screen will filter between 15-30% of UV rays on average, and UV cannot penetrate through glass or plastic whatsoever. Ensure that your UV bulb is positioned where it is not obstructed by glass, plastic, or excessive cage decor. To avoid UV burns, follow manufacturers' recommendations on distance depending on your type of habitat, distance to basking spot, and bulb strength.
A few good options for a Leopard Gecko is the Arcadia Shade Dweller, Arcadia 6%, or ZooMed 5% T5 linear UVB. Less pigmented morphs of Leopard Gecko, such as albino, are more sensitive to (and can be burned by) excess UVB. For them, use a weaker strength UV bulb such as a T8 over a T5 and aim for a greater distance and lower strength UVI output.
Humans 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 an overhead heat source.
- 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 a hide 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 ambient air temperature, use a digital probe thermometer, with the probe placed in the area you are wanting to monitor.
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 warm areas and higher in cool areas. 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. These different temperature and humidity areas within a habitat are known as “microclimates”. Providing your Leopard Gecko with several microclimates within their habitat gives them the opportunity to seek out different levels of humidity and temperature to regulate their body function. This is a great way to offer a wide gradient of environmental diversity and gives your Leopard Gecko the option to choose what they need at any given time.