Leopard Gecko – A Beginner’s Guide

Leopard Geckos are the first domesticated reptiles and they’re some of the most adorable pets in the world. They’re one of the most popular pets in the world and they’re also the go-to Geckos when it comes to first-time reptile pets.

Leopard Gecko
Source: Christian von Faber-Castell

Scientifically known as Eublepharis macularius, these beautiful Geckos make excellent pets for both children and adults. And because of their popularity, you can find several colorful and patterned morphs. But generally, they are yellow or white and spotted with black dots.

In this article, we’ll talk about what exactly any first-time Leopard Gecko owner needs to know before getting one of these beautiful creatures.

Size (inches/cm): 8 to 10 inches

Life Expectancy (years): 20+ years in captivity

What does a Leopard Gecko look like?

Leopard Geckos are fairly small lizards and they come from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and Northwest India. They almost never grow longer than 10 inches along with the tail. And despite being very frightened by you, they still have the courage to attempt to scare you away until they get to know you.

Their heads are slightly triangle-shaped and their tails are very fat. More than that, wild Leopard Geckos are generally white, yellow, and is spotted with black dots. And since they come from a sandy habitat, these features can help them remain undetected for hours.

After these reptiles became a huge success as pets all over the world, breeders started special-breeding them in an attempt to make some of the most unique-looking Leopard Geckos in the world. This is why you can find various colorful Leopard Geckos and even patterned morphs or variations.

Some people prefer a Gecko that looks as exotic as possible, while the typical wild-type is considered too normal. A baby Leopard Gecko is more desired and valuable if it features certain colors.

Leopard Geckos – Temperament and Habits

For a long time, keepers tried to prove that Leopard Geckos are lone creatures and don’t need any type of company. But even today those claims are not backed up by any facts. In truth, these lizards tend to live in groups and develop a hierarchy.

Leopard Geckos are incredibly vocal and will let you know what is happening to them throughout the night. If they feel excited, you will hear them chirping and making all kinds of sounds. When they feel threatened, they will start vibrating their tail and attempt to scare you off when you try to check on them.

These Geckos are nocturnal and they spend most of their time climbing or burrowing. They are also known for their lack of sticky pads which stops them from climbing on vertical surfaces. A Leopard Gecko will use its claws to climb up trees, rocks, and shrubs.

Once your Gecko gets to know you better, they also love climbing on your arm. They’re very docile creatures and can be safely handled by kids as well. But it’s important to take the time and connect with it before attempting to make physical contact.

Are Leopard Geckos nocturnal?

Leopard Geckos are nocturnal beings. This means they are active during the night and for a very short amount of time during the day. They burrow in soil or rock caves to evade predators and absorb heat during the day.

When the night comes, it’s time for the Leopard Gecko to feed. But they’re not overdoing it with their hunting skills. They actually use their excellent hearing and wait for the pray to come to them. This makes feeding easier and safer than roaming in the open looking for food.

This also means that it’s very important to mimic the night and day cycle in their vivarium. If you keep a bright light on their cage so you can see them at night they might get stressed. It’s better to use a lizard lamp to check their behavior during the night.

Their nocturnal nature and vocal personality make them a bad choice to be kept in your bedroom. They might be small but their vocal capabilities will scare you in the middle of the night.

Are Leopard Geckos aggressive?

Just like any reptile, Leopard Geckos will get aggressive when feeling threatened. If you’re not handling them properly you could end up with a pretty painful bite. They will let go as soon as they can escape from you but their bite should not be underestimated.

As soon as you become friends with your Leopard Gecko you won’t have any aggressive problems with him. If he gets suddenly aggressive and acts odd, take him to the vet and check for any possible health issues. A happy Leopard Gecko that’s used to its keeper will never be aggressive.

On the other hand, Leopard Geckos will get very aggressive with other Leopard Gecko males and you should avoid housing them together. They will also get aggressive with the females and you while it’s shedding its skin. As soon as the skin shedding is done, your Leopard Gecko will be back to normal.

Where do Leopard Geckos live?

The natural habitat of the Leopard Gecko is the desert. It loves hot temperatures and medium to low levels of humidity. This means you won’t have any trouble setting up the cage for your new gecko. It also takes a short amount of time to clean.

Leopard Geckos live in habitats that have cooler winter temperatures as well. But since they’re not capable of regularly metabolizing because of the cold winter, they tend to go into reptile hibernation, known as brumation.

In the wild, you can find Leopard Geckos in various places ranging from Afghanistan to Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, and Northwest India. They are generally found on the rocks of their desert scrub environments.

How many Leopard Geckos can be housed together?

If you love this reptile species, you can house up to three of them together. But you need to keep in mind that there should never be more than one adult male in the same enclosure. The moment you turn your back on the enclosure, the bigger lizard can kill and even eat the smaller one.

After you’ve prepared their vivarium, you should spend a lot of time supervising their reaction to both their new home and each other. If the Geckos come from the same parents and they grew up together they will accept each other’s presence a lot easier.

Typically, reptile keepers would start with a small cage then upgrade it once the Gecko is an adult. But since they don’t grow too big, you can start with a more convenient tank from the start.

If you’re only keeping one Gecko, you should start with a 10-gallon tank. But if you want to house two or three together, it’s best to opt for a 20-gallon cage or bigger. They’re not big creatures but they need their space.

You have five housing options for housing your Leopard Geckos. You can keep them by themselves, in pairs of two, a male and a female, in pairs of two females, two females and one male, and you might even be able to house three females together. But again, space is key as they love exploring new environments.

Reproduction

Generally, Leopard Geckos will breed in the summer. And like many Geckos, the females can store the sperm over the course of the breeding season. This will help them produce up to three clutches with the help of only one or two copulations. The male won’t be needed after the first or second copulation to guarantee a successful reproduction.

Female Leopard Geckos are capable of laying up to 6 or 8 clutches that are made of two eggs each. They will start laying two eggs after 21-28 days after mating. And the first sign of hatching comes after 45-60 days and the babies will have an “egg tooth”

The “egg tooth” of the baby Leopard Gecko is used to break their eggshell and it will fall within one or two days. They will also shed their skin within the first 24h of life and it won’t be able to eat until then.

Leopard Geckos are also known to have TSD (Temperature-dependent Sex Determination). This means that more females are produced at cool temperatures between 79 and 84F and at very warm temperatures between 93 and 95F.

More males are more likely to be produced at intermediate temperatures, such as between 88 and 91F. Any temperature above 95F won’t result in a newborn because the temperature is too hot for the lizard inside the egg.

It’s also important to note that the females differ from one another depending on if they are born in the cold or hot temperature. The female Leopard Geckos produced in the warmer temperature are much more aggressive and are often referred to as “hot females”. And sadly, they’re often infertile.

What do Leopard Geckos eat?

Leopard Geckos have a diet that consists of invertebrates that need to always be smaller than the Gecko’s head, especially if he’s young. This makes them fairly easy to feed and it can even be done by children. You should find a good supplier around you that sells insects meant to offer your Gecko all the nutrients it needs.

The Gecko can be fed with crickets, mealworms, wax worms, superworms, small hornworms, phoenix worms, Dubia roaches, and even pink mice. A responsible owner will also make sure their little friend receives a healthy diet that contains everything they need.

This means spending a little time with the insects before feeding them to your Leopard Gecko. You can either opt for gut-loading them 48 hours before feeding. This means feeding the insects the nutrients your Gecko needs so it can benefit from them after eating the insects.

But if gut-loading is too complicated for you, there’s always the option of investing in a supplement of calcium powder that contains vitamin D3. All you need to do is dust the insects with this powder right before feeding them to your Gecko.

How much do they eat?

When it comes to how much to feed your Leopard Gecko there are two things you need to always keep in mind. If the Gecko is a hatchling or juvenile, their food should absolutely never be bigger than the width of their head. For adults you can choose bigger insects, they can handle it.

And the second thing is that the best way to feed your Gecko is using the popular measuring technique: “one insect per inch of gecko”. This means that if your Gecko is 6 inches long, you can feed it up to 6 insects.

You should also keep in mind that some Geckos are more food-driven than others, especially if it’s a wild-caught Leopard Gecko. And research shows that well-fed Geckos won’t become cannibals and eat their own hatchlings.

How often do you feed a Leopard Gecko?

Hatchlings and Juveniles need to be fed every single day and they need nothing more than one insect that is smaller than the width of their head. Their food should also be gut-loaded or dusted in supplement powder more often as they need all the help they can get to grow healthy.

On the other hand, adult Leopard Geckos need to be fed three times a week. However, you should be careful about the gut-loading and vitamin D3 dusting. If it’s too much the Gecko will fall sick instead of maintaining a strong and healthy life.

You should ask your lizard-expert vet about how frequently you should dust your Gecko’s food.

How do Leopard Geckos drink?

Leopard Geckos need a dish of fresh water at all times. Find a secure place for it in a corner or a place that your Gecko won’t be able to turn upside down. Then remember to change the water every single day.

The bowl of water will serve as both the hydration option for your Gecko and the easiest way to maintain humidity in the enclosure.

It’s very important to get a dish that’s big enough for your Gecko to soak in if it wants to. However, the water should not reach its ears. Some Geckos get offended when a little bit of water touches them while others voluntarily get into the water bowl to soak.

Caring for a Leopard Gecko

Leopard Geckos are surprisingly easy to take care of. They’re not extremely pretentious and love attention once they get to know you. But it’s very important to find a suitable place inside your home where you can place your Gecko’s cage. They’re too vocal for bedrooms and whatever room they’re in needs to be hot all-year-round.

The only thing you need to keep a close eye on is the temperature and humidity inside the cage. These creatures come from the desert, which means they need a hot environment and below 60% humidity.

If the temperature is too low, the Gecko becomes unable to metabolize. If the humidity is too low, they will get dehydrated. And if the humidity is too high (over 70%) your little friend can end up with a respiratory infection.

Type of enclosure/cage needed

Any Gecko enclosure needs to have good ventilation and be easy to clean. This will prevent bacteria build-up and allow you to spend as little time as possible invading your Gecko’s territory.

It’s best to avoid having to change enclosures after your Gecko grows up and starts with a 10-gallon tank from the moment you bring him home. And if you need to house more than one Leopard Geckos, start with a 20-gallon tank. They will appreciate the space.

You should also provide various hiding spots for your Gecko or at least one on the hot part and one on the cold side of the cage. The hideout should fit an adult Gecko but be enclosed enough to be dark and snug. This will make them feel secure during the day.

Placing coconut fiber or sphagnum moss inside the hideouts will help make a micro-humidity chamber as well. This will help the Gecko with shedding.

Your Gecko will also appreciate various rocks, branches, small playdens, and other decorations that will keep them entertained.

If you’re trying to make an eco vivarium, make sure the plants you use are 100% safe for your Gecko.

Substrate required in a Gecko’s tank

There are various options you can use but never assume that they’re best kept in a tank with sand substrate just because they live in the desert in the wild. Small Geckos can eat sand by accident and create serious health problems.

If your Gecko grows up to be bigger than 8-9 inches long, you can use a layer of calcium sand as a substrate. But the best option is to use a reptile carpet. These are very easy to clean and disinfect every time you clean the whole tank.

Whatever you choose, make sure your Gecko won’t ingest the substrate or cut his tiny feet in substrates like wood shavings.

Heat

Leopard Geckos are coldblooded creatures, which means they need to regulate their body temperature by themselves. And since they like a range of temperatures, make sure they have a basking spot and a cooler area of the tank.

The basking spot should be up to 88F with a thermal gradient down to 75F. And at night it can drop to range between 70 to 75F. When it comes to the coolest side of the vivarium, make sure it’s around 10F lower than on the hottest side.

Humidity levels

Leopard Geckos are desert lizards so you won’t have to bother with maintaining high humidity inside the cage. You need to make sure it doesn’t drop below 20% as it will affect their shedding, and not get higher than 55-60% as it might cause respiratory infections.

The ideal humidity level is between 30% and 40%, which is a very similar humidity level to the one in your home. It’s highly recommended to use either a hygrometer or humidity gauge to always know what the humidity level is.

How much light does it need?

Leopard Geckos are nocturnal beings that don’t need much UV lighting. Providing between 2% and 7% of UVA and UVB light can be very important for your Gecko. It can keep your little friend healthy and help reduce the risk of metabolic bone diseases.

You can use incandescent lighting and heat to mimic the day and night cycle. Remember to offer 14 hours of “sun” per day in the summer, and go down to 12 hours a day. Put the lights on a timer and the enclosure will do all the work for you.

Keeping Leopard Geckos as Pets

While some reptiles are a nightmare to keep, Geckos are great and the Leopard Gecko is the sweetest and easiest to care for reptile pet you can get. Most Leopard Geckos come from generations and generations of breeding. This makes them very ready to be your pet.

You should keep in mind that all animals are capable of potentially carrying various diseases that are contagious to humans. This includes bacterial, fungal, viral, and parasitic diseases. Even dogs and cats, especially cats that are free to roam the streets.

This means you need to wash your hands with warm and soapy water both before and after contact with the pet or its enclosure. And if you got a Gecko for your child, make sure you’re there to assist him to wash his hands properly.

Health of Leopard Geckos

Leopard Geckos need calcium and vitamin D to remain healthy. Otherwise, they will suffer from metabolic bone disease. You should also be careful about your gecko gaining weight as they tend to develop armpit bubbles. However, they’re not dangerous and are usually full of fat, vitamin, protein, calcium, etc.

Your Gecko is also prone to gastroenteritis, which develops from bacteria infections. This can be fatal but it can be treated if caught early enough.

And any lizard can develop dysecdysis if their cage is too dry and they’re undernourished. This looks a lot like dry skin and will cause a lot of difficulty to your Gecko when it tries to shed. It can also affect its vision.

Are Leopard Geckos good pets?

Leopard Geckos make great pets and they love interacting with you. They’re docile and will rarely bite. And while they love climbing on your arms, remember that they have tail autotomy. NEVER pick up your Gecko by the tail. It will fall off and both of you will have something to recover from.

Start by placing a flat hand down and easily get him onto your hand. Remember to support his tail and legs with your flat hand when you’re holding him. If he gets scared he will move his tail and emit various barking sounds.

After that start walking slowly with him (no running and no fast movements), then start with small five-minute handling sessions every day. Repeat until he gets used to you.

These Geckos might also live for more than 20 years, which means they are a serious commitment.

How much do Leopard Geckos cost?

Leopard Geckos are very popular all over the world, which means you can find them almost anywhere. However, it’s highly recommended to choose a reputable breeder. A baby Leopard Gecko will cost between $20 and $40.

There are also breeders that work on rare morphs and sell a baby Gecko for up to $100. You should also demand to see where they are kept and how well they’re taken care of.