Leopard Gecko Behaviors
The leopard gecko sometimes does strange things that can puzzle a new owner. Each of these behaviors is typically indicative of a meaning that it represents. This section of the Leopard Gecko Care Guide is going to try and explain some of the more common behaviors and help decipher the meaning behind them.
Tongue flicking is a very normal behavior for the leopard gecko. When a leopard gecko sticks his tongue out, he collects air particles and brings them back into his mouth. There is a special organ in a leopard gecko’s mouth called the vomeronasal organ (Jacobson's organ). There are specialized sensors in this organ that help decipher the particles. This helps the leopard gecko identify items. This is considered a secondary scent ability and is not just limited to leopard geckos. Snakes also have this organ, and flick their tongues out for the very same reason. (Many species of reptile have this organ and ability. It is most recognized in snakes.)
The tail wiggle is a behavior that can be interpreted several different ways. There are typically situations that elicit this response, and we are going to help you identify when and why they do this.
The primary reason for the tail wiggle is to signal something. It signals to other males that he is there. It signals to females that he is there. It can also be a response to excitement.
There are 2 types of tail wiggle. There is the slow wavy type, which is typically done while the leopard gecko has himself pressed low to the ground. Then there is the rapid vibrating wiggle that startles most first time owners.
When a male is placed with a harem of females, you will almost immediately see this behavior kick in. In rapid fashion, the tip of the leopard geckos’ tail will begin to vibrate. This is serving several purposes. The first is to notify any males in the area that another male is now present. The second is to signify directly to the females that a male is in the area. The third reason is excitement. He was just introduced to several females, and he wants to breed. There is no better way for a leopard gecko to make that known than with a swift tail wiggle.
Not only can the tail wiggle be seen when this response is being performed, it can often be heard as well.
· Defensive Posturing
This wiggle is a cause for concern if you have your hand in the enclosure and are afraid to be bit. Typically this is a slow and methodical wiggle. In most instances, the leopard gecko will have his body pressed to the ground with the tail pointing upward. The tail will be waving gently from side to side and the leopard geckos head will normally be arched upward, facing what they believe to be a predator. This is typically done by adults as a warning signal. If this were a hatchling leopard gecko, it could be accompanied by a startling squeal and a gaping mouth.
When you see this response being displayed toward you, it can be read as the leopard gecko being unsure of your intent. The best thing you can do at this point is place your hand in the enclosure several inches away from the leopard gecko. Allow the leopard gecko the chance to either flee or to investigate your hand. This will require patience, but can be used to train a leopard gecko to climb on your hand when it is placed in the enclosure.
You should avoid reaching for the leopard gecko when they are in this defensive posture. While a bite is not highly likely, and doesn’t typically hurt all that bad, it is very stressful on the leopard gecko and doesn’t help to establish you as a “non-predator”.
This response is primarily seen during a feeding frenzy. If you haven’t seen this behavior, you don’t spend enough time watching your leopard gecko chase crickets. I have found that this excited response is most prevalent in hatchlings and juveniles, though some of my adults frequently get their wiggle on during a good cricket hunt.
Right before striking for a cricket or other feeder item, the leopard gecko will be seen with his tail raised, and like the defensive wiggle, a slow wave will begin. Directly before the lunge for the insect, the tip will vibrate rapidly and the leopard gecko will launch forward.
Tail biting is typically done when a male is courting a female. Essentially, he isn't actually courting her. He is displaying his dominance and is preparing to hold her down to copulate. Tail biting can also be a sign between two females that should be separated. The more aggressive female, in an attempt to display dominance, will bite the smaller or weaker leopard gecko to run them off. This can result in eating issues for the weaker female, who will normally remain smaller than the aggressor if they remain housed together.
If you place two leopard geckos together and they both vibrate their tails and then begin biting at one another’s tail and bodies, separate them immediately. This is not typical dominance issue between females, but rather aggressive behavior between two males. Males should never be housed together as they will fight and injure one another. Their fights and injuries can be extensive and even result in death.
Squealing - Sounding Off
This behavior is typically a fear and defensive reaction. It is commonly heard coming from hatchling leopard geckos when they are startled or fearful. The sound they make closely resembles a high pitch screech and can startle anyone that isn’t prepared for it. This is the exact reaction the leopard gecko is looking for, as your momentary pause gives them an opportunity to escape.
You will also see this behavior in adult leopard geckos occasionally. This is typically a response to them being sprayed, as many of them do not like it. The sound the spray bottle makes, and the mist hitting them triggers the defensive reaction. This sounding off will normally be accompanied by them posturing as describe above.
Many people wonder why their leopard gecko is constantly trying to climb the glass of their enclosures. While this behavior is not abnormal, it can be indicative of factors that need to be looked into and addressed.
One of the first things you should check if this behavior is a constant and daily ritual is the temperatures in the enclosure. If an enclosure is too warm or cool, the gecko could be trying to escape that environment in search of a more suitable one. Please refer to our heating section to assure your enclosure is providing the proper heat gradient for your leopard gecko.
· Enclosure Size
The enclosure size can play a large factor in how your leopard gecko reacts to its environment. When an enclosure is too small, the leopard gecko could become restless and want to stimulate itself by exploring the surrounding areas. In this case, the surrounding areas would be the terrain that it can see through the glass. Have a look at our housing section for more information on this.
As previously mentioned, an enclosure that is too small can trigger a desire to explore and see more. This is also true for an enclosure of decent size, with a proper heat gradient, that lacks any structural décor for the leopard gecko to explore.
If your enclosure houses only the required attributes to sustaining your leopard gecko, he could very well be “bored” by his environment. Leopard geckos hunt prey even when there is no prey to hunt. It’s an instinctive behavior. Low level items that the leopard gecko can climb on, crawl under, and wander around will give them more exploratory features. You can learn more about this under the enclosure section of this care guide.
There are some behaviors that we will never be able to fully explain. This very well could be one of them if everything above has been identified and checked to be accurate.
As the leopard gecko explores and comes into contact with the confining glass or walls of its enclosure, it could instinctively be searching for a way to get around them.
Leopard geckos are nocturnal so the behavior of hiding all day is very normal. Some leopard geckos will become accustomed to their humans behaviors and will be active during the day. This is also not abnormal.
If you do find though that your leopard gecko is always hiding in the same location, both day and night, you should check to make sure that the enclosure is heated properly. You should also look for any fresh feces and make sure it appears normal and isn’t runny or foul smelling.
A lethargic leopard gecko is indicative of an underlying issue that needs resolving. Inadequate temperatures, parasites, and cage bullying are the most common reasons for a single gecko hiding at all times. Each of these issues can and should be addressed promptly.
A leopard gecko that is seen constantly soaking itself in its water dish is a cause for concern. This is not the typical behavior for a leopard gecko and is a sign that something may need to be corrected.
The first thing that needs to be checked is the enclosures temperatures. If they are too warm, a water dish is a quick way to help lower the core body temperature.
You should also search for a recent stool from your leopard gecko. This is especially important if you are using a loose substrate such as sand. A leopard gecko that is having a difficult time passing stool, as the result of ingested particulates, may soak itself in an attempt to over hydrate and loosen the stool within. (They do not absorb water through their skin.)
Check your gecko for mites. Mites are parasites that do not typically go after leopard geckos, but it is a possibility. Mites can be identified as small specs of life moving around on the geckos’ body. These parasites drink the blood of the host and need to be eradicated if they are located. Eradicating mites is covered in our health section.