Leopard Gecko Single Page Caresheet
Leopard Gecko Taxonomy
Leopard Gecko (Eublepharis macularius) Caresheetby Richard Brooks
Leopard Gecko Introduction
Since 1992, when varying morphs and color combinations of these lizards began showing up, people have started taking a liking to these wonderful lizards. Unlike many species of reptile on the market, leopard geckos make ideal "beginner" pets for the amateur herp enthusiast.
Leopard geckos are a great starter lizard for several reasons. The most important reason would be their docile nature. Leos are non-aggressive animals and come in a variety of colors and morphs. They eat a varied diet of easy to obtain insects, are quiet, non-foul smelling, and are easily housed. Unlike many diurnal species of reptile, leopard geckos don't require any of the fancy and expensive lighting others do. They are also highly adaptable and have shown that they can thrive even when receiving the "not to so adequate" care they are sometimes subjected to by unknowing enthusiasts.
With the help of this care guide, you should be able to provide your leopard gecko with all of the essential care it should receive.
Geckos are diverse and adaptive lizards. The family Gekkonidae is comprised of many different species that occupy a wide range of habitats. Geckos can be found almost anywhere; from harsh dry deserts, to lush moist forests. Their ability to adapt to their surroundings has made the gecko a flourishing species.
Each specie carries different traits that distinguishes it from the others. The leopard gecko is no exception. The leopard gecko belongs to the subfamily Eublepharinae. They are the eyelid geckos. They are the only group of geckos with functioning eyelids that can close. All other geckos possess eyelids that are fused open and are unable to blink. The eyelid geckos are the most primitive reptiles within the gecko family.
Leopard Gecko Behaviors
Geckos are extremely fun to watch due to their behavioral characteristics. They are curious by nature and can become excited by a simple cricket crossing their path. With stealth and determined moves, a gecko will stalk its prey, with a tail twitch, lunge forward, and grab hold. The tail twitch is rather amusing to watch. It serves various functions and each should be noted accordingly.
As stated above, the gecko could twitch its tail by becoming overly excited. Both males and females will rattle their tails, so differentiating between the two is crucial.
It can also be used to see what other males are in the enclosure. Leopard geckos will rattle their tail as a signal that he is a male or to show a sign that he does not want to be bothered. If another gecko in the enclosure also rattles their tail, it signals that there is another male in their territory. Some sort of altercation will often follow this.
Males will also rattle their tails to see what females are present and to inform them that he is a male. This signaling is often done when a male is introduced to a females enclosure or vice versa.
Getting use to your leopard geckos behaviors will help you to better understand your gecko.
Housing Leopard Gecko
Leopard geckos are a unique and undemanding pet. A single gecko can be housed in a ten-gallon aquarium though a longer enclosure is always suggested.
Since leopard geckos are not arboreal, they do not require enclosures that are "high". A longer, shallower enclosure would suit them best.
Many people own and house multiple geckos. This can be done individually or accumulatively. Female Leos can be housed in groups so long as the space is permitted. A 20-gallon aquarium would be sufficient for three females. Males must be housed separately. They will fight over territory and some cases of fighting have lead to death of one or both of the Leos.
Leopard Gecko Substrates
It is a common occurrence that when searching the internet for information on leopard geckos, this issue is always controversial. There is still a huge amount of leopard gecko owners that suggest the use of sand and other granular substrates as a "safe" substrate material. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
Granular substrates have been known to cause impactions in leopard geckos. There are two types of impaction that could occur. The first is called an Acute Impaction. An acute impaction is when the Leo swallows a large amount of substrate and it blocks the vital organs used to process food. (Stomach, intestinal tract, etc.) The results of this type of impaction will lead to lethargy, lack of appetite, lack of bowel movements, sand in the stool, etc.
The other type of impaction, and often the most deadly form, is the chronic impaction. A chronic impaction is the slow accumulation of sand that binds to the lining of the intestinal tract. Over time, and often years, it will create a blockage. This blockage will also have the same detrimental effects as an acute impaction. The biggest problem with this type of impaction is that when it is discovered, it is most often too late to cure.
To prevent the possibility of this happening to your leopard gecko, avoid all granular substrates. None of them is as digestible as they claim and each poses the CHANCE that your gecko could become a victim of an impaction.
Substrates that are safe would include unprinted newspaper, paper towels, and repti carpet with all the frayed edges melted, linoleum, cloth, etc.
If you choose to use sand regardless of the impaction risks, please avoid using calcium sand. Calcium sand is extremely dangerous and poses risks of it own. Read this article on Calcium Sand and the dangers tht it poses.
Calcium Sand Substrates - Dangers
Heating Leopard Geckos - Day Time
The most common and often the most preferred method of heating an enclosure for leopard geckos is with the use of an under tank heater (UTH).
Under tank heaters adhere to the bottom of the glass aquariums and should be placed on one end of the enclosure. The spot in the enclosure that has the uth under it will be considerably warmer than the rest of the enclosure. There should be a hide spot/spots placed over this location. This is where the geckos can receive the warmth required to aid in thermoregulation and digestion. The use of a rheostat will allow you to change the amount of heat that is emitted by the uth.
Other methods of heating an enclosure are ceramic heat emitters, basking lights, etc. Never should you use a "heat rock" with ANY reptile. There have been a number of reported cases where heat rocks have malfunctioned and caused thermal burns.
The ideal temperature range to house a leopard gecko at would be 85-90 degrees in the "basking spot". (That would be where the uth is located.)
The cooler end of the enclosure should not fall below 70 degrees but should also not exceed 79 degrees. Ideally, a range between 74-78 degrees should be aimed for. There should be a hide spot located on this end of the enclosure as well.
The purpose of having this type of setup is to allow the gecko to thermo regulate its body temperature. Unlike humans, geckos are cold blooded. They depend upon external heat sources and cool spots to adjust their bodies core temperature. If a proper heat gradient is not supplied, the gecko could become too cool and /or hot and become ill or die.
Heating Leopard Geckos - Night Time
In the wild, evening temperatures differ from those during the day. This has to be duplicated in captivity as well.
The ideal evening temperatures would be between 68-74 degrees. That is generally the average household temperature. In most cases, extra heating is not required unless the constant use of air conditioners is a factor. Under tank heat emitters are never turned off unless your household temperature exceeds 80 degrees. This allows the geckos a place to warm themselves in the evening.
If you are using a ceramic heat emitter for your enclosure, it should be left on. This will allow the gecko to have an end of the enclosure that is warmer than the other.
It is crucial that you monitor your Leos enclosure. This can be done with the use of thermometers. There are many different types to choose from and one for every budget. The use of two thermometers is recommended so that each end of the enclosure can be monitored.
Leopard Gecko Humidity
Leopard geckos come from dry arid regions of the world. Their captive enclosures need to be a replica of this type of environment. An excessive amount of moisture can lead to health and behavioral problems. Their habitat should be maintained below or around 30% humidity. This can be monitored with the use of humidity gauges. They are often sold at most pet stores.
When a leopard gecko retreats to its hide during the daylight hours, they are often in chambers or holes that have a higher humidity level than the ambient air outside of the hide spot. To simulate this type of environment, you will need to create a moist hide.
Leopard Gecko Moist Hides
A moist hide is designed to aid with shedding and to double as a laying box for gravid females. To create a moist hide, cut a hole in the side of a margarine tub. The hole should be closest to the top of the container but should have at least 1 inch of plastic remaining on the bottom.
Place some sphagnum moss or a similar medium in the container and wet slightly. The substrate should not be so wet that water is evident. It also must not be dry. The best way to get a good consistency is too hold the medium in your hand and add water. Now squeeze out the excess moisture. This will leave a safe medium for you to use.
Moist hides are often used as an aid for the gecko to help loosen skin that is shedding.
Moist Hide Creation Guide
Leopard Gecko Shedding
A gecko that is shedding is very noticeable. Their natural colors will dull dramatically and they may lose their appetite. They will often spend a majority of their time in their moist hides preparing for the shed.
Once the shed has begun to separate itself, the gecko will bite hold of the loose skin and tear it away from the newly developed skin underneath. They will also begin to eat the newly shed skin as it is removed. This is a common occurrence and is very healthy for the gecko because the shed skin is full of nutrients.
The moist hide plays a vital role in successful sheds. Skin that has not been removed can lead to infections and poor circulation resulting in paralysis of limbs that have been cut off from the bloodline. The added moisture from the moist hide moistens the skin. This will help to get the shed off problem areas like the toes.
A freshly shed gecko will have vibrant colorings and will resume normal activities.
Leopard Gecko Lighting
Leopard geckos are nocturnal. This means that they prefer the evening hours and darkness to the daytime. This also means that they do not require expensive UV lighting like iguanas and other diurnal reptiles.
Like all living creatures, they do require what is called a photoperiod. This can be established by providing 12 hours of light as well as 12 hours of darkness. A simple household bulb can be used for this purpose. The light cycle that you provide will help the gecko to determine night and day.
Viewing Your Leopard Gecko
Viewing your gecko can be tricky as they are most as active during dusk and the evening hours. Many people have turned to using red, blue, and black lights during the night to help moderate evening temps as well as to add minimal lighting that allows for superior viewing.
The light emitted from these bulbs is so minimal that it does not disrupt the reptile while still allowing you to watch them in their most active state.
The black lights are not the same bulbs that are used to view black light responsive images. They are simply a black bulb designed for viewing and heating reptiles. Please do not confuse the two. Some documents show that prolonged exposure to "black lights" (image responsive lighting) can have a negative effect on the eyes. We would not want this same problem to occur with our reptiles.
Leopard Gecko Water
Water should be left in a shallow dish and changed daily.
Feeding Leopard Geckos
Geckos are insectivores and require a diet consisting of healthy insects. The most common insects available and used are crickets, mealworms, wax worms, and super worms. Each of these insects make up an entire diet with crickets or mealworms being the staple of the diet.
Wax worms are high in fat and are not fed on a regular basis. My geckos receive wax worms on 2-week intervals. I add 3 wax worms to their diet every other feeding, every 2 weeks. Then I will go 2 weeks without offering any wax worms.
My geckos are maintained at 55-65 grams by using this method.
Leopard geckos are nocturnal and in the wild begin to stalk prey once the sun has gone down. Their feedings should be done in the evening. This is a wonderful time for you to observe your Leo.
Breed Your Own Feeder Insects
Leopard Gecko Feeder Prey Size
The rule of thumb to follow is that the prey you feed your Leopard Gecko should not be longer than the space between the leopard geckos eyes. This ensures that you are feeding prey that the gecko can easily consume and digest. Items larger than the space can pose an impaction risk and can also deter the leo from eating. (Slightly larger insects are safe. You want to use the space as a guideline!)
This process requires you to feed your insects healthy foods. By supplying your feeder insects with fresh fruits and vegetables, they will be adding nutrients to their contents. This will aid your gecko with their nutrient consumption because they will be eating insects that are healthy and nutritious.
Never feed insects directly from the pet store. They should be gut loaded first. Most pet stores do not take the time to feed their feeders because they are never in the store long enough for them to do so.
Leopard Gecko Calcium
A shallow dish of pure calcium powder should be left in the enclosure at all times. Leopard geckos require high calcium content and will utilize the dish as needed.
Leopard Gecko Vitamins
Supplementing your leopard gecko will help to insure that they are receiving all of their nutrients. Herptivite is a good supplement to use. Sprinkle some in a bag and add the insects that you plan on feeding. Lightly shake the bag to coat the insects and then add them to the enclosure. As the geckos eat the insects, they will also be eating the vitamins that are covering the insects.
My Leos are supplemented every other week for two feedings.
Leopard Gecko Feeding Myth
Is it true that I need to crush the heads of my Mealworms and Superworms so they don't chew their way out of my leo?
This is a myth. Mealworms and Superworms can not chew their way out of a healthy Leopard Gecko. The acids in the stomach will destroy any insect ingested.
Leopard Gecko and Stress
Leopard Geckos, like all reptiles, can become stressed. This can happen from being moved, being placed in high traffic areas of the home, inadequate temperatures, etc. Stress can lead to not eating. It's very common with reptiles.
When a new Leo is brought into the home, it should be given solitude and a chance to settle in before handling occurs. A varied diet of insects should be offered, water changed daily, and the leo left to adapt to its new surroundings. This will help reduce stress and improve the overall transition.
Sexing Leopard Geckos
Unless incubated for sex, a leopard gecko can not be positively sexed until it reaches 5-6" in length.
Young leopard geckos are difficult to sex.