Leopard Gecko – Information and Caresheet
The leopard gecko is native to dry, rocky habitat in Pakistan, northern India and Afghanistan. They are nocturnal sleeping during the day in humid burrows, coming out to hunt at night. They do not live in sand dunes which is a popular misconception.
Longevity and Size
Leopard geckos can live for up to 20 years. Adults can reach up to 12 inches in size, however a more average size would be approximately 8 inches. Adults can weigh anything from 50-100g. Generally, females are smaller. Adult size (lengthwise) should be reached at around 1 year.
Suitability as pets
Leopard geckos are one of the easiest reptiles to care for and keeping them can be a very rewarding experience providing they have the correct care. It is very important to research leopard geckos and have a set up ready before you purchase one.
Youngsters can be quite skittish but calm as they grow and get used to being handled. They are generally calm, tolerant of handling and clean. Being nocturnal, they are most active in the evening (spending most of the day sleeping).
Leopard Geckos should be healthy and responsive. If buying from a shop or a breeder check the conditions they have been kept in are clean with a suitable non-loose substrate and that they have been provided with clean water, appropriate food, access to calcium powder and the correct climate. Also check that the vivs are not overcrowded and that only leos of a similar size are being kept together (overcrowding can lead to bullying and stress which makes leos unwell).
Avoid any animals that -
Show signs of metabolic bone disorder (misshapen legs, swollen joints or rubbery jaw).
Look underweight or have thin tails (this is where they store their fat reserves).
Have mucus, scabs or discharge around the mouth or nostrils.
Have residual dry skin from shedding – pay particular attention to the toes.
You should ensure you have the correct housing set up and that it is running at the correct temperature before considering acquiring your Leopard Gecko.
If you intend to keep Leopard Gecko’s together please be mindful of the following:
Two females is the best choice if you want to keep more than one leopard gecko in the same viv.
Only have one male per viv - males are territorial and will fight to the death.
Only similar sized geckos should be housed together - smaller geckos can get stressed/bullied or eaten.
It is not advisable to keep one male and one female leo together permanently - they will breed before they are physically mature if kept together from babies, resulting in the female possibly becoming eggbound. If introduced as adults, the male will pester the female and both will lose weight and become unwell.
One leopard geckos can be properly housed in a 2 foot viv although a 3 foot viv is recommended. Glass vivs are not recommended as leos find this stressful and it is difficult to control temperatures in an all glass tank.
You must take into consideration that they will require a temperature gradient within the viv in order to thermo regulate. Adequate ventilation must also be provided.
There are many substrates on the market that are used by hobbyists successfully. However I can only recommend using kitchen roll, newspaper, tiles, lino or repti carpet. I don't recommend sand, calci-sand, bark chips, gravel, cat litter, crushed walnut or any other loose substrate as Geckos (especially young ones) can eat the substrate intentionally or accidently. This can cause compaction which often leads to death of the leo. Calci-sand is one of the worst substrates you can use as the calcium in it encourages the leo to eat it and they are then unable to digest the sand in it, despite what it says on the bag.
A temperature gradient is essential because geckos, like other reptiles, are unable to regulate their body temperature. Instead they will find a position in the tank that is at the temperature they require. Proper temperature is essential for digestion.
A temperature gradient can be achieved by placing an undertank heatmat at one end of the tank under the substrate. This should cover approx 1/3 of the viv floor. The ground temperature at the warm end of the viv should be approximately 90F/32C. The cooler end should be 75F/23C. Heated rocks are not recommended as they can over heat and cause burns. All heat sources should be regulated by a thermostat. The thermostat probe should be placed at ground level on the heat mat and temperatures should be checked with a thermometer.
UV lighting is not necessary for leopard geckos since they are nocturnal but they should be kept in a room where there is a sense of day and night (not in a cellar or loft with no windows for instance).
I don't recommend using normal bulbs for viewing but it is believed most reptiles do not register light at infra red levels so a red bulb may be an option.
Hides are where your gecko will most likely spend most of its time! Hides can be bought from pet shops or made from over-turned plant pots or plastic tubs. Hides should be opaque and available at both ends of the tank. A moist hide containing damp spagnum moss or eco earth should also be provided to aid in skin shedding. Fish tank ornaments, cork bark and fake plants look nice and give your gecko something to climb on but please check that there are no sharp edges that could harm your leo or tiny gaps that they could get stuck in.
Tap water can be provided in a shallow water dish. The dish should be cleaned and water changed every other day.
Access to a dish containing a small amount of calcium powder is important - allowing the gecko to regulate its own intake of calcium. This can be left in with your gecko at all times.
Leopard geckos should be fed a variety of livefood. They are insectivores and don't eat baby food, fruit or veg.
I provide my Leopard Gecko with a constant source of mealworms but leos also enjoy crickets, locusts or dubia roaches of an appropriate size (food items should be no bigger than the leopard gecko's head). Livefood should be dusted with calcium 5 days per week and nutrobal 2 days per week. I mix 5 teaspoons of calcium and 2 teaspoons of nutrobal into a flour shaker, mix it up and use that to dust all my livefood as its easier!
For variety or as a treat, silkworms and waxworms can be offered occassionally - up to 2 per leo per week as these are high in fat and can be addictive.
Remember that what your livefood eats, so does your Gecko!! Feeding your livefood a good diet is therefore essential for the well being of your Gecko and is referred to as ‘gutloading’.
I feed my livefood on tortoise pellets, weetabix, muesli, porridge oats and vegetables.
I leave a bowl of mealworms in my vivs permanently replenishing it every two days. This allows your Gecko to eat as it requires. If you are feeding crickets and locusts, they should be given every other day - usually 8 to 10 per gecko is enough. Any livefood which is not eaten within a few hours should be removed and its important to note that late evening is the best time to feed leos as they are nocturnal.
Leopard geckos shed their skin every three to four weeks. Before shedding the skin will look dull (it is important to check that the moist hide is moist during this time). The gecko will peel and eat the skin from its body (this should take no more than a few hours). Unshed skin (e.g. around the toes) can be removed by letting the gecko soak in a tub of shallow warm water, then using a damp cotton bud to rub the skin off if necessary.
Leos should never be picked up by their tails as they can "drop" their tails if they feel threatened. Allow your leo to become accustomed to your hand in the viv and they will climb onto it. If you have to pick your leo up, hold it gently but firmly round its middle and then put it onto the flat of your hand.
A good husbandry regime will ensure the health and vitality of your Leopard Gecko and be very satisfying to the keeper.
Keep your hides moist, remove faeces daily, ensure water is clean and check the temperature is correct - follow these guidelines and you will have happy Gecko’s!!
Before you buy a leopard gecko, you will need –
2ft or bigger Vivarium
12" x 6" Heat Mat
Wetbox (a clear plastic takeaway container with a hole cut in it is best for this)
Milk Bottle Top (for calcium)
Sphagnum Moss or Eco Earth (for the wetbox)
Reptile Safe Disinfectant Spray