Leopard Gecko Care

Leopard geckos make wonderful pets, especially for the beginner keeper! Leopard geckos tend to be quite docile, and don’t require as much specialty care as some other species, like chameleons. Part of the reason these lizards are considered an “easy-keeper” is due to them being a desert species. Keep reading to find out more about how to keep your leopard gecko happy and healthy!

Terrarium

Terrarium choices are numerous these days, but they’re not all created equal! If you have a hatchling or juvenile leopard gecko, it may be tempting to purchase a larger terrarium now for him or her to grow into, but this actually isn’t the best choice for your pet. Leopard geckos are naturally prey animals, meaning that in the wild they would be a meal for other larger animals. Under human care, this means that large open spaces tend to make them uncomfortable because there’s just more space for potential predators to be lying in wait. So make sure to get the right size terrarium for your leopard gecko’s age and size:

  • Hatchling/Juvenile: 10 gallon terrarium
  • Adult: 20 gallon terrarium

For hatchling and juvenile leopard geckos, we recommend using a reptile carpet substrate; for adults, we recommend using reptile sand. Both of these substrates are very easy to clean! Reptile carpet can be hand washed in the sink or in a washing machine, and reptile sand can be sifted whenever necessary to remove debris.

Make sure to supply your leopard gecko with an adequately sized hiding space (so they can enter and exit easily and are able to turn around). This is easily done by using a “reptile hut,” of which there are many variations available.

Heat

Even though leopard geckos are nocturnal, heat should still be provided. These lizards are native to deserts of Pakistan and India with high temperatures and direct sun exposure. Even though your leopard gecko isn’t living in the desert, that’s what his or her body is adapted for. And we mean their entire body. Even how well they’re able to digest their food is affected by their heat exposure! Therefore, it’s important to replicate this environment to the best of our ability. Here’s how to do this at home:

  • Provide an appropriate size heat bulb for your leopard gecko. In very general terms, you will need a smaller size (lower wattage) heat bulb for tropical species and smaller terrariums, and a larger size (higher wattage) heat bulb for desert species and larger terrariums. However, what is considered a “small” or “large” terrarium can be relevant, so check in with The Repstylist if you have questions about providing the right heat bulb!
  • Provide the appropriate type of heat bulb for your leopard gecko and their habitat; we recommend starting with either a daylight bulb or basking spot lamp. Heat bulbs can be light-emitting or non light-emitting, infrared, halogen, basking, and more (read more about the different type of heat bulbs here).
  • Provide a temperature gradient along your leopard gecko’s terrarium. This means having a cooler side and a warmer side, which will allow your leopard gecko areas to cool off or warm up (they know when they need to do either). You can create a temperature gradient by placing the heat bulb (lamp) on one end of the terrarium. As tempting as it may be, avoid placing the heat bulb in the middle of the terrarium.
  • Provide a basking (hot) spot that is significantly warmer than the warm side of the terrarium. Create the basking spot on the warm side of the terrarium by placing an item, such as a branch, so that it’s elevated toward the heat bulb. Since the elevated end of the branch will be closer to the heat bulb than the floor of the terrarium, it will be significantly warmer. This, again, allows the leopard gecko to bask under imitated direct sun exposure with the option to cool off in other areas of the terrarium.
    • Although leopard geckos are nocturnal, they will periodically come out to bask for short amounts of time to reap the benefits of sunshine that other reptiles do. It’s important to allow them this opportunity.
  • Measure temperature at the elevated basking spot and the floor of the terrarium (read about how to properly measure temperature here).
  • Consider that you may need to raise the heat bulb in order to obtain the right temperatures. You can do this by using a lamp stand.
Illustration of proper heat and UVB source placement to create a gradient. Colors illustrate decreasing heat and UVI as you move away from the sources. Illustration courtesy of The Repstylist. All Rights Reserved.

UVB

UVA, UVB, and UVI are also very important, particularly from a safety standpoint. And, they each refer to something different. Ultraviolet-A (UVA) refers to light wavelengths that allow reptiles (and us) to use our vision and see things. Ultraviolet-B (UVB) refers to light wavelengths that penetrate the skin of reptiles and activate vitamin D within the body. And the ultraviolet index (UVI) is a measurement of UVB wavelengths that contribute to vitamin D synthesis (note that not all UVB wavelengths are involved with vitamin D synthesis!). So what exactly do you need to supply for your leopard gecko?

  • UVB bulbs typically come in “5.0” and “10.0” strengths. These numbers refer to the amount of UVB output that will contribute to vitamin D synthesis for your leopard gecko (either 5% or 10% of the UVB wavelength output). The 5.0 bulbs tend to work best for leopard geckos since they’re nocturnal and don’t require as much UVB exposure as a reptile that basks during the day.
  • Provide a UVB gradient along your leopard gecko’s terrarium. Much like a temperature gradient, this means having one side of the terrarium with little-to-no UVB exposure and the other side with high UVB exposure. To do this, place the UVB bulb on the SAME side of the terrarium as the main heat source. In nature, UVB and heat both come from the sun, which means when setting up your leopard gecko’s terrarium, these sources should be together (imitating sun exposure).
  • Measure UVI of the bulb you’ve chosen. UVI is a much more useful measurement of UVB, as too much or too little UVB can be very harmful to your leopard gecko. Each reptile species has a UVI value (or tight range of values) that is ideal. Measuring UVI will make sure your leopard gecko is getting the right amount of UVB exposure. Be aware that you can measure UVB separate from UVI (and there are separate meters for these), but a strict UVB measurement will NOT tell you how much vitamin D-synthesizing UVB your pet is receiving. Make sure to measure at the elevated basking spot and at the floor of the terrarium (read about how to properly measure UVB here).
  • Consider that you may need to raise the UVB bulb in order to obtain the right UVI and temperature. You can do this by using a lamp stand.

Light Cycle

The light cycle isn’t often talked about, but it can have a huge impact on your leopard gecko’s behavior. Just like you and I follow the sun’s direction (we’re awake when the sun is up and asleep when the sun is down), so does your leopard gecko. All animals have a circadian rhythm and 24-hour cycle (even nocturnal animals like your leopard gecko, but it’s reversed for them), helping them know when they should be awake, sleeping, foraging, hunting, eating, basking, and more. Here’s how to set up a light cycle:

  • Only use white or yellow-light heat bulbs and UVB bulbs during the day.
  • Create a light cycle by turning the above lights on at the same time each morning and off at the same time each evening.
  • If you need to provide heat during the night, consider non-light emitting options such as ceramic heat emitters and heat pads, or red-light heat bulbs. Contrary to popular belief, reptiles can see red light but it doesn’t affect their light cycle. Red-light heat bulbs can create an enjoyable nighttime viewing ability for you.
  • Follow the time changes that we experience and adjust your leopard gecko’s light cycle accordingly. This means you should create a shortened “day” during the fall/winter months and a longer “day” during the spring/summer months.
  • Timers are an excellent way to easily create a regularly scheduled light cycle.
Photo courtesy of David Bartus via Pexels.

Humidity

Humidity is not a great concern when it comes to leopard gecko husbandry. Since leopard geckos are adapted for a dry, arid desert environment, it’s not necessary to create/supply humidity for them. That being said, it can be beneficial to periodically mist your leopard gecko to help their skin to shed properly, allow them a different opportunity to drink, and to provide enrichment. Additionally, leopard geckos are not able to handle high humidity (this can cause adverse health effects, like respiratory infections), so make sure your leopard gecko’s terrarium isn’t too humid by using an appropriate size water dish and not over-misting.

Diet

Leopard geckos don’t have as diverse of a diet as some other reptiles, which is another reason they are deemed an “easy-keeper.” Leopard geckos are insectivores, a specific type of carnivore that specializes in eating insects. A few different types of insects can be fed, including crickets, meal worms, wax worms, and black soldier fly larvae. For most leopard geckos, these insects need to be fed live in order to stimulate a feeding response. Keep the following in mind when feeding your leopard gecko:

  • A water dish is a necessity for most reptiles! With the exception of chameleons, reptiles should always have a dish of fresh water available. Some will drink it, some will bathe in it, and some will lay along the rim. All of these are natural behaviors that should be encouraged.
  • Insects come in many sizes – the generally accepted “rule-of-thumb” is to choose an insect that is roughly the same width of your leopard gecko’s head between their eyes.
  • Worms (larvae) are high in fat, so use sparingly as a treat or as a way to add extra calories if your leopard gecko is underweight.
  • Supplement the insects fed to your leopard gecko with a calcium powder. Lightly dust the insect before feeding.
  • Even though leopard geckos are nocturnal, they will come out to eat if fed during the day. However, feeding them in the evening can mimic their natural feeding behaviors. Whatever time you choose to feed your leopard gecko, keep in mind that any uneaten insects should be removed, as they can cause harm to your leopard gecko if left together for too long.

For more diet information, read our other posts about changing your leopard gecko’s diet or what to do if they don’t seem to like the insects you’re providing!

Leopard gecko approaching a live meal worm. Photo courtesy of Pixabay via Pexels.

Want to know the ideal temperatures, UVI, appropriate feeder insects, and more for leopard geckos? Check out the “Leopard Gecko Care” magnet on our online store. Taking care of any living creature is a huge responsibility, but it’s also very fun and rewarding! Take the guess work out of caring for your scaly friend by having our handy magnet nearby!

The Repstylist. All Rights Reserved.

As always, if you have questions about this topic, contact us here or at therepstylist@gmail.com!

©Copyright 2020 The Repstylist. All Rights Reserved.

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