Welcoming a new pet into your household is a big decision, and you need to make sure you’ve made the right choice for your home.
Especially with reptiles, since they need special care, it’s essential to understand which one best suits your lifestyle so that you can provide them with a suitable home for the rest of their lives.
But both leopard geckos and bearded dragons make excellent pets for most people, so how do you choose between them?
Well, let’s compare.
If you have children, you must have a pet that they can interact with properly. This means you’ll need a tough pet, that has a friendly temperament.
Bearded dragons are the larger of the two lizards, so they’re naturally much easier to handle. They tend to be quite tranquil and are easy to pick up if you know how to.
They can also stay out of the terrarium for a more extended period as they don’t lose body heat as quickly as the smaller leopard gecko.
They do have quite sharp claws if they’re not worn down effectively. These can easily catch on clothes or skin and might cause minor scratches.
They can also give you a nasty bite. Although bearded dragons are normally friendly, if they do get angry or feel threatened, their bite can easily tear through skin.
Leopard geckos usually have great personalities and aren’t aggressive. However, if they do happen to mistake you for their next meal, a bite is unlikely to hurt you.
Their jaws work by crushing their food, so their teeth are tiny. It’s rare for a gecko to ever draw blood.
Geckos are much smaller than bearded dragons, which makes handling more difficult.
They’re also a little more skittish because they’re so exposed to predators in the wild. If you approach them from the front where they can see you, it should be fine. However, it might take some time and patience to get a leopard gecko to trust you.
Because they’re so small, they’re not an ideal pet for younger children, as the slightest squeeze could cause a lot of damage.
It’s important to get a pet that you can enjoy spending time with, even if that just means watching them do cute or exciting things. Reptiles, in general, aren’t active animals unless they are out hunting.
You’re more likely to see bearded dragons up and about during the day. They bask for around 8 hours per day, with the rest of the daytime being spent eating or just pottering around.
Although they’re awake, they wouldn’t really be classed as ‘active’ pets.
Leopard geckos are mainly nocturnal. They’re generally more active than bearded dragons as they don’t need to bask to get enough energy to move around. However, most of their activity happens at night.
If you’re most active in the late evening, then leopard geckos are a great pet as you’ll be able to watch them hunting for food or exploring their terrarium.
Creating a bond with your pet is important. They’re going to be with you for a lot of years, so you need to know that you can get along.
Bearded dragons are generally docile and are quick to understand that you’re the one holding the keys to the food.
They are confident lizards and will usually warm to you after just a few days, becoming comfortable with your presence very quickly.
Leopard geckos are friendly enough, once they get to know you. However, they’re quite shy lizards, and their nocturnal lifestyle means that they won’t encounter you that often.
Although they’re fine to handle once you get them out, it’s rare to find a gecko that wants to come out to cuddle you. They’d much rather keep themselves to themselves.
Taking on a pet is a big responsibility, so you must understand how long you’re likely to have to care for your pet. They’ll need food and care for their whole life, which costs money and time, so make sure you’re prepared.
Bearded dragons usually live for between 10 and 15 years in captivity if you care for them in the right way.
Some bearded dragons have even been recorded to live as long as 20 years. However, this is extremely rare. They are prone to a lot more health issues than geckos and on average, require more medical care throughout their lives.
Geckos can live for anywhere between 10 and 20 years, so that’s an even longer commitment. They’re hardy animals and are great for beginners as they don’t tend to have many health problems compared to bearded dragons.
Cost is a massive factor in the decision to get a pet. But remember that it’s not just the initial cost that you need to think about. You’ll need to consider the cost of caring for them throughout their lives.
- Bearded dragons can cost anything from $30 to $65 for a standard dragon. Rarer morphs, depending on their traits, can cost up to $400.
- They will also need a larger terrarium to live in that has a lot of rocks and logs for them to bask.
- They need a constant heat lamp, which will be left on, though dimmed, at night-time. That’s an extra cost on your electricity bill.
- Their food ranges from live foods, that can come at around $2.50 per box (only lasting 2 or 3 feeds) and a range of fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Bearded dragons can come up against a few common health issues if not cared for properly, including metabolic bone disease and respiratory infections. As you’ll typically have to seek out a specialist reptile veterinarian to treat these issues, it can cost a lot of money.
Leopard geckos are one of the most popular lizards to keep as pets as they’re overall, one of the cheapest.
- A leopard gecko will cost around $40 to purchase initially, unless you have a rare morph (specialist bred) gecko.
- Their terrariums can be considerably smaller than that of a bearded dragon so the habitat is usually cheaper. They also don’t need a heat lamp to be on all the time as they don’t bask as often, so that saves on your electricity.
- Geckos do eat similar live foods to bearded dragons, so the cost there would be the same, although a bearded dragon is likely to need much more food as they’re bigger.
- Because of their generally hardy body type, they’re also likely to cost you less in vets bills (although this obviously isn’t guaranteed).
Overall, a leopard gecko is the cheaper lizard to purchase and care for.
Size & Weight
Bearded dragon males usually grow to between 45-60cm (18-24in) in length from nose to tail. Whilst females are usually (40-50cm) (16-20in).
They reach their full size when they reach sexual maturity, which can be at any time from 8-18 months old.
And a healthy weight is usually between 380 and 510 grams, with the males being on the heavier side. However, a fertile female can gain weight quickly if she’s producing eggs.
Leopard geckos are much smaller than bearded dragons at around 16-20cm (6-8in) from nose to tail.
Although the females appear slightly smaller in stature, with their heads usually thinner and shoulders more narrow, they are only marginally shorter.
Baby geckos are tiny and will only weigh 6-8 grams for the first week. Females will have a mature weight of around 45 grams. Males, however, are much heavier at 60 grams.
Much like bearded dragons, a female is likely to gain weight to lay her eggs and quickly lose it afterwards, so the weight may fluctuate depending on the time of year.
Terrarium & Temperature
Bearded dragons and leopard geckos both need a terrarium with a constant heat source to keep them happy. However, their specific needs are way different.
Bearded dragons are quite high maintenance, so it’s important that you cater to all their needs to stop them from becoming ill or unhappy.
Bearded dragons need a constant basking temperature of around 32-38°C (90-100°F). They spend most of their day basking under a heat lamp, and they will need during the night as well.
They’ll also need a cooler area to retreat to if they’re feeling a little too hot. This should be at the opposite end of the terrarium with a temperature between 21-27°C (70-80°F).
Because you need a basking area and cooler area for them to choose between, it’s evident that the terrarium does need to be big.
A full-grown bearded dragon will reach a size of around 60cm (24in) long, so you’ll need an area that’s at least 4 or 5 times that length to give them enough space to move around.
Once you’ve got a large enough terrarium with an adequate heat source, you’ll need to consider what furniture your bearded dragon will need to keep them happy and mentally stimulated.
- A basking log or rock, placed under their heat lamp
- A shallow water dish
- A hideaway area
- Rocks to mimic their natural habitat
- Desert plants (either real or fake)
- Adequate flooring (reptile carpet is ideal)
- Females may also require a soil bed for egg laying
Leopard geckos are much less demanding than bearded dragons.
Geckos don’t need their habitat to be as hot as bearded dragons as they don’t bask as much. Much like bearded dragons though, they do require a cooler side and a warmer side of the terrarium.
The warm side needs to be around 32°C (90°F), whereas the cooler side can be around 24-27°C (75-80°F).
They do require a lamp to bask if they wish to, but this can be dimmed, or even turned off at night if they have a heat mat underneath.
Obviously, being smaller, they don’t need quite as much space as a bearded dragon, though they are generally more active lizards, so they still need space to move around.
A terrarium that’s around 70-80cm (27-32in) long should allow you adequate space to give them a warm area and cool area, whilst providing them with enough space to explore and give enrichment activities.
Leopard geckos are much more used to hiding away during the day, so they’re likely to need a couple of places to hide. One of these should be in the cooler area and the other in the warmer area to ensure they can hide and keep themselves warm.
They also need:
- A basking rock
- A shallow water bowl
- Natural rocks
- Reptile carpet on the floor
Bearded dragons are omnivores and should have a diet that is 50% live food, 35% vegetables or leafy greens and 15% fruit.
This allows them to get the full amount of protein required for healthy muscle development, calcium to keep their bones strong and fluid to ensure they stay hydrated. An excess of fatty foods or sugar can cause a lot of damage.
Bearded dragons will need to eat food daily, so they are relatively high maintenance when it comes to dietary requirements.
A gecko has a simpler diet of live food only as they’re insectivores.
They can eat a variety of live insects including crickets, mealworms, calcium worms and small locusts. It’s recommended to give them a variety to ensure they don’t get too bored.
Because they’re so small, they’d be in danger of impaction if they were to eat food that is larger than the size of their head. So this might limit the food choices slightly in comparison to those of a bearded dragon.
However, a leopard gecko’s diet is easy to manage, as they only need feeding every other day, and they can last up to 5 days without food (although I wouldn’t recommend it).
When dealing with live food for either lizard, you need to remember that you’ll have to feed the food as well. Live food will need fruit and vegetables every few days to sustain them.
Both leopard geckos and bearded dragons can experience brumation. This is the same as hibernation in mammals.
It usually occurs during the colder months and is when their metabolic rate slows down to conserve energy whilst there’s no food around to eat.
Bearded dragons naturally brumate in the wild due to lack of food in winter. However, in a captive environment, you can keep your bearded dragon active all year round with no consequences to their health.
All your dragon needs are heat and light sources and the same food frequency all year round to continue functioning normally.
However, if you do choose to let your bearded dragon brumate, it’s important that you empty their system totally before they go to sleep by bathing (our full guide about bathing dragons) them to encourage them to poop.
You’ll also need to make sure you wake them slightly at regular intervals to hydrate them and ensure they aren’t losing weight. Throughout the brumation, your bearded dragon should roughly maintain the same weight, so there’s no need to overfeed when they wake up.
Brumation for a bearded dragon can last anywhere from 2-3 weeks to 4 months depending on the environment they’re living in.
Leopard geckos don’t naturally brumate as often as bearded dragons. And because they’re smaller, it doesn’t take the same amount of heat to keep them active.
Most leopard gecko owners will make the choice to avoid brumation. However, if you’re attempting to breed your gecko, it can help prepare them for egg-laying.
Be aware that geckos may need close monitoring during a period of brumation as they are prone to issues if the temperature changes or if they aren’t hydrated on a regular basis.
They also lose weight during brumation, unlike bearded dragons, so there’s much more of a risk if they do brumate.
If you choose to allow either lizard to brumate, it’s best to get a vet check-up before you let them go to sleep.
If your pet has any health concerns, it’s always best to keep them awake to monitor the issue and ensure they’re receiving vital vitamins and minerals required for healing.
Bearded dragons are generally messier than geckos.
They don’t have a ‘toilet’, so they will poop in all areas of their terrarium. This means that you’re more likely to have to do a full, deep clean more often.
They also eat vegetables which, unfortunately, do start to smell pretty quickly in a hot environment. So if your bearded dragon doesn’t eat all their food, you’ll need to remove it within a couple of hours to stop flies from getting to it.
Leopard geckos are very clean lizards. They will create a poop corner and will always defecate in that same place. It’s much easier to do a quick poop scoop and save the deep clean for another day.
Because they mostly eat live food, there’s minimal mess and no smell if they don’t eat all their food. However, there’s always the danger that you’ll have an escaped cricket running around.
Overall, geckos are a much cleaner pet.
Both bearded dragons and leopard geckos make fantastic pets. It really depends on your own situation, the time you can give and the environment you have.
Both are suitable for beginners and old hands alike – but make sure you do your research before deciding. Hopefully I provided everything you needed to know. Good luck!