Leopard geckos make wonderful pets. They’re really easy to care for, as long as you’ve done your research and know what to expect. Let’s take a look at the basics.
Appearance & Noise
One of the reasons that leopard geckos are so popular is their striking appearance and cute, inquisitive faces. But there are a few different color variations.
Natural leopard geckos are bright yellow with bold, black spots. Their tails tend to become whiter towards the end, and the amount of spots intensifies. Each leopard gecko’s spot pattern is unique, so you’ll always be able to tell them apart.
The Different Morphs
Breeders of leopard geckos sometimes breed pairs with specific traits to intensify that trait, making them look different from the “standard version”. This also means that they charge a higher price.
Morphs come in all shapes and sizes, but the most popular leopard gecko morphs are:
- High Yellow – Have more yellow coloring and less black spots.
- Blizzard – Don’t have spots; they are normally all one color. This might be yellow, white or darker. They also have entirely black eyes with no visible pupil.
- Lavender – Have a lavender tinge on their skin. This tends to disappear with age, so it’s difficult to determine whether you have an actual lavender or just a baby lavender.
- Hyper Melanistic – An almost black gecko where the spots are there, but much less visible.
- Baldy – No spots at all visible on their heads. The spots might start from the shoulders down.
- Reverse Stripe – Have a stripe running down their backs from shoulder to tail.
Most morphs are the same as natural leopard geckos other than the coloring, so the care required would still be the same.
Unique Fat Tail
You’ll have noticed that the tail on a gecko is quite fat in the middle. That’s because they store a lot of their weight there (fat reserves), making it one of the easiest ways to see that they’re healthy.
A good-sized tail should be just a little thinner than the width of their body. Any thinner means they aren’t eating enough; any fatter means they’re overweight.
Leopard geckos have tiny claws and thin toes, unlike their other gecko counterparts. You won’t find large toes with padded ends or webbed feet. This is because leopard geckos don’t climb. In the wild, they live in burrows, so there’s no need for sticky feet.
Females reach around 17-20cm (7-8in), whilst full-grown males can reach 25cm (10in).
They are mostly silent. You might hear the occasional chirp or squeak. However, this is usually because they feel threatened. Males may also be more vocal around mating season, especially if they live with a female.
For a single gecko, you’ll need a terrarium that’s at least 50-60cm long and 40 cm wide. This gives them enough territory to run around and explore at night. As they don’t climb, height doesn’t really matter.
If you have two geckos living together, you’ll need to add another half (making it 90cm by 60cm).
Your gecko needs a few things to help keep them occupied as they’re quite inquisitive creatures. You’ll need:
- Water dish
- Hiding place (more than one if you have two geckos)
- UV light
- Heat mat
- Fake desert plants
You should do all you can to make them feel at home by adding plants and rocks that complement their natural desert environment. It’s a good idea to change these every so often too, to keep them interested.
Leopard geckos live in a dry desert environment in the wild and need a material underneath their feet that feels natural.
You should buy gecko substrate (available at most pet stores), it is a mixture of soil, sand and grit that’s fine enough not to hurt your gecko’s feet.
However, any sand-like substance should do if it’s completely dry and made for pets, though ordinary building or beach sand are a big no.
Temperature & Lighting
Leopard geckos don’t need as much basking heat as other reptiles as they’re nocturnal, but they still need to have a hot, dry environment to boost their energy. A UV light should be placed over a basking area that is between 27-29°C (82-84°F).
They’ll also need a cooler area with less light if they want to retreat. The cooler end of the terrarium will need to be around 24°C (75°F).
At night, they’re used to cool temperatures, so you can turn the light off completely if you have a heat mat on the floor to maintain a temperature of around 18°C (64°F).
Make sure you consider the room temperature at different times of the year. You may need to leave the light on for longer in the winter to maintain the heat levels.
Leopard geckos need a relatively dry environment unless they’re close to shedding, so humidity should remain at 20%-40%. Any less could make it difficult to shed their skin, and any more could risk respiratory infections.
How To Ensure Correct Humidity
To ensure your terrarium is at the right humidity level, you should purchase a humidity gauge that will stick to the terrarium wall. As leopard geckos don’t climb walls, there’s no danger of it being dislodged.
What If It’s Too Low
- If you notice the humidity dropping dangerously low, you should mist the terrarium walls with fresh water. The heat in the environment will moisten the air inside.
What If It’s Too High
- This could be because there’s too much water in the terrarium. Leopard geckos don’t need a lot of water – just what they’d drink, so a small dish should be fine. They don’t need a pool like other reptiles.
- It could also be because the temperature is set too high, so more drinking water is being vaporized than necessary. Check your temperature gauge and amend if you need to.
Food & Feeding Schedule
Leopard geckos are insectivores – meaning they only eat bugs. Crickets, mealworms and dubia roaches are the best types of food. It’s also a good idea to cover them with calcium powder before the feed to top up your gecko’s calcium levels.
You’ll need to bear in mind that geckos are quite small, so their food has to be of relative size. Always feed them crickets that are smaller than the size of their head. Anything bigger could cause problems with chewing and digestion.
Feeding Schedule For Baby Leopard Geckos
Baby geckos need to be fed more often than adults so they get enough protein to grow correctly. You should feed them every day for the first 10-12 months. They might eat 5 crickets per day, or up to 7 mealworms.
Feeding Schedule For Adult Leopard Geckos
Once your gecko reaches sexual maturity – at around 12 months old – they’re fully grown. You shouldn’t feed your gecko daily as an adult as they can quickly grow to unhealthy weights.
They wouldn’t eat daily in the wild, so feeding them around 3-4 times per week is enough. Around 7 crickets or 9 mealworms with each feed.
What About Water
Leopard geckos need a shallow dish of fresh, cold water which should be changed daily. The dish must be shallow enough to climb in if they want to and so they can drink without submerging their nostrils.
It’s a good idea to get a dish that’s weighted at the bottom to avoid it tipping if they stand on the edge.
Potential Health Issues
Leopard geckos, thankfully, aren’t prone to many health issues as long as you care for them properly. A few things that you should look out for are:
Their diet needs to be made up mainly of protein and calcium. This helps their muscles and bones stay strong. But their diet of insects takes care of the protein, but not always the calcium.
This is why you should buy calcium powder to sprinkle on top of the crickets and mealworms before feeding them to your gecko.
Impaction is a blockage in your gecko’s intestines. This can be caused by eating insects that are too large, so large parts are left whole during digestion, blocking their digestive system.
It could also be caused by a buildup of sand if they’ve swallowed some when hunting. A warm bath can help move minor blockages, but if you notice lethargy, loss of appetite, or a lack of poop around the terrarium, it may require veterinary assistance.
Geckos’ toes are one of the main places where excess skin builds up if they cannot shed properly. These ‘gloves’ of dried, dead skin can eventually cut off the toes’ blood flow, causing them to fall off.
This can be painful and, even worse, might invite infection. If you notice that the skin on the feet is clinging on, give them a warm bath to soften the skin, then gently push it off with a cotton swab.
Egg binding, also known as dystocia, occurs in females with bad genes or females with a calcium deficiency. It causes their eggs to be deformed or stuck together, meaning they can’t lay them properly.
If this occurs, you’ll notice them becoming lethargic with a bloated stomach and loss of appetite. If you suspect this, take them straight to the vet for professional help. Trying to treat at home could make the problem worse.
Generally occurs if the environment is too humid or too cold. A hot, dry environment is required, and if your gecko gets too cold or damp, an infection can develop in its lungs.
If you notice heavy, loud breathing and lethargy, take them to the vet for further advice.
13 Commonly Asked Questions Of New Owners
How Long Do Leopard Geckos Live for?
Around 15 – 20 years with the right care. They are one of the longest living pets. It’s great if you want to get to know them and develop a long-term relationship.
However, be prepared for a big, long-term commitment, especially if you’re buying for children who may get bored fairly quickly.
Do Leopard Geckos Get Attached To Their Owners?
As far as we know, reptiles aren’t capable of an emotional response to a person other than to appear content, scared or angry. They will get used to your presence and eventually understand you aren’t a threat.
They’ll also associate you with food so you can be confident that they’ll put you on the ‘positive’ end of the scale, but they aren’t attached to you as a dog might be. If someone else was to give them food, they’re likely to act the same way.
Are Leopard Geckos Easy To Care for?
Yes, leopard geckos are one of the easiest reptiles to care for, making them one of the most popular starter reptiles.
Leopard Gecko Pros
- They don’t need a lot of space, they only reach around 25cm (10in), so their terrarium, in comparison to other reptiles, can be fairly small.
- They’re solitary animals, so you only need to get one of them, and they don’t need your attention all the time.
- They don’t need to be fed every day, so they’re great pets if you have a busy schedule.
- They’re not prone to many health issues in comparison to larger reptiles, saving you anguish and money on vet bills.
- They live a long time, so there’s plenty of time to get to know them.
- Their diet is incredibly simple to follow as there are only certain foods that they can eat, and they don’t get bored.
- They aren’t aggressive, so you don’t have to worry about biting.
- They are very simple to clean, just a regular poop scoop and a deep clean every few weeks.
Leopard Gecko Cons
- They aren’t the most sociable reptile and like to keep themselves to themselves.
- It takes patience to befriend one, so small children will need to be supervised until they get more confident.
- They can carry salmonella, but you should be fine if you wash your hands after handling them.
- They are a massive commitment, not because they’re hard to care for – but mainly because they live for such a long time.
As you can see, the pros far outweigh the cons. If you’re looking for a beginner’s reptile, you’ve found one.
Do Leopard Geckos Like To Be Held?
Generally no. Although leopard geckos are friendly pets once you get to know them, handling can stress them out. You’re a lot bigger than they are, and they’re prey animals in nature. However, they can be tamed with some patience.
What To Do When Taming Them
- Place your hand in their terrarium to allow them to get used to your smell. It may take a while for them to approach you, but they are very curious, so eventually, they will venture closer.
- Once they’re used to your hand, try to touch them with one finger. They may run away the first few times – but stick at it, gently and patiently.
- As they get more confident, place your hand underneath them to support their whole body and lift them up.
- They are fast when they want to be, so make sure you hold them close to you if they decide to run.
Eventually, you’ll get to the stage where they’re happy to be picked up and are used to the smell and sight of you. When they’re comfortable, they’ll happily sit around with you.
What Not To Do When Taming Them
- Don’t approach from above as you might appear like a predator. Always come from the side slowly where they can see you.
- Don’t pull at their tail. As a defense mechanism, gecko’s tails fall off to allow them time to escape. And they don’t grow back.
- Don’t hold them while you’re standing up until you’re confident. They’re fast, so you need to be close to the floor if they jump.
- Don’t squeeze them! They’re tiny, and you can do a lot of damage if you squeeze tightly.
- Don’t let young children handle them until you’re confident that they know what they’re doing.
How Long Can I Keep My Leopard Gecko Out Of The Terrarium?
Because they don’t need constant basking heat, you can actually hold your gecko for a longer period than other lizards. If the room you’re in is at a normal room temperature, they can stay out with you for up to 45 minutes.
However, remember to keep them close to you so they can get heat from your body if they get too cold.
It’s not recommended to keep them out of their terrarium for any longer than this, and the average time usually is around 15 minutes. After this, their body temperature will start to drop.
You may have to shorten the time you spend together during the winter (if your room isn’t particularly warmed up) because they’ll lose heat more quickly.
Should I Bathe My Leopard Gecko?
Leopard geckos don’t need baths to stay healthy, but a bath could be beneficial if there is a problem.
If your gecko has an impaction and they’re struggling to pass feces, if their egg-bound or if they have trouble shedding, a short 10-15 minute bath could do the world of good.
Make sure it’s shallow enough that your gecko can stand on the bottom and still breathe and ensure the water is over 30°C (86°F).
Do Leopard Geckos Get Lonely?
No, leopard geckos don’t get lonely. In the wild, they’re solitary creatures who generally come together just to mate.
If you have a single gecko, that’s absolutely fine. However, two females can work well together if they’ve been together since they were young.
You just need to make sure that they have their own hiding spots and a bigger terrarium to give them enough space. They can be quite territorial.
A male and a female can work if they’re a breeding pair too. They don’t get aggressive, so they can live in harmony as long as they have their own space to retreat to. However, two males won’t ever work. They’re too territorial and will fight.
Can Leopard Geckos Drink Tap Water?
They can drink tap water, and there aren’t many health problems reported that stem from geckos drinking water from a tap. If you can drink it, it’s usually fine for your gecko too. Let’s face it, geckos in the wild won’t drink clean water all the time.
However, depending on your area, tap water can have excessive chlorine in it. Chlorine is usually used to clean water sources so that they’re fit for human consumption. So if you’re planning on giving your gecko tap water, just make sure it’s from a quality water provider.
Distilled or reverse osmosis water is the best, as they go through processes that remove all chlorine particles. It’s also great if you’re misting the terrarium, as the hard particles of chlorine won’t be there to cause watermarks.
Do Leopard Geckos Need Misting?
‘Misting’ means spraying your leopard gecko’s terrarium with fresh water to keep their environment humid and moist.
In the wild, leopard geckos typically live in a dry, desert environment, so they are generally fine without too much misting. However, they do need that occasional helping hand, especially around the time that they shed.
The moisture around the shedding period can make your gecko feel more comfortable and ensures that the skin’s tougher areas (around the face and feet) don’t get stuck.
Because baby leopard geckos shed much more often, as they grow so quickly, a weekly misting of both them and the terrarium is recommended. You can make this a little less frequent as they grow older and shed less, perhaps just misting before they start a shed.
Do Leopard Geckos Bite & Does It Hurt?
Leopard geckos are completely non-aggressive. Although they are predators themselves when it comes to insects, they are also prey animals for larger predators such as birds of prey.
This means that they may show some aggressive traits on occasion, but usually because they’re scared. If you approach them from an angle that scares them, they might flick their tails and open their mouths in an aggressive stance, but that’s usually as far as it goes.
However, if you do receive a small bite, it won’t hurt at all. Their teeth are tiny and quite flimsy, as they aren’t made for tearing flesh. It’s more likely to hurt your feelings than your fingers.
Do Leopard Geckos Eat Fruit?
No, leopard geckos cannot eat fruit. They’re insectivores and only eat insects in the wild. Their digestive system is only equipped for digesting insect meat, so although they might find fruit tasty – they won’t be able to digest it properly, and it will make them ill.
Do Leopard Geckos Eat Vegetables?
Leopard geckos can’t eat any vegetables, and it’s unlikely that they’ll want to even try. Their digestive systems are only equipped for meat. You’ll need to feed them a diet of crickets, mealworms or dubia roaches to keep them healthy.
What Human Food Can Leopard Geckos Eat?
Unfortunately, leopard geckos can’t eat any human food at all. Their digestive systems are perfectly equipped for breaking down the hard casings of insects to get all the protein they need.
Although insects are technically ‘meat,’ leopard geckos shouldn’t eat any meat that humans do as they don’t have the right kind of teeth nor digestive system break it down properly.
Leopard geckos make amazing and interesting pets, and they should be an excellent fit for any family, even if you have a busy schedule. If you do your reading and give them the proper care, you’ll have a friend for life.