Offering a nutritious, varied diet to your leopard gecko is one of the most critical factors for their care needs.
While they are pretty low-maintenance pets, leopard geckos have some unique dietary restrictions you’ll need to keep in mind for mealtimes.
Leopard geckos are purely insectivorous, meaning they only eat insects. There are many great feeder insects for leopard geckos available at pet shops and from online retailers, including:
- Dubia roaches
- Phoenix worms (Black soldier fly larvae)
If you’re not sure what to feed your leopard gecko, read on.
We’ll cover everything you need to know as far as what leopard geckos eat, what they shouldn’t eat, how and when to feed them, and any other questions you probably have about your new scaly friend’s diet.
What Do Leopard Geckos Eat?
While many gecko species are omnivorous or herbivorous, leopard geckos are strict insectivores, so they only eat insects for the entirety of their lives. Some ideal staple feeder insects include Dubia roaches, mealworms, and crickets, as they are high in protein and low in fat.
While this probably sounds like a rather dull, uninteresting diet at first, there is a wide range of nutritious and delicious (to your gecko, anyway) feeder insects you’ll be able to easily purchase from your local pet shop or order online through a dedicated feeder insect breeder.
In the wild, leopard geckos are pretty opportunistic.
They will eat just about any insect, arachnid, or other animals unfortunate enough to cross their path, even spiders, scorpions, and small rodents!
However, wild geckos have much shorter lifespans than those in captivity, in part due to this risky diet.
If feeding your leopard gecko spiders and scorpions makes you queasy, don’t worry; they eat much smaller, harmless insects like worms and crickets in captivity.
These kinds of bugs are far easier for geckos to eat safely without risk of injury, and they’re much more nutritious, too.
Generally, you want to maximize your gecko’s protein intake and minimize their fat intake.
However, a small amount of fatty insects is acceptable on occasion, as leopard geckos need some fat on their bodies to stay warm and healthy.
There are lots of plentiful protein-rich insects perfect for leopard geckos, such as:
- Dubia roaches
- Phoenix worms (also known as black soldier fly larvae or marketed as Nutrigrubs)
See the table below for a detailed food list of potential feeder insects.
Some feeders, such as crickets and dubia roaches, are ideal staple feeders, meaning it is safe to feed them to your leopard gecko regularly.
Others, like butterworms and waxworms, are pretty high in fat and lack essential nutrients, meaning they should be limited to occasional treats only.
Additionally, some will fall somewhere in the middle nutritionally, such as superworms, hornworms, and silkworms.
Variety is key to a healthy gecko diet. Just because they’re insectivorous lizards doesn’t mean their diet has to be boring!
Don’t simply stick to one or two staple insects; switch things up regularly for your pet to give them a nutritionally rich, flavorful diet they will look forward to eating.
Leopard Gecko Food List (Table)
|Food Item||Feeding Frequency||Pros||Cons|
|Crickets||Daily||Inexpensive, protein-rich, low in fat, and readily available at most pet shops in various sizes||Loud, smelly, and many tend to die prematurely if you opt to buy them in bulk, somewhat high in moisture|
|Dubia roaches||Daily||Very high protein and fiber content, low in fat, easy to breed at home||Not all pet shops carry them, some are too large for baby geckos to eat safely|
|Phoenix worms (also known as Black soldier fly larvae or NutriGrubs)||Daily||High in protein, calcium, and fiber, not much excess moisture, fairly low in fat||Not all pet shops carry them, somewhat expensive to order from online retailers|
|Mealworms||Daily||Readily available at most pet shops, very high in protein, “meatier” than superworms||Somewhat high in moisture|
|Superworms||2 to 3 times per week||Readily available at most pet shops, good amount of protein, fiber, and calcium||They are able to bite/sting, and their thick exoskeletons are difficult for some geckos to eat and digest, somewhat high in fat|
|Hornworms||1 to 2 times per week||Very moisture-rich (great for dehydrated geckos!) and flavorful||High moisture content will cause diarrhea if fed too often, low in protein|
|Silkworms||1 to 2 times per week||Very moisture rich, extremely low in fat||Fairly low in protein, high moisture content will cause diarrhea if fed too often|
|Butterworms||Once a week at most||Good amount of protein and moisture||Extremely high in fat|
|Waxworms||Once a week at most||Very flavorful and delicious to most geckos, decent amount of protein and fiber||Extremely high in fat|
Staple Feeder Insects For Leopard Geckos
A staple feeder insect is safe to feed your gecko regularly or as a staple part of their diet. The best staple insects for leopard geckos are crickets, dubia roaches, mealworms, and Phoenix worms, as they are all rich in protein and calcium and relatively low in fat.
Essentially, your staple feeders are the ones you’ll be giving your gecko for almost every meal with some semi-regular feeders and occasional treat insects.
The four insects listed above are perfect staple feeders because they are packed with the nutrients your gecko needs, primarily calcium and protein, as well as a fair amount of moisture to help keep them hydrated but not too much to cause them to have runny stools.
Additionally, the aforementioned staple insects are all relatively low in fat, so your gecko won’t become prone to gaining excess weight if they consume them regularly.
Semi-Regular Feeder Insects For Leopard Geckos
Semi-regular feeder insects such as superworms, hornworms, and silkworms should be offered to your gecko a few times per week but not as often as staple insects. While semi-regular feeders are safe and reasonably nutritious for your gecko, they aren’t recommended daily feeding.
Offering semi-regular feeders to your gecko is a great way to add some variation to their diet without compromising too much protein, calcium, and moisture.
Though they aren’t as nutritious as staple feeders, they are still okay to offer your gecko every couple of days or so.
Superworms are an excellent example of semi-regular feeder insects.
Superworms are very similar to mealworms, a staple feeder, though they aren’t as meaty and protein-rich as mealworms.
In addition, superworms are a bit higher in fat than mealworms.
These factors make superworms just slightly less ideal for regular feedings.
Hornworms and silkworms are two other insects best suited as semi-regular feeders.
They are both relatively high in moisture, which will help keep your gecko hydrated.
However, too much moisture in your pet’s diet will cause them to have runny stools.
Hornworms and silkworms are also relatively low in fat, but they’re conversely somewhat low in protein, too.
As a result, these semi-regular feeders are acceptable to offer your gecko every couple of days, but be sure to supplement their diet with plenty of staple and treat insects, too.
Occasional/Treat Insects For Leopard Geckos
Occasional feeder insects, such as butterworms and waxworms, are acceptable to offer to your leopard gecko no more than once a week. While these treat insects are delicacies to geckos, they are pretty high in fat and nutritionally poor otherwise.
Think of treat insects as sort of like candy for your gecko.
While your pet would undoubtedly enjoy eating nothing but waxworms for every meal, their health would quickly suffer as a result.
However, this isn’t to say waxworms and butterworms should be avoided at all costs.
A small amount of fat is necessary for your gecko’s diet, as their body has several critical fat stores to help keep them warm and digesting food properly.
Without a small amount of fattier insects, your gecko’s tail, belly, and limbs would become quite scrawny.
It’s best to offer fatty insects like waxworms and butterworms once a week alongside staple and semi-regular insects to give your gecko a nutritionally varied and tasty diet.
Foods Leopard Geckos Should Avoid
Some foods you should avoid feeding to your leopard gecko, either because they are toxic, too large to safely consume, or extremely nutritionally poor. In general, these include:
- Wild-caught insects
- Non-insect prey (such as mice or birds)
- Huge insects/arachnids
- Plant matter, i.e., fruits and vegetables
Wild-caught insects are not safe for leopard geckos because they are often coated in toxic pesticides and insecticides or carrying harmful parasites your gecko is prone to contracting.
Never feed your leopard gecko any bugs you find in your backyard!
Only offer them insects that have been bred in a carefully controlled environment, i.e., from your local pet shop or a dedicated online retailer.
While it seems a lot cheaper at first to simply feed them bugs you dig up for free, the costs to treat your pet if they ingest toxic pesticides or contract a harmful parasite like pinworms from wild-caught insects will be extremely expensive in the long run.
Additionally, avoid giving your leopard gecko any non-insect prey.
Feeders such as pinkie mice and baby birds are unsafe for leopard geckos, as they are too large to safely consume and not particularly enjoyable for your gecko to eat, either.
Plus, any nutrients your gecko would get from these feeders are already widely available in smaller, safer feeder insects.
As a general rule, you don’t want to feed your gecko any insects larger than the width of the space between their eyes.
If the prey you offer your pet is too large, they will risk choking or becoming impacted later.
Avoid large insects or arachnids like spiders and scorpions or any bugs with defense mechanisms like stingers or pincers, as your gecko will likely sustain injuries while attempting to eat them.
Finally, since leopard geckos are purely insectivorous, never offer them any fruits or vegetables.
While there are plenty of omnivorous and herbivorous species of geckos who greatly enjoy these foods, your leopard gecko won’t be interested in them or nutritionally benefit from eating them in any way.
Like avocados and rhubarb, some vegetables are highly toxic to most pet lizards, including leopard geckos, so just stick to safe, approved insects raised in controlled conditions for your pet’s diet.
What Is “Gut Loading?”
“Gut loading” is a process by which insects have force-fed a special diet full of calcium and other beneficial nutrients to make them more healthy and nutritious for your gecko to eat. Insects should be gut-loaded around 24 to 72 hours before feeding.
It’s a good idea to either get familiar with gut loading your feeder insects yourself and/or purchase them already gut-loaded if possible, as this will ensure your gecko receives the maximum amount of nutrients from their diet they need to thrive.
Gut-loading insects make them tastier to your gecko, too!
While it seems a bit complicated at first, gut loading is as simple as tossing some nutritious fruits or vegetables into your insect container a day or two before feeding the insects to your gecko.
Some great foods to “gut load” your feeder insects with include:
- Dark, leafy greens, i.e., collard greens or mustard greens
Additionally, many commercial gut loading foods are on the market designed to be highly nutritionally rich and easy to offer to feeder insects.
These are offered the same way you would with the foods mentioned above; just sprinkle them in with your feeder insects, and then give the gut-loaded insects to your gecko a day or two later!
In terms of costs, commercial diets are typically a bit pricier than plain vegetables, but they’re usually more nutritious, too.
Both are great options to add a bit more nutritional value to your beloved pet’s diet.
How To Feed Insects To A Leopard Gecko
It is recommended to offer your leopard gecko two insects per inch of body length per meal or as many insects as they will eat within a 10 to 15-minute period. If handling insects directly makes you uneasy, use feeding tongs to place the bugs in your gecko’s food dish.
Depending on your leopard gecko’s age, feeding times will be every other day, daily or possibly even twice a day.
Baby and juvenile geckos will need to eat at least once or twice per day to accommodate their fast metabolisms and rapidly growing bodies, while sub-adults and adults are fine to eat daily or even every other day.
Have a designated feeding dish to place the insects on during mealtimes so your gecko knows where they’re supposed to eat.
Placing the feeder insects on a shallow dish rather than directly on top of your gecko’s substrate will also prevent the insects from escaping or your gecko from possibly ingesting their substrate.
As briefly mentioned above, it’s best to offer your gecko two insects for every inch of their body length per meal.
However, some reptile experts suggest simply offering as many insects as your gecko will eat within a 10 to 15-minute period is also just fine.
Either way, always remove any uneaten insects after your gecko has finished eating.
Leopard Gecko Feeding Schedule
Your leopard gecko’s feeding schedule will depend primarily on its age and size. While babies and juveniles should eat daily or even twice per day to support their growing bodies, sub-adults and adults only need to eat 3 to 5 times per week on average.
For hatchling geckos and baby leopard geckos younger than two months or so, you’ll need to offer them as many insects as they’ll eat within a 10 to a 15-minute period (or roughly two insects per inch of body length) at least once or twice per day.
Babies need to eat often, as they have very fast metabolisms and rapidly growing bones and muscles.
As your pet gecko matures, feeding times will become less frequent as its growth rate begins to slow down.
Juveniles and sub-adult geckos should eat once daily until they reach approximately one year old and become fully grown adults.
For adult leopard geckos, feeding times should be limited to every other day or roughly three to four times per week.
Regardless of your gecko’s age, though, it’s best to keep the two guidelines mentioned above in mind: offer them two insects per inch of body length or as many as they are willing to eat within around 10 to 15 minutes.
Check your gecko’s weight according to a weight chart weekly to ensure they are growing properly.
Ask your veterinarian if you’re still unsure of how much your gecko should weigh for their age.
If your gecko is underweight, offer a few more insects at feeding times or feed them more often.
If they’re overweight, limit their intake accordingly.
Adjust meal sizes as needed until they are within a healthy weight range for their age.
Check out this leopard gecko feeding schedule (with charts!) for more info.
Do Leopard Geckos Need Vitamins And Supplements?
The main supplements leopard geckos need are calcium and vitamin D3. These nutrients help to keep your pet’s bones and muscles strong and ensure they grow properly. Many calcium supplements contain vitamin D3.
Calcium and vitamin D3 are essential to keeping your gecko strong and healthy and, more importantly, preventing illnesses like a metabolic bone disease.
Metabolic bone disease is caused by a lack of calcium in a reptile’s diet, and it is painful, often irreversible, and even fatal in severe cases.
The main two types of calcium supplements are either in liquid or powdered formulations.
Liquid supplements are generally added to water, offered directly by mouth, or dripped onto feeder insects, while powdered supplements are used to “dust” feeder insects before feeding.
Generally, powdered supplements tend to be more common amongst reptile owners; though they are somewhat messy, they are easier to administer and don’t require a syringe or dropper.
Both are equally effective means of adding calcium to your gecko’s diet, so the type you choose will depend mainly on your (and your gecko’s) personal preference.
For more details, check out our post on everything you need to know about leopard geckos and calcium.
How To Give Leopard Geckos Calcium Supplements
For powdered calcium supplements, sprinkle a small amount directly onto feeder insects. For liquid supplements, use them according to their instructions; some are designed to be added to water, while others are designed to be dripped onto food or given by mouth via dropper or syringe.
Calcium powder supplements for reptiles such as leopard geckos are available in two main formulations, as mentioned briefly earlier: powdered and liquid.
Both supplements are offered in similar ways, though liquid supplements vary depending on the manufacturer.
Liquid supplements are generally designed to be either added to water, added directly onto food, or offered directly by mouth.
You will need to check the product’s instructions beforehand to properly feed them to your gecko.
For example, Zilla’s Calcium Supplement Food Spray is designed to be sprayed directly onto your gecko’s food.
On the other hand, powdered calcium supplements are typically the same across the board regardless of the manufacturer.
Exo Terra’s Calcium + D3 Powder Supplement is an excellent choice if you’re thinking of opting for a calcium powder.
How Much Water Do Leopard Geckos Need?
While there is no designated amount of water recommended for leopard geckos per day, you will need to offer a free-standing water dish with fresh, clean water at all times for your gecko to drink from. Additionally, misting them with water daily will help keep them hydrated.
Although leopard geckos are desert animals, they still require plenty of water to stay hydrated and healthy.
You will need to place a clean, non-porous water dish shallow enough for your gecko to drink from comfortably within their enclosure.
Be sure to fill it with cool, fresh, filtered water and clean it thoroughly daily to prevent bacterial growth.
Some geckos enjoy drinking water more than others, while some won’t bother much with their water dish unless they’re very thirsty.
It helps to have a misting bottle full of clean water to mist their skin with directly daily, as your gecko can absorb a small amount of moisture through their skin.
Misting helps with shedding, too!
If your gecko isn’t well-hydrated, they will have a more difficult time shedding their skin properly and become more susceptible to “stuck shed” on their toes and tail.
So, in addition to offering them fresh water to drink from, mist their body directly with water once per day.
Common Feeding Mistakes
While leopard gecko diets are fairly straightforward, there are some possible mishaps to keep an eye out for. Some common feeding mistakes include:
- Leaving uneaten insects inside the gecko’s enclosure
- Feeding improperly sized insects
- Using feeding tongs incorrectly
After every meal, be sure to remove any uneaten insects from your gecko’s enclosure.
This is another reason it helps to use a designated feeding dish; while some bugs like crickets can easily hop out of the bowl, slower bugs like worms and roaches will have a harder time escaping if placed in the feeding dish first.
Additionally, be sure to never offer your gecko insects too large for them to eat safely.
As a general rule, only offer your gecko insects roughly the same size or smaller than the width of the space between their eyes.
This will help to prevent choking and impaction.
Finally, while feeding tongs are very helpful with bugs like crickets who tend to make quick escapes, it is important to use them correctly to prevent injury to your pet.
Be sure to always grab the insect from behind and make an effort not to allow your gecko to bite directly onto the tongs whenever possible to prevent them from injuring their delicate mouth.
Allow your gecko to gently grab the insect from the tongs.
This will likely take some practice, but over time, your lizard will learn how the tongs are used during mealtimes.
Why Do Leopard Geckos Eat Their Skin?
Many leopard geckos will eat their shed skin after shedding, as it is full of leftover nutrients their bodies can reabsorb via digestion. This behavior is completely normal and should be encouraged.
If you notice your gecko munching on their shed skin, don’t panic.
It certainly looks unsettling at first, but it’s a great, eco-friendly way for them to get some extra nutrition in their diet.
Shedding requires a lot of energy, and eating the skin helps them reabsorb any nutrients or vitamins they lost in the process.
Allow your gecko to eat their shed skin freely and remove any leftover shed from their enclosure afterward.