Leopard geckos are low-maintenance lizards and make excellent pets for first-time reptile keepers.
Understanding the needs of your leopard gecko is essential to ensure you provide the proper care.
In the wild, reptiles will enter a brumation period during cold temperatures and a decrease in sunlight.
This dormant period allows them to conserve energy and survive the winter months.
Brumation also plays a role in the reproductive cycle of reptiles and prepares them for breeding in the spring.
But does brumation apply to leopard geckos?
Leopard geckos will typically brumate whenever their environment consistently has a drop in temperatures lower than 65° degrees Fahrenheit (18° C). The brumation cycle for leopard geckos lasts anywhere from two to four months. During this time, the leopard gecko’s metabolism rate lowers to conserve energy.
A leopard gecko will not eat or defecate during brumation and rely on fat reserves stored in the tail to survive.
Once temperatures are warmer, the leopard gecko’s body metabolism gradually increases, and they begin to resume normal activity.
Read on to learn more about brumation and how to ensure your leopard gecko brumates safely.
What Is Brumation?
Most reptiles experience a period of dormancy known as brumation during cold temperatures.
Brumation is slightly different than the hibernation period observed in mammals.
In mammalian hibernation, the animal will experience a drastic drop in metabolism and go into a deep sleep, only waking when there are warm temperatures again.
During brumation, reptiles do not experience such a drastic change in their metabolism.
The metabolism rate of a reptile is only slightly lowered during cooler temperatures, which allows them to conserve energy.
If there is a warm day during brumation, the reptile may take advantage of it briefly to eat, drink, or bask in the sun.
Hormonal changes also occur during brumation to prepare a reptile for the upcoming breeding season in the spring.
Leopard gecko brumation usually lasts between 1-4 months.
Is It Necessary for Leopard Geckos to Brumate?
Brumation occurs naturally for leopard geckos in the wild, but it is not necessary for those living in captivity.
As long as you maintain a proper temperature gradient in your pet leopard gecko’s enclosure, the animal will not enter into the brumation cycle.
However, if you would like to breed your leopard geckos, brumation is helpful to prepare their bodies.
Not all leopard gecko breeders brumate their lizards, but most of them induce a brief brumation period for a more successful pairing and to ensure healthy gecko babies.
Very rarely will a leopard gecko need to enter brumation on its own, even if the temperatures in the enclosure are warm.
This may occur if they do not receive enough light during the day.
The leo will begin to have decreased activity levels and may lose appetite.
When this happens, it is essential to schedule a vet visit to ensure the leopard gecko does not have any underlying health issues.
If the leopard gecko is completely healthy, you may need to provide your pet with the proper conditions for a brumation cycle.
There are some risks associated with brumation in captive leos if they are not carefully prepared for it.
Inexperienced reptile keepers should learn as much about brumation as possible before attempting to induce dormancy in their leopard geckos.
How To Prepare Your Leopard Gecko for Brumation
Inducing brumation in a leopard gecko is a very serious task and should not be done without considerable preparation.
If the proper steps are not taken before brumation is initiated, your leopard gecko could suffer health consequences.
It is best to have an emergency plan in place if something goes wrong during brumation.
Monitor your leopard gecko for signs of stress or illness during the entire process.
Before your leopard gecko enters brumation, it is vital to ensure the lizard is in good health.
Schedule a visit with your veterinarian to ensure your leo has no health issues like parasites or infections before the brumation process.
Only brumate leopard geckos when they are healthy, or they may suffer severe illness.
Your leopard gecko also needs to be at a healthy weight before it enters brumation.
Leopard geckos store fat in their tails, and they will live on these reserves while dormant.
Be sure to feed your leo a healthy diet with gut-loaded insects such as super worms, wax worms, and dubia roaches, and keep track of your pet’s weight weekly.
You will know the leopard gecko is at an ideal weight when it has a plump tail and the fat pads on the head are noticeably larger.
When leopard geckos are in brumation, they cannot digest food properly.
If there is any food left in the stomach during brumation, it will rot and make the leopard gecko sick.
Your leo must empty its digestive tract before you begin lowering the enclosure temperatures.
Experienced leopard gecko keepers usually withhold food for 7-14 days before brumation begins.
It is also helpful to give your leo a warm bath to ensure it completely empties its bowels.
Once you have ensured your leo is healthy and no food is left in the stomach, you may initiate the brumation cycle.
Leopard geckos in the wild usually enter brumation between late October and early December.
It is possible to start the brumation period at any time of the year for healthy leopard geckos, but it is easier to do it in late fall or early winter.
Brumation is initiated by gradually lowering ambient temperatures in the enclosure.
It is crucial to lower the temperatures gradually and maintain proper humidity levels to avoid potential health issues with your leo.
Daytime temperatures for brumation will be close to 78° degrees Fahrenheit (26° C), which is cooler than the normal temperatures of 90° degrees Fahrenheit (32° C).
Brumation temperatures should not exceed 70° degrees Fahrenheit (21° C) at night.
Further Reading: The Complete Leopard Gecko Temperature Guide
Higher temperatures may increase your leo’s metabolism to the point where it needs food, and it will begin depleting its fat stores and suffer rapid weight loss.
During this time, you will also need to shorten your leo’s light cycle to imitate the shorter daylight period of the winter months.
You will not offer your leopard gecko any food during brumation, but providing a shallow water dish is important.
Your leo is not likely to drink during brumation, but it is a good idea to have water in the enclosure just in case.
After your leopard gecko has brumated for one to three months, you will gradually increase enclosure temperatures and lighting back to normal.
It may take a couple of weeks for your leo to recover completely after it has brumated.
Once your leopard gecko has recovered, it will likely have an increased appetite after brumation.
Monitor your leopard gecko after brumation to ensure it starts eating and is healthy.
When your leo is eating normally and has been examined for health issues, you may begin the breeding cycle if you choose to do so.