If you are new to keeping reptiles as pets, you may be wondering how to properly care for your cold-blooded friend.
Unlike cats, dogs, or other common furry pets, leopard geckos require heat sources in addition to the typical water and food provisions.
Since leopard geckos are cold-blooded, they need a heat source to regulate their body temperature. Heat sources include heat lamps, heat mats, and heat rocks. Many leo owners find heat lamps a great way to keep their pet reptiles happy by simulating day and night cycles.
Read on to learn more about why leopard geckos need a heat lamp, the options available, and how their needs are different during the day versus the night.
Why Do Leopard Geckos Need a Heat Lamp?
Like many reptile species, leopard geckos are cold-blooded.
Instead of producing their own internal body heat like humans, they rely on their environment to regulate their body temperature.
In the wild, they absorb heat from a combination of air temperature, sun heat, and ground temperature.
A pet leo relies on the correct temperatures and light you provide them in their cage.
This means you must thoroughly understand a leopard gecko’s warmth and light requirements to responsibly care for your pet reptile.
Because proper thermoregulation is needed for everything from breathing to digesting food, cold temps are far more dangerous than hot ones.
However, keeping the cage at a consistent temperature above this isn’t enough.
To keep your leopard gecko happy and healthy, provide a temperature gradient in the cage and a temperature change overnight to simulate day and night cycles.
Keep at least one thermometer in the cage at all times to monitor the temperature.
|Basking Temperature||94-97° degrees Fahrenheit (34-36°C)|
|Warm Hide Area||90-92° degrees Fahrenheit (32-33°C)|
|Cool End||70-77° degrees Fahrenheit (21-25°C)|
|Nighttime||Lower temperature down to but not below 60° degrees Fahrenheit (16°C)|
Without proper temperature regulation, your reptile will get sick.
For more details, check out our leopard gecko temperature guide.
Signs of temperature sickness include:
- Difficulty opening eyes
- Not eating or drinking enough
- Behavioral changes
Types of Heat and Light Sources
Heat Source Options
There are a few different options to warm your leopard gecko’s cage.
- One of the most common heat sources is a basking or daylight bulb. These bulbs provide both light and warmth.
- Another type of bulb is a ceramic heat bulb, also known as a ceramic heat emitter. These bulbs screw into a socket like a normal bulb but only emit heat instead of light.
- These bulbs warm the ambient air, but there are also options to mimic the hot ground leos used for belly heat in the wild. Heat mats, also called heating pads, and heat stones create a concentrated heat source rather than an ambient air source.
Even if you live in a warm climate, you must provide an additional heat source.
One of our favorites is the Zacro Reptile ceramic heat emitter (linked here on Amazon) because it disperses heat well and efficiently without hurting your pocketbook.
If you don’t, it’s hard to monitor whether your leopard gecko is consistently warm enough.
Additionally, you want a secondary heat source in your enclosure to create the correct temperature gradient.
It’s a good practice to connect any heating elements to a thermostat to ensure the heat output is high enough.
It’s also possible for your gecko to overheat, so ensure their enclosure isn’t too hot.
Light Source Options
In addition to warmth, leopard geckos also need lighting during the day.
As a crepuscular species, they’re most active at dusk and dawn.
Living without a light source will mess with their internal clock.
It may sound counterintuitive, but don’t put their cage next to a window and just use the natural light.
We recommend leopard geckos get 11 hours of light in winter and 13 hours in summer, which is the photoperiod in their natural habitat.
Depending on where you live and which way the window faces, you likely won’t be giving your leo enough light.
On the flip side, it’s hard to control the sun, and using natural light increases the risks of your leo overheating or even getting sunburned.
Luckily, there are many artificial light sources available.
- A basking or daylight bulb is the simplest option because it takes care of their lighting and heating needs during the day.
- A light-only bulb or regular light bulb will work if you have a separate heat source.
- UVB lighting reduces the risk of metabolic bone disease and fractures when used for 2 to 12 hours a day for vitamin D.
Use an automatic timer to turn the light source off in the evening.
Additionally, provide plenty of places to hide.
Leopard geckos need access to light during the day, but their bodies will tell them when they have gotten enough.
Heating Setups for Day and Night
With so many options for the perfect lighting and heat setup, figuring out what works best is confusing.
Whichever type of lighting and heating you choose, make sure your setup works for both day and night and your enclosure size.
Do Leopard Geckos Need a Heat Lamp During the Day?
Leopard geckos need the right amounts of light and warmth during the day.
In their natural desert habitat, they experience a high consistent temperature range during the day.
Their enclosure must mimic this to meet their needs.
They also need lighting to keep their circadian rhythm and sleep cycle in check.
Do Leopard Geckos Need a Heat Lamp at Night?
While leopard geckos don’t require light during their night cycle, they still require heat at night.
This nighttime heat source can and should be cooler than the daytime heat source.
In the wild, deserts cool off significantly during the night.
The type of heat source you use is up to you.
Like during the day, your leo will do best with a temperature gradient in their enclosure.
How Do I Create a Setup for Both Day and Night?
Since your reptile needs the right amounts of heat during bright daylight and dark hours at night, one option is to use one light and a separate heat source.
This could mean using a UVB light during the day, and a heating pad is left on both day and night.
Another option is to use two setups for day and night. Use a single combination bulb to provide light and warmth during the day, and then use a separate source for heat at night.
Instead of manually turning the lights on and off for day and night, use an automatic timer to guarantee adequate lighting even when you’re not home.