Safely heating your leopard gecko’s enclosure to the correct settings with a proper temperature gradient is often tricky and requires quite a bit of trial and error.
Many reptile owners have considered using heat rocks to keep their gecko’s enclosure warm, but are they safe for your gecko to use?
Heat rocks should be avoided, as it is not possible to precisely adjust their temperature. As a result, these heat sources either don’t produce enough heat to keep your gecko warm or have concentrated hot spots which will burn your gecko’s sensitive belly.
To learn more about heat rocks and why you should keep them out of your leopard gecko’s enclosure, keep reading.
We’ll discuss how heated rocks work, their risks, and what you should do if your gecko’s enclosure just isn’t getting warm enough to keep your scaly friend comfortable.
Are Heat Rocks Safe For Leopard Geckos?
When thinking of a leopard gecko enclosure basics, a few essential things probably come to mind: a basking bulb, a UVB bulb, a proper dry and humid hide, and perhaps a thermostat at either end of the enclosure to ensure an adequate temperature gradient.
These items have in common because they are used to maintain either the temperature or humidity of your gecko’s habitat.
Since leopard geckos are native to dry, arid regions of the Middle East, their enclosures in captivity must also be very dry and hot, so they can digest food properly and keep their bodies warm and comfortable.
Generally, most leopard gecko owners opt for using heat lamps or ceramic heating elements to keep the enclosure warm.
Still, at some point, you’ve probably heard of someone using heated rocks, also known as rock heaters, in their lizard’s tank, too.
While they seem safe and even ingenious at first glance, they, unfortunately, are not ideal for your gecko’s enclosure for a few key reasons.
The main issue with heat rocks as far as safety is the vast majority of them on the market don’t have any means of adjusting or regulating their temperature.
As a result, they are either prone to overheating in certain areas or just not producing enough heat on their surface at all.
If your heat rock overheats in certain spots, it will burn your gecko’s belly.
The lizard will initially be attracted to the ambient heat and climb onto the rock, only to suffer painful burns once their sensitive skin comes in contact with the rock’s direct, concentrated heat.
Plus, these burns are especially prone to infection as your gecko goes about their daily activities because they are usually located on their belly or limbs, which will come in contact with most surfaces within their tank.
On the other hand, if the heat rock simply doesn’t get warm enough, your gecko won’t bother with it at all, rendering it useless.
Either way, they aren’t safe, as they aren’t reliable or easily controllable heat sources like lamps are, and they are prone to heating unevenly, with some spots being either too hot or too cold.
Here’s an example of one of the better and safer heating rocks on Amazon.
Is It Possible to Adjust a Heat Rock’s Temperature?
When shopping for a heat rock, you’ll notice most of them don’t have any means of temperature regulation; many are simply a rock, a hidden heating element, and a cord you’re meant to plug into an electrical outlet.
Some may have a dial with a couple of settings, yet even these will lack the more precise temperature adjustment your gecko’s enclosure needs.
This is problematic, as you won’t easily check the rock’s external temperature to see if it’s working correctly or not.
The only way to check its temperature is to touch the rock itself from time to time or use a heat gun, which will become quite the chore for you, as you’ll have to check it multiple times throughout the day to check for any heat spikes or other potential malfunctions.
Plus, even using a heat gun to check the temperature in one location isn’t enough, as the rock will likely be warmer or cooler in some spots than others.
It will be virtually impossible for you to consistently monitor the rock’s temperature.
If you have determined it is much hotter in some spots than others, you likely won’t be able to adjust the temperature or the locations of the hot and cool spots.
Overall, depending on the brand and model of heat rock you purchase, it will either be difficult or impossible to accurately and reliably adjust their temperature.
Since your gecko cannot thermoregulate on its own, its body temperature will be at the mercy of the heat rock and its unpredictable heating.
How Do Heat Rocks Work?
Most heat rocks on the market have the same general construction.
They typically consist of a partially hollowed-out “rock” made of clay, cement, or another similar material with a hidden heating element.
The heating element will usually be connected to a cord, which you will, in turn, plug into an electrical outlet.
Additionally, some heat rocks will have a dial with two or three settings (usually something basic like “warm” and “hot,” respectively) though very few have precise temperature settings your gecko needs to prevent them from burning their sensitive bellies, limbs, and tails.
The heating element will heat the rock from the inside.
However, most heat rocks have very uneven temperature gradients, meaning some spots on the rock will inevitably be hotter or cooler than others, and some spots on the rock will likely not heat at all.
Even if you are able to adjust its settings, you won’t have any way of telling the exact temperature of the rock unless you use an infrared thermometer on its surface, touch it yourself, or attach a thermometer to the rock’s surface.
Heat rocks almost universally have very simple construction, which unfortunately contributes to their unreliability when heating your lizard’s enclosure.
While some companies have made slight changes to their heat rocks by adding more precise heat settings, most of them have remained the same for many years.
Do Heat Rocks Cause Burns?
In short, yes.
The main danger of heat rocks is the potential of burning your gecko’s tender, sensitive skin.
Heat rocks are one of the most common causes of burns to leopard geckos and other reptiles.
The worst part about this is the burns are most often on the lizard’s belly, limbs, or the underside of their tail, which is where their scales are by far the most sensitive.
As we briefly touched on earlier, since heat rocks tend to have very uneven temperature gradients, they tend to have small areas which are much cooler – or hotter – than others.
These tiny “hot spots” are the biggest danger to your gecko’s tender skin, and the worst part is your gecko likely won’t even realize at first they’re being burned.
There are two main ways geckos tend to sustain burns from heat rocks.
The first goes a bit like this: perhaps when your gecko initially climbed onto their heat rock, it was still warming up and didn’t cause any immediate or major discomfort to them.
Over time, though, as the heating element gradually becomes hotter, the gecko will be oblivious until it is too late and they’ve sustained a serious burn.
Some geckos will even doze off and fall asleep while basking on their heat rock, only to wake up hours later to a burned belly or tail.
Alternatively, if the rock has already reached its maximum possible heat setting, your gecko will attempt to climb onto the rock, only to immediately recoil in pain upon coming into contact with one of its hot spots.
While these burns tend to be less severe, they are no less painful for your pet.
Additionally, burns on the underside of your gecko’s body will be extremely difficult to heal and prone to infection.
Since their belly, legs, and tail constantly come in contact with the floor of their enclosure as they walk, eat, and defecate, you’ll have a difficult time keeping any burns bandaged and treated properly, in turn drawing out the healing process for your poor gecko even more.
Many burns caused by heat rocks become infected.
If the burn is in a location you wouldn’t notice just by looking at your gecko, you likely won’t notice it until it has become severe enough to warrant costly veterinary treatment.
To avoid this unnecessary pain and suffering, it’s best to avoid heat rocks altogether.
Other Reasons to Avoid Heat Rocks
Aside from the high likelihood of your pet sustaining painful burns, there are a few other reasons to avoid heat rocks as a source of heat for their enclosure.
The first of which is sort of the flip side of heat rocks’ uneven temperature gradients.
In addition to hot spots, there’s also the potential the rock won’t heat up enough to keep your gecko warm and comfortable or have too many cold spots to be worth using.
While this won’t cause any direct harm to your gecko, you might as well just purchase non-heated rocks and use them as decorations.
Additionally, heat rocks tend to be somewhat costly as a supplemental heat source.
You won’t be able to rely on a heat rock alone as a tank heater to keep your gecko’s enclosure sufficiently warm; it simply won’t give off enough heat for a 20+ gallon enclosure.
This means you’ll inevitably end up spending money on an additional heat source that won’t even do much (or anything at all), only for it to end up sitting unplugged in the corner of the enclosure.
Finally, the logistics of setting up the heat rock with its attached cord are often very complicated and a source of unnecessary frustration for reptile owners who do opt for them.
You’ll need to think about how you’ll be able to run the cord from the inside of the tank to the electrical outlet, which is probably already occupied by your gecko’s basking and UV bulbs.
Essentially, heat rocks are far more trouble than they’re worth.
You’re much better off using a higher wattage basking bulb or adjusting its positioning and distance from the enclosure if you’re having issues getting your gecko’s tank up to the correct temperature.
If you’re worried about the tank becoming too cold at night, simply invest in a ceramic heat lamp that won’t give off any light to disturb your gecko’s sleep patterns.
How Hot Should My Leopard Gecko’s Enclosure Be?
Since your gecko is a cold-blooded ectotherm, they depend primarily on an external source of warmth to keep their body temperature up and digest their food.
In their native desert habitats, the sun serves as their primary heat source, but in captivity, you’ll need to get a bit creative to mimic the sun’s rays and provide them with proper heat.
As a general rule of thumb, during the day, your gecko’s basking spot should be within a consistent temperature of 90 to 95° degrees Fahrenheit (35° C), while the opposite end, the cool side, should be within 75 to 80° degrees Fahrenheit (27° C).
In between, you’ll need to have a warm spot surrounding the area under the basking light, which will need to be around 80 to 85° degrees Fahrenheit (29° C).
Learn more details by checking out our guide to leopard gecko enclosure temperatures.
Generally, the best way to achieve these temperatures is to use a plain white basking bulb of around 60 to 100 watts, depending on your enclosure’s size, shape, and depth.
You’ll need a temperature gradient in the enclosure, which just means one side of the tank will be significantly warmer than the other, with a gentle, natural transition from the cool end to the hot end.
It is safe to turn off the basking and UV bulbs in the enclosure at night, provided your home doesn’t get any colder than around 70° degrees Fahrenheit (21° C).
As long as your gecko’s enclosure remains within an ideal temperature range, you won’t ever need any additional direct heat sources like heat mats or heat rocks.
What If My Gecko’s Tank Isn’t Hot Enough?
If you’re having trouble getting your gecko’s tank up to an appropriate temperature range, the first thing you should look at is the basking bulb you’re using to heat the enclosure.
You might need to set up an additional, smaller bulb or simply purchase a larger bulb with a higher wattage to keep the entirety of the enclosure sufficiently warm.
This will require a bit of experimentation on your end, as every enclosure and every home is different.
Be sure to purchase a dual thermometer and hygrometer for each far end of the enclosure so you’ll be able to consistently monitor the cool and hot ends of the enclosure.
Some reptile owners even opt for three, one in the cool zone, one in the warm zone, and one positioned directly under the basking area.
Additionally, you have the option of purchasing an infrared thermometer, also known as a temperature gun or heat gun, to quickly check any area of your gecko’s enclosure if you’re still worried it isn’t hot enough.
How Do I Keep My Leopard Gecko Warm At Night?
If your home gets cooler at night and you’re worried your gecko will lose too much body heat, the best way to keep the enclosure warm is to purchase a ceramic heating element.
These are our preferred choice for keeping reptiles warm at night because they resemble and function similarly to heat bulbs, though they don’t give off any light, just heat.
These heating elements are great for preventing the tank from becoming too cold at night if your home experiences a significant drop in temperature, and they are far safer than heat rocks since your gecko’s sensitive skin won’t directly come in contact with their surface.
Ceramic heating elements function similarly to basking bulbs; simply place them in an appropriately-sized hood and plug them in.
Be sure to check the temperature within the enclosure after setting it up, as you might need to adjust its distance from the enclosure to get the temperature within an appropriate range.
Avoid blue or red “nighttime” bulbs, as the colored lighting will upset your gecko’s sleep cycles and irritate their eyes.
Would you like it if your room constantly had annoying red or blue lighting overhead while you tried to sleep?
No? Then your gecko wouldn’t, either!
Are Heat Mats Safe For Leopard Geckos?
Heating mats are unfortunately problematic for the same reasons as heat rocks since they function very similarly.
The only real difference is heat pads are flatter, lighter, and more flexible.
Heat mats are almost the same as heat rocks as construction: they consist of a flat mat with a heating element inside and a cord attached to plug into an electrical outlet.
Some will also have a dial with a couple of adjustable settings, though very few on the market have precise temperature settings, rendering them just as unreliable and dangerous as heat rocks.
Even worse than a properly functioning heat pad is a faulty heat mat; unfortunately, this is common, as it is often constructed fairly cheaply and unreliable.
If your gecko is using a heat mat or a heat rock regularly, there’s a good chance they will end up with a burn at some point.
Once again, just like with heat rocks, using basking bulbs or ceramic heat emitters is much more preferable in terms of safety and adjustability.
Although they are somewhat common tank accessories, it’s best to avoid them entirely and inform any fellow reptile owners in your life of their dangers.
For other equipment, visit our picks for the best leopard gecko equipment.