Although leopard geckos are known for being reasonably low-maintenance pet reptiles, their enclosures require particular lighting settings for them to survive and thrive in captivity.
You must understand precisely what types of lamps your gecko needs and how to set them up properly.
The two types of lighting your leopard gecko needs are heat and UVB. The heat lamp will ensure the enclosure stays within a correct temperature range, while a UVB bulb will mimic natural sunlight and supply your pet with the UVB rays needed to support their bone and muscle health and digestion.
While these two types of bulbs sound pretty straightforward, there’s a lot you’ll need to know as far as the correct type of bulb you need, how to set them up, and when to turn them off and on each day.
Not to worry–we’ll cover everything you need to know so your gecko will always be comfortable in its enclosure.
Leopard Gecko Lighting Requirements
The most important parts of your leopard gecko’s enclosure are their basking bulb and their UVB bulb. Basking bulbs provide necessary warmth to your cold-blooded gecko’s enclosure, while UVB lighting produces the UVB rays to keep your gecko’s bones and muscles strong and help them digest food.
When setting up your leopard gecko tank, you should first consider the type of basking bulb and UVB bulb you intend to use for their enclosure.
This is because both types of lighting are essential to keep your pet happy, comfortable, and, most importantly, healthy for years to come.
Basking bulbs, also known simply as heat lamps, are needed to keep your lizard’s habitat within the correct temperature range.
Since they are ectotherms, reptiles like leopard geckos rely on their external environment to maintain their body temperature.
In their native habitats, most reptiles simply rely on the sun to stay warm; however, in captivity, you’ll need to use a basking bulb to mimic the sun’s heat, so your gecko doesn’t get too cold.
UVB bulbs, on the other hand, are used to replicate the sun’s UVB rays.
Ultraviolet rays are essential as they assist with the absorption of calcium.
Without it, your gecko’s body will struggle to absorb the calcium they need to keep their bones strong and healthy.
While there is still some debate within the reptile community as to whether or not leopard geckos need UVB to survive, today, the consensus is their health certainly benefits significantly from even a small amount of it.
Geckos without UVB lighting are more prone to bone and muscle issues like metabolic bone disease.
You’ll need both types of lighting, as they serve different purposes when it comes to your pet’s health.
You will not be able to substitute one for the other or get away with not using either one if you want a happy, healthy gecko.
If you want a complete guide to a leopard gecko tank setup, click the link.
Lighting Cycles And Schedules
Leopard geckos work best when there’s a specific lighting schedule mimicking the cycle of a natural day. In general, 12 hours of light on and 12 hours of light off is the expected schedule experts suggest you follow.
Basking Bulbs: The Basics
A basking bulb is necessary for your leopard gecko’s enclosure to keep it well-lit, warm, and within an acceptable temperature range. Without an external heat source, your gecko will not be able to regulate its body temperature or digest food properly.
There are many types of basking bulbs of different sizes, shapes, colors, and wattages on the market.
The exact wattage and bulb type you will use will depend mostly on your gecko’s enclosure size and shape and how you mount the bulb and its fixture.
Basking bulbs produce UVA light and heat and typically lack UVB, though some are specially designed to make both; these are known as mercury vapor bulbs, and we’ll cover those in the UVB bulb section later.
It’s best to use a plain white basking bulb as a daytime bulb and avoid colorful bulbs such as those with red or blue coloring, as these type of lights are very harsh and which will irritate your gecko’s eyes and interfere with their sleep cycle.
Types of Basking Bulbs
Most basking bulbs give off either white, blue, or red light and come in various sizes and wattages. While basking bulbs typically only produce plain UVA light and heat, some on the market are designed to also give off UVB.
The type of basking bulb you use will largely depend on the size and shape of your gecko’s enclosure as well as the temperature within your home.
Like we mentioned earlier, avoid any bulbs which give off red or blue light and opt for one which produces plain white UVA light, as colorful bulbs will irritate your gecko’s eyes.
Basking bulbs come in many different wattages, which simply denotes how powerful the bulb’s light and warmth are.
Most leopard gecko enclosures fare well with a plain white basking bulb like this one from TEKIZOO of around 60 to 100 watts.
You will always be able to adjust how closely or how far you mount the bulb from the enclosure, so it’s best to opt for a bulb of a slightly higher wattage than what you think you need.
If the bulb is too weak to heat the enclosure, it will be much more difficult to adjust it, as there’s a clear limit to how close you are able to mount it to the enclosure.
This bulb also from TEKIZOO is an ideal option for a leopard gecko enclosure.
Be sure to also purchase a dome to house the bulb and connect it to your electrical outlet.
It is crucial to make sure the dome is of an appropriate size; typically, the dome will list on its packaging the maximum wattage bulb it can support.
This dome from Reptizoo, for example, clearly states it is designed to support bulbs up to 100 watts.
It’s an ideal choice for your gecko’s tank as it is sturdy, deep, and wide enough to hold a variety of different sized and shaped basking bulbs.
Basking Bulbs: Leopard Gecko Lighting During the Day
For your leopard gecko’s enclosure, you’ll need to use their basking bulb to replicate the lighting they would experience from the sun in their natural habitats. This means they’ll need around 12 hours of daytime and 12 hours of darkness.
Basking bulbs provide both light and heat to keep your pet warm and their habitat properly lit, particularly during daytime hours.
Most basking bulbs are designed to be placed within a specially designed hood or dome and either mounted above the enclosure or simply placed on top of the tank if it has a mesh lid.
Lighting cycles for basking bulbs are very simple when it comes to leopard geckos.
As a rule of thumb, just remember: on 12 hours during the day, off 12 hours at night.
Stick to a consistent schedule to avoid disturbing your lizard’s sleep patterns.
Additionally, you’ll need to keep the enclosure within an appropriate temperature range during the day.
The tank will need a gentle temperature gradient from the hot end, or the basking area, to the cool side.
Basking Bulbs: Leopard Gecko Lighting At Night
Turn off your leopard gecko’s basking bulb at night and leave it off for around 10 to 12 hours. Generally, you won’t need a night bulb. While leopard geckos are more active in the evening, you will still need to mimic natural sunlight and how it behaves in their native habitat.
In most cases, your gecko will not need any additional heat at night, provided the temperature in their enclosure does not drop below 70° degrees Fahrenheit (21° C).
This tends to be the standard room temperature for most homes, so it is fine to simply turn off the light at night and then turn it back on in the morning.
However, if your home is on the cooler side at night, don’t leave the basking bulb on; instead, purchase a ceramic heat emitter like this one from Wuhostam.
A ceramic heat bulb will produce heat but no light, so your gecko will be kept warm without having to deal with annoying bright light in their eyes at night.
Avoid heating pads and heat rocks, as they often cause burns.
They typically don’t come with any means of regulating their temperature, and the concentrated heat is too harsh for your lizard’s tender, sensitive skin on their belly, limbs, and tail.
Many people mistakenly believe leopard geckos are nocturnal, though this is incorrect.
In reality, they are crepuscular, which means they tend to be a bit more active around dawn and dusk, or in the evening and early morning hours.
They will typically sleep late at night as many diurnal animals do, so leaving their lights off at night is fine.
How Hot Should Your Gecko’s Enclosure Be?
Your gecko’s tank needs a very hot basking area with an ideal temperature of around 90 to 95° degrees Fahrenheit (35° C). The rest of the warm side of their enclosure should be around 80 to 85° degrees Fahrenheit (29° C), and the cool end should be within 75 to 80° degrees Fahrenheit (27° C). At night, turn all lamps off, but make sure the tank doesn’t drop below 70° degrees Fahrenheit (21° C).
To maintain this delicate and specific temperature gradient, you’ll need to set up your basking bulb and experiment a bit as far as its distance from the enclosure, how you mount the bulb’s hood, and the size and wattage of the bulb.
It is a good idea to also purchase a dual thermometer and hygrometer for your lizard’s enclosure to help you closely monitor the temperature at all times, especially during the initial setup process.
Many reptile owners opt to purchase one for each end of the enclosure, so they can check the temperature on both the hot and cool sides.
When Should You Change Your Basking Bulb?
You will need to change out your basking bulb for a new one as soon as possible when it burns out. Most basking bulbs are designed to last for hundreds or even thousands of hours, so you should expect your bulb to last around three to six months, depending on the manufacturer.
Many reptile keepers will purchase a few extra bulbs in advance, so they can switch out the burned-out bulb immediately and maintain the temperature within the enclosure.
Otherwise, your gecko will have to wait hours or even days for you to replace the bulb, and they will be quite uncomfortable in the meantime as the temperature in the tank drops to an unsafe level.
Always be sure to replace burned-out basking bulbs as soon as possible to keep your pet happy, comfortable, and healthy.
Without adequate heat, they will be unable to digest food properly, which will lead to constipation and potentially even impaction.
UVB Bulbs: The Basics
Leopard geckos benefit from a small amount of UVB lighting in their enclosures, which mimics the sun’s rays. UVB lighting assists reptiles with producing vitamin D3 and absorbing calcium. In turn, calcium keeps your pet’s bones and muscles strong and prevents illnesses like metabolic bone disease.
There is a lot of debate within the reptile-keeping community on whether leopard geckos need UVB to survive.
While it’s true your gecko probably won’t die (at least immediately, anyway) without a UVB light, it will still benefit their health significantly.
After all, UVB bulbs replicate the sun’s UVB rays, and everybody loves a bit of natural light!
There are a few different types and sizes of UVB bulbs, and certain bulbs produce different amounts of UVB, which we’ll cover more in-depth later.
The main thing you need to know right now is UVB is very beneficial to your pet’s health and wellbeing, so you shouldn’t just assume they will be fine without it.
Types of UVB Bulbs
There are three main types of UVB bulbs: long, tube-shaped fluorescent bulbs, compact/coil fluorescent bulbs that look similar to normal lightbulbs, and mercury vapor bulbs, which produce UVB, UVA light, and heat. They also produce different amounts of UVB rays, ranging from 3% to 15% or higher.
All three types of UVB bulbs are great for leopard gecko enclosures, though the one you ultimately choose will depend mostly on your gecko’s enclosure size and shape.
For a leopard gecko, look for a bulb with a 5 to 10% output.
Sometimes, this number will be denoted as a decimal, so instead of 5%, for example, the packaging might read 5.0.
While these bulbs do come in various wattages, the exact wattage is largely unimportant to your gecko’s health and mostly denotes the bulb’s brightness.
Instead, you should focus on the UVB output, as this will determine how much UV rays your pet absorbs from the bulb.
One of the more common types of UVB bulbs is long and cylindrical fluorescent lights, such as this one from Zoo Med, which require specially designed fixtures. They are great for larger enclosures, especially if you’re worried a smaller bulb won’t cover the entirety of the tank.
You won’t be able to simply place this type of bulb within one of the domes we mentioned earlier; because of their size and shape, they will require a long, narrow hood like this one from Reptisun.
You’ll also need to make sure the size of the lamp matches the size of the hood; the above examples are both 24″ inches, so they will be compatible together.
There are even some UVB bulbs that come packaged with a hood designed to fit them so you won’t have to search for one; these, like this set from Reptisun, are great for beginners who are still learning about setting up their enclosure’s lighting.
Many experienced reptile enthusiasts prefer these types of bulbs, as they are long enough to cover and provide UVB rays to the entire enclosure rather than focusing them in one centralized area.
This is good because your gecko will get plenty of UV rays regardless of where they’re hanging out in their tank.
The next type of UVB bulb looks very similar to a standard light bulb and often has a spiral shape. These are easy to set up as they are often perfectly sized for most standard domes and don’t require a specially designed dome like the aforementioned long, tube-shaped bulbs.
A great example of a compact UVB bulb ideal for a leopard gecko enclosure is this spiral 5.0 bulb from Repti Zoo.
These bulbs are very convenient as it is safe to put them in most standard light domes as we briefly mentioned earlier.
For example, this 5.5″ inch dome from Lucky Herp is deep enough for most compact UVB bulbs.
There are also dual domes designed to house two bulbs in one dome, like this deep dome dual fixture by WACOOL.
Mercury Vapor Bulbs
Mercury vapor bulbs are designed to give off UVA light, heat, and UVB light all in one convenient package. Although they are a bit harder to find and are often a bit pricey, they are a great investment in the long term and will provide your gecko with all the light and heat they need.
While they seem like a great choice, some reptile keepers avoid mercury vapor bulbs for smaller reptiles like leopard geckos because the bulbs are very large and tend to give off too much heat for such a small enclosure.
Another potential issue with these bulbs, similar to the compact style ones mentioned above, is they give off a lot of UVB and heat in one centralized area.
This means if your gecko is resting on the cool side of its enclosure or isn’t sitting directly underneath the bulb, it might not be able to absorb as much UV rays as it would with a long, cylindrical bulb.
Additionally, mercury vapor bulbs are much wider than most standard light bulbs, so finding a dome to fit them properly might be challenging.
Still, if you’re looking for an all-in-one bulb, a mercury vapor bulb like this one from TEKIZOO is a great choice if you’re willing to potentially adjust the way it’s mounted a bit for best results.
When Should You Change Your UVB Bulb?
It’s best to switch out your leopard gecko’s UVB bulb at least every six months, as, over time, the amount of UV rays they give off will slowly diminish. However, there are some newer bulbs available that are designed to last up to 12 months.
You’ll need to change the bulb when it burns out, but it’s even better to switch it out even more often.
It’s unfortunately hard to gauge exactly how much UVB these bulbs give off, so to stay on the safe side, stick to changing it every six months.
If your bulb is burning out sooner than this, it is probably a good idea to change to a different bulb brand.
Options For Lighting And Heat Sources (Setup)
Many experts recommend mounting your UVB bulb inside your leopard gecko’s tank to prevent the mesh screen on top from filtering out any UV rays. However, since they require a very low amount of UVB, it is safe to simply mount the bulb and hood directly on top of your lizard’s enclosure.
Like with basking bulbs, there are many different ways to set up and mount your UVB bulb, depending on the type you’ve chosen, the size of the bulb and fixture, and the size and shape of your gecko’s enclosure.
It is best to mount the bulb and fixture inside of their enclosure with most reptiles if possible.
Most reptile enclosures have mesh lids on top, which filter out some of the UV rays produced by the UVB bulb.
Leopard geckos, however, don’t necessarily require UVB to survive, though they benefit from a small number of UV rays.
Since you’ll most likely be using a bulb with only a 5% output or so, the UV rays lost by the mesh screen filter are very minimal and negligible.
Opt for a 10% output bulb rather than a 3% or 5% if you’re worried.
Mounting a UVB bulb is as simple as putting the bulb inside its fixture, plugging it into an electrical outlet, and either placing it directly on top of the enclosure lid or even hanging it from a hook just above the enclosure.
UVB Bulbs: Leopard Gecko Lighting During the Day
Just like with your leopard gecko’s basking bulb, you’ll follow the same general schedule for their UVB bulb: 12 hours on during the day, 12 hours off at night. Keep both bulbs on the same schedule for your convenience.
In their natural habitat, the sun shines for around 12 hours per day and sets for around 12 hours at night, so you’ll want to replicate this as closely as possible.
Overall, lighting cycles for both UVB and basking bulbs are essentially the same. Remember 12 on, 12 off!
UVB Bulbs: Leopard Gecko Lighting At Night
You should always turn your leopard gecko’s UVB bulb off at night, as they do not need or benefit from UVB rays at night. Excess lighting will interfere with their sleep schedule.
Remember, your main goal with UVB lighting is to mimic natural sunlight, and the sun doesn’t shine at night.
If you want to make things nice and simple, purchase a dual dome for your UVB and basking bulbs and turn them both off with a simple flick of a switch or two.
What About Humidity?
The humidity within your leopard gecko’s enclosure should stay fairly dry or within 30% to 40% at all times. Your lighting setup will often affect the humidity in the tank. Improper humidity settings will cause respiratory infections and skin problems.
It is best to install a dual thermometer and hygrometer, one at the warm end of the tank and one at the cooler end, to monitor the temperature and humidity within their enclosure and make adjustments as needed.
Usually, with the proper lighting setup, you likely won’t need to adjust the humidity in your gecko’s tank.
However, in some cases, slight changes will need to be made.
If you find the humidity is too low, mist your gecko and the enclosure with water a few times a day until it is within an acceptable level.
Alternatively, add a larger water dish to the enclosure or add a moist hide if you haven’t already (or add a larger one than the one you’re already using).
If the humidity is too high, use a smaller water dish, replace any substrate, and increase airflow to the tank and the room it is housed in.
If there are any plants in the enclosure, remove some of them, as they will often give off CO2 and, in turn, increase humidity.
You might also want to invest in a dehumidifier or crank up the air conditioning to lower the humidity to a correct level (click the link for another one of our articles with more details on this topic).