The leopard gecko is native to the arid grassland and desert regions of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, India, and Nepal.
Daytime temperatures in these areas tend to be very hot, especially during the summer months.
Because of this, leopard geckos prefer to be more active in the evenings when temperatures are more comfortable.
In captivity, it is necessary to mimic the temperatures of the leopard gecko’s natural environment to keep the reptile comfortable and maintain its health.
But what should those temperatures be?
As a general rule, the cooler side of a leopard gecko’s enclosure should have a temperature close to 75° degrees Fahrenheit (24° C), and the warmer side should range between 90-94° degrees Fahrenheit (34° C).
Since they are cold-blooded animals, leopard geckos depend on an external heat source to stay warm, which is essential for vital functions such as digestion.
The cooler side of the enclosure gives the leopard gecko a place to cool down, preventing the reptile from becoming overheated.
Keep reading for detailed information on why the temperature in a leopard gecko’s enclosure is so important and how to achieve and maintain a proper thermal gradient.
What Is The Importance Of Leopard Gecko Tank Temperatures?
The temperature of your leopard gecko’s tank is important because these reptiles cannot produce their own body heat. Leopard geckos must rely on external temperatures to stay warm.
In the wild, when winter temperatures drop below 50° degrees Fahrenheit (10° C), a leopard gecko will go into brumation to survive.
While they may emerge from this dormant state on warmer days to eat or drink, a leo will mainly rest to conserve energy.
Leos can do this by slowing down their metabolism to use less energy.
Leopard geckos survive winters in the wild because their instincts let them know to enter brumation as temperatures gradually fall.
However, in captivity, temperatures are generally kept warm throughout the year to keep the reptile active.
This is perfectly safe for the leopard gecko, and only experienced reptile keepers will induce a brumation phase, especially if they are breeding the animal.
For this purpose, temperatures are always gradually lowered to trick the leo into thinking winter is coming.
Sudden temperature changes in your leo’s enclosure will not only disrupt the reptile’s comfort, but it will cause health problems as well.
Even though they are from desert areas, leopard geckos do not have a high tolerance for heat.
If the enclosure is too hot, a leo will overheat and may even die because of a heat stroke because they have no way to cool themselves down.
On the other hand, if the enclosure is too cold due to a sudden temperature drop, a leopard gecko will have problems with digestion.
The sudden cold temperatures may also prevent the leo from having regular bowel movements, which will lead to impaction.
What Is The Proper Leopard Gecko Temperature Gradient?
The surface of the basking area will be the warmest part of the enclosure, with a preferred daytime temperature range between 90-94° degrees Fahrenheit (32° C). A few inches above the surface on the warm side, the air temperature should be closer to 80-83° degrees Fahrenheit (28° C).
A temperature gradient in a leopard gecko’s enclosure allows the reptile to thermoregulate by giving it an area to warm up and a place to cool down.
You will also need to provide your leo with a dry hide and a moist hide.
The space underneath the leo’s dry hide should be very similar to the temperature of the warm side, between 90-94° degrees Fahrenheit (34° C).
Since leopard geckos are crepuscular creatures, meaning they are more active at dawn and dusk, they do not typically bask in the same way as diurnal species such as bearded dragons.
Leos will occasionally bask during shedding, but if you notice your gecko is spending a lot of time on the warm side, it usually means the temperatures on the cool side are too low.
The temperatures inside of the leopard gecko’s moist hide should range from 83-90° degrees Fahrenheit (32° C).
If the temperatures in the humid hide are too low, this will lead to upper respiratory infections in a leo.
The temperature for the air on the cool side of the enclosure should range from 73-76° degrees Fahrenheit (24° C), with the ideal temperature being close to 75° degrees Fahrenheit (24° C).
It is perfectly safe to maintain these temperatures during the winter months to keep the leopard gecko from entering brumation.
You may also want to check out our leopard gecko enclosure setup guide for a complete setup tutorial.
What Is The Ideal Leopard Gecko Night Temperature?
Although leopard geckos can tolerate nighttime temperatures as low as 60° degrees Fahrenheit (16° C), the ideal temperature at night should range from 67-74° degrees Fahrenheit (23° C).
Leos spend most of their day sleeping and absorbing warmth, and they awaken as the sun sets to hunt for food.
While they are generally very active at night, it is not unusual for a leopard gecko to sleep after hunting, especially in captivity where there are no threats from predators.
If nighttime temperatures in the enclosure are too high, this will disrupt any deep sleep the leopard gecko can get.
Likewise, if temperatures at night are too cold, this will interfere with a leo’s digestion and lead to respiratory infections.
If the ambient temperature in the room where the enclosure is located gets too cold at night, you will need to use a heat source to keep the tank temperature stable.
A ceramic heat emitter or a heat mat is most commonly used to keep temperatures stable at night.
You should never use any type of light as a heat source at night.
Even from a red heat bulb made for nighttime use, any light is visible to the leopard gecko.
This visible light at night will interfere with a leo’s natural circadian rhythm.
How Do You Achieve Proper Temperatures In The Enclosure?
There are many ways to heat a leopard gecko enclosure, including lights, heat mats, ceramic heat emitters, and deep heat projectors.
Each of these sources heats the enclosure differently, and it may be difficult for a new leopard gecko owner to know which ones are best.
In this section, we provide details about each heat source so you are able to make an informed decision.
If you want more information on what you need in a tank, check out our best leopard gecko equipment review.
Lighting is a point of contention among some leopard gecko keepers who believe these reptiles do not need light because they are active at night.
However, this is simply not true, as leos are crepuscular creatures and are most active at dawn and dusk.
Leopard geckos also need light to help them tell the difference between day and night to maintain a circadian rhythm.
A light timer will allow you to set the lights to turn on and off at specified intervals automatically.
This is especially helpful to maintain a constant light cycle, and it prevents you from forgetting to turn the lights on and off.
In general, leopard geckos should have 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness.
This will need to be gradually adjusted to 10 hours of light during the day in the winter months when there is more darkness than light.
You should make this adjustment over 6 weeks to mimic the natural onset of winter.
One of our favorite options is this Zilla Reptile heat bulb.
Leo’s have sensitive eyes and skin, so choosing a light with a lower wattage or UVB rating than you would use for other reptiles is important.
A 10% UVB bulb is the highest percentage of light a leo’s body should be exposed to.
Any percentages higher than this will damage a leo’s eyes and thin skin.
A 5% UVB bulb is a better choice for leopard geckos.
Check out this Lucky Herp UVB bulb on Amazon for a good example.
Most UVB lights do not emit heat, but a mercury vapor UVB bulb will provide heat and light.
While leos receive a limited amount of light during the day due to less activity, it has been proven the reptiles will still benefit from the UVB rays.
UVB rays are important for a reptile to metabolize vitamin D into D3.
This vitamin is crucial for the proper absorption of calcium in a leopard gecko’s body.
Without enough calcium, a gecko will develop metabolic bone disease, a crippling illness usually resulting in death.
Changing the UVB bulbs every six months is crucial, even if the light output seems unchanged. UVB bulbs degrade and become less effective over time.
If your UVB bulb does not also produce heat, you will need to provide a separate heat source, such as the ones listed below.
Other Types of Lighting
Some tube or ceramic fluorescent bulbs will also produce dangerous short-wave UVB rays, which will damage a leo’s eyes.
If you notice your leo is constantly squinting or unable to open its eyes, the lighting in the enclosure is likely to blame.
Avoid using infrared lights because this light is easily absorbed in a leopard gecko’s tissues, causing severe tissue damage.
For a regular heat lamp, the recommended wattage is between 50-75 watts, depending on the ambient temperature of the room where the enclosure is located.
Never rely on natural light shining in from a nearby window.
The glass from the window will block any helpful UVB rays, and the sunlight will also cause the tank to overheat quite easily.
A heat mat, also known as an under-tank heater or heat pad, is placed underneath the enclosure on the warm side.
Repti Zoo’s heating pad is one of the options we recommend.
Belly heat is essential for leopard geckos, as the warmth aids in digestion.
Heat mats work very well for providing heat to the underside of a leo, and they also help maintain a warm temperature in a warm hide.
When using a heat mat, it is very important to control the temperature with a thermostat.
This prevents the heat mat from getting hot enough to cause burns to the gecko.
The thermostat probe should be placed on the bottom of the enclosure directly above the heat mat.
This allows the thermostat to properly gauge the temperature and turn the mat off to prevent overheating.
Heat mats are very effective at heating 20-30 gallon tanks, but you may also need to add another heat source such as a ceramic heat emitter with a larger tank.
The heat mat should cover between 1/3 and 1/2 of the enclosure.
For a 10-20 gallon tank, an 8-watt mat around 8×6″ inches will work well.
For a 25-30 gallon tank, you need a larger mat, around 8×12″ inches.
A larger mat will have a higher wattage to provide adequate heating.
Most heat mats have adhesive to attach to the bottom of the enclosure, and you should avoid moving the mat once you have it in place.
Moving the mat will potentially cause damage to the heating element.
Heat mats also have rubber feet to allow for air circulation underneath them.
If there is not enough airflow under the mat, it may cause the bottom of the tank to crack.
Ceramic Heat Emitters
A ceramic heat emitter is ideal for leopard geckos because it produces heat without using any light.
Because ceramic heat emitters get very hot, it is best to only use them in larger enclosures where a heat mat may not maintain the proper temperature.
Ceramic heat emitters are very useful if the ambient temperature in the room is consistently low.
The heat output of a ceramic heat emitter depends on the distance the heater is placed above the enclosure.
If you decide to use this type of heater, it is important to put it far enough above the cage where the gecko cannot reach it.
This avoids any unnecessary burns to your leo.
The best wattage for a ceramic heat emitter ranges from 100-150 watts, depending on the size of your enclosure.
I love how affordable yet long-lasting this ceramic heat emitter is.
How Is A Thermostat Used In Leopard Gecko Tanks?
A thermostat is a device you attach to your heat source to ensure the heater’s temperature is not getting too hot.
Thermostats will last for a very long time if they are correctly cared for.
It is crucial to make sure your thermostat is compatible with the heat source you are using.
It is advisable to purchase your preferred heat source first and then finding a suitable thermostat.
If the thermostat is overloaded with too many amps or watts, the device will become overloaded and malfunction.
How Do You Take a Proper Temperature Reading?
Thermometers are very helpful in monitoring temperatures inside of the enclosure.
Even if you are using a thermostat on your heat source, temperatures within the tank may still change during the day.
Ensure the temperature on your thermometer matches the temperature setting of the thermostat.
If there is a difference between the two, you will need to adjust the thermostat.
Thermometers which stick to the sides on the inside of the enclosure are the easiest way to monitor temperature changes.
It is best to have one for both the cool side and warm side of the enclosure to get an accurate reading for each side.
Digital laser temperature guns are also available for monitoring tank temperatures.
These temperature guns are easy to use and accurate, although they are best suited to check surface temperatures rather than air temperatures.
For this reason, you may want to use a temperature gun in conjunction with an in-tank thermometer.
Do External Factors Have an Effect on Tank Temperatures?
There are several external factors in your home which will affect the temperature inside of the leopard gecko’s enclosure, and you need to be aware of them.
Space heaters and air conditioning in the home will affect the temperatures in the enclosure.
This is often unavoidable, and you may need to adjust your heat sources following the seasonal temperature fluctuations.
If the enclosure is placed in a drafty location, this may cause the temperatures to be too low.
Placing the enclosure near a sunny window will cause tank temperatures to become too warm.
These factors make it even more important to check your leo’s enclosure temperatures several times during the day.
A slight fluctuation of one or two degrees is not detrimental to your pet’s safety.
Still, if temperatures are more than 2 degrees above or below ideal temperatures, you will need to make the necessary adjustments.
How Do You Keep A Leopard Gecko Warm During A Power Outage?
If you experience a power outage or a malfunction in your heat sources, it is essential to have a backup plan for these emergencies.
A power outage is especially dangerous for a leopard gecko during the winter, as temperatures could drop very quickly.
One alternative is to invest in a portable power generator to keep your heat sources running. Generators are expensive, but they are very durable and should last you a long time.
If you do not have access to a generator, heat packs will keep your leo warm.
Be sure the heat pack is not too hot for your leopard gecko to lay on by wrapping it in a sock or washcloth.
Heat packs typically last for up to eight hours, so it is best to have multiples on hand if your power is out for an extended period.
Using your car to keep your leo warm is another alternative, provided you have enough gas.
Asking a friend or relative who has electricity at their home is another alternative to keeping your leo warm and safe.
If there are no other options and your leopard gecko is ok with being held, snuggling with your pet may be a great way to keep it warm as well.
Commonly Asked Questions
What do I do if the enclosure is too hot?
If your enclosure is getting very hot, it may be necessary to temporarily remove your leopard gecko until you are able to determine the cause.
Double-check the thermostat to ensure it gives a proper reading, and inspect the power cord to rule out a short in the wiring.
Use a thermometer to ensure your thermostat is accurate.
If the enclosure is near a sunny window, it will get too hot, so you should move it to a different room area.
What do I do if the enclosure is too cold?
Colder temperatures are not as immediate of a threat as hot temperatures, so you will not have to remove your gecko from the enclosure.
You should remedy the cause as quickly as possible so your leo does not become lethargic or lose its appetite.
Check your thermostat to make sure it is not set too low and is working correctly.
If adjusting the temperature does not help, there may be a wiring issue with your thermostat or the heat source.
You should also check for any drafts in the room, such as an open window, a ceiling fan, or an air conditioning vent.
If there is a draft near the enclosure, you will need to move it to a different area.
Are heat rocks safe for my leopard gecko?
There has been some debate among reptile keepers about the safety of heat rocks.
The consensus says heat rocks may be hazardous for leopard geckos due to their tendency to overheat.
Heat rocks may have faulty thermostats due to cheap construction, or they may lack a thermostat altogether.
This causes the heat rock to get dangerously hot, and it could easily cause burns to your leo.
Severe burns may even be life-threatening to your leopard gecko.
We encourage you to check out our post covering the safety of heat rocks for leopard geckos in greater detail if you’re considering using one.
How do I know if my leopard gecko is too hot or too cold?
If your leopard gecko is spending a lot of time on the warm side of the enclosure, it is likely too cold.
Conversely, if your leo is constantly staying on the cool side of the enclosure, this is a good indication the animal is too hot.
In either case, you should check the temperature with a thermometer and carefully adjust the thermostat in the enclosure.
Monitor your leo’s behavior afterward and note if it changes.
Other signs your leopard gecko is not being kept at the proper temperature include:
- Loss of appetite
- Straining to defecate
- Excessive digging
- Burn marks on the skin
If your leopard gecko is displaying any of these symptoms, you should seek veterinary care to rule out underlying causes other than improper tank temperature.