What Is A Leopard Gecko

If you’re looking for a small but fun lizard pet, the leopard gecko may be for you.

Leopard geckos are adorable small reptiles easy to care for, and they make common pets for many.

Before you rush off to the pet store, you need to look into what is a leopard gecko.

In this article, we’ll dig into this pet’s care needs and other useful information for owners to know. 

When you’re done reading this article make sure to come back and read our post on the best pet lizards.

Table of Contents

Description Of The Leopard Gecko

The leopard gecko is part of the infraorder of geckos in the world. 

The leopard gecko refers to a specific species of gecko.

Ironically, though this is the most common pet gecko, it lacks a few very common features other geckos share.

The full scientific name of the leopard gecko is Animalia Chordata Reptilia Squamata Gekkota Eublepharidae Eublepharis Macularius.

This is a ground lizard found in hot and typical dry areas such as the highlands of Asia, Afghanistan, and northern India.

This genus of gecko is a little different from the standard gecko as it has moveable eyelids and lacks toe pads.

This makes sense given the flat, grounded environments they tend to live in. 

They do not need the extra grip to climb smooth surfaces, as many other geckos do. 

The adult leopard gecko grows between 7″ – 11″ inches (27.94 cm) in length. 

They have brown colorations in the wild, though they tend to have brighter colors in captivity.

Leopard geckos have short legs and a thick tail. 

This tail can detach itself if the gecko is captured, and it will grow back.

However, the tail won’t grow back to the full size of the previous one and looks stump-like in its shape.

On average, the leopard gecko lives around ten years in captivity, but it’s not unheard of for them to live up to 20 years or longer in rare cases.

Habitat

In this section, we’ll discuss the habitat needs of the leopard gecko. 

First, we’ll look at their natural homes and then how we emulate this with their cages. 

Habitat In The Wild

As mentioned before, leopard geckos are naturally found in the dry, hot, rock, and grassy areas of the world:

  • South-Afghanistan
  • Pakistan
  • North-West India
  • Iran

During the day, these critters absorb and store energy while hiding in burrows or other areas. 

At night, they come out to hunt out insects.

The day time temperatures get warm, but the gecko doesn’t go outside to back as diurnal reptiles do.

Their main method of life is staying on the rocky or grassy ground and digging holes to escape and rest.

These areas get winters as well, which dip temperature down to 50° degrees Fahrenheit (10° C) at times.

As with many other reptiles, when this happens, leopard geckos go into a state of brumation similar to hibernation, where their bodies slow down and rest until the warm weather returns.  

Enclosure Size And Material

The goal for captivity enclosures is to provide all the same elements their natural habitats do.

For size, an adult leopard gecko needs a 10-gallon terrarium. 

A better choice would be a 20-gallon enclosure.

The tank should be longer than it is tall. 

Remember, these are ground-dwelling reptiles.

The walls of the tank are fine if made out of plastic material or glass.

Glass tends to be better as it retains heat and is more durable.

The top of the tank should be a screen. 

The geckos don’t climb as much, so you don’t need to worry about escape.

Still, make sure the lip is on tight.

Screens are essential for leopard geckos as it provides adequate airflow to prevent respiratory infections.

Other features to consider with enclosures are: 

  • Easy to access doors
  • Places for cords to be run
  • Durability
  • Price

Temperature

Though the leopard gecko comes from a hot environment, these are nocturnal creatures. 

They store energy during the day, but they rarely come out.

The ground level temperature of the enclosure should be at 90° degrees Fahrenheit (32° C).

The air temperature above the ground should be above 72° degrees Fahrenheit (22° C).

Hitting these two temperature marks will keep your leopard geckos happy.

During the day, use a low watt bulb at the top of the tank. 

Keep it on 12 hours during the day and then shut it and the other heaters off at night.

Place the bulb to one side of the tank. 

This allows the leopard gecko to have some variety in the temp levels if it needs to regulate its body temperature.

The most common source of heat for the leopard gecko needs to come from a heating pad or heating mat.

This is stored under the substrate of the tank and evenly heats the air from the ground. 

It’s also what gets the unique warmer ground temps the gecko needs.

Some people advocate for heating rocks.

This is a poor choice and puts your pet in danger. 

The heating rocks are often hot to touch; your gecko may get burnt and injured if it comes into contact with it.

Lighting

Due to their nocturnal nature, leopard geckos don’t have a UVB need, as many other reptiles do. 

No UVB bulb is needed to keep them healthy.

The low watt regular bulb kept on during the day will help simulate the sun and keep the leopard gecko’s day-night cycle regular. 

Humidity

As they come from a naturally dry environment, the leopard geckos don’t need high humidity. 

Their bodies will react poorly to high humidity and may develop respiratory issues.

Using a good hygrometer, keep the humidity between 10-30% relative humidity.

To keep the humidity down, you may need to use a small dehumidifier for the tank or a room dehumidifier for the room you keep your pet in.

You won’t have a problem keeping the humidity up. 10-30% is quite low. 

Substrate

Leopard geckos enjoy digging and messing with the substrate. 

Here are some safe options you may want to consider:

  • Newspaper
  • Reptile carpet
  • Pea gravel
  • Flat stones
  • No covering

Water Dish

A small and shallow water dish should be in the cage at all times.

The water shouldn’t be deep enough to submerge the gecko. 

They’ll drink and bathe in the water to absorb moisture. 

Furniture

Leopard geckos aren’t big climbers, so you don’t need to worry about this. 

You do need to provide a hide box for the gecko to rest in.

On top of this, low pieces of wood and rocks make good furniture for the gecko to move around. 

Brumation

As with all reptiles, the leopard gecko is cold-blooded. 

This means its energy-levels are directly related to the ambient temperature in the air.

During winter months, the temperatures will drop to 50° degrees Fahrenheit (10° C). 

This puts the critter into brumation.

Brumation is much like hibernation.

The leopard gecko won’t eat or drink much at all, and they’ll stay motionless for long periods.

Brumation is scary to new owners, but this is a normal part of their life cycle, and it happens yearly.

Even in captivity, the lizard will force itself into brumation once per year.

When you notice a lessening of movement, eating, drinking, and pooping, you will need to lower the temperature to 65° – 70° degrees Fahrenheit (18° – 21° C). 

Still provide food and water, but less frequently.

If you’ve ruled out other signs of illness, this is brumation. 

You just need to wait it out.

It can take anywhere from 3 weeks to 2 months.

As the leopard gecko starts to move and eat more often, slowly raise the temperature back to normal and give it as much food as it will eat the first few days. 

Shedding

Shedding is a normal part of the leopard gecko’s life. 

When they shed, their skin turns white and loose.

Over a few hours or a day, the skin will disconnect, and the gecko will shake itself out of the old skin.

Adult geckos tend to shed every 2-4 weeks. 

Younger leopard geckos shed more often even as often as every couple of days.

This is due to the faster growth cycle of young leopard geckos.

During and before shedding, the leopard gecko won’t eat as much and may seem irritated with everything. 

This is normal.

There’s nothing you need to do to help shedding along. 

Trying to pull the skin off too early may injure the gecko. 

In most cases, you won’t need to do anything at all.

However, if there are still pieces of skin on the gecko more than a day after the rest has been shed, it’s time to help.

Use a shed aid spray or water to moisten the old skin. 

Then pull it off gently with your fingers or tweezers. 

Behavior

The leopard gecko is known for its docile nature. 

It tends to move most of the time slowly, but many owners describe it as having a perky personality.

They also vocalize at certain times, such as when hungry. 

This makes their behavior perfect as an engaging and good beginner reptile pet.

Here are some of their common behaviors. 

Tail Shaking

The tail is the key to most leopard gecko behaviors. 

It’s the first line of communicating (and defense).

Slow tail wagging is typically a way to let other leopard geckos know they’re there. 

Twitchy or another type of tail wagging is used by males to indicate a willingness to mate with a female.

Aggressive shaking or rattling is a big sign to watch for.

This is the gecko telling everyone it feels threatened, and it may attack to defend itself.

Tail Detaching

Leopard geckos are known for their tail detachment properties.

When trapped by the tail, the leopard gecko can dislodge its tail. 

This tail will then continue to wiggle for up to 30 minutes.

Its job is to distract the predator long enough for the gecko to getaway.

The tail does grow back, though usually a little shorter than before. 

The colors and patterns also won’t match what it used to be.

The tail also serves as the place for the gecko to store water and fats for when food is hard to come by. 

Head Shaking

Head shaking or swaying is a common behavior. 

It’s usually done with eating.

When the leopard geckos catch food to eat, it shakes its head back and forth to help the food down its digestive tract.

This behavior won’t occur with small foods as often, so make sure you’re only giving small insects to the reptile.

Still, this is a normal behavior even with correctly-sized food, so don’t stress out about it.

If you see this behavior along with chirping, this is either a sign of hunger or something is stuck inside their mouth.

Do a quick visual check if you think it’s the latter. 

Chirping And Squeaking

Leopard geckos can get quite vocal. 

This is part of what makes them such adorable pets.

The vocalizing is a catch-all behavior when it needs extra attention.

If it feels threatened, the quick tail wagging and louder squeaks indicate a desire to scare a predator off and a warning of impending bite.

The smaller and softer chirps may also be a sign of stress. 

This could warn other geckos of the danger.

This behavior on its own and with head swaying may also be a sign of excitement for a meal.

Leopard geckos enjoy eating and learn to associate you with food rather quickly.

Don’t be surprised if the little guy starts chirping like crazy when it sees you. 

Glass Surfing

Glass surfing is a common reptile behavior. 

It’s a term used when the reptile tries to climb up the walls of its tank repeatedly and in an alarming manner.

The gecko may throw itself against a single wall or travel around the tank testing for ways out.

The behavior shows it needs something, but not exactly why.

In most cases, with leopard geckos, this is a sign of high levels of hunger.

The gecko is attempting to get out and find food.

Make sure you’re feeding this pet according to our recommendations below.

Glass surfing is also an indication the temperature may not be right.

Look above at the habitat section for more information.

Some pets will glass surf if they feel extremely threatened, such as when another predator is near the tank, such as a cat or dog.

Hiding

Leopard geckos often hide as well. 

They’re small for the environment and need to protect themselves by hiding.

As nocturnal animals, they spend all day hiding, become active at twilight and early evening, and then go to sleep later in the evening as well.

They also hide to cool down and rest.

Due to the nocturnal nature, geckos need to conserve energy to be active during cooler times. 

To do this, they store up there all the rest of the time.

Even when they do move, it’s usually slow.

Biting

Leopard geckos aren’t known for biting. 

Even when stressed, they’re more likely to drop their tails and run and hide.

Still, they can bite if threatened enough. 

Look for quick tail wagging and chirping as a sign.

Their teeth are sharp and may draw blood if they bite.

But even when handled, this is unlikely.

Geckos have 100 small teeth, and they replace them all every 3-4 months.

Watch for their body signs and behavioral cues to avoid this problem.

Health

Leopard geckos, like all pets, do have certain health problems, life spans, and sizes you need to be aware of before you become a pet owner.

Lifespan

Leopard geckos have a fairly long life span.

Typically, in captivity, they’re expected to live between 6-10 years.

This is the average, but it’s also common for them to reach between 10-20 years, with 20 years being the highest most will reach.

The oldest leopard gecko in captivity was still breeding at 27.5 years of age. 

Size

Leopard geckos aren’t large for reptiles.

As adults, the males will reach between 8″ – 11″ inches (27.94 cm) in length. 

Females will be smaller at 7″ – 8″ inches (20.32 cm).

When first born, leopard geckos are usually 2.8″ – 4″ inches (10.16 cm) in length from nose to tail.

It takes a year before the leopard geckos are sexually mature and fully grown.

As most reptiles will, the leopard gecko will continue to grow (although slowly) throughout the rest of its life. 

Common Health Issues

Here are some common health issues to watch for with leopard geckos. 

Metabolic Bone Disease

Metabolic bone disease is the most common illness in pet reptiles. 

It’s essentially a worse form of a calcium deficiency.

The bones of the reptile may break or deform easily. 

In the worst cases, the gecko will die.

Keep a calcium-rich diet as we outline below to avoid this. 

Respiratory Issues

Leopard geckos have a risk of developing respiratory issues. 

To avoid this, the cage should be kept open air on top, and the humidity should be kept down.

It’s also important to spot clean for droppings daily. 

Gastroenteritis

Unique to geckos is the higher risk for stomach problems. 

Healthy and fresh foods are the best way to avoid this disease, as indicated by loose dropping and losing weight.

Fortunately, this disease is treated easily and quickly if caught early. 

Signs Of Illness

  • Lack of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Lack of movement
  • Loose dropping
  • Visible injuries or lumps
  • Paralysis
  • Deformities
  • Lying flat for prolonged periods
  • Mucus and discharge around the nose or eyes
  • Difficulty breathing

Diet

Feeding geckos is simple if you know what you’re doing. 

These reptiles are carnivores and eat almost exclusively insects.

In captivity, you’ll want to stick with crickets or mealworms as their main source of food.

Leopard geckos should be fed every other day.

When they eat, their owners should feed them two insects for every inch they are long.

If your adult gecko is 8″ inches (20.32 cm) long, they need to eat 16 crickets every other day.

The insects should be smaller than the distance between the gecko’s eyes. 

This prevents choking and constipation.

To make sure the gecko is getting all the nutrients it needs, you need to provide vitamin supplements with every meal.

This comes in two forms: gut loading and sprinkles powder.

The powder goes over the insects before you feed them to the gecko. 

This is a fine way to get nutrition, but it’s less effective than gut loading.

Gut loading is where you feed the insects a nutrient-packed meal 12-24 hours before giving them to the gecko.

Either option works well, but you need to do one of these every single meal. 

Care

Caring for leopard geckos is easy. 

These little guys are tough and not prone to too many health problems. 

Handling

Leopard geckos take to being handled fine. 

Just watch for signs of irritation and stress, such as rapid tail wagging.

Move your hand slowly up to the gecko from in front of it. 

Scoop your hand underneath and hold firmly onto the gecko’s body (not the tail!), so it doesn’t fall.

Wash your hands before and after handling them.

Cleaning

There are different levels of cleaning you need to take care of with this kind of pet.

Every day, you need to spot clean and pick up droppings in the tank. 

Leopard geckos tend to go in one place in the tank.

Every week, you need to take out any furniture you put in the tank and wipe it down with a pet cleaner. 

Make sure to rinse it off before returning it to the tank.

Once per month, you need to remove the gecko, substrate, and everything in the cage and wipe and clean everything in the tank. 

Reproduction

Leopard geckos can reproduce once they’re a year old.

Unlike other reptiles, leopard geckos breed in the summer. 

The males will seek out a female and indicate a willingness to mate with the female.

If she accepts, they will copulate 1-3 times in succession.

The female can store the sperm inside for the rest of the breeding season.

Once the eggs are fertilized, it takes 21-28 days before the eggs are laid. 

She lays them in clutches of two eggs.

A female may lay 6-8 clutches in one breeding season.

The female leopard gecko won’t lay the eggs without a high amount of calcium inside her.

Once she lays her eggs, it takes 45-60 days for the eggs to hatch.

Leopard gecko eggs seem to gather moisture on the outside and collapse in on themselves right before they hatch.

This is a good sign.

The baby geckos have an egg tooth meant for breaking out of the egg, which falls off soon after being born.

The breeder may artificially choose the leopard gecko gender.

During the first two weeks after the eggs are laid, the temperature determines what sex the gecko will be when born.

Females are more likely to be born from temperatures of 79° – 84° degrees Fahrenheit (26° – 29° C). 

Males are more likely to be born from 88° – 91° degrees Fahrenheit (31° – 33° C).

Interestingly, if you increase the temperature to 93° – 95° degrees Fahrenheit (34° – 35° C) the geckos will be born female again.

These females are hormonally different from the others and are typically more aggressive. 

They also are often infertile.

Incubating eggs at a higher temperature than this will result in a stillbirth. 

The gecko won’t be able to develop and will die. 

Needed Supplies

  • 20-gallon (75.71 L) tank with an open screen top
  • Clean rock substrate or liner
  • Heating pad
  • Low watt light
  • Thermometer and hygrometer
  • Hide box
  • Other furniture like wood and rocks
  • Shallow water dish
  • Calcium / Vitamin supplement
  • Crickets / Mealworms
  • Shed aid spray

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