One of the critical indicators of a healthy leopard gecko is a vibrant and plump yet strong and flexible tail!
But why are these little spotted lizards’ tails so fat, and what else do you need to know about them?
For example, how do you keep your gecko’s tail in perfect shape, and what happens if your scaly friend “drops” their tail?
Leopard geckos store an ample supply of extra fat and water in their tails. This tends to give the average gecko’s tail a wide, bulky appearance. A healthy leopard gecko’s tail should be about as wide as its head at its widest point.
Keep reading to learn more about your gecko’s adorably chunky tail, the essential purpose it serves, and how to keep it looking healthy.
We’ll also touch on how and why leopard geckos drop their tails.
Should Leopard Gecko’s Tails Be Fat?
Healthy, happy leopard geckos typically share a few visible traits: large, alert eyes, a plump and round (yet not bloated) belly, soft, smooth skin with no stuck shed, short yet strong legs, and, of course, a wide, fat tail!
While baby leopard geckos start life with relatively thin limbs and tails, these fill out significantly over time to eventually give the lizard a more chubby, stout appearance.
But why are leopard geckos’ tails so fat? After all, most other lizards have very long, thin, lightweight, whip-like tails.
This more streamlined tail structure seems better suited to their fast-paced lives, at least for lizards in the wild.
The massive tails of leopard geckos look like they’d be way too heavy to be practical and make locomotion a lot more difficult than it needs to be, right?
Not at all!
It turns out, leopard geckos have large, bulky tails for a distinct purpose.
Essentially, they store an extra supply of fat and water in their tails to survive if they cannot find food or water for an extended period.
Your gecko’s tail is almost entirely made up of fat and water!
In the wild, leopard geckos are native to arid, hot deserts throughout the Middle Eastern countries of Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India.
These unique, hardy lizards have adapted well to these harsh conditions, and their tails help them survive even the harshest of droughts and times when their prey of choice, small insects and spiders, are few and far between.
Think of the fatty humps on a desert-dwelling camel’s back; the leopard gecko’s tail serves a similar function!
Plus, as we’ll cover in more detail below, your leopard gecko can simply “drop” its tail if they encounter danger like a predator looking for a meal!
Incredibly, they will typically regrow a dropped tail within a few short weeks, and they can use this clever defense mechanism as often as they want; their trademark fat tail will always grow back!
How Fat Should a Leopard Gecko’s Tail Be?
Knowing precisely what your gecko’s tail should look like is crucial to keeping your scaly companion in good health.
In general, the widest point of your leopard gecko’s tail should be roughly as wide as the widest point of its head.
If your gecko’s tail is wider than its head, they likely need to lose a few grams of weight.
If the tail is thinner than its head, the gecko needs a more fat-heavy diet to bulk up its tail.
Additionally, visiting your local exotic animal veterinarian is helpful in extreme cases to identify and treat or rule out various illnesses and health issues potentially contributing to the gecko’s weight imbalance.
While baby and juvenile geckos have relatively slender tails at first, they become much plumper as geckos reach adulthood.
It takes time for them to gradually build up their emergency fat supply, so your leo’s tail likely won’t look very pudgy and “filled out” until they’re at least four to six months old.
Baby geckos have faster metabolisms and don’t actively accumulate and store as much fat in their bodies as adults.
Still, even in baby geckos, the tail should never be highly bony, pointy, or otherwise emaciated in appearance.
A thin, weak, bony tail often is indicative of nutritional deficiencies, poor appetite, and possibly other underlying health complications, such as the dreaded “stick tail disease,” which is usually caused by the Cryptosporidium parasite.
How Can I Fatten Up My Leopard Gecko’s Tail?
If your leopard gecko’s tail is too thin, they likely are underweight and need a bit of bulking up via their diet.
Remember, a healthy leopard gecko’s tail should be about as wide as the gecko’s head at each of its widest points.
If the gecko itself and its tail are both very thin, weak, and bony-looking, the gecko potentially has underlying health problems preventing it from building healthy fat and energy storage.
A vet visit should be prioritized for especially weak and underweight lizards, especially if they are experiencing a lack of appetite and aren’t eating often enough (at least twice a week for adults and at least three to four times a week for juveniles).
In the meantime, if your gecko is willing to eat, offer them plenty of fatty insects like waxworms and superworms.
A fattier yet varied diet supplemented with other leaner, high-protein insects like dubia roaches, crickets, and black soldier fly larvae (also known as NutriGrubs) is ideal for gradually bulking up your gecko and their tail.
Remember, the tail is usually the last place a gecko gains weight, so it will take your lizard time to gradually pack on fat in their tail.
Can Leopard Geckos Drop Their Tails?
Leopard geckos are one of many unique lizard species capable of caudal autotomy!
This term refers to the ability to sever or “drop” one’s tail as a self-defense mechanism.
Leopard geckos will drop their tails if a predator is chasing after them or has grabbed ahold of their tail.
When the tail is severed and left behind, the predator gets a small snack as a consolation prize, and the gecko is usually able to scurry off to safety amid the following confusion and chaos.
The severed tail will even wiggle and twitch by itself for up to several hours after being dropped, thanks to its sensitive nerves and rapidly spasming muscle tissue, which further serves as a distraction to these lizards’ many predators in the wild.
If your gecko drops their tail, don’t panic!
Healthy leopard geckos have other fat stores on their bodies, and they are well equipped to regrow their dropped tails as often as they need to.
However, it does take a few weeks for the tail’s fat storage to fully grow back, and excessive tail dropping is stressful and problematic for their health.
Usually, most geckos’ regrown tails will have a slightly different color, pattern, and shape than the previous or original tails.
Read our guide on what to do if your leopard gecko drops its tail to help them heal well.