Leopard geckos, (Eublepharis macularius), are small, nocturnal, desert dwelling lizards that originated from the Middle East. Adults are generally between 7 to 10 inches in length, and weigh between 50 to 100 grams. Leopard geckos (leos) have an average lifespan of between 10 and 15 years, though some have been known to live well into their 20's. Their ease of care, readiness to breed in captivity, and placid nature has led them to become one of the most commonly kept pet reptiles.
Choosing a Leo:
Once you decide that a leopard gecko is the right pet for you, there are a few things you should consider before purchasing one. Pet store geckos are often times sick and housed inappropriately. You don’t know what you’re getting in terms of genetics, and could end up with an animal who has inherited a genetic disorder. Breeders, on the other hand, should be able to provide you with the history of the animals they breed. They should be willing and able to answer any questions you may have regarding your new pet, both during the purchasing process and afterwards. Leopard Geckos are also sometimes available for adoption, usually through specialty reptile or exotics rescues.
No matter where you decide to get your gecko, look for one with an overall healthy appearance. They should be alert and have clean eyes, nostrils, and mouths. They should have thick tails and should not be bony. Check to make sure they don’t have any missing toes, claws, or damaged tails. Their scales should have a clean appearance and they should not have any retained shed.
For a single leopard gecko, or a pair, a 20 gal. long aquarium will be suitable – a 30 or 40 gal. will be even better. Unlike other gecko species, leopard geckos can not climb glass. However, an aquarium cover will be useful for keeping insects like crickets inside the cage, and for keeping other pets and small children out.
Female geckos of similar size can sometimes be housed together. Sexually mature males should never be kept with other males, as they will fight. If you're planning on breeding, you can keep one male with multiple females, provided that the females are healthy enough to breed. When housing geckos together, make sure to observe their behavior. If one gecko is picking on the others or eating all the food, they should be separated.
Your gecko cage can be set up in a number of different ways. For sub-straight, it’s best to stay away from loose particle sub-straights like sand. Your gecko could accidentally ingest some of the particles, which can lead to impaction. The simplest type of sub-straights are things like paper towels or reptile carpets. Ceramic tiles are both visually pleasing and good for retaining heat.
Your leo will need at least three separate hides – more if you are housing multiple geckos in the same enclosure. You can buy hides, or make your own. Things like tupperware containers with doors cut in them will work just as well as expensive hides sold in pet stores. Like other reptiles, leopard geckos use their environment to regulate their temperatures. Because of this, you should create a temperature gradient in the tank and place the hides in different locations, so the geckos can control their body temperates by moving to different areas in the tank. At least one hide should be placed on the warm side of the tank, and one on the cool side. The third hide should be filled with moist vermiculite, moss, or paper towels. The moist hide will help your geckos shed their skin properly.
Leopard gecko tanks are usually very easy to maintain. The geckos will pick one area of the tank to use as a bathroom. You should spot clean that area as needed, as well as remove any dead feeder insects. The whole cage, including hides, decorations, etc, should be cleaned thoroughly around once a month.
Those are the basics for setting up a leopard gecko tank, but you can make their enclosures as decorative as you want. Themed tanks look nice and can be a lot of fun to create!
Because leos are nocturnal, they don’t require heat lights that mimic the suns rays the way that some other reptiles do. The best way to keep your leos warm is with an under tank heater. You will want to get a heater that is the right size to fit under one half of your tank. This will create a heat gradient, with one side of the tank being warmer than the other.
The temperature range on the warm side of the cage should be 85*F to 90*F. The cool side should not go lower than 70*F. Keep your leo tank in a warm room in your house if possible.
Leopard geckos should have fresh clean water available at all times. Provide them with a shallow water dish that can’t be tipped over.
Leopard geckos eat live insects. Super worms, meal worms, roaches, and crickets are common staples. Additional insects such as wax worms can be given once in awhile as treats. Insects should be “gut loaded” prior to feeding them to your lizards, as well as dusted with a commercial vitamin and mineral powder. To gut load the insects, at least a day before feeding them to your leos you should provide the insects with a commercial gut loading diet, or research how to make your own. The healthy food that the insects eat will be passed on to the geckos when the geckos eat the insects. To dust the insects, put the insects as well as a little bit of the dusting powder (vitamin & calcium powders) into a plastic bag and coat the insects bodies with the powder. Different keepers dust their feeders at different frequencies, so you'll have to find a schedule that works for you.
Calcium is important, especially to breeding females. A small dish of calcium powder should be provided. The geckos will eat powder from the dish when they need it.
Most keepers feed adult leopard geckos every day, or every other day. Make sure to feed appropriately sized insects – the geckos should not be fed insects that are larger than the space on the top of its head between its eyes.
Leopard geckos are one of the easiest reptiles to handle, and very rarely bite. They usually tolerate handling well and are fairly easy to tame.
Remember to handle them gently and with respect, and be careful not to pick them up by the tail. Leopard geckos can drop their tails as a defense mechanism, and although their tails will eventually grow back, the regrown tails almost never look as nice as the original.
Leopard geckos are one of the easiest reptile species to care for in captivity. If you follow the basic care regimen outlined here, your geckos should live a long, healthy life. They are generally a very hardy species, with few health problems if cared for properly. Remember to seek out the advice of a qualified reptile vet if you think your gecko might be sick.
If you have any questions or comments about this care sheet, or gecko care in general, please feel free to contact me either by emailing me at the address listed on my "About" page, or by commenting below!