Leopard Gecko Care
Some exotic animals kept in captivity, such as giant spiders or scolopendra, may cause instinctive apprehension or even disgust. But small, vividly coloured gecko lizards usually make the most positive impression on adults and children alike.
Eublepharis macularius, better known as the leopard gecko, will certainly become everybody’s favourite. These reptiles emit no odour, they do not cause allergies, and they are not aggressive. Many individuals are so attached to the owner that they easily become hand tame. Who can resist the charm of these curious, friendly, and charming creatures?
Leopard Gecko Appearance
With the tail, a leopard gecko reaches about 30 cm in length (the tail comprises 1/3 of its body). Just like other geckos, these species have a rather large head and a chubby tail. The thicker the tail, the more nutrients the lizard has accumulated.
If a gecko is frightened or in pain, it can drop its tail. It is not critical for baby lizards because they will grow a new one back. For adults, on the other hand, it is a sadder experience since it takes a while to grow a tail and it might not be as beautiful as before.
Geckos’ heads are dotted with numerous granular or polyhedral shields. They have large eyes featuring vertical pupils that look like a thin slit in the daytime and expand at night. Their wide tongues covered with small papillae carry a small notch in front. Leopard geckos feature durable and rough skin that protects their body from rocks and sand. It is smothered with fine granular scales as well as standing-out smooth, keeled or warty scales looking like tubercles or spikes.
Leopard geckos are set on thin, medium-length paws featuring five elongated and rounded toes. Each toe ends with a thin claw that helps lizards walk on soft soil and climb rocks. Their forelimbs have ‘armpits’, the leather pockets the purpose of which is not yet clear.
While nature endowed leopard geckos with a recognized pattern of black stripes and dots on a yellow-gray background, breeders managed to receive a multitude of stunning designer morphs. Yellow, orange, pink, white, black, featuring stripes and spots and without any pattern – there are hundreds of fantastic colourings. Eye colours can also vary from standard greenish to ruby, orange, black, and even marble.
Male leopard geckos are larger than females. They are distinguished by a hefty physique, wide neck, and massive head. Their tails are thicker at the base and feature several preanal pores (tiny yellow-brown V-shaped dots located between the hind legs) as well as bulges behind the cloak.
Leopard geckos belong to the Gecko family, the Eublepharinae subfamily, the genus Eublepharis. They are semi-desert lizards. In the wild, geckos inhabit rocky foothills and semi-fixed sandy lands. This reptile lives on the rocky slopes of low mountains almost devoid of vegetation, in dry and semi-dry steppes. Its homeland is Iraq, Southern Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, and India. They can also be found in East and South-West Asia.
Leopard Gecko As Pets
Leopard gecko is perhaps the most good-natured and friendly reptile. It quickly and easily gets used to people. Geckos rarely strike if you handle them right. However, in moments of aggression, a lizard will greatly swell, hiss, open its mouth, make frightening-croaking sounds, and try to lash out. If you are barely familiar with a lizard, do not to pick it up. Give it a few days to calm down and get to know you better. You shouldn’t handle your reptile too often since it may stress it out. Never grab a leopard gecko by the tail as it can easily come off.
In captivity, geckos are best kept in pairs. Male geckos jealously guard their territory, so there can be only one male in a terrarium. Each male can live with several females. If you are not going to breed geckos, you can accommodate only girls. Female lizards get along quite well.
Leopard gecko care is easy and won’t consume much time. If you feed your pet properly and provide it with good conditions in captivity, its lifespan is going to be from 12 to 20 years. Some leopard geckos even live to be 30.
Housing Leopard Geckos
Leopard geckos are easy to keep in captivity. They descend to the ground only for food, that’s why they need a rather tall than wide terrarium. Because they live in large colonies in the wild, they don’t require much space. If you keep only one lizard, a tank of 30x30x30 cm will do. For each new lizard, you should add 50% more space. If you are a beginning reptile enthusiast, you can go with a starter kit that includes a terrarium and all the necessary care products. Experienced lizard owners tend to set up closures from ground-up, meticulously recreating gecko’s natural habitat.
If you have baby geckos, it is not recommended to house them in a large terrarium. When they turn 6 months old, they start travelling and exploring the area, so you can relocate them into a bigger house.
Unlike other types of lizards, leopard geckos do not have suction cups on their feet. It means you can keep them in terrariums with an open lid if the walls are high enough so that the animal does not get out. However, do not forget that air tends to stagnate in tall tanks so you need to take care of additional ground-level ventilation.
As the bedding, you can utilize peat, coconut fibber, bark, and gravel. Ensure that the substrate is always slightly moist. You can’t use sand because it may enter the digestive track with food and cause serious consequences including poor digestion, stagnation, and obstruction.
The back and/or side wall of a terrarium or vivarium should accommodate a ‘playground’ where your pet can climb, hunt, and play. Twigs, branches, hollow stones, and shelves will serve this purpose. If possible, you can put plant pots to help maintain the necessary microclimate inside the tank. Scindapsus, dwarf creeping ficus, philodendrons, and white-veined arrowroot are suitable for gardening. It’s best to bury the pots in a layer of fine gravel or peat.
Make sure that the gecko has several hiding spots throughout the terrarium, in the cold and warn end alike. Half a coconut or small clay pots have proven to be inexpensive, practical, and environmentally friendly shelters. Alternatively, you can install reptile caves.
Do not forget to set up a place for moulting, the so-called moist hide. It is always placed in the basking spot. These hides should have a consistent humid environment provided by moist moss or wet paper towels.
An enclosure must be kept clean. Geckos are very susceptible to germs accumulating in their homes. Remove leftover food daily and clean a terrarium at least once a week.
Temperature, humidity, and lighting
Since geckos are cold-blooded lizards, they need warmth to digest food. The best option to provide the necessary temperature is bottom heating. You can use either heated mats or floor heating cables spanning across about a quarter of a tank. The temperature at the warm spot should be within 28-32° C while the rest of the enclosure ought to sustain 26-28 degrees. If the ambient temperature does not drop below 22° C, you can turn off the heating at night since moderate temperature fluctuations favourably affect gecko’s well-being. If you have gecko babies under the age of three months, it is best to leave the heating on permanently.
Even though leopard geckos live in semi-deserts in the wild, their terrariums should be sufficiently humid. To keep the humidity at the level of 70-80%, you need to spray the tank 1-2 times a day with warm (40-50° C) water. The soil should be slightly moist. Given the humidity, it is necessary to provide good ventilation. There must be slots in the ceiling and back wall covered with a fine mesh.
Leopard geckos are crepuscular animals meaning they don’t need much light. A regular 25-40W incandescent lamp can be suitable for both lighting and heating. Additionally, you may need a UV lamp since ultraviolet radiation stimulates the synthesis of vitamin D. There are plenty of UV lamps for reptiles on the market. Turn it 10-15 minutes a day to prevent rickets, a skeletal disorder caused by a lack of vitamin D. However, if you provide your lizard with all the necessary minerals and vitamins, you can go without a UV lamp. It is not needed either if you have an albino gecko.
The larger the gecko, the less often it needs to be fed. Lizards of 20 cm in length or more should receive food 2 times a week or 5 times in two weeks. Give them food either in the evening or in the morning, when lizards are most active. The feed should be as diverse as possible and contain all the necessary minerals and vitamins. If you have several geckos, carefully watch that everyone gets food.
Please keep in mind that geckos eat only live insects. They feed on cockroaches, flies, all kinds of worms, crickets, locusts, small spiders, etc. Before serving insects to your pet, you can give them special food for lizards or vegetables to make them more nutritious.
Some adult animals love small pieces of sweet fruit. Make sure you don’t overdo with plant food since it may cause indigestion. During the breeding, you can try to give newborn mice to females.
A newborn leopard gecko may not eat food for a few days. First, it will suck his umbilical cord; then it will eat the skin after the first shedding. Only after that, you can begin to feed it.
Bellow is an approximate diet for a house leopard gecko:
- up to one month: 1-2 times a day, 1-2 small cricket;
- from one to three months: 1 time per day, 2-3 average crickets;
- from three to six months: feed it on alternate days with 2-5 large crickets;
- from six months to a year: 2-3 times a week, 3-6 large crickets at a time;
- from a year and older: 2-3 times a week, 5-10 large crickets at a time.
Leopard geckos enjoy drinking clean still water (unlike chameleons, which need a drinking fountain). They tongue-lap it like kittens. Also, they adore licking droplets of freshwater off plants and the walls of vivarium’s. If you sprinkle the enclosure daily, there is no need in a drinker. However, it will come in handy in case you forget to spray.
Do not worry if the skin of your reptile pet begins to peel off, crack, and whiten, it is just a moulting. Baby leopard geckos moult quite often as they grow quickly, and the old skin becomes too tight. Adult lizards shed once every one or two months while adolescents renew their skin every two weeks. After moulting, geckos tend to eat their old skin.
Normally, the skin peels off almost like a stocking. However, if it is too thin, it may get torn when removed. You need to inspect your pet during each shedding to make sure the old skin came off completely. There shouldn’t be any shreds on the muzzle, ears, paws, etc. If you don’t take it under control, the lizard may end up deaf or without toes. If you noticed any dead skin remaining, moisten it with warm water and remove with a cotton swab.
A good incentive for mating is separate keeping and bringing together for a short time (3-7 days). If a male is interested in mating, he begins to vibrate with its tail. During love games, a male often bites a female, which can cause her minor injuries. If a female is ready for mating, she will not run away or show aggression. However, if she bites and hides in a shelter, it’s best to separate them for a few days and bring together later.
Several days before laying eggs females stop taking food. They start digging substrate or soil looking for a place to lay eggs. A female often wears the first eggs long enough, for about 1.5 months. The rest of the time, she will lay eggs 3-4 weeks after mating.
Geckos normally lay two eggs. If you want them to be safe and sound, you can put the eggs into an incubator. Sometimes, the eggs lie so close that they adhere to each other or stick to the ground. If this happens, don’t try to separate them as this may damage the babies. Do not allow water or condensation to get on the eggs. Never turn over gecko eggs – embryos attached to one of the sides of the shell will choke and die.
The gender of gecko babies depends on the ambient temperature (or the temperature in an incubator if you place eggs there). Males hatch at a temperature of 29.5-32° C after 40-55 days of incubation. At a temperature of 26-28.5° C, you will receive female geckos within 55-70 days after laying. If you keep a mixed temperature, the offspring will be of both genders.