All about the leopard gecko
Leopard geckos are one of the most popular pet lizards due to their manageable size and friendly temperament. Nearly all leopard geckos available in the US have been captive raised for multiple generations, making them not only an an excellent choice for the beginner, but also an environmentally responsible decision. Since they are widely captive raised and have no set breeding season, leopard geckos are readily available year round.
Leopard geckos are one of the largest gecko species, reaching around 8 or 9 inches in length. The wild type, aka “normal” leopard gecko, is yellow with brown-black spotting as an adult. Juveniles tend to have striped patterns that fade with age. Unlike other geckos, leopard geckos do have eyelids. They are also completely terrestrial, lacking lamellae on the toe pads that allow other gecko species to walk up vertical surfaces.
The average lifespan of a leopard gecko is around 12-15 years, although some have reportedly lived more than 25! Given their longevity, much thought is in order prior to deciding to purchase a leopard gecko.
What kind of home do they need?
The most common type of housing for leopard geckos is an aquarium. The minimum size should be a 20 gallon long tank, which can house one to two geckos. Ensure that you only have one male per enclosure, as males are very territorial and will fight each other.
Although leopard geckos are nocturnal and many believe there is no benefit from UVB lighting, we always recommend some low range UVB. One scientific study found that the exposure of UVB reduces the production of harmful cortisol and increases dopamine. Aside from a low emittance UVB bulb, you may also need an infrared heat bulb or ceramic heat emitter to provide the necessary basking area.
Many different substrate options are available. You can use cage carpet, sand, millet, or even paper towels. Care should be taken when using millet or sand, even “digestible” calcium sand, as these can be accidentally ingested by the gecko and can cause obstruction. The addition of rocks, logs and other decor can make an environment more enriching. Small succulent plant species can be used to add a touch of life and color to the desert set up.
It is also important that your leopard gecko have two separate hiding places within his terrarium – one dry and the other wet. The wet hide can be moistened with damp paper towels or moss, and will most likely become the preferred hide for the gecko, as this type of hide loosens the skin for shedding.
Feeding a leopard gecko
Feeding your leopard gecko can be an exciting experience. Being insectivores, they prefer to hunt their prey. Active leopard geckos will wiggle the end of their tails while locking in on prey before an ambush. Good food choices are crickets, dubia roaches, hornworms and phoenix worms. Wax worms are a nice treat, but are high in fat, and mealworms have a crunchy exoskeleton that can be difficult to digest. It’s best to alternate food items to enrich the diet and prevent boredom in all animals. All insects should be gut-loaded (given enriched food) and dusted with a calcium and vitamin supplement prior to feeding. A small dish of calcium powder should also be made available in the cage to help meet the needs of these geckos. Although they drink little water, leopard geckos should be provided with clean, fresh drinking water daily.
Handling and Temperament
Geckos have the distinguishing trait of a tail that falls off if they feel truly threatened – and that’s what we want to avoid! Be sure to always handle your gecko gently, and if a child is handling the gecko, make sure an adult is present and watching. It is never a good idea to leave very small children unattended with a reptile. Pick the gecko up by his midsection, never by the tail, and let him stand on one of your hands while the other hand cradles him protectively. You can allow him to walk forward on your hands, letting the other hand catch him as he walks.
Leopard geckos are generally quite docile, and will allow you to pick them up without much resistance. It is still good to make sure you do not chase the gecko around his enclosure or aggravate him too much if he is frightened, as this can lead to dropping the tail. If your gecko’s tail falls off, it will take some time to grow back, and they often grow back misshapen.
All reptiles carry a slight risk of salmonella. It is easily preventable, as long as proper handling and hygiene are observed when handling your gecko. Salmonella is only carried through the fecal matter of reptiles, so as long as you avoid handling this directly, it should not be an issue. This is another reason it is so important to observe children handling a reptile. Make sure to talk to your children about not putting any animals near their mouth and washing their hands properly.
Is a leopard gecko right for me?
Leopard geckos are great for someone who has never had a reptile before, as their care is fairly simple! They can also make great pets for children or teens, but make sure an adult is present when the gecko is being handled by a child. They are generally even-tempered and calm, another reason they work so well for first-time herpetologists. Anyone interested in reptiles will be fascinated by the “hunt” for crickets at each feeding. Furthermore, they’re charming, come in a wide variety of colors, and never get too big – perfect for the reptile lover who isn’t quite ready for something as large as a bearded dragon or a kingsnake!
Possible health issues with leopard geckos include accidental ingestion of substrate, losing the tail, or calcium deprivation. They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and it’s always best to provide adequate nutrition and housing to your gecko so the risk of health problems is reduced. As with any pet, it is of the utmost importance to seek veterinary care at the first sign of something wrong. We at Fauna recommend the Center for Avian and Exotic Medicine (see below for contact information). We are always happy to take your calls with any questions, and we will try to do our best to help you, but we are unable to provide all the necessary services a veterinarian can.
The Center for Avian and Exotic Medicine
562 Columbus Avenue (at 88th Street)
New York, NY 10024
Leopard Gecko (Eublepharis macularius)
First encounters with reptiles can often be frightening for some. Leopard geckos are friendly and easy to handle, making them the best choice for first-timers.
(Tangerine Tremper Albino het Radar)
An example of the vast array of color morphs in Leopard Geckos.
Leopard Geckos are not only popular due to their gentle dispositions, but also come in a wide variety of color morphs like this beauty!
White & Yellow Leopard Gecko
This stunning dominant color morph has a high concentration of white or yellow. Some features are high white on the sides, a large white band at the base of the head, dorsal striping and bright white tails.
Tangerine Enigma Leopard Gecko
This tangerine enigma leopard gecko (Eublepharis macularius) lives up to his name with his bright orange shade. Leopard geckos make great pets, especially for children or those looking to get their first reptile, as they are generally tame and easy to handle. Leopard geckos have a seemingly endless number of different color combinations and varieties, making each pet truly unique. They also happen to be a great option for the prospective breeder, as they are quite prolific. “Leo”s are insectivores, requiring calcium-dusted crickets or phoenix worms among other types of insects, and need a daytime basking spot of around 90º to 95º. They’re lovely, companionable little reptiles.
Leopard Gecko (radar morph)
This morph is called “radar.” Leopard geckos are great pets for any level of reptile keeper. They are calm and easy to care for. There are also many different morphs and color patterns available. At this time, Fauna has a wide variety of leopard geckos. Come in and check them out!