If you are leaning toward buying a leopard gecko, congratulations. These little creatures are absolutely adorable. And, while they have some complexities with their care, overall they are a fairly easy species to keep.
Before we jump into what you need to do to ensure a safe and comfortable life for your soon-to-be new buddy, let’s take a little bit of a look into what you are about to responsibility of.
Eublepharis macularius is the scientific name for a common leopard gecko.
They get their more easily remembered “leopard” moniker due to the most common of the species touting yellow bodies with black spotting, much like a leopard. There are many various morphs or “paint jobs” though, so not all of them have the same coloration.
They almost all have white bellies though.
If you think you are set on buying one, understand that a leopard gecko lifespan is fairly long. They can live up to twenty years in captivity, though the average is closer to fifteen.
Leos are native to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran meaning their natural habitat is desert-like (note: this does not mean they live in and on sand full-time). Understanding where they come from will help you better understand how to properly care for them.
Proper Tank Setup
Unlike many more common pets like cats and dogs, you are not going to be able to have your new cute leopard gecko free roam around your house. It will need its own special tank that keeps it safes and more closely mimics its natural habitat.
Getting everything prepared before your make your purchase is important. You want them to have a nice home to move into so they can get acclimated as quickly as possible.
The tank, also referred to as an enclosure or terrarium, is step one in getting your new buddy’s home prepped. First and foremost, size matters.
While your baby leopard gecko might look super tiny at only four to five inches in length, if properly cared for they will grow to more than double that size in under a year. So, keep that in mind.
Unlike other geckos, leos also do not have stick pads on the toes. They are terrestrial. That means they need a lot of space for walk around.
Most reptile keepers agree that at a minimum you will want what is called a 40 breeder or 40 gallon breeder tank. This size will allow you to place the proper accessories and ensure you can get the climate set up properly.
What goes inside?
Having a tank is only part of the equation. You also need to get the interior ready.
1. Starting at the bottom, you will need a substrate. You can go one of two paths, traditional or bioactive.
A traditional substrate is something like reptile carpet, tiles or even paper towels. But, make sure you don’t use sand or calci-sand as that can cause health problems.
The pros of going this route are that setting it up is very simple and relatively cheap. The downside is that it requires frequent cleaning.
Going with a bioactive substrate means you will basically recreative an outdoor environment inside your gecko’s terrarium, complete with soil, living plants, and a variety of bug that make up the cleanup crew.
The pros with going the bioactive route are that you get a very natural and beautiful setup and while it requires some maintenance it basically takes care of itself. That means less gecko waste clean up. The cons are it can be a bit more expensive in the beginning and getting things just right might take a couple of weeks.
2. Your leopard gecko is going to want some privacy. Setting up a couple of private places inside that tank will help create a stress free environment.
In the reptile world, these places are called hides.
At a minimum, your leo is going to need two hides. One of them should be warm and semi-humid and the other should be a bit cooler but much more humid. The semi-humid hide is the one you’ll often see them relaxing in, while the high humidity hide is there for assisting shedding.
There are plenty of fabricated hides to choose from, or you can get creative and make you own.
3. Having substrate and hides is a good start, but if your want your buddy to thrive and not just survive, giving him or her something else to explore can go a long way.
Think about adding some plants if possible. You can find natural pieces of cork for them to crawl on and around to give them different textures to explore.
Have some fun with making the tank an interesting place for your gecko to crawl around.
4. One of the most important internal features of your tank is going to be the basking spot. Because leopard geckos are cold blooded, they need an external heat source. But, a heat lamp isn’t enough.
Unlike some other reptiles, they soak up the heat from their bellies. That means they need a nice warm surface to hang out on.
Basking spots are generally higher up than hides, and sometimes they are directly on top of them. Smooth surfaces make regulated the heat heat easier as well. So, something like slate or faux slate are very common.
5. You also need to supply clean drinking water. You want a shallow dish as the are not amphibious. Some people like to use feeding dishes too to make sure the various insects don’t run around all over the tank.
6. You also want to ensure your gecko gets around twelve hours of light per day. That means it also gets around 12 hours of darkness, so skip the heat bulbs that emit visible light no matter the color.
What about a heat lamp?
Yes, you are going to need a heat lamp. As mentioned above, you will need to set up an underbelly basking spot. And, that will need to fall within a certain temperature range.
Without a heat lamp, it’s almost impossible to maintain a steady stable range.
A quality heat lamp will allow you to keep that basking spot somewhere between 90 and 95 degree Fahrenheit. It will also help keep the rest of the enclosure above the 70’s.
Most people like to keep the lamp on one side of the tank so that there is a temperature gradient. When you gecko wants to warm up then can go to the warm side and when they want to cool down they can go to the cool side.
Do I need a UVB bulb?
There’s a little debate over this topic, but most owners claim that using a UVB bulb has yielding results. They claim they can see that their leopard gecko is much more lively when a UVB is used compared to when it isn’t.
Choosing the right bulb can be a bit confusing since there is a variety of types to choose from, but you leo will do best with something like 5% T8 or T5 bulb.
These will need to be changed more often than your heat lamp too at about every 6 to 12 months.
What about humidity?
We mentioned temperatures a bit when talking about basking and heat lamps, but you need to try and maintain the right humidity inside the enclosure too.
This isn’t also easy as different parts of the tank might be vastly different humidities, so it’s very highly suggested to use a couple humidity gauges in different locations.
In general, most of the tank should be around the 30-40% mark. But, the humid hide can be much more humid as that will allow for much easier shedding.
Diet and Feeding
Setting up your pets new home is only part of what you need to know to properly care for a leopard gecko. You also need to maintain a healthy diet.
That means knowing what to feed them and how often to do so.
Leos basically get all of their nutrition from insects. Here is a list of some of the more common ones:
- dubia roaches
They can also eat wax worms and horn worms as a special treat once in awhile.
Now, just because they can eats these doesn’t mean your will. Some will be picky eaters and may only like worms and hate crickets. While some might love mealworms but hate superworms.
How much should I feed them?
This depends on if you have a juvenile or an adult. If they are under a year old they really should eat once a day almost every day. You can do six days a week if you notice them getting too chunky, but that rarely happens with juveniles.
A full gowns one that is over a year old can eat once a day three to four days a week. Just keep an eye on their weight and their tail. A thick tail is great, but a thin tail means they are not getting enough nutrition.
When you feed them, you will want to use the right size insects. For example, mealworms can usually be purchased in three to four different sizes: small, medium, large and extra large. Some place with have extra small too.
Babies would get the smallest available and a full grown adult can generally eat extra large. If you choose the right size, then the number of worms will be fairly consistent.
So, a four or five month old leopard gecko might be OK with medium mealworms while a baby would need small. They both can eat about eight of the correct size in one feeding. The same goes for crickets.
Dubia roaches are however much more nutritious so three or four should do the trick.
You may have heard or read the term dusting when people discuss a leopard gecko’s diet. That term simply means you coat or dust their food with some nutrients. Think of it like Shake and Bake chicken.
One common health condition they can suffer from is called metabolic bone disease or MBD. To make sure you avoid this problem, you’ll want to provide calcium.
There are two types and you will want to incorporate them both: calcium with D3 and calcium without D3. You should also use a reptile multivitamin.
Dusting worms or roaches once a week with each of the three supplements above should do the trick. But, don’t mix them altogether on the same day.
Sometimes your gecko can take in too much calcium and they will get little puffy sacs in the arm pits. If that happens, just skip a day or two of calcium until their body absorbs the excess that they’re storing.
Leopard geckos make wonderful pets. They aren’t the most difficult to take care of, but they do require some TLC.
They are adorable, they are generally OK with some light handling if you work with them, and they’ll be with you a long time if cared for properly.