How to Care for Your Leopard Gecko
Leopard Geckos (Eublepharis macularius) are mid-sized, nocturnal, terrestrial geckos native to semi-desert and arid grassland areas of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and surrounding countries.
Leopard geckos have stout bodies, short limbs, long, narrow digits, a large head, and plump, segmented tails. Unlike most other geckos, they do not have sticky toe pads, and they do have eyelids. Their normal pattern is mustard yellow with copious black spots, hence its common name. However, selective breeding in captivity, however, has resulted in a large variety of patterns and colors (“morphs”).
Leopard geckos are generally docile, tolerant of humans, and fairly hardy. This makes them a good choice for beginners or people looking for a lizard that doesn’t mind handling.
How much space do leopard geckos need?
A single leopard gecko should be housed in no smaller than a 36” x 18” x 16” enclosure, or a 40 gallon tank. Many sources recommend 20 gallons, or even as small as just 10 gallons, but these recommendations are based on outdated standards. 36” x 18” x 16” are the minimum dimensions recommended by experts, although some take it further and recommend 36” x 24” x 24” instead.
In other words, 40 gallons is the minimum, but if you can provide a larger enclosure, they will appreciate it!
Cohabitation (keeping multiple leopard geckos in the same terrarium) is not recommended, and may result in fighting if attempted.
Do leopard geckos need UVB?
Leopard geckos are crepuscular, which means that they are most active at night, particularly around dusk. Technically leopard geckos can survive without UVB lighting as long as they get supplemented with vitamin D3, but the fact remains that they can’t thrive without it. Aside from helping provide a day/night cycle, UVB is also good for your gecko’s overall wellbeing.
It’s best to provide low-strength UVB lighting as part of your gecko’s enclosure. The best UVB bulbs for leopard geckos housed in a 40 gallon terrarium are:
The UVB bulb should be housed in a reflective T5 HO fixture such as the Arcadia ProT5 or Vivarium Electronics. Place the fixture on the basking side along with the heat lamp. The basking area should be 12-14” below the lamp to give your gecko the right amount of UVB.
UVB is blocked by glass and plastic, so you can’t give your gecko UVB by placing its terrarium in front of an open window. This can also make your enclosure dangerously hot by creating a greenhouse effect! Also make sure that the fixture your UVB bulb is in does not have a clear plastic or glass bulb cover.
Lights should be on for 10 hours/day during winter, and 14 hours/day during summer to simulate seasonal changes in day length.
What basking temperatures do leopard geckos need?
Leopard geckos should have a basking surface temperature of 94-97°F, as measured by a digital probe thermometer with the probe placed on the basking surface. Warm hide temperature should be between 90-92°F. There should also be a cooler area on the opposite side of the enclosure that stays between 70-77°F.
Provide heat for your gecko by imitating the sun with a halogen heat lamp placed on one side of the enclosure. Do not use ceramic heat emitters (CHEs), red bulbs, or blue bulbs, as these are not as effective. Place the gecko’s warm hideout/cave below the heat lamp.
For best results, the basking surface should be a flat piece of rock like flagstone or paver stone. The rock also creates a natural source of “belly heat”. This rock should be placed on top of a black plastic box hide to create the warm hide.
If your warm hide isn’t getting warm enough, you can use a heat pad. The heat pad should be a little bit smaller than the hide itself, placed between the warm hide and the basking rock, and connected to a thermostat for safety. Place the thermostat probe inside the warm hide to accurately control temperature.
The heat source should be turned off at night. Nighttime temperatures can drop as low as 60°F.
What humidity levels do leopard geckos need?
Leopard geckos need a low-humidity environment with access to a humid microclimate for best health. Average humidity should be 30-40%, as measured by a digital probe hygrometer with the probe in the middle of the terrarium. However, you will also need to provide a humid hideout lined with moistened substrate or sphagnum moss and placed in the middle of the enclosure.
What substrate is good for leopard geckos?
Substrate covers the floor of your gecko’s terrarium and helps make the enclosure more attractive, but it also helps maintain higher humidity levels and provides something for your gecko to dig in. Solid substrates like slate tile and terrarium mats are popular because of the common myth that geckos will get impacted if housed on a “loose”-type substrate (this only happens when the animal is already unhealthy due to poor husbandry). If you’re nervous, you can certainly use a solid substrate, but they have some significant disadvantages:
- Solid substrates need to be scrubbed frequently
- Solid substrates don’t cushion your dragon’s joints
- Solid substrates offer no enrichment value
It’s ideal to use a substrate that imitates the “substrate” that the reptile naturally lives on in the wild. For leopard geckos, that means it should be sand or sandy soil. It should have small particles, hold moisture well, and be loose enough to dig in.
We recommend the following substrates for leopard geckos:
Substrate should be at least 4” deep and completely replaced every 3-4 months. Remove poop and urates daily, along with contaminated substrate.
What décor can you use in a leopard gecko terrarium?
It’s terribly boring for a gecko to be stuck in an enclosure with nothing in it except substrate and food/water bowls. It doesn’t matter how big the enclosure is if you don’t put things in it for your pet to use and interact with.
At bare minimum, you will need three “caves” for the gecko to hide in. However, it’s best to include other items, such as:
What do leopard geckos eat?
Leopard geckos are insectivorous, which means that they need a diet of insects in order to get the nutrition that their bodies need. How often these geckos need to eat depends on age: Juveniles should be fed daily, and young adults fed every other day/every 3 days. Adults whose tail is fatter than their neck can be fed every 5 days.
One meal should be 2 appropriately-sized bugs per 1 inch of your leopard gecko’s length, or however much they can eat in 15 minutes.
You will also need calcium and vitamin supplements to prevent your gecko from developing a deficiency. We recommend Repashy Calcium Plus LoD, lightly dusted on all of your gecko’s feeder insects.
Of course, don’t forget a small water bowl for your gecko to drink from! Change the water daily and scrub the bowl with a reptile-safe disinfectant weekly, or whenever it becomes soiled.
Do leopard geckos like to be handled?
Few reptiles actually “like” to be held, but leopard geckos tolerate it well. Don’t grab the gecko from above — instead, approach from the side and scoop from below. Support as much of its body as possible, especially its feet. Start with very short handling sessions in the beginning, then gradually make them longer as your gecko becomes more accustomed to you.
*This care sheet contains only very basic information. Although it’s a good introduction, please do further research with high-quality sources to obtain additional information on caring for this species. Here are some great sources we recommend: