Leopard Gecko Care Sheet
Leopard Geckos are a fantastic animal to care for. They’re a great “beginner” reptile if you’re branching away from the usual fluffy, furry pets. If cared for properly your geckos can live anywhere from 8-20 years, there are a handful that have been noted to live beyond 20 years.
Let’s get started with what you need to know as an owner of a Leopard Gecko. I will be using Fahrenheit measurements for temperatures as I feel it’s a more accurate scale.
Leopard Geckos are from rocky, dry grassland and solid ground (not sand) desert regions of south-Asian Afghanistan, Pakistan, north-west India, and some parts of Iran.
The temperature in the wild can get up to 104°F, however their preferred temperature is around 90°F meaning that during the day they will likely shelter behind rocks or in the ground. During winter time the temperature can get as low as 50°F. This means that Leopard Geckos will be forced to seek shelter underground and possibly go into brumation – a type of semi hibernation state where they live off of their already existing fat reserves in their tail. They can show signs of this in captivity during winter too.
Leopard Geckos are a crepuscular reptile which means they are most active at dawn and dusk, where the temperature is much for favourable. They will come out to gain warmth from the rocks that the sun has warmed up throughout the day in order to aid digestion as they are a cold blooded species.
Setting Up The Enclosure
The key to getting your Leopard Gecko care up to a high standard where your Leopard Gecko can thrive for over 10 years is the way you set up the enclosure your pet will be living in. Leopard Geckos are a very simple species to look after and their tank setup doesn’t have to be difficult.
A common misconception about Leopard Geckos is that they need a tall enclosure. This isn’t true as they are ground dwellers that need more ground space to roam rather than height to climb (that’s more for Crested Geckos).
In terms of actual space for your Gecko, the minimum size the enclosure should be is 2ft wide, by roughtly 18″ deep – If you’re in America you may work in gallon measurements if so, 20g is the minimum size you should use, similar to the image on the right.
Please Note: It’s strongly advised you only keep one Leopard Gecko per enclosure. More about this topic below.
Leopard Geckos don’t like too much open space as in the wild this would leave them exposed to attack from predators, the same is apparent in captivity. If you use an enclosure that is too big, where you haven’t put plenty of hiding spots in, it can stress your Leopard Gecko out. There is no need to go OTT (Over The Top) with the size of your enclosure, personally the bigest I would go is 3ft (30g).
You’re going to need to set up 3 hides for your gecko as part of your Leopard Gecko Care; a warm hide (placed on the end where the heating element is), a moist hide (usually placed in the middle of the enclosure, slightly toward the warm end) and a cool hide (simply placed in the cooler end of the enclosure). This allows your Gecko to thermoregulate itself as it wishes.
I use the same hides for the warm end and the cool end. It’s an Exo Terra Medium Hide, keeps things simple. They seem quite happy with them. All of the Leopard Geckos in my personal collection have these.
For the moist hide you can just use a plastic tub and cut a good size hole in the roof of it. The best substrate mediums for the moist hide I find are Eco Earth/Coco Fiber or Sphagnum Moss – Especially for females as they can lay infertile eggs and need to dig (more on that later).
Just remember to keep an eye on how moist the hide actually is. We place them slightly towards the heat element so that it creates humidity inside the hide. This is pretty much all the humidity leos need so don’t go over the top trying to get your humidity to ridiculous levels – it’s just not needed and the above is absolutely fine. As condensation is created you need to make sure you’re regularly spraying the medium to ensure moisture is always in there.
Do not spray your Leopard Gecko directly, ever. This can cause RI.
Vivariums, Aquariums, Terrariums… What Should I Choose?
The simple answer is whatever you want. These are the 3 most popular enclosure types that people use for their Leopard Geckos. All of which can be customised to suit your pet’s needs and your personal tastes; as long as it’s safe for the Gecko of course!
Below you can see some examples of all three types:
The Great Substrate Debate
This will always cause arguments on Facebook groups. I’m going to try and be as fair as I can with this one.
Firstly, it is strongly recommended that you do not use loose substrate, especially if you are new to owning Leopard Geckos. These substrates come in the forms of sand, play sand, calci sand, chalk sand, corn cob, litter, aspen, walnut shell and wood chips to name the main culprits. These can cause serious health issues such as impaction. Many people believe keeping geckos on loose substrate and removing them for feeding fixes the issue, however that isn’t the case. Leopard Geckos have a Jacobson’s Organ that means they use their tongue to sense things in their surroundings, meaning they can ingest the loose substrate at anytime.
As noted in the intro to this care sheet, Leopard Geckos are from solid ground deserts. You should use substrates that will simulate this well. Examples of this are the following:
- Excavator Clay – This is probably the best one as you can mould it to whatever you like and is very safe.
- 5mm or 10mm Ceramic Floor Tiles – These along with Slate will hold heat well
- Slate Tiles
- Paper Towel
- Exo Terra Sand Mat (quite safe, no loose parts, can look a bit rubbish as you need to overlap it to get it to fit in your enclosure)
People will argue that “Geckos don’t have paper towel in the wild.”. No, they don’t… But that isn’t the point of using it. They’re in captivity, not in the wild. Paper towel is incredibly easy to clean (along with slate & tile) and is a simulator for the solid ground they would come from in the wild.
To put it simply, Leopard Geckos are a solitary species and should not live with other Geckos, especially males as they will fight to the death (and yes, despite what you’ve read elsewhere, even females should be kept apart). Housing just one Gecko in an enclosure saves you so much hassle. Here are some of the benefits of housing your Leopard Gecko on its own:
- Massively decreased vet bills due to no fighting or bullying
- No chunks of gecko tail/body missing from fighting
- No dominance issues – Dominance issues can cause leos to not eat, drink or digest properly
- A happier gecko with it’s own space
- No unwanted breeding
- No passing on infections/illnesses such as Crypto
In contrast, here are the disadvantages of housing your Leopard Geckos together:
- Fighting for space, food, water and heat
- Dominance – It can look like they’re cuddling, but they aren’t. This is a sign of dominance
- Unwanted breeding/death from over breeding – Males are persistant. They can kill the female if housed together
- Males housed together will fight to the death
- Hightened risk of illnesses and infections to be spread into the group
- Hightened risk of vet visits and bills due to fighting
- Hightened risk of dropped tails that require close care and extra expenditure
- Unhappy geckos that constantly hide away
- Eating each other – yes this is very real, especially if there is a size difference
Decorating The Enclosure
Providing Heating & Lighting For Your Leopard Gecko
Heating is an essential part of your Leopard Gecko Care. Leopard Geckos are ground dwelling, cold blooded reptiles who in the wild, would lay on rocks (usually around dusk) warmed up by the sun during the day. They need the warmth to help them digest their food and function in general.
Heat mats / UTH (Under Tank Heater)
The best way to achieve a similar setup to what they would have in the wild is to use a combination of the following:
- Heat mat / Under Tank Heater (UTH)
- Substrate that holds heat well (tile & slate for example)
- Thermostat – Very, very important. It controls the temperature of the heating element and helps to prevent fires, damage and injury
- Thermometer x 2 – One for the warm end, one for the cool end. Measures and displays the temperature
If you’re using a wooden vivarium, you need to put your heat mat on the floor of the vivarium (on the wood) and then place the tile/slate on top. Even if you’re using Excavator Clay as a substrate you will need to use tile/slate over the mat so that the heat is retained.
If you’re using a terrarium/aquarium (glass bottomed enclosures) you need to put the heat mat under the enclosure, but still put the tile inside and place it directly above where your heat mat / UTH (Under Tank Heater) will be placed. You must make sure that you use rubber feet to lift the enclosures up if you are setting up this way.
You then plug the heat mat into your thermostat and set it to around 90f(32c). Your thermostat’s probe is then placed on (and I would suggest you stick it down) to the tile so that the ground temperature can be read. This essential piece of kit will keep the temperature consistent and help ensure that no over-burn is happening on the equipment – preventing burn injuries to your gecko and fires in your home.
Heating using lights
Sexing Your Geckos
Sexing your Leopard Geckos can be a confusing task with a bunch of varied information on the internet with what to look for and what not to look for. It’s quite simple when you know how and below all will be explained properly so you can get your Leopard Gecko care correct.
Out of the two, males are the easiest to spot when they are the right age or weight. The clear defining part of a male Leopard Gecko is his ‘^’ shape of pre-anal pores between the legs.
While it’s true that both females and males have the pre-anal pores, they are darker, wider and clearer in male leopard geckos when they are around 30g in weight or over 6 months old. To the right is an image showing you what the pores on male will look like.
Another thing that people mention when sexing male Leopard Geckos are the bulges at the base of the tail. The bulges are the hemipenal bulges (no, they are not testicles). The bulges are usually larger on males (y’know, cos they’re males), however females can also have bulges and some can be quite large so please do not use this method alone when sexing your Leopard Geckos.
Compared to above, you can see that females clearly lack in the pore department. They still have pores, but they are much, much smaller.
Health, Diet & Ailments
What Food Should They Eat?
Poop & Urate
MBD (Metabolic Bone Disease)
Is it possible for someone to ID the Morph of my Leopard Gecko?
There’s no simple answer to this, yes & no – depending on circumstances.
If you know the genetics of your Leopard Gecko (usually you only get this information when buying directly from a breeder) then someone can help you understand the morph and how the genetics affect the look/colours/pattern.
If you bought your Leopard Gecko from a pet store, reptile sanctuary, rehomed from someone else or bought online from a preloved pet website (or similar) the answer is no. Unless given specific genetic information on the gecko or the parents of the gecko, your Leopard Gecko will always be referred to as a “Pet Only” (which means you keep it as a pet and should never breed it as the babies would carry unknown recessives. This is incredibly important and there is more about this below). People can tell you the visual genetics, but that’s only half the story. If you’re reading this because you want to breed your gecko, please only purchase and breed Leopard Geckos that have come from a breeder and they have given full genetic information to you when sold to you.
Breeding is a hot topic on forums and facebook groups. I just want to say from the beginning that while anyone can breed Leopard Geckos, it doesn’t mean that you should breed Leopard Geckos. Let’s explore the reason for this below.
All breeding of Leopard Geckos should be ethical and well thought through before you put a male with a female. If you simply put a male and female together without considering health, ailments and genetics then you aren’t breeding in an ethical manner.
All geckos should be in great health, be at least 10 months old (I wait until over a year old personally) and weigh at least 50g in weight (I try and get my geckos to 70g) as producing eggs can take a serious toll on their body.
Breeding Leopard Geckos can cost a lot of money. You need to be able to afford tubs/housing, food, dishes and heating for up to 20 babies per female per season so it’s a good idea to plan everything before attempting to breed them.
You also need to make sure that your Leopard Geckos are genetically compatible. You should never cross the 3 albino strains together, never cross the 2 eye traits together and never cross the snow traits together.
Compatible Genetics and Clarifying the Confusion
The 3 albino traits are Bell Albino, Rainwater Albino and Tremper Albino, they are completely incompatible with each other and if paired would produce “normal” Leopard Gecko babies that carry both recessive albino traits – this muddies the genetic pool and creates geckos that can never be bred from. When working with albino’s in breeding plans you MUST keep it as Bell x Bell, Rainwater x Rainwater and Tremper x Tremper.
The 2 eye traits are Eclipse and Marble Eye. You can pair Eclipse x Eclipse and Marble Eye x Marble Eye but never Eclipse x Marble Eye due to the same reasons above.