The leopard gecko is a popular pet lizard. As they are hardy, easy to care for, and fairly inexpensive, they make a great lizard for beginners. While it may be tempting to pick up your new reptile pet from the pet stores, or worse pet shop chains, we recommend that you spend a little time searching reputable reptile breeders locally.
Origin and habitat: The common leopard gecko (Eublepharis macularius) are naturally found in the dry rocky desert regions of Afghanistan, Pakistan and parts of northern India and Iran.
Appearance: Leopard geckos have been kept in captivity for many years and from selected breeding are available in a variety of colours and patterns, known as morphs. Wild geckos natural appearance is yellow with black spots.
There are over a hundred different morph types, some more rare and expensive than others. Available morphs include the normal (wild type), albino, blizzard, patternless, high yellow and many others.
Size: From the tip of their nose to the end of their tail leopard geckos can reach approximately 20 to 25cm (8 to 10 inches) in length. Average weight is between 50 to 100g.
Sexual dimorphism: This basically means that the males and females have different characteristics and can be told apart by looking at their bits. Females have smaller pores and do not have external bulges whereas males have preanal pores and hemipenal bulges.
Lifespan: In captivity adult leopard geckos can live for more than 20 years.
Behaviour and temperament: Like many lizards, leopard geckos are solitary and territorial animals. Unless they are breeding, it is not recommended keeping any leopard geckos together and males should never be kept together.
Although leopard geckos are crepuscular and prefer twilight rather than daylight, it is not uncommon for them to come out from their hide during the day to feed and to explore.
Geckos have some catlike characteristics such as stalking their prey and wagging their tails when they are excited.
What to feed your leopard gecko
Diet: Leopard geckos are insectivores and will mainly eat insects and other invertebrates. Eg diet of crickets, mealworms, locusts, roaches, calci/wax worms and other available livefoods. Leopard geckos do not eat vegetable or plants but are sometimes known to eat some small vertebrates eg pinkie mice.
Since you are what you eat. It is recommended that livefoods are “gut loaded” 12 to 24 hours before being fed to your pet. Gut loading is simply the term for feeding your feeder insects rich nutritious food before being offered to your pet. All our livefoods are gut loaded before being sold.
To avoid metabolic bone disease (common health problem with reptiles kept in captivity) you must ensure that their food is supplemented with calcium and vitamin D powder. Similar to adding your own salt to your crisps back in the 80’s, a simple way to dust their food is to put them in a tub or bag with some powder and shake them gently.
While leopard geckos are naturally from a dry desert climate, it is always recommended that they have available a shallow dish of fresh water at all times to avoid dehydration.
Handling leopard geckos
Leopard geckos are typically slow and docile animals and can be handled with care. It is recommended not to handle your pet until it has settled in to its new home. It is also recommended to not handle your gecko too often, especially when it is young.
As geckos are very delicate, always supervise young children when they are handling a gecko. While they are typically slow and docile, if startled or simply want to get away, they will bolt and can easily be dropped as they leap away from your hands.
As they can sustain a serious or even fatal injury from falling, it is always recommended that you handle your gecko while sitting down on the floor or the couch.
Leopard geckos have also evolved a defense mechanism where their tails will break off if caught by it. While this will not cause them any serious harm, it will be stressful and more likely to happen from children who have a tendency to grab things.
Leopard gecko habitat
Since leopard geckos are small lizards and spend most of their lives hidden under rocks and in burrows, unlike bearded dragons, they do not need a lot of space or a basking light. A heat mat controlled by a thermostat is more than sufficient. The small 45cm x 45cm Exo-Terra Glass Terrarium is ideal for an adult leopard gecko which has plenty of ventilation, easy to clean and setup and is heavy enough not to be knocked over by a child or pet dog or cat.
Commercial reptile caves and cork bark can be used to recreate their natural habitat. Sand substrate can also be used, however to avoid any possible intestinal blockages, personally I prefer to avoid any loose substrate and use reptile carpet as a floor covering.
Humidity: Leopard geckos do not need a lot of humidity (20 to 30%) except for shedding when they will need somewhere to get more moisture as required. Water dish or a moist hide filled with damp sphagnum moss. Outside their moist hide, to avoid possible health issues, they should have dry environment.
Temperature: Leopard geckos generally do well at room temperature however if the ambient temperature is particularly cold, to avoid their body temperature falling too much, you should use a heat mat or heat lamps to ensure the temperatures are between 20 to 30°C. It is generally advised with any types of gecko, to create a thermal gradient within their enclosure so that they can regulate their own temperature.
Leopard gecko common health problems
With some common sense you will be able to see if your leopard gecko is healthy or not. A healthy animal will be lively with bright and clear eyes.
Symptoms will include unusual behaviour, not eating or drinking for long periods of time, losing weight, thin tail, dry skin/shedding problems, discharge from eyes/nose/mouth, awkward movement, discolouration or swollen joints.
If you are unsure, or if you think your pet may be ill, it is always recommended that you pay a visit to the vet.
Metabolic bone disease
MBD caused by the lack of calcium and vitamin D is a serious condition and can cause pain and deformities in your pet. As well as dusting your insects prior to feeding, you can also keep a small dish of calcium powder in the cage at all times so that your pet can take however much they need.
Extremely dry skin and shedding issues: Being a reptile, leopard geckos shed their old skin (ecdysis) both when they are growing but also throughout their adult life. However when shedding they are prone to skin not shedding properly and getting stuck, particularly around their feet. While looking fairly ugly, this can also be a real health issue with the risk of toes being lost.
To help mitigate this risk, you should always have a dish of water available in your pet’s enclosure in which they can soak as required. Having a separate hide full of damp moss can also be used. If you notice your pet has dry skin stuck around its toes do not be afraid to help them with a warm bath and some gentle prising.
Is a disease that is usually associated with leopard geckos living in unsanitary conditions. Symptoms include diarrhea, weight loss and loss of appetite. If left untreated this can be fatal so visit a vet.
Such as pneumonia caused by infection in the lungs and respiratory tract. This is a very serious condition causing your pet to have breathing difficulties and if left untreated can be fatal. Visit the vet as soon as possible.
is a leopard gecko right for you?
Leopard geckos are great pets for reptile enthusiasts of all experience levels. They’re small, low maintenance and appealing to watch as they explore their environment. If you want a rewarding pet that will give back little in return but require much less care than other reptiles, leopards might be the perfect choice for you!