Geckos 101: Basic Leopard Gecko Care (Housing, Diet, Natural History)
The All-Time Favorite
For over 30 years, Leopard Geckos have been one of the most commonly kept reptile species, as well as the most popular gecko species. Even today, their popularity has not died down for obvious reasons. Leos, as they are affectionately know as, are one of the best species for those new to keeping reptiles due to their generally calm demeanor, easy care, and availability. Even amongst advanced herpetoculturists, leopard geckos have still kept a firm hold as an easily bred, yet diverse species due to the ever changing color morphs that appear. There is also a high demand for them.
Leopard geckos, or Eublepharis macularius, originate from the dry, rocky regions of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and some parts of India. They are a nocturnal species by nature, and can be quite active at night. Leos can live up to 20 years in captivity, and generally attain lengths of 8-10 inches. Females are generally smaller, and weighing at an average of 50-60 grams. Males are larger, and can weigh 70-80 grams. Their size makes them the perfect size for most beginners since they are large enough to handle without worrying about hurting them, yet not so large that they appear intimidating.
Housing and Habitat Requirements
Leos can be housed in a number of ways as long as the basic needs are met. Being a terrestrial species of gecko, floor space supersedes the habitat height. A typical 10 gallon tank (approx. 20" x 10" floor space) is the absolute minimum for a single adult, with a 20 gallon long tank (approx. 30" x 13" floor space) being a better option. Leos may be housed in tanks, specially made reptile enclosures, custom made enclosures and even plastic storage tubs (Sterilite, Rubbermaid, etc). Coming from a desert environment, Leopard geckos must have access to a hot spot in their tank. Generally, the hot side of your enclosure should be between 85F and 90F at all times. Just as important as a hot spot, is the ability to cool off as needed. The cool side should average around 75F. Each side of the enclosure should have an appropriate size hide box. This way your gecko can properly thermoregulate without comprising the feeling of security that a hide box provides. Hide boxes are a necessary cage decoration. You may also use non-toxic plastic plants, rocks, woods, or store bought items to create a wonderful habitat for you gecko. Another important component of creating a suitable enclosure is the substrate. Newspaper, paper towels, flat stones (tiles) or no substrate at all are the safest options for your gecko. Though visually appealing, sand can be dangerous to use and many have lost their beloved pets from using it. Leos can very possibly consume enough sand to cause intestinal impaction. Many people believe that sand is the "natural" substrate for Leopard geckos. Remember, they come from a rocky region, not from the sandy deserts many people assume. As long as your Leo's home is the correct size, holds the proper heat, provides a sense of security for your animal, and is free of possible dangers (sand, unstable decorations, etc) you're good to go!
Diet and Nutritional Needs
Leopard geckos are strictly insectivores and must have live insects as their diet. Mealworms, crickets, and feeder roaches are believed to be the healthiest option. Before feeding your leo, you must "gutload" your feeder insects. Gutloading is a term used to describe feeding your insects a high quality feed 24hrs prior to feeding them to your gecko. The nutrients your feeders gain from the feed is in turn absorbed into your leo after consuming the insects. Another extremely important part of the Leopard gecko diet is the need to have a vitamin-mineral powder available to them at all times. There are many different types of vitamin powders available, but it is generally agreed upon that calcium, vitamin D3 and phosphorus are the most important to your Leo's health. Water should be provided in a sturdy bowl at all times. The water level, and water dish, should be low enough that your Leopard gecko can climb out easily.
Handling and Temperament
Most Leopard geckos are easy to handle, interactive pets. After becoming accustomed to being handled, many Leos even seem to crave human attention. Keep in mind that Leopard geckos can drop their tails, and care should always be taken to handle them with care and respect for the animal. Leopard geckos are surprisingly personable, and have many endearing behaviors such as cleaning their eyes with their tongue.
Leopard geckos are an excellent choice of reptile to own, whether you've never owned a pet before, or have owned reptiles all your life. Their hardiness, personalities, ease of care, and the huge number of morphs available will continue to keep Leos at the top of the list for the most popular reptiles in captivity. Always continue to research and gain more knowledge of your pet, even after you purchase it. Joining forums, and keeping in touch with those who may be more experienced than you is an excellent way to keep up on the best ways to care for your animal. Remember that when you take an animal into your possession, it relies solely on you for the care it needs. So remember to treat it with respect and understanding.