What Are Leopard Geckos?
A leopard gecko is a nocturnal desert dwelling lizard that can be found native in Asia and Pakistan and parts of India. They are unique from other geckos because they have the ability to move their eyelids so when they sleep, they close their eyes.
These geckos come in a few different sizes and many, many different patterns. The average size is between 6 and 8 inches where the larger bred ones can reach up to 12 inches! They have been captive bred in the United States for over 30 years and are the go-to reptile for children and adults who are beginners to caring for the reptile species.
They live an average of 10 to 20 years but with proper diet and care can live up to 30 years! The record for captive bred leopard geckos is 39 years old. These guys also have the ability to drop their tail and grow a new one back! This is to escape from being eating in the wild.
In captivity, this will happen because of stress or poor handling. Though they grow back, they will never be the same and it does affect their health as they store their fat reserves in their tail so NEVER encourage them to drop their tail!
These geckos make terrific pets for all ages but do require a good diet, a great habitat and proper love.
Cage and Accessories
Cage size: 10 gallon for one leopard gecko, 20 gallon long for 2 to 4 leopard geckos, 30 gallon for 4 to 6 geckos. Do not go over 30 gallons or under 10.
Heating: Under-the-tank heat mat, overhead day and night heat lamps.
Substrate: Paper towels, reptile carpet, food safe tiles, ink/dye free paper
Hides: 1 warm hide, 1 cool hide, 1 humid hide
Dishes: 1 shallow water dish, 1 food bowl (optional)
Décor: Plants, rocks, etc., designed for aquariums or terrariums (optional)
Since leos are native to the desert areas, they need their cage to be quite warm. During the day, 85 to 95 degrees is good and at night, 75 to 84 degrees. Slightly cooler at night is okay but not for long term. You don't need special lighting as they sleep during the day but in order to keep good temperatures, I recommend using both a day bulb and a night bulb.
For keeping the tank nice and toasty, use an under-the-tank heating pad that is 1/3 of the tanks length. Place it all the way to the right or to the left. You want to have a warmer side and a cooler side for them to move back and forth to.
As for size, one gecko will house fine in a 10-gallon aquarium. Any more that that you will want a 20 gallon long. Do not go past 30 gallons as they will not get proper heating and cooling for digestion. I house 3 in a 20 gallon long and they are quite happy.
For substrate, never use sand! Never use anything they can get into their eyes or digest by mistake. The best substrate is paper towels, ink free paper, food safe tiles and reptile carpet (can be purchased at most pet stores).
For accessories, it is important to offer 3 hiding locations. You will want a cave on the warm side, a humid hide close to that and a cave on the cool side (where the heater is not placed). The humid hide is crucial for proper shedding.
You can use a plastic food container with a lid that is big enough for them to fit into. You can cut a hole on the top or the side, make sure no sharp edges can be felt, then use paper towels or reptile safe moss on the inside. Make sure it stays nice and damp inside.
For moss, mist it every three days with warm water and change once a month. For paper towels, change every other day and replace with new warm, wet paper towels. They will need a shallow water dish, nothing too big or too deep, they are not good swimmers!
They will also need a small dish of calcium (NO D3) placed in their cage for supplementing. Everything else is optional... plants, rocks, etc. Don't go overboard though! Keep it simple and roomy. If you plan on dish feeding them, make sure it is high enough where the worms can't get out but low enough for the geckos to reach up and see the food.
Food & Supplements
Crickets, wax worms (as treats), superworms (Morio worms), meal worms, small roaches (as treats, locusts
Provide fresh filtered or bottled water at all times.
Provide calcium (without D3) at all times.
Diet and Supplements
Supplementation is very important to a leo's health. You will want to get a reptile powdered multivitamin, calcium + D3 powder and just plan calcium with no D3. Dust the worms with the multivitamin one day and the calcium + D3 the next, and rotate them. The plain calcium should be kept in a very small dish in their cage at all times. Change that at least once a week.
As for food, you can keep it simple with dusted meal worms or you can offer them variety. A good variety would be meal worms, crickets, super worms and wax worms once a week as treats. Both meal and super worms turn into beetles and wax worms turn into moths.
For meal worms, you can keep them on the door of the refrigerator for up to 6 months with proper care. This will keep them in hibernation mode and keep them from turning into beetles. For super worms, that is not an option. Only buy enough for a few weeks at a time.
Wax worms can also be kept the same as the meal worms though they shrink over time. These can also be fed as moths, some leos actually enjoy it! As for the feeding amount, every other day is fine or 3 days a week. Each leo should eat 5 to 10 insects (depending on size) for one meal day.
Monitor their weight and if you notice they are getting fat, cut them back a little. Wax worms should NEVER be fed as a staple diet. They are high in fat and essentially McDonald's for reptiles. Once a week is fine, or one worm each for each feeding.
Again, be careful and watch their weight. If you have one who is slightly skinny, feed them wax worms and meal worms mixed every other day and they will plump up pretty fast. Make sure to remove any dead worms or crickets from the cage soon as you notice them.
You may notice that you Leo is going to the bathroom in only one corner of the cage... This is very normal! It makes easy clean up as well! You can place a paper towel in the corner he/she/they use to make cleaning up effortless.
Leos do not mind regular handling once they are used to you and trust you. Do not overdo it. A few times a week for 30 minutes to an hour is fine. You only want to handle them at night when they are awake so you do not stress them out.
Make sure to wash your hands before and after handling. Your skin can have oils on it that can make them sick and the same goes for them! They can carry salmonella so be careful.
Proper shedding shows the true health of your gecko. If they have an easy shed, no skin left over on their eyes, feet or mouth, they are in good condition. It is VERY important to offer the humid hide for shedding as the humidity aids in the process. If they are having problems shedding, it is a sign of a deficiency and can lead to limb loss and even blindness so be careful.
They will eat their shed so don't freak out if you see this happening; it is normal and healthy for them. They may turn down food on their shedding days as well. You want to watch for leftover skin around the eyes as this can quickly turn into eye caps and can leave your gecko blind and unable to hunt for his/her food.
The picture here is what eye caps look like. It is important to soak them in warm water when you notice this and call a vet. To help them out, soak them in one part unflavored Pedialyte, three parts water for 20 minutes two to four times a day. Pick up some plain black tea bags at the store and brew a bag like you normally would. Let it cool to room temperature then take the tea bag and gently rest it on the geckos eye for 5 to 10 minutes.
Drip a few drops in each eye before placing him back in the cage. They will likely not be eating if they can't see so you can feed them chicken or beef based cat food or baby food mixed with their normal vitamins. Some will take this by licking it up, other will not, so you may need to force feed him/her. Only do that if they haven't eaten in a while and they are noticeably skinny.
The black tea will clear any infection and the Pedialyte will help hydrate them and encourage an appetite. You will know when it is time to take them to a vet. When they are sick, it shows.
How long do they live? 10 to 20 years on average but up to and over 30 years.
Do they bite? Captive bred ones rarely bite with intention.
How big do they get? Females 6 to 8 inches, Males 8 to 10 inches on average.
Do they make good pets for children? Yes! Always with supervision and proper knowledge.
How do you sex them? Males have very noticeable pores and a bulge where their tail begins, females do not (see picture).
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Snowgurl on March 11, 2017:
I lost all interest in this entire artical the moment it said leopard geckos were desert animal. Leopard geckos do not live in deserts they live in dry grasslands if I rember correctly. They can not be around sand because if ingested it can cause impaction and they could die. Anyone who's done any true resurch or care for this type of animal knows they are 100% not a desert animal.
ii3rittles (author) on August 14, 2013:
Thanks for the comment jpcmc! Yes, I think every living creature can get fat from over eating. It is amazing to think of a lizard being obese but it does happen! Even snakes get fat! lol
JP Carlos from Quezon CIty, Phlippines on August 14, 2013:
I'm not a lizard fan but it seems they're easy to have as pets. They get fat? I guess every living creature has his special diet. Today, I learned something new. Thanks my friend.