Native Habitat of the Leopard Gecko and Setting Up a Natural Enclosure
The Leopard Gecko
The leopard gecko is the most common pet reptile in homes today. They're small and easy to care for, they come in a variety of colors, and they also have a very docile temperament. Overall, they are one of the best beginner reptiles, but the biggest misconception about them is that their native habitat is on sand. They're desert animals so it must be sand . . . right? Wrong.
What Is a Desert?
Leopard geckos are from the rocky deserts of Pakistan, India, and Afghanistan. This is a given, but what most people don't quite understand is that desert land is technically land of sparse vegetation and minimal rainfall and precipitation.
Desert does not mean dirt and sand. In reality, only 20% of the Earth's deserts are composed of sand. Nearly all deserts are composed of rock and pebbles. There are, of course, several different types of deserts, each with slightly different environments and characteristics, but that of the leopard gecko is that composed of rock and compacted sand.
Setting Up a Leopard Gecko Enclosure
Maybe you're asking why pet store employees throw that bag of sand in your buggy when you're making all your initial purchases. If it's not any good or natural for them, why do they promote it as such?
Simple. People tend to buy what they think is natural (like whatever the guy at the pet store tells them they're going to need). Sand, either play sand, vita-sand, or calci-sand, is the ideal of what a desert is, so it's sold for desert animals. Don't buy it—not even if you want to set up a naturalistic enclosure for your leopard gecko.
If you want to set up a naturalistic leopard gecko enclosure, you can and it's simple. The best way to go about it is to go to Lowes or another home department store and purchase a box or two of slate tiles. Tiles come in a variety of colors and patterns. Use these in your tank to create a natural feel for the substrate. You may also want to consider adding a fake rock design to the enclosure. If you want to go even more naturalistic, you will want to make sure that about 40% of the enclosure is covered with rock and 10 to 20% covered with live plants.
Mix fine-grained play sand, potting soil (without perlite—the white balls), and peat moss mix together at a 1:1:1 ratio, and place about 1 1/2" of the mix at the bottom of the tank to serve as drainage for the plants. Go ahead and add the plants now. Cover the drainage material with sand/soil mix (50:50 ratio), and then put the rocks and wood decorations in the tank. Fill any gaps with fine play sand. Because about 60% of your tank will be of plants, tile, and wood, most of the sand will be covered, reducing the risk of sand ingestion.
Plants That Are Safe for Reptiles
You want to make sure to include live plants and you also want to make sure you know which plants are safe for reptiles and leopard geckos.
- Aansevierias: snake plants such as Sansevieria trifasciata, S. t. hahnii, S horwoodii, S. kirkii pulchra, S. patens, and S. singularis
- Zamioculcas zamiifolia
- Cucurbits: such as Xerosicyos danguyi and Momordica rostrata
- Yemen grape: Cissus rotundifolia
- Euphobias: E. geroldii and the hybrid E. milli x E. lophogona
- "Bonsai" plectranthus: such as Swedish ivy (Plectranthus ernstii)
- Other plants can include: climbing aloe (Alo cilias), elephant bush (Portulacaria afra), and the Mexican caudexed fig (Ficus petiolaria)
If you really want to set up a natural enclosure for your leopard gecko, you should really purchase The Herpetoculture of Leopard Geckos by Ron Tremper, Philippe de Vosjoli, and Roger Klingenberg. The trio goes into great detail about setting up and properly caring for a natural enclosure for leopard geckos. They discuss feeding techniques to further reduce the risk of ingesting the loose sand that is visible, heating methods, and more.
If you choose to go the all-natural route, you cannot use a 10-gallon aquarium. You must get something at least a 20 gallon long (even a 29 has the same surface as a 20 long, so that's not going to matter). Because at least 20% of the surface will be covered with plants and such, you will take away from the start 20% or more of the surface for your leopard gecko. It's best to create a natural enclosure in a 40-gallon breeder.
Just because you're creating a natural setting, it doesn't mean that you can house males together, adults and babies, etc. Yes, in The Herpetoculture of Leopard Geckos, the trio discuss an experiment that was successful as such, but remember that they have years and years of experience behind them. So, it's best not to do it on your own, and no 3 years isn't enough experience to simulate the experiment at your home.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.