Leopard geckos are nocturnal lizards naturally from desert and dry Savannah areas. When their basic husbandry requirements are met, these geckos are extremely hardy and a pleasure to keep. They make popular and interesting pets and across the world, thousands of these geckos are kept and bred as pets.
Keeping Leopard geckos are relatively easy compared to some other lizards like for example Bearded dragons. Here is my general Leopard gecko care guidelines.
Leopard gecko development
Hatchling / baby (day 1 to 4 months), juvenile (4 to 18 months), adult (18 months and older).
The average lifespan of a Leopard gecko is approximately 25 years.
Leopard gecko housing
A single Leopard gecko can be housed in an area as small as 30 x 30 cm / 12 x 12 “. One or two of these geckos can be housed together in an ADDIS® (35 x 25 x 15) cm / (13.7 x 10 x 10) ” container with the correct setup. A 10 gallon / 30-50 ℓ / (61 x 23 x 33) cm / (24 x 9 x 13) ” tank or aquarium, a small reptile cabinet or cage “Pal pens™ “or “Desert dens™” can also be used to house one to a few Leopard geckos. The floor space should increase with at least 25% for every gecko added after that.
Leopard gecko substrate
Good bedding substrates include newspaper, butcher / brown paper, astroturf and carpet. Inappropriate substrates such as egg shells, corn cob and any sized gravel or pebbles can give problems with ingestion and subsequent intestinal impaction. Sand is a very popular substrate, but should be used with caution. When using sand as Leopard gecko substrate, make sure to use a commercial one.
Pieces of driftwood, bark or rocks can be used for decoration. It is essential to supply adequate hiding, such as a closed hide box, for these nocturnal geckos to stay and sleep in during the day. Moist peat moss or moist vermiculite should be used as substrate in these sleeping areas – this will allow gecko(s) to stay cool during the day and for normal shedding to take place.
Read more about suitable substrates for Leopard geckos.
Leopard gecko maintenance
Feeding, cleaning food and water containers, replacing water, removing of faeces and old food residues.
Enclosure cleaning and substrate replacement. Cleaning and sterilisation of enclosure decorations and equipment.
Inspection of all electrical equipment, plugs & switches should be done twice a year.
The Leopard gecko environment
Leopard geckos are ectothermic (relying on external heat sources to keep their body temperature at a suitable level) and poikilothermic (having a variable body temperature). Under tank heating such as a commercially available heat pads / heat strips or heat lamps should be used as an external heat source. This equipment should be situated in such as way to only emit about a third of the floor surface of the enclosure and should be secured and separated by the substrate to prevent direct contact with a gecko.
Leopard geckos will thermoregulate by moving towards or away from the heat source. The temperature should be in the range of 25 – 32 ºC / 77 – 90 ºF during the day where the heated end is the warmest. Temperatures can be allowed to naturally cool down to room temperature at night. Temperatures can be measured by using a thermometer directly on top of the substrate.
Leopard geckos are nocturnal (night living), meaning they hide away during most part of the day. When enclosures are used for displaying purposed, a non-heat transmitting light source like energy saver light bulbs or fluorescent tubes, that will not affect the environmental temperature, should be adequate during the day. Some keepers go as far as installing night lighting that would not affect the normal behavioural patterns of these geckos, but will enable spectators to observe and appreciate active Leopard geckos during the darker periods as well.
Day length (photoperiod)
All lights should be on for about fourteen hours per day. Commercially available electric timers can be used to automate the light cycle.
Crickets and mealworms should be the main foodstuff fed to pet Leopard geckos. Other foods include Dubia roaches and other feeder cockroaches, Phoenix worms, waxworms, silkworms, Trevo worms and sometimes pinkies / nestling mice. Baby Leopard geckos need small to medium sized insects. The size of the food should be gradually increased according to the size of the Leopard gecko. If the gecko is shy, leave one or two insects in the enclosure until the next morning. Refrain from feeding grasshoppers. Fly ants can be collected annually and be fed. Feeding should take place within the enclosure where the Leopard gecko is adapted to the immediate temperature.
Feeder insects should be gut-loaded with an appropriate mineral / vitamin supplement and should be dusted two to three times a week with a calcium / vitamin D3 combination powder. Mealworms, waxworms and pinkies are good sources of fat. Because of their fat tails, Leopard geckos can consume a lot of fat to be stored for future emergency use. An ad lib supply of powdered calcium / vitamin D3 supplement as ‘lick’, should be supplied in a small shallow dish or lid for additional calcium needs.
Although Leopard geckos are desert reptiles, a shallow water container with clean fresh water should always be available.
Leopard gecko handling
A Leopard gecko can be picked up by gently scooping your hand under its belly while supporting the body with your other hand. Let them rest in your palm with your fingers gently curled over the back.
Leopard gecko health
Regular health inspections with a reptile friendly veterinarian are vital in the continual health of your pet Leopard gecko. Remember to take a fresh stool or faecal sample, sealed in an airtight ziplock bag, to your next vet visit.
Leopard geckos are certainly one of the hardier gecko species in the pet trade today, but as with any pet lizard they are very dependent on the correct husbandry and diet to thrive. Because their basic enclosure setup is extremely simple, the most common husbandry related problems are incorrect temperatures, unhygienic surroundings and calcium deficiency with or without subsequent substrate impaction. Too low temperatures will cause a decrease in appetite, stunted growth and may lead to morbidity and even mortality. The most important dietary problem is inadequate feeder insect preparation and incorrect or inappropriate supplementation. Incorrect calcium / vitamin D3 supplementation will almost always end up as metabolic bone disease (MBD).
Other Leopard gecko health problems include gut parasites and physical injuries.
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