Leopard Geckos

Description and Background

The Leopard Gecko (Eublepharis macularius) is a crepuscular ground-dwelling lizard found in Asia, Pakistan and some parts of India. Unlike most geckos, leopard geckos have moveable eyelids. They mainly live in burrows during the day and become active at dawn and dusk when the temperature is much cooler. Wild leopard geckos do not have a wide variety of colors and patterns as captive bred ones do. They typically have a darker, duller, and drab coloration. They have very smooth skin but the bumps on their body make them look very rough. Leopard geckos have tiny nails that help them climb small sticks and rocks in the wild. They can also lose their tail if they feel threatened. The tail will grow back, and due to vasoconstriction, will suffer minimal blood loss if this were to actually happen. Over the years, leopard geckos have become one of the most popular reptiles in the pet trade and are constantly being bred for their extremely beautiful colorations and patterns.

Housing

Since leopard geckos stay relatively small, they do not need a large enclosure. A 10 gallon aquarium is perfect for a single adult and a 20 gallon should be used for 2. Larger does not always mean better because this will sometimes lead to the geckos straying away from their heat sources. Just make sure the aquarium is a foot tall and there is enough room for all geckos to have their own space. Using a screen top is also beneficial for lighting as well. Never house 2 males together because they will fight. 


Temperature, Heating, Lighting

The ambient temperature in the enclosure should always be around 75 ºF (24 ºC), and the basking spot should be between 85 - 88 ºF (29 - 31 ºC). The night time temperatures can drop a little but not too much below 75 ºF (24 ºC). You can choose to either heat your cage with a heat bulb or an under the tank heat pad. Either or is fine since the geckos are nocturnal and they just need the heat. Just make sure the basking spot is about 1/3 of the tank and the other 2/3 of the tank is much cooler to allow them to thermoregulate. Leopard geckos do not need UVB lighting in their tanks. They are nocturnal so they are sleeping when the sun is out naturally. Therefore, you do not need to provide them with any because they will not benefit from it in any way. If you do want to use a light at night to see your geckos, a red light is what you should use so you can see them without disturbing them since they cannot detect red lighting.

Humidity

The humidity should never be a problem because they don't really need high humidity except when they shed their skin. This can very easily be accomplished by providing a moist hide on the warm end of their enclosure. This can be as simple as a tupperware container with some damp sphagnum moss in it. Place this over in the hot end of the tank and it will solve your humidity problems as well as your geckos shedding problems. Keeping the moist hide wet is all you really have to do for this. 

Substrate

Substrate is one of the easiest things when it comes to talking about leopard geckos. Hatchlings and juveniles should almost always be put on paper towels because this will prevent an unnecessary impaction from them constantly licking things. For adults, you can continue to use paper towels since they are much easier to use, but if you want to use something more realistic, you can use fine natural sand. Most people do not have a problem with this since they mainly feed their leopard geckos worms in a food dish. 


Diet and Feeding

Leopard geckos are insectivores meaning they only eat insects. No fruits or vegetables should be offered to them. There are many different types of foods you can feed your gecko and they include crickets, mealworms, superworms, waxworms, and even pinkie mice. Over the years, many people are making the switch from crickets to mealworms just because it is much easier to maintain and buy mealworms than it is crickets. Some say crickets are healthier for your geckos than mealworms but when it comes down to it, as long as you are giving them the proper calcium and multivitamins, then your geckos will be just as healthy no matter what you choose to feed them. Dust the food items every feeding and your geckos will get the proper nutrients. Geckos under 8 months should be fed every night but geckos over 8 months can be fed every 2 - 3 days. 

Water

Since leopard geckos come from a very dry area of the world, water is not a huge concern for them. Water should be provided to them every day in one form or another. One simple way to do this is just spray the moist hide every day and make sure there is condensation on it. The geckos will be able to lick the droplets off the lid any time they get thirsty. Another, yet less common way of providing water, is to provide a water dish. If you choose to do this, make sure it is shallow enough so they can't drown and also so bacteria doesn't grow in it. Change the water dish every day and put fresh water in it. 


Shedding

Leopard geckos will shed their skin just like any other reptile will. The frequency of shedding will depend on the age and growth rate of the individual gecko. Younger geckos will shed more often than adults because they are growing faster than adults are. When leopard geckos shed, it normally comes off in one piece sort of like a snake. The geckos tend to eat their shedded skin as well because it provides nutrients, so if you see this do not panic. Having the moist hide in the enclosure will make this process simple and worry-free. If you do notice problems with shedding, either increase the humidity with the moist hide, or soak your gecko in warm water for about 30 minutes and try to peel it off with a q-tip or cotton swab.

Handling Leopard Geckos

Leopard geckos do not usually give you a problem when you try to handle them. They actually enjoy handling to some extent. When going to hold them be very cautious about their tail because they can actually drop it. While this does not hurt them, this will stress them out a great deal because they are losing their fat reserves. This being said, gently hold them and hand walk them so they do not feel threatened in any way. There is almost no chance of them ever trying to bite you so do not worry about that either. Even more care should be given with juveniles since they are very fragile.


Cleaning

Leopard geckos are not messy animals and normally only defecate in one corner of their enclosure. This makes for very easy cleaning no matter what substrate you use. If using sand, spot clean any time you see feces in the cage. If using paper towels, replace the paper towel once a week with a new one. Disinfecting of the entire enclosure, regardless of the substrate, should be done every 2 - 4 months depending on how many geckos you keep in a single enclosure. Using a 2% chlorhexidine solution with distilled water to disinfect is what most breeders recommend. This is what veterinarians use for disinfecting everything and is completely reptile safe. Just spray it on and allow 5 minutes to dry and wipe off. 

Health

Leopard geckos are very hardy reptiles and long lived if proper care and attention is given. Over time, you may come across some issues so becoming aware of them will help you in the future. Some common problems include:


Ectoparasites: These are parasites that live outside the body. They are typically ticks and mites, which are fairly easy to get rid of. For the tick, just apply a small amount of vaseline or alcohol and pull the tick off. For mites, just attach a small piece of fly paper (No pest strip) in the cage for about 3 days which will hopefully remove any mites.


Endoparasites: These are parasites (worms) found inside your gecko. Ridding your gecko of any worms is as easy as bringing a fecal sample to the veterinarian and they will give you an appropriate treatment.


Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD): This is basically a lack of Calcium, Vitamin D3, and/or Phosphorous, which weakens your leopard geckos bones. Signs of MBD are bumps in the legs, back or tail, or jerky and spastic movements. Most of the time MBD can be treated by making sure you have the correct temperatures and providing adequate multivitamins to a well balanced diet.


Respiratory Infections: Respiratory problems are very uncommon in leopard geckos, but that doesn't mean they still do not happen from time to time. Typical causes are too low of temperatures, too high of humidity, or a too small of an enclosure. Common symptoms are constant mouth gaping, noticeable breathing issues, and excess mucus around the mouth or nose. Only viable treatment is to bring your leopard gecko to a vet and have them give you the proper medication.

Tail Loss

There are a few main causes for a leopard gecko to drop its tail. The geckos tail could have been grabbed, it could have been bullied by other geckos in the cage, it could have been threatened or stressed out, or it may be sick or have an infection in the tail. Either way, a tail loss is not as bad as you may think it is. The gecko will not be harmed and there is very minimal blood loss. During this time, just make sure to make your gecko as stress free as possible so it can regrow its tail without complications. Switching over to a paper towel substrate will help to prevent infection in the open wound. Make sure temperature and humidity are good in the enclosure as well because after all, that could have been the problem in the first place. Lastly, you need to start bulking it up again and giving it more fatty foods like waxworms because leopard geckos store all their fat reserves in their tails, which they just now lost.

Breeding Leopard Geckos

The age and weight are important when deciding to breed leopard geckos. Both the male and female should be at least a year old. Males should be at least 40 grams and the females should be between 45 - 50 grams to successfully breed. One male can be kept with 4 or maybe 5 females to start breeding. Keep the ambient cage temperature between 75 - 79 ºF (24 - 26 ºC), dropping about 5 ºF at night. The basking spot should still be the same, between 85 - 88 ºF (29 - 31 ºC). Give the breeding geckos high quality food to help with the eggs. Mostly dusted crickets (Calcium and D3 powder) along with mealworms and waxworms. An egg laying container should be placed inside the terrarium. The container should be large enough to hold the gecko and dig 3 - 4 inches down. Container substrate should be 50/50 moistened eco earth and sphagnum moss. Hide the container so the gecko feels safe enough to lay the eggs there. Check the container everyday and remove the eggs immediately so they don’t dry up. Place eggs in an airtight container with 2 inches of slightly moistened SuperHatch. Do not turn the eggs over as this will kill them. Mark the top of the eggs just in case they get moved for whatever reason. Open the container once per week to allow ventilation for a few seconds. The eggs should be kept at temperatures ranging between 80 - 90 ºF (27 - 32 ºC) and hatch in approximately 65 - 90 days. The higher the temperature, the shorter the incubation period. The lower the temperature, the longer the incubation period, which is normally better. Leopard geckos are temperature sex dependent, meaning that the temperatures you incubate the eggs at will determine what sex they will become. Incubating at the low end of the range will give you mostly females, incubating at the high range will give you mostly males and in the middle of the range will produce a 50/50 mix of females and males. If you have a pair of geckos that is not breeding, you must looking at key factors such as temperatures, age, nutrition, and cage space.

Sex Determination

Sexing leopard geckos is extremely easy. No need for probes or anything like you need for snakes. You can only really tell on geckos that are about 6 months in age. Flip your gecko over on its back and look at it's vent. In males you will see very noticeable femoral pores, preanal pores, and hemipenal bulges. The female lacks all of these.


Baby Leopard Gecko Care

Care for baby leopard geckos is identical to adults with few exceptions. Babies should be kept in no larger than a 10 gallon tank. In fact, they may even be more comfortable in a small shoebox container. Tanks should be simplistic with paper towels, easy food access, and hides. Hatchlings may not eat until their first shed is complete, normally 2 - 3 days old. You may even have to help them shed the first time. Spray the tank 1 - 2 times a day and feed them 1/8 inch crickets or mealworms. Do not hold babies until about 2 - 3 weeks of settling into their new enclosure. 

Recommended Item Checklist

Glass aquarium

Heat bulb

Ceramic heat dome

Heat pad

Paper towels (Fine natural sand for adults)

Food dish

Water dish

Moist hide

Sphagnum moss

Hides

Cricket Food (Only if feeding crickets)

Cricket Water (Only if feeding crickets)

Calcium and D3 vitamin powder

Spray bottle

Chlorhexidine

Hydrometer

Thermometer

Digital Scale