Leopard Geckos

Brightly colored leopard gecko isolated on white

The Leopard Gecko (Eublepharis macularius) originates from Pakistan and India, normally from semi-desert or dry grassland areas where they are often found under rocks or in burrows. Leopard geckos are a relatively primitive species and unlike most geckos, leopard geckos do not have toe pads, which makes them comparatively poor climbers. Also unlike most geckos, leopard’s have moveable eyelids, hence their other name of ‘eyelid geckos’.

Very young leopard geckos sport purple-brown and yellow bands which break up into the spotted markings of an adult. Virtually all specimens for sale are captive bred and there are a number of colour types available with varying shades of yellow and purple. A typical adult leopard gecko, including tail, will reach up to 20cm (8 inches).

Habits

Leopard geckos are nocturnal so they will spend most of the day hiding, but will come out in the evenings for feeding. For better viewing, this behaviour can be encouraged by adjusting the timings of lighting and feeding.

Males will fight so only ever keep one, but you can keep any number of females with or without a single male.

As with other lizards, leopard geckos will moult their skin. This normally takes place within an hour or two and they usually eat their skin as it is a useful source of nutrition. If your geckos seem to have trouble shedding all their skin you may need to provide a humid area such as a small tub with a damp material in it like a damp cloth or soil.

Housing

Leopard geckos are relatively easy to house and do not need a big enclosure or any conditions dissimilar to other reptiles. As they are semi-desert lizards they do not need a humid environment (although a very small daily misting can be beneficial) and will get their water from a small water dish.

As in other lizard setups, it is best to have a hide box or cave at one end of the tank and a heat lamp or heat rock at the other. As they are nocturnal it is best to use a heat source separate to a light source so that they can warm themselves at night.

Sand is a good substrate to use and if possible, mix in some coral sand which will provide a good source of calcium (they will eat some sand) The vivarium can be decorated with various pieces of wood, rock, or cork bark and you can also keep some desert plants but it is best to avoid sharp cacti which could damage the geckos.

Leopard Gecko on a sandy substrate
Leopard Geckos like to kick around a fine sandy substrate

Handling

Like many lizards, the tail of a leopard gecko breaks off easily as an escape/defence mechanism in case of attack by predators. Whilst the tail does grow back, it is often slightly misshapen, stunted, or lacking in color. To avoid breaking make sure to never hold, pinch, or pull on the tail.

There is in fact, no reason to regularly handle your gecko and whilst they do become tame, they generally do not appreciate being handled. Even gentle handling increases the risk of damage to the tail or delicate toes/claws being snagged and also causes stress which could lead to other problems.

Food types

Leopard geckos are opportunistic feeders and will accept a wide variety of items. Typically, a wild diet would consist mainly of beetles, spiders, and other bugs and this can be easily recreated in captivity with live crickets, mealworms, roaches or other insects.

Foods bought from pet shops or suppliers are usually lacking in nutrients and will need to be ‘nutrient loaded’ before feeding. This can be done by keeping the insects or mealworms in a container with a nutrient rich food source before they are fed to your geckos. You can use fruits and vegetables or a common method is to use fish food and you can even purchase cricket (or other insect) food specifically for nutrient loading.

Feeding

Right before feeding, the insects or worms should be dusted with a reptile mineral additive. If you do not nutrient load and dust your leopard geckos food they will not get all the nutrients they need and may start to show ill health or dull colors. Once the food is prepared simply place it in the tank and watch your geckos go to work catching their meals.

Very young geckos, typically whilst patterning is still forming, will need daily feeding of up to six small insects. Once a gecko reaches about 10-15cm it can be fed every other day and fully grown adults above 15cm can be fed once every three days. Adult leopard geckos can be fed on larger items and some keepers even feed small pinkies (baby mice) which although large, do offer good nutrition as an occasional treat.

Health

When choosing a leopard gecko you should look for some typical signs of good and bad health to make sure you are getting a healthy specimen from a good supplier. Quite often, once lizards start to get sick and the problem is not remedied, and they are then moved to a new home, they continue to decline until death - not the best start for a new pet!

Eyes should be bright, clear, and alert. Look out for sunken or cloudy eyes and deposits around the eye area. Check for any damage or white marks around the mouth area and avoid any specimens which look very thin. Signs of previous problems can include missing digits, so check these are all present and not swollen or damaged. Finally, it is always worth checking for mites and ticks. These can be tricky to spot - a good method is to check the lighter underside of the gecko and around the joints or skin folds.

With a fairly simple setup and a healthy specimen, starting with leopard geckos is as easy as it gets and a great introduction to the reptile world.