You’ve probably heard that:
- Leopard geckos are popular as pets
- Leopard geckos are named after their spots
- Leos need some special care and diet
But, did you know that:
- Leopard geckos are among the most popular pet reptiles in the world, and with a good reason
- Leos come in an amazing variety of colors and patterns thanks to morphs that have been developed in captivity.
- Leos are easy to care for and require less space and equipment than many other lizard species
I have spent the last 14 years in the company of leopard geckos, and they have been the most satisfying pets I’ve ever had. The amazing color range, the docile temperament, the unique characters, the seemingly-smiling faces, the fact that they are undemanding, hardy, easy to care for and breed – these are the traits that make leopard gecko a great pet, and a joy for every reptile enthusiast.
That is the reason that leo is such a popular beginner lizard, but also a favorite of many seasoned breeders, some of which dedicated their entire careers to these charming, easy, and sometimes even squeaky mini-dinosaurs.
Some Facts About the Leopard Gecko
- Leopard gecko’s natural range spans through parts of the Middle East, central and southwestern Asia.
- Although in captivity they are usually kept in desert-type terrariums, leos are not desert dwellers, and sand is not a good substrate for them.
- The scientific name for Leopard gecko is Eublepharis macularius.
- Leos are often referred to as nocturnal, but they are actually crepuscular animals, which means they are most active in twilight.
- Leopard geckos lack the adhesive lamellae – microscopic hooks on their feet that most others geckos have; that means they cannot climb vertical surfaces.
- Since leopard geckos breed so readily in captivity, almost all available leos on the market were born in a terrarium.
- Leopard gecko’s natural color is yellowish-brown with dark spots all over the body. However, many morphs with amazing color ranges were created, and many of them don’t include any spots.
Lifespan: How Long Do Leopard Geckos Live?
For a small animal, leopard gecko is pretty long-lived. Their lifespan depends on the care and breeding, but it can span from 8 years for breeding females up to 20 years for males or females that haven’t been bred. The oldest known leo lived up to be 32 years old.
Size: How Big Can Leopard Geckos Get?
Leopard geckos length ranges from 7 to 8 inches (~18-20 cm) for females and 8 to 10 inches (~20-25 cm) for males. They are small to medium-sized, but sturdily built lizards.
However, there are bigger and heavier leo morphs called Giant and Super Giant, weighing up to 150 grams, or even more.
Difficulty: How Is the Leopard Gecko Behavior?
In short, leopard geckos are easy-going lizards. They are not overly fast, and they are absolutely non-aggressive. Aside from the attractive looks, it’s their temperaments that make them such popular pets.
Although leos are not social in the true sense of the word, they do communicate with their surroundings and other members of their species. They have specific body language and utilize their tails to communicate, and sometimes they even vocalize. Learning these cues will tell you a lot about your leo’s mood and health. Here are several examples:
- Tail waving basically has a role to inform others of the gecko’s presence; male will wiggle his tail to introduce himself to females, and more vigorous shakes have a defensive role.
- Tank (glass) climbing can be a random exploration activity, but can also indicate that something’s off with your gecko’s environment.
- Squeaking or chirping usually translate as “stay away”, or “let me go”; some geckos will also vocalize while in pain, so check them if they are making sounds without any contact.
As I mentioned, leo’s behavior provides an insight into their health status. Like other animals, leopard geckos can get hurt or sick, although with proper care this is very rare.
Some commonly seen leopard gecko health issues include:
- Intestinal impaction;
- Incomplete shedding;
- Vitamin and mineral deficiency
- Metabolic bone disease;
- Parasite infections;
- Egg retention – dystocia;
- Wounds, burns and abscesses;
For a full checklist and detailed descriptions of common leo health problems, please refer to our main article on health and diseases.
The Type of Habitat
Although leopard geckos come from dry grasslands of Asia, in captivity they typically live in desert terrariums – with one big exception. Sand should never be used as a substrate, as it can cause bowel impaction when accidentally consumed with food. The predominantly dried habitat which features suitable rocks and smooth pebbles, or other type of suitable substrate, at the bottom of the tank is perfect for satisfying leo’s natural needs.
Leos should also have several hiding places (at least one per gecko, but more is preferable), and at least one of them should feature absorbable substrate which you will keep moist – peat moss, coconut coir or other types of “eco earth”. Note that these are not suitable as general substrate, but only for moist hiding boxes.
The minimum size of the tank should be 10 gallons (~ 40 liters) for a single leo, and 15 gallons (~ 60l) for a pair; as a general rule, you should add 5 gallons for every additional gecko.
The temperature in the tank should be between 75° to 85°F (~ 24-29 °C) during the day, with the basking area featuring temperature up to 90°F (~ 32 °C). The tank should be arranged in a way that allows a temperature gradient – when there is one heated area in the higher temperature range, while the opposite area should be cooler. You will provide additional heat to the tank by using heating pads, ceramic heaters or suitable lights.
Being crepuscular, leopard geckos have adapted to live in the relative darkness. That means that a UVA/UVB specialized reptile light is not necessary for your leo to thrive. In fact, if the room is well lit, leos will thrive without any artificial light. The only thing that is important is for them to have their day-night cycle.
Diet: What Do Leopard Geckos Eat?
Leopard geckos are insectivorous lizards – they will eat only insects, and will accept live insects only in most of the cases. That may sound troubling, but fortunately, feeder insects are easily reared at home, can be ordered online, and are probably available at your local pet store.
Some examples of feeders from leopard gecko’s menu are mealworms, crickets, superworms, dubia roaches, and waxworms. As I said before, all of these insects can be bred in your home with relative ease.
Leos food will have to be regularly dusted with a specialized reptile multivitamin and mineral powder. They will also require some source of pure calcium in their tanks.
Leopard geckos drink water quite often, so you need to provide fresh water in shallow trays within their terrarium.
Availability: Where to Buy a Leopard Gecko and What Is the Cost?
Leopard geckos can be bought in a pet shop, directly from a breeder, or at reptile shows.
Although buying a gecko at a pet store seems easier, I would always recommend buying your pet from a reputable breeder. You can’t know what was the store-displayed gecko’s quality of life up until you saw him; how he has been fed, how stressed he was, and both of these factors can impact his health. I heard about cases of leoopard geckos bought in a pet shop that refuse to eat in their new home.
A reputable, quality breeder should be comfortable with showing you all his reptiles, facilities, and breeding terrariums. An ideal breeder will readily advise novice reptile enthusiasts and will be more than happy help you pick a healthy gecko.
If you are a child reading this, know that you should always bring your parent or a guardian to help you with your choice. In fact, it’s good to have a reliable company when buying a pet no matter what’s your age, as two objective pairs of eyes will see things clearly much better than just one.
The price largely depends on the morph. You can get a “normal”, wild-type leopard gecko or gecko with a common morph for around 20$. Expect to pay around 100$ for more exotic morphs. The rarest morphs, such as the Black Pearl, can cost up to a couple of thousand dollars.
Leopard Gecko FAQ
Why Leopard Geckos Make Good Pets?
Leopard geckos make excellent pets – they are easy to care for, hardy, attractive and quite charming in their own way. They don’t require a lot of space or special equipment. Although they eat live insects only, the diet doesn’t have to be highly specialized and are not fussy eaters.
They also have quite long life spans (see below), which makes them suitable to have if you have children – by the time your pet’s time to go comes, they will be mature enough to handle the concept of death.
Do Leopard Geckos Bite?
Leopard geckos are not aggressive, and a large majority of adults will not bite even when they feel threatened. A young gecko that is not used to handling will be more prone to snapping than a tame adult.
If it happens that you get bitten by a leo, it will be by accident – when they mistake your fingers for food (especially if you hand-feed), or if two of your lizards have a fight and you try to separate them.
Leos have tiny teeth that are dangerous only for insects. However, their jaws are strong for their size, so the bite reminds of a hard pinch rather than a real bite. In most cases, it will only scratch the upper layer of your skin.
In case you get bitten by your pet gecko and the bite pierces your skin, be sure to disinfect the “wound” properly. Be especially careful about the thin skin just above your nails, as, in my experience, is the only spot that will bleed in the case your gecko gets it.
How to Tame a Leopard Gecko?
Captive-bred leopard geckos might be more docile than the wild-caught specimens, but they still have their natural defensive instincts. Each gecko needs some time to become tame – to get used to being regularly caught and handled by humans.
Taming a leopard gecko includes several phases:
- First, you will put your hand in the tank without catching the gecko.
- As he gets used to this, you will start to hold him gently for a short moment, and then let him go.
- When your leo lets you hold him for a prolonged period of time, you can carry him, but still without taking him out of the terrarium.
- The last step is taking your gecko out of the terrarium. Make sure you are holding your lizard above a soft and wide surface, such as a big bed.
To prevent escape and injury, probably the most important rule is not to put your leo out of his tank until you are sure that he is completely comfortable and relaxed in your hands. Just go easy – if your leo is squeaking and trying to wiggle out, let him go and stop the session.
Note that juveniles tend to be nervous and snappy, so go slowly with them. As they get more mature, it will be easier and safer to practice handling.
Do Leopard Geckos Yawn?
Yes, leopard geckos really do yawn, and that is one of their more amusing displays. They are known to do it after meals, but in my experience, they will also do it randomly during their active period of the day.
Do Leopard Geckos Smell?
Leopard geckos are odorless – if you keep their terrarium neat, of course. Since they eat only insects, there are no food residues that can get moldy, and their excrement is granular and dry.
The only thing that can be smelly and is related to geckos are the feeder insect colonies. Because of the smell and also the ammonia vapors, make sure to keep them out of your bedroom or living room.
Do Leopard Geckos Dig?
Leopard geckos will dig in two cases. A pregnant female will get an urge to dig as she is getting ready to deliver eggs; she may dig around the tank more than usual if she doesn’t have a proper nesting site. In other cases, leos will dig if as a part of their burrowing instinct. Digging can be intensified in the case their moist shelter got dry, or if they don’t have a sufficient number of hiding places.
Do Leopard Geckos Make Noise?
Leopard geckos can and will vocalize on different occasions – they can squeak or yelp quite loudly for a small lizard.
Do Leopard Geckos Change Color?
Leopard geckos cannot change their pigmentation as chameleons can. However, their color will change as they are getting ready to shed their skin. As the old skin is prepared to be removed, it will get pale, making your gecko look ghostly.
After they shed their skin, the new skin will have a normal color. In fact, it will even look fresher and brighter for a while.
How Many Leopard Geckos Can Live Together?
The number of leopard geckos depends on the space you have available. However, be mindful that leos don’t live in packs. Never overcrowd your terrarium, as this will lead to stress and disease in your pets. I wouldn’t recommend keeping more than four leos; in a tank of a suitable size (see above).
Can Two Female Leopard Geckos Live Together?
Two female leopard geckos are a perfect combination if you want to keep more than one gecko without any tension. Two females will tolerate each other well, and even interact to some modest degree. Just make sure that both are getting enough to eat. Avoid contact during feeding, as two geckos will easily snap at each other over the same food item.
Do Leopard Geckos Get Lonely?
Leopard geckos are solitary animals. A large majority of reptiles are not very social creatures, so as far science can tell at this point, they can’t get lonely. If you do not have the space to keep two or more leos, you don’t have to worry if your single leo will get lonely – because he will not.
On the other hand, although they won’t get exactly emotional about it, leos will surely suffer if an owner ignores them, and fails to feed them, change water, or clean their tank regularly. Since they are really discrete and undemanding pets, they can get easily neglected. Be sure to check on your gecko and cater to his needs every day.
How Many Leopard Geckos Should I Get?
When choosing how many leopard geckos you should own, consider what are your long-term plans for keeping.
In the case you want only a pet, one gecko of any sex, or two, females will be the right fit. If you are planning to breed leos, that is a different story. One male will need at least two females, but even more is preferable, to ensure the females won’t get bullied by the male.
In short – you can keep many leos, but you have to ensure you are following on all of the housing requirements, and that you have enough space to separate males from females if needed.
How Many Leopard Gecko Morphs Are There?
Believe it or not, there are more than one hundred leopard gecko morphs and color variations. The number is increasing with almost every breeding season. Some popular morphs include Tangerine – featuring orange hues, Blizzard – patternless albino with light pastel overtones, High Yellow – with generous amount of bright yellow color on its body and reduced spots.
When Is a Leopard Gecko Full Grown?
All reptiles grow through their entire lifetimes. The same is with geckos, but the rate of growth drastically changes after they turn one year old. Up until then, they will grow rapidly, and you can say that they will reach their full size at one year old. The growth that goes on later is minuscule.
I hope that after reading this overview you have the basic knowledge about leopard geckos and a clearer idea if the famous leo is a pet for you. Doing research and gathering information before buying a leopard gecko is crucial for having a happy and healthy pet.
For even more in-depth information on health, behavior, diet, and habitat, please feel free to explore our other articles.
Do you have anything to add or anything to ask? Let us know in the comments! Ultimately, keeping the conversation going and exchanging experience will benefit our beloved leopard geckos the most.