You have probably heard that:
- Leopard geckos are “nocturnal.”
- Leopard geckos are not demanding when it comes to lighting.
- Leopard geckos do not need any UVB light.
You may have even heard that because of their metabolism leos do not require any lights at all.
However, did you know that:
- To stay healthy and happy leos need a particular pattern of light and dark hours which mimic their natural habitat.
- Leos will use the lighting in their tank as an additional heat source.
- Leos rarely bask, but can still use UVB to synthesize vitamin D3.
Let’s shed some light on the leopard gecko’s actual lighting needs.
- Do leopard geckos need light?
- Best Leopard Gecko Lighting Setups
- How Much Light Do Leopard Geckos Need Per Day?
- Can I Use Natural Window Light For My Leos?
- What Is The Best Type Of Light For Leopard Geckos?
- The Right Daytime Lighting For Leopard Geckos
- Leopard Gecko Lighting At Night
- Day/Night Light Combos
- Durability of Light Bulbs
- Ceramic Heat Bulbs For Leopard Geckos
- Leopard Gecko Lighting Tips
Do leopard geckos need light?
There is one major misconception about leopard geckos and their need for lighting – or the lack of it.
You will often hear that leopard geckos are nocturnal animals – active mostly at night. That often leads to an automatic conclusion that leos do not require any type of lighting in their tanks.
The conclusion is, unfortunately, not quite right.
First of all, there is no day without night and vice versa. Leos are aware of their surroundings even if they’re snoozing through the day. They know how to tell day from night, and they depend on it for their survival.
Secondly, leos are not nocturnal all the way – they are a crepuscular species, which means they are mostly active at dusk or at dawn. Their activity often extends into the night, true, but it is not when it begins.
Their sensitivity to the time of day means that to maintain a healthy internal clock, leopard geckos require a balanced day (light) and night (darkness) intervals.
> Read More : How to Set Up the Ideal Leopard Gecko Enclosure?
Best Leopard Gecko Lighting Setups
Here is a quick overview of a 5-element setup for any leo tank:
- Incandescent heat lamp as daylight.
- T5 or T8 5-6% UVB bulb (2-3% for albinos).
- Ceramic bulb for nighttime heating, or a heating pad if your tank is too small.
- Red, blue, or black night light, which should be for a couple of hours while you want to watch your geckos (optional).
- A thermostat and a timer to optimally control your setup.
Or, you can go for a 4-element setup:
- Full spectrum UVA + UVB day light.
- Ceramic bulb for 24-hours heating (or a heat pad).
- Red, blue or black night light for a couple of hours of watching (optional).
- A thermostat and a timer to optimally control your setup.
How Much Light Do Leopard Geckos Need Per Day?
When lighting your leo tank, you will try to mimic the Middle Eastern day-night patterns. What this basically means is:
Summer: 14 hours of daytime and 10 hours of nighttime
Winter: 12 hours of daytime, and 12 hours of nighttime.
It is ideal to ensure the transition period between the seasons – gradually decrease (or increase) the intervals for 15-30 minutes per week for 4-8 weeks.
I wholeheartedly recommend you to use an automatic timer to control your lights. Unless you have rigorous personal daily routines, it is easy to forget to turn the lights on and off – and a burden to think about it all the time.
For a regular leo owner, you won’t need anything more complicated than a simple, affordable controller with no advanced options. However, due to safety, I recommend that you get the one from a reputable producer. Zoo Med’s Repti Terrarium Timer meets all those requirements.
Can I Use Natural Window Light For My Leos?
Before even considering the possibility of using natural light in your tank, a word of caution: the greatest danger of using window light source is overheating. Unlike with bulbs, you can’t control the intensity of the sun’s rays. If the sun hits your window and the terrarium behind it directly, you may risk overheating your tank.
If the sun doesn’t hit your window directly or does so only for a short period, there should be no danger of overheating. However, I still don’t recommend this method, because it is unlikely that natural daylight cycles where you live will match those which leopard geckos are adjusted to. This is especially important if you are trying to breed leos.
Only in the case your yearly daylight patterns closely match those from leo’s natural habitat described above – then yes, leos will “use” the natural light, and their internal clock should be fine. However, since UVB light doesn’t pass through ordinary glass and plastic, they won’t reap the benefits of being exposed to the UVB part of the spectrum.
To find out if leopard geckos really need a UV source, please read on.
What Is The Best Type Of Light For Leopard Geckos?
When we talk about lights for leopard geckos (and other reptiles), we could divide the bulbs into four main categories:
- Daytime bulbs
- Nighttime bulbs
- UVB bulbs
- Ceramic (heat) bulbs
All of these types of light have their own purpose. Daylight lamps simulate daylight and provide heat. Nighttime bulbs help you to view your pets and night and also provide heat, albeit less than the daytime heat bulbs. UVB lights help to simulate natural sun spectrum and can help your lizard to synthesize vitamin D3. Ceramic bulbs provide heat only l(but a lot of it).
Since most lamps emit heat, when choosing the right one, you should also consider the way a particular bulb will affect the temperature in your tank. Lights can be used as a primary or an additional heat source, and/or can help you to create a temperature gradient within the tank. However, be mindful that different types of bulbs produce different amounts of heat. For example, mercury-vapor bulbs can get too hot for small tanks typically used for leopard geckos.
The Right Daytime Lighting For Leopard Geckos
As crepuscular/nocturnal lizard that rarely basks under the light source, the leopard gecko is not overly sensitive to the properties of artificial light in the tank. In the earlier days, the standard opinion was that since leopard geckos are “nocturnal,” they do not need any amount of UV light. The tank light was primarily considered a leopard gecko heat lamp, so merely providing them with a daytime heat lamp for the right amount of hours per day was considered to be enough.
However, in recent years, this practice has been up for debate.
Do leopard geckos need UVB?
Although leos are active at night, they are not entirely nocturnal. Ther activity starts before the sun goes down completely, meaning they are crepuscular. In their natural habitats, they do receive a certain amount of natural sunlight and can use it to synthesize vitamin D.
In captivity, many generations of leos have been raised with heat lamps only, and have lived on for many years without UV light exposure. These geckos get their vitamin D3 through synthetic supplements.
That is why the idea that leopard geckos should, in fact, be provided with a UVB source is becoming prevalent in the reptile community. And it makes sense. Remember that lizards do not have to bask fully to synthesize vitamin D3 – any part of the exposed skin will catalyze the process. If your leo has a leg or his tail sticking out of their hide, they will still synthesize D3.
Having a UVB light in your leo tank is not absolutely necessary. If provided with the right amount of supplements, your geckos are unlikely to suffer direct consequences from the lack of UV light, unlike many diurnal lizards. However, having a UVB light is undoubtedly beneficial. We can’t be sure if leopard geckos in captivity suffer when they lack exposure to this important part of the light spectrum. Although we can easily see if a gecko is sick, we can’t know for sure he is feeling unwell. If you genuinely care about your gecko’s wellbeing, simulating natural light – including UVA and UVB – is highly recommended.
A T5 or T8 UVB of 5-6% (and 2% for albino morphs) are suitable for leos. It would be perfect if your UV bulb could be fixed towards one (“basking”) side of the tank to provide a UV gradient.
Incandescent Daylight Bulbs for Leopard Geckos
The standard incandescent – tungsten or halogen – bulbs and lamps will do just fine as a primary light and heat source. They emit mostly yellows and reds with no blue part of the spectrum, which means they can complement an additional UVB light perfectly.
The regular home incandescents of proper wattage will do just fine. However, there are also specialized incandescent bulbs for reptiles which are a bit more refined. For example, this Zilla Reptile Day White Terrarium Incandescent Heat Lamp simulates natural daylight by using neodymium glass, which produces brighter, whiter light. It emits light at wavelengths from 400nm to 700nm for visual (visible) light and UVA rays from 315nm to 400nm.
Full Spectrum Daylight Bulbs for Leopard Geckos
Unlike incandescent bulbs, full-spectrum bulbs emit both UVA and low amounts UVB light. Nevertheless, the reduced amount of UVB light can be perfect for undemanding reptiles such as leopard geckos. Zoo Med ReptiSun 5.0 Mini Compact Fluorescent Lamp offers 30% UVA and 5% UVB light. It should be changed yearly, though some herpers do a 6-month change to ensure UVB levels are always stable.
Note that a fluorescent bulb emits a meager amount of heat; thus, it cannot be used as a heat lamp. You can combine it either with an under tank heater or another heat bulb – colored or ceramic. Read on to learn about these bulbs.
Leopard Gecko Lighting At Night
Unlike the daytime bulbs, night lighting for leopard geckos isn’t there to simulate daylight – but to enable you to watch your geckos in the evening or at night, when they are the most active. It is like fake moonlight, but with another additional feature. Unlike the moonlight, night lights will also provide some heat.
You’ll be able to find three main types of night lights on the market:
- Red lights
- Blue lights
- “Black” lights
All of the types do pretty much the same thing – heat the terrarium while adding some discrete light in the part of the spectrum that reptiles are thought not to see.
However, this is another topic of hot debate.
An ideal night light will give off just enough light for you to watch your geckos but will be low enough not to disturb your sleep or pet’s activities. Still, it turned out that the assumption that nocturnal reptiles can’t see the red lights is not entirely accurate. Even if they can’t see red, they can still see the light itself – like colorblind people.
I had used a red light in my tank for a few years. In all that time, I had never noticed that my leos were disturbed by the red bulb. Their pupils were dilated as if it was dark, and they would go about their business normally. While I haven’t experimentally compared the activity level with and without the light, I don’t use any type of night light anymore out of precaution nevertheless.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use these bulbs at all, although they are absolutely not necessary. I would advise that you keep them on just as long as you want to watch your leos, and not the entire (night)time.
Leopard Gecko Red Nighttime Bulbs
Red bulbs are commonly used as night lights + heaters in tanks, many of them running for 24 hours each day. They are almost always marketed as “infrared,” though this is not entirely true – the heat that the bulbs emit does belong to the infrared part of the spectrum. However, the visible red light is just that – part of the visible light spectrum.
A quality bulb, like the Zoo Med Nocturnal Infrared Incandescent Heat Lamp (75 Watts) is not merely coated with red paint, but it is made out of genuine red glass. Zoo Med also claims that this bulb emits only a small part of visible light and that it will not interfere with your pet’s day-night cycle.
Leopard Gecko Blue Night Lights
Blue night lights, like this Exo Terra 100 Watt Night Heat Lamp, simulate moonlight by giving off a bluish glow. This will give your tank a more natural look, though some people still prefer the warm glow of infrared lights. When it comes to how potentially disruptive they are, there is no known difference between blue and red lights.
Also, the blue lamps don’t emit a lot of heat and won’t interfere with maintaining the natural nocturnal temperature drop.
Leopard Gecko “Black” Night Lights
Due to concerns about disturbing nocturnal pets, some producers have developed the so-called “black lamps,” such as this Zilla Night Black Heat.
The black light bulbs are claimed to emit very little visual light, giving off only a discrete purplish glow while providing heat. However, their exact effect on leopard gecko’s vision and still unknown, and it is unclear if they are really superior to its black and red counterparts. Black lights are used in the same manner as red and blue lights.
Day/Night Light Combos
Some manufacturers offer combos of day and night bulbs at affordable prices, as well as the fixtures to house them in.
It the case you find quality goods, this can be practical both in the sense of purchase, and the time and space required to install the fixture.
Durability of Light Bulbs
The reviews on the durability of various incandescent bulbs vary greatly. While most manufacturers guarantee a particular lifetime, customers often report that even bulbs from reputable brands burn out much quicker than that. Others, however, report no issues of such kind.
That can be at least partially explained by the fact that the light bulbs are sensitive objects which can be damaged by bad handling. Mishaps can happen both with pet stores and online ordering. So besides informed decision, buying a long-lasting bulb is also a matter of luck.
Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how to properly use and house the bulbs. Some are sensitive to overheating, which can happen if they are closed in domes.
Ceramic Heat Bulbs For Leopard Geckos
Despite the marketing, red and blue lights will inevitably emit some percentage of light that is visible to your pet reptile. If you notice a change in behavioral patterns in your leos after adding the nocturnal light, or if you are just cautious like me, then a ceramic bulb – also called a ceramic heat emitter (CHE) – could be a good solution.
Ceramic bulbs are not true light bulbs – because they emit no light, but only heat. However, “heat” actually belongs to the infrared part of the spectrum, making ceramic heat bulbs the real infrared bulbs. And, they provide natural heat, because it comes from above, like the heat of the sun, or the hot rocks above leo burrows. Another upside of CHEs is that they last much longer than any light bulb.
It is better to use CHEs with porcelain sockets, because the plastic ones may melt due to high heat. Also, never touch the heated bulb!
Be careful if you have a small tank – most CHEs emit too much heat for tanks of 20 gallons and under. You should definitely have a thermostat, but you can additionally control the heat output by getting a dimmer switch, or by raising the bulb well above the tank.
ZooMed’s ReptiCare Infrared Ceramic Heat Emitter uses a standard (ceramic) incandescent socket and promises a long lifetime – as long as 5 years.
Since CHEs are powerful, you will want them to be thermostatically controlled (and I recommend the same for all other heat sources). ReptiTemp RT 600 Digital Thermostat Controller lets you control up to 600 watts of heating devices, and controls temperatures in the range from 50 degrees F to 122 degrees F (10-50 degrees C). Also, it has a built-in alarm which will warn you of extreme temperatures.
Leopard Gecko Lighting Tips
Here are a few general rules you should know when setting up a light in a leopard gecko tank, which can also be applied to all other lizards.
- The light should always be placed directly above your tank, and not come from the sides. See those ridges above your leo’s eyes, the “eyebrows”? They exist to shade their sensitive surface of the eye, but obviously, don’t work if you put the light on the side of the tank.
- The same rule applies to UVB light. Misusing it can lead to severe eye damage.
- Ideally, the light should be placed above and not inside the tank. Lamps that rest on the mesh lid are also fine.
- Do not get the bulb that is too powerful for the size of your tank.
- Set the lights at a proper distance. No light should be closer than six inches from your pet. This gets more complicated in the case your leo can climb all the way to the lid (e.g., stone or 3D background); in that case, the lamp should definitely be hanging over the tank.
- Always check the temperature below the heat lamp.
- Always use guards if your gecko can get near the heat bulb.
- Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how to use that bulb.
- To create a real daylight effect, set the timer to turn off your UVB a couple of hours before your daylight bulb.
- Provide hides and caves both on the light side and the darker side of your tank.
It’s Your Turn
I hope I have managed to light up this often neglected, but an important leopard gecko housing topic. Although leos are not as sensitive to the quality of light as some diurnal lizard, the presence and type of lighting has the power to enhance your leo’s life substantially. That is why the right lamps, bulbs, and fixtures are worth the time and the money you will invest in them.