We call reptiles “exotic pets” because most popular species come from exotic areas, south of the overwhelmingly-temperate western and eastern places that are the biggest reptile markets.
These exotic areas are always warmer parts of the world – a tropical or subtropical climate, be it humid or dry.
That is why we need to ensure proper heating in reptile terrariums, as the temperatures they need are commonly higher than our home ambient temps. The same is true for leopard geckos.
Fortunately, doing that for leos is not too much of a hassle.
Read on to find out:
- What is the right temperature for a leopard gecko (and how to get there)?
- What is a thermogradient, and how to create one in a leo tank?
- What is the right humidity for leopard geckos?
What Is the Correct Temperature and Humidity for a Leopard Gecko?
Leos are semi-desert reptiles that like it warm and dry. The ideal daytime temperatures for leopard geckos are 75° to 85°F (24-29 °C), with up to up to 90°F (32 °C) under the heat lamp. The nighttime temperatures should never drop below 65°F (18°C). The ideal humidity is between 30-40%.
As you might have concluded, temperature and humidity shouldn’t be the same throughout the entire tank. You will need to create a thermal gradient – meaning that you’ll have a hot side of the terrarium (a “basking area” heated directly with daylight, heat lamp, and/or a heat mat) and a cool side of the terrarium. The humidity will naturally follow this pattern and be lower on the hot side and higher on the cool side.
It sounds complicated, but it really isn’t! Read on to learn how to easily ensure temperature and humidity sweet spots for your beloved leos.
Ideal Temperature for Leopard Gecko
To get the leopard gecko temperature exactly right, we need to elaborate on that temperature gradient or thermogradient.
As I’ve already explained, a temperature gradient means creating different temperature zones in the tank – with the warm side heated more than the opposite, cool side. The middle ground will naturally be something in-between.
Why do geckos require a temperature gradient at all?
Well, leos are not special in this respect – most reptiles need it.
Unlike mammals and birds (and possibly dinosaurs!), reptiles are ectothermic (“cold-blooded”) animals, meaning they cannot regulate their body temperature. Instead, they use their environment to do this.
When lizards need to warm up, they seek out sunlight, a radiating rock, or another heat source. Likewise, they hide or burrow in the shade when they need to cool down.
We do our best to mimic this natural order in terrariums so our cold-blooded pets can balance their metabolisms as needed.
Besides the zones themselves, provide two moist hides – one on the cool side and one on the warm side. I prefer having four hides for my leo gals – a dry one and a moist one on each side of their tanks. If you don’t have that much space, put the humid hide somewhere at the “middle ground.”
How to Measure Temperature in a Leopard Gecko Tank?
You will keep track of the temperatures on both sides of the tank via a terrarium thermometer. Using special thermometers for reptile enclosures is a safer option than improvising.
Often, you find thermometers with humidity meters – hygrometers – included, which is both practical and aesthetically pleasing.
Ideally, you’ll measure it at both ends of your terrarium, but if you can’t afford it at the moment, keeping an eye on the hot side of the tank is more critical.
Additionally, if you suspect that any spot in the tank gets too hot, you can use a reliable temp gun to check temperatures in individual zones.
How Hot Should a Leopard Gecko Tank Be?
When we’re talking about hot, we mean the hot end of the tank. This is where the heat source is. The temperature in this area should be between 85-90°F (29-32°C).
Finding the balance between heating and lighting is essential. Nearly all light sources emit at least some heat; when combined with heat elements in a small tank, they can drive the temps above the recommended levels. Leopard gecko heat lamp wattage and bulb type are also factors to consider.
> Further reading: check out our Leopard Gecko Lighting article
In my experience, for regular, heated home environments, you don’t need to supplement the cool end of the tank with a heater of any kind – some heat from the hot end will naturally be transferred to the cool end. If the tank is not too big or elongated, enough heat will migrate to the opposing corner to secure minimum daytime temps.
However, nighttime is another story. The daylight in the tank is turned off, and many people turn off the heating in the house; thus, the ambient temperature may dip below 68°F (20°C). Remember, nighttime temps shouldn’t be less than 65°F (18°C).
If that’s the case with your home, ensure a nighttime heating source, at least in the winter. You can use a ceramic bulb for nighttime heating; however, it may get too hot for small tanks. In this case, opt for a heating pad.
Humidity Levels for Leopard Gecko
Coming from arid grasslands of the Middle East, leopard geckos prefer a relatively dry environment – the ideal humidity is between 30 and 40% at the cool end of the terrarium.
However, leos are not your typical desert lizards either. In nature, they tend to burrow and rest in spots where the humidity level is higher. That is why they need a moist hide.
A moist hide is a semi-enclosed area like a miniature artificial cave filled with water-absorbing substrates such as peat moss, coco coir, or a damp paper towel. Expectedly, humidity in the moist hide will be higher than in the rest of the terrarium, but it’s usually not precisely measured.
You will notice that geckos tend to spend a lot of time in their most hide, which is their natural habit. The elevated humidity of their hide absolutely can’t harm them – as long as they have a drier place to go to. That is why the overall humidity level is the most important – and something to keep track of.
How Do I Measure Humidity in My Tank?
If you’re wondering how to keep the humidity level in check, you can easily do that using a specialized hygrometer – a small device equipped with a humidity sensor.
To make things more convenient for the users, manufacturers often combine hygrometers with thermometers, so you can easily keep both important values in check.
How Humid Is Too Humid for a Leopard Gecko?
From my experience, leos are not overly sensitive to room humidity levels that are slightly higher than the recommended ones. E.g., if your seasonal average ambient humidity reaches 50%, it will be pretty much the same in the tank, and leos won’t mind.
However, when bordering or going above the recommended levels, you have to be careful about all the sources of humidity in the tank itself, as they can add up to the already high ambient humidity.
Special note: upon hearing you have “a gecko,” some people may advise you to mist the tank. However, leos are not that kind of geckos. They’ve evolved to thrive in a dry environment, and misting the entire tank can only do harm. The only thing to mist in a leo tank is the moist hide when it gets dry.
What Are the Signs of High Humidity in the Tank?
Let’s be clear – the best and the most reliable sign of high humidity is the high reading on the tank’s hygrometer. The device will help you to notice the problem before any possible problems.
If you don’t have the one installed yet, here are the signs of high humidity – but keep in mind that they are related to really high humidity, way beyond leos’ tolerance point.
- Condensation (water droplets) appears on tank glass.
- You feel a heavy, moldy smell coming from the tank when you raise the lid.
- The gecko poop gets soft and moldy after a while.
- There is visible mold on tank elements (especially the wooden ones).
- Your leo is lethargic and sickly – has suffered from pneumonia or skin infections that cannot be explained otherwise.
Oh, and about the point on the smell – yes, do sniff that tank air! If it’s uncomfortable for you to breathe in, it is likely the same for your leos.
How to Lower Humidity for Leopard Geckos
So, despite your efforts, the hygrometer gives you high readings. What should you do?
Here is how you can control and lower humidity levels in a leopard gecko tank.
- Do not spray the tank (except for the moist hide or the lizard itself if it needs help shedding).
- Ensure good ventilation so that evaporating water can escape. As leo tanks are heated, the humidity will tend to evaporate. If you have a glass or a plastic lid and can’t get the humidity levels down, opt for a wire mesh lid instead.
- Put in a smaller water tray – it will require frequent refills, but you’ll lower the evaporation.
- Consider changing the substrate – swap the traditional soil-like substrate (e.g., coconut coir) with tiles, reptile carpet, or a similar solution with no absorbing properties. If this is not feasible, use silica gel bags or dry rice socks to remove some moisture from the tank floor.
If you live in a tropical or coastal area, the ambient air may be causing the issue – and this is the most challenging humidity problem to tackle.
You’ll have to deal with the room humidity first. Opening windows and creating drafts, installing a fan (especially a ceiling fan), and turning on the HVAC will all decrease ambient humidity. In severe cases, you may have to install a dehumidifier, preferably near the tank.
If investing in this makes you feel overwhelmed, consider that the optimal humidity level for humans is 30-60%. Getting ambient humidity at the lower end of this range may benefit both you and your pets.
Alternatively, you can put in a mini-dehumidifier in the tank itself, provided there is enough space.
If you have a designated reptile or terrarium/aquarium room, you may face high evaporation from a lot of water or mist in a warm space. In these cases, I advise keeping leos in a separate room, as it can be challenging to combat the evaporation from many aquariums or always-moist and misted tropical terrariums.
How to Increase Humidity Level in the Tank?
More rarely, the air in the tank gets too dry – below that 30% advised for leos. Dry air can cause all sorts of problems, especially with skin shedding.
So, how to keep the leopard gecko tank humid? Or, better say, humid enough?
Essentially, you should do the opposite of the tips for de-humidifying the tank. Swap the mesh lid for a solid one, increase the size of a water tray, and have a semi-open moist hide or corner that you’ll mist regularly.
You can also lightly mist the geckos themselves, especially before shedding. Still, I advise against regularly misting the entire tank.
To Sum It Up
I hope this guide will help you get the right temperature and humidity levels in your leo tank. Again, leopard geckos are not overly sensitive in this respect; still, respecting the minimum and maximum values, ensuring the temperature gradient, and keeping an eye on the humidity are among the pillars of good leopard gecko husbandry.
That is precisely why you shouldn’t hesitate to do your homework on the topic and ask questions. Have any? Feel free to drop a comment below!