I'm a part-time reptile breeder and a full-time animal lover. I keep over 100 individual reptiles across 10+ species.
Leopard geckos (Eublepharis macularius), a terrestrial reptile species that originates from the rocky mountains of Pakistan, are a popular starter pet in the reptile industry. They are found in pet stores around the world and have been kept and bred in captivity for decades. They are reasonably small, robust, and come in a wide variety of colors that have been developed in captivity. They are extremely easy animals to keep and can live long, healthy lives if given proper care. This care sheet will give you the basics for setting up a leopard gecko.
Basic Elements of Leopard Gecko Care
- Common Pitfalls
Helios is one of my favorite males.
The basic components of a leopard gecko home are:
- an enclosure,
- a heat source,
- and hides.
An enclosure can be a glass tank, or a plastic tub. Enclosures should be longer than they are tall. Leopard geckos are a terrestrial species and should have a good floor space. The minimum size tank for a single adult leopard gecko is 10 gallons. 20 gallons is often preferred by keepers due to ease of decorating and better heat gradient.
Heat sources are extremely important for leopard geckos, as it facilitates proper digestion. They absorb heat through their belly, so the best type of heat source is known as “under-tank heater”. This heat source needs to cover one-third to one-half of the floor of the enclosure. Ideal floor temperatures for these geckos are between 88-94 degrees Fahrenheit, so the heat source needs to be regulated by a thermostat that has a probe.
Leopard geckos originate from areas of rocks and hard packed dirt. As such, loose substrate is not natural to them and should be avoided. Flooring can be picked based on keeper preference, but it should be solid. Commonly used safe substrates are paper towel, not glossy tile, slate tile, or shelf liner (NOTE: tile and liner should not have adhesive backings).
Hides are where a gecko will spend much of its time during the day. Hides can be store bought, modified tupperware containers, anything that will make the gecko feel safe and secure. There simply needs to be a minimum of three: one warm, one cool, and one humid hide. The humid hide should have a dampened substrate inside it to aid in shedding. Examples for the humid hide substrate are sphagnum moss, coco fiber, or paper towel.
Leopard geckos are insectivores, a subset of carnivore that means they feed primarily on insects. Variety is key when feeding leopard geckos.
Staple feeder insects include:
- roaches (dubia, discoid, lateralis),
- and crickets.
Crickets tend to carry parasites and should be purchased from safe sources. Healthy supplementary insects can be hornworms, silk worms, and phoenix worms. These insects are healthy but often cannot serve as staples due to restrictions such as moisture content or monetary restrictions. Treat insects are butter worms and wax worms. These should be fed to healthy geckos only as an occasional treat, no more than once a week.
Schedule and Frequency
When it comes to a feeding schedule, young geckos should be fed more frequently than adults, who should be fed once or twice a week. They rarely eat more than they need at one time, so feed as much as they will eat in one sitting. There is no strict amount on how much to feed. As long as the gecko is a healthy weight, allow it to eat as many healthy insects as it wants!
Gut loading feeder insects is important to maintaining healthy animals. Gut loads can be purchased from commercial producers, however it can be just as simple as feeding healthy veggies such as carrots, potatoes, and romaine lettuce to the bugs. Any commercial gut loads should be researched before purchased as there are many junk ones sold by pet stores.
Leopard geckos do require outside supplementation for optimal health. Calcium with Vitamin D3 is required to prevent soft, spongey bones. Calcium without D3 is not necessary to purchase. A good reptile multivitamin is also necessary to ensure proper shedding. Both supplements can be left in separate bottle caps in the tank for the gecko to consume as needed, and should be changed out for fresh supplements every few weeks.
A few recommended brands of calcium are Repti-calcium and Osteoform SA. Some recommended multivitamins are Herptivite. Repashy Calcium Plus is a multivitamin and calcium combo. Ensure that the Calcium powder chosen does have D3 and is phosphorus free.
4. Common Pitfalls
There are several pitfalls new keepers tend to stumble into when setting up for a new gecko. The most common mistakes involve:
- and cohabitation.
First is substrate. Sand is often recommended by pet stores, and it looks neat and easy to clean. Coco fiber sometimes gets recommended as well. Both are claimed to be natural for leopard geckos. Both can cause shedding problems, gut impaction, respiratory infection, and other health problems. Geckos have a Jacobson's organ and tend to lick everything, so even if not fed on the loose substrate, it can still be ingested.
Another pitfall is in heating. Heat lamps and heat rocks are provided at pet stores, but do not offer good heat sources. They are difficult to regulate; heat rocks are notorious for burning reptiles severely, as they can reach temperatures well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat lamps are difficult to regulate ground temperature with, and require being on constantly to maintain the temperature.
Additional lighting is believed to be necessary for supplementation or daylight cycles, and it is not. UV lights are not needed with proper supplementation of D3. Night lights can actually hinder a leopard gecko’s normal nighttime behaviors and disrupt their day/night cycles. The best option is to allow the room the enclosure is in to be lighted with ambient light from a window. If that’s not possible for some reason, simply turning on a room light in the morning and off at night will work just as well.
Housing multiple geckos is another area that new keepers fall into trouble. Especially when one is first starting out with these animals, leopard geckos should be housed separately, not together. Housing two together can result in bullying, injury, and even death.
Important Note From the Author
This care sheet includes leopard gecko basics for someone just getting started with their first leopard gecko. It covers only the bare essentials. There are more complex topics not covered here. If a question is not covered here, please look to see if I have covered it in another article. If I have not yet, feel free to request it for a future article or try to seek out further information elsewhere online. I am happy to answer questions and help however I can!
Frostiebe on January 25, 2019:
how much u leopard geckos at mr.pet in BC
bookpaw on March 03, 2018:
i love it a lot
Brittany Banks from Spokane, Washington on June 28, 2017:
I love this one! I'm sharing it!
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on June 26, 2017:
This was interesting to read even though I will not be keeping them as pets. We have loads of wild Mediterranean geckos outside our home in Houston. We usually spot them at night on our brick catching bugs that are drawn to one of our outdoor spotlights.
Brendan Cramphorn on June 26, 2017:
I really like your information, up to date and helped me improve my setups!!!!
Adults are typically 16.5-20 cm (6.5-8 inches) long. Mature male geckos weigh between 60-90 grams. Females may be as light as 45 grams. At birth, leopard geckos weigh 6-8 grams.
- Feed leopard geckos a variety of gut-loaded or dusted insects of appropriate size such as crickets, Phoenix worms, mealworms, and superworms. May be fed the occasional pinky mouse.
- Dust the non-breeding adult’s diet with a calcium carbonate or calcium gluconate supplement once weekly, more often if the gecko is actively breeding. Calcium supplements should be devoid or low in phosphorus with a minimum Ca:P ratio of 2:1. A general vitamin/mineral supplement may also be offered once weekly.
- Feed adult geckos once dailyand offer prey in late afternoon because these lizards are primarily nocturnal.
- For more information, download the client handout: Feeding Insect Eating Reptiles.
Leopard Gecko Appearance
Male leopard geckos are usually larger than females and measure between 7-11″ inches (28 cm) and weigh 70-100 grams.
Female leopard geckos measure between 6-8″ inches (20 cm) and weigh 40-90 grams.
The small, triangular head shape of a leopard gecko is similar to other gecko species, and they have a long body with a thick tail.
The tail is where the gecko stores fat, so a chunky tail is a sign of a well-fed animal.
Leopard geckos have been bred with many exciting color mutations over the years, including lavender, tangerine, and yellow, with black or brown striping or spotting.
There are also albinism cases, which produces a solid white coloring, and melanism, which gives the gecko a solid black coloring.
These color variations are very expensive, with solid black leopard geckos selling for thousands of dollars.
The spots on a leopard gecko also have various patterns ranging from rosettes, solid spots, stripes, and irregular blotches.
A Hypo melanistic leopard gecko will have fewer than ten spots on its body, with the spots only appearing on the head and tail.
A leopard gecko with absolutely no spots on its body is considered to be Super Hypo melanistic.
A leopard gecko’s eyes usually have slit pupils, but many different mutations are specifically bred for.
These eye mutations include solid black or red coloring (eclipse), streaks of the pupil in the iris (snake eyes), and spotting within the iris (marble eyes).
The coloring of leopard geckos will change until they are between 12-18 months old when their pattern becomes more apparent.
Leopard geckos may become darker in color when they reach old age, and they will also darken their skin if they get cold.
There are two unique characteristics of leopard geckos, setting them apart from other gecko species.
Unlike other geckos, leopard geckos have functioning eyelids allowing them to blink and sleep with their eyes closed.
Instead of suction pads on their feet bottoms, leopard geckos have slender digits with long claws.
This unique feature means the leopard gecko is not an adept climber, but it helps this ground-dwelling lizard for digging burrows.
Leopard Gecko Care Sheet: How to Take Care of a Leopard Gecko?
Leopard geckos are one of the most popular pet for reptile enthusiasts. They are undemanding, hardy, easy to care for and breed. Find out more on how to take care for a leopard gecko in our care sheet:
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
- 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 leopard gecko breeders, some of which dedicated their entire careers to these charming, easy, and sometimes even squeaky mini-dinosaurs.