Basic Care of Leopard Geckos

History

Leopard geckos have been captive bred for more than 35 years and are one of the most commonly kept lizards. In the wild they are found in Western Turkey, through Syria,Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkmenistan and Eastern India.

They are a crepuscular species who emerge from their burrows and shelter to hunt for insects. Hatchling geckos tend to be around 3 -4 inches long. Adults normally grow to around 8-10 inches. Some males can grow to nearly 12 inches and can weigh over 150g. Most geckos live between 6 and 10 years however some have been known to reach up to 30 years of age.

Leopard Gecko inside Vivarium habitat

Captive Environment

There are many areas in the basic care of leopard geckos so I’ve broken them down into these individual subjects.

COHABITING

Leopard geckos are often kept in a vivarium. I recommend that all geckos should be housed individually as when housed together, one will eventually become dominant and they will fight, with serious injury or even death as a consequence, especially if two males are housed together. My advice is its not worth the risk, house them individually.

SUBSTRATE

This can be a touchy subject with many different opinions about what is best to use. The following is just my opinion and what has and what is currently working for me. Many different loose substrates are commercially available such as sand or cork chips, however these are best avoided due to the risk of impaction if swallowed by your geckos.

For beginners completely new to Leopard Geckos, I have found a good substrate to begin with is linolium, as it presents no risk of impaction to your gecko that you could get with other loose substrates. It is also very easy to keep clean and ideal for those new to keeping geckos as its easy to monitor your geckos behaviour and to check that their poo is how it should be. If you decide to start off with linoleum then be sure only to use linoleum that is solvent free with no adhesive backing or layer underneath, as the heat source in the vivarium could cause poisonous fumes to occur, which is obviously no good for you or the gecko.

Once you are more confident with your gecko husbandry you may wish to upgrade your vivarium to a bioactive set up to create a more naturalistic environment for you gecko, which is what many keeps in the hobby adopt. Their are many safe substrate options here including Leolife, Ecoearth arid mix, excavator clay or even a 70/30 mix of untreated/unfertilised topsoil and playsand, depending on what look you want to go for.

HEATING

Again, another source of much debate in the hobby as to what is best. My opinion is as follows for wooden vivariums. If you’ve decided to start out with linoleum as a substrate then a heat source is provided usually by means of a heat mat, which should be no bigger than a third of the floor surface area and placed at one end to maintain a heat gradient across the vivarium.

The heat mat should be used in conjunction with a suitable thermostat to regulate the temperature inside the vivarium, ideally 90-93 degrees Fahrenheit at the warm end and between 80-85 at the cool end. This heat gradient is what allows the gecko to regulate its temperature. The temperature at the hot end allows the gecko to digest its food correctly.

If you’re going to go straight for the bioactive set up then you can provide heat from above with something like a deep heat projector (DHP), ideally placed above some slate or flat rock, which will create a hot spot in that area where your gecko can get the required belly heat to digest their food correctly. This overhead heating equipment should also be controlled by a suitable thermostat to set and regulate the temperature.

LIGHTING (UVB OR SUPPLEMENTATION)

Yet again, another subject of much debate, and one that is best left to personal choice as there are many people who use both methods and their geckos are thriving. UVB Lighting can be provided to help the geckos absorb the calcium that they need.

This can also be done with vitamin D3 supplementation in conjunction with your calcium (more on that below in the Diet section) . LED lighting may also be provided for viewing purposes. While coloured LED lighting looks great it has been suggested that it is not beneficial to the geckos, so clear soft lighting is recommended here. Just remember that many albino geckos are very sensitive to light so this may discourage them from exploring whilst its on.

HIDES

All geckos love to hide away, some more than others, so it’s important to provide them with lots of little hides across the heat gradient. The geckos should be provided with a minimum of 3 hides in the enclosure. One on the warm side, one on the cool side and a moist hide to aid with shedding.

RACKS

Many breeders, including myself, who have large numbers of geckos will use rack shelving systems that contain multiple plastic tubs to house the geckos. These tubs are heated via a heat cable placed about a third of the way from the back of the shelf. All my geckos are housed individually and I find this type of housing is just as effective for the geckos well being as a vivarium. I provide all my adult geckos with the three hides suggested above. I use coco fibre in their moist hides as I find this retains moisture well and aids my geckos with their shedding process, and doubles up as a laybox for the females during breeding season. I use kitchen roll / paper towel as a substrate.

A Vivarium for Leopard Gecko

Diet

Leopard geckos require live food. All of my geckos eat mealworms as their main food item. They are also partial to roaches, locusts and occasionally waxworms. I’m not a fan of crickets as they can carry pinworm which will in turn, pass on to your geckos. All of these food items should be ‘gutloaded’ for at least 24 hours prior to feeding as this will increase their nutritional value for your geckos. This gut loading can be in the form of fresh vegetables and/or specifically designed powders. Many breeders have their own recipe for gut loading.

In addition you should provide your geckos with calcium, D3 and vitamin powder, either buy dusting the food items or placing the said powder in a shallow plastic dish. I prefer to use violate and osteoform sa in a 50/50 mix provided in a separate bowl from the food items. I find this way the geckos can regulate how much intake they require themselves. Fresh water should be provided  in a shallow bowl, although you may find some geckos prefer to lick the droplets of moisture from their moist hides.

Leopard Gecko Diet

Hygiene and handling

Good hygiene practice is not only important for your geckos but for you as well. Your geckos enclosure should be spot cleaned on a regular basis. I spot clean my hatchling tubs twice a week, my adult tubs once a week. All hatchling tubs have a thorough clean once a week, and the adults every other week.

It is good practice to use a reptile hand gel before and after handling your geckos, or alternatively, wash your hands with an antibacterial handwash . This not only prevents spreading germs from you to your geckos but it also prevents you from picking up germs as well.

When introducing new geckos to your home it is good practice to quarantine them for 3 months so as not to accidentally introduce any disease or parasites they may be carrying to your other geckos. Wash you hands before and after handling new geckos to make this effective.

It is common for geckos, especially younger geckos, to take a few weeks or more to get used to their new surroundings. It is best to leave them to their own devices during this time and keep handling and interaction to a minimum. They may not eat much during this time but that is nothing to worry about as leopard geckos can go long periods without food without losing condition.

Being too hands on straight away can cause stress to the geckos, which is far more detrimental to the animals that a couple of weeks fasting during the settling in period. Most breeders will not feed ant sold geckos for a week before they are due to be couriered. This is so they do not regurgitate during transit and it also increases the likelihood of them accepting food items more quickly on their arrival, therefore easing the settling in process.

When handling geckos it is important to remember not to tug their tales as leopard geckos can drop their tales as a defence mechanism if they feel threatened. Most geckos seem to enjoy being handled once they have become accustomed to you.

Once they seem to have settled in, you can offer your hand to them. They may be wary initially, but eventually they will begin to trust you and crawl onto your hand. Let your gecko crawl up through your fingers and let them walk across your hands, hand over hand. It is best to be close to the floor when doing this to reduce the risk of the gecko falling from height should you lose control. Geckos will occasionally lick you and taste you with their tongue to gain information about you. Some geckos seem to recognise your scent after a while and will crawl readily onto your hand if offered.

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