Leopard Gecko Care Guide

One of the most common species kept today and with hundreds of colourful varieties as a result, leopard geckos make fantastic pet reptiles. This is our complete guide on leopard gecko care.


Leopard geckos are a commonly kept lizard species first described by British Herpetologist Edward Blyth, in Pakistan, 1854. The namesake of Eublepharid geckos relates to their eyes – ‘eu’ meaning ‘true’ and ‘blephar’ eyelid in Greek; these geckos can blink and close their eyes unlike other gecko species that have a specialised transparent scale protecting the eye. ‘Macularius’ refers to their naturally spotted patterns. Leopard geckos are able to drop off their tail when under attack by a predator – this is known as caudal autotomy.

They are ground-dwelling geckos from dry rocky grasslands of Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, and northern India. This wide distribution has led to the discovery of at least 10 different species within Eublepharis (the taxonomic group of leopard geckos), each differing slightly in appearance, size and temperament. On average they reach a total length of 7-10 inches and can live 15+ years in captivity with good care.

Leopard geckos were brought into the reptile trade in the 1980s and exploded into popularity with no signs of this burning out, owing to their relative ease of care, good temperament, and range of colour mutations. Most species in the trade are assumed to be Eublepharis macularius macularius, or ‘true’ common leopard geckos, but regardless of subspecies their habitat requirements are essentially the same.


The minimum amount of space for an adult leopard gecko is provided by a 90cmx45cmx45cm enclosure. They will use any additional space you give them too. Being terrestrial, leopard geckos appreciate more floor space than height, but will climb decorations and ledges to an extent if provided. Most other gecko species are expert climbers thanks to the specialised hairs on their feet that make them ‘sticky’, but leopard geckos lack these, using claws for digging and climbing rough surfaces. You can apply a naturalistic textured background to your enclosure for climbing and aesthetics.

Material wise, wooden vivariums work well by retaining lots of heat and being accessible from the front. Glass enclosures are also a viable option, especially when reptile-specific and front-opening, like ExoTerra wide terrariums. When placing the enclosure, avoid areas with exposure to direct sunlight or cold drafts so as not to interfere with the internal temperature regulation. It’s a good idea to invest in a locking mechanism for the doors to prevent any children or pets getting in. Lastly try not to choose an area that is too busy or noisy, as your gecko may become stressed by this. To tell males and females apart is straightforward.

At around 5 months old (this can vary slightly), males will develop a v-shape line of femoral pores above their vent, on the underside just before the base of the tail. Below this, there will also be two small lumps visible, indicating the internal reproductive hemipenes. Females will lack these characteristics, having no visible pores or bumps. As adults, males are generally larger and broader set than females. Leopard geckos are also temperature dependent when it comes to sex, meaning incubation temperature determines the sex of the hatchlings, so a breeder should be able to tell you the most likely outcome if your gecko is young.


Leopard geckos need a heat source to thermoregulate and digest their food properly. In their natural environment, leopard geckos are sporadically active in temperatures as high as 39°C in the daytime and an average 21°C at night, going as low as 10°C in the winter, forcing a semi-hibernation state known as brumation during which they will use energy from the fat stored in their tails. Although in a manmade environment, the temperatures don’t need to drop that low.

There are a few methods of providing heat for leopard geckos. The enclosure should have heat on one side, creating a temperature gradient across to the cooler side. The common gradient provided for them is warm side of 30°C-35°C and cool side 22°C-25°C. Halogen basking spot lamps provide a good source of light and deep infra-red heat which are suitable for leopard geckos during the daytime, imitating the sun’s effect. Lightless overhead heating is also available in the form of ceramic heat lamps and infrared projectors. These are good at providing a warm spot and also for upping the ambient warmth, especially if you are in a location which will make your enclosure lose a lot of heat at night, allowing your gecko to stay warm enough without interrupting their sleep with light.

Lower wattages of these lamps are usually sufficient for leopard geckos; check the distance from the light fitting to your hot spot and how that relates to the maximum lamp temperature or your gecko may overheat. Slate placed underneath ceramic/infrared heaters will retain and emit some heat for a short while after they are turned off in the evening, mimicking heat-retaining rock surfaces that have been under the sun in their natural environment. Be aware that ceramic heaters need a ceramic holder installed as they will melt other types. All heat sources mentioned should also be controlled with a dimming or pulse thermostat for safe temperature regulation.


Leopard geckos (and practically all other reptiles) benefit from exposure to UVB lighting. This has been backed up by science with many contributors, including Dr Gary Ferguson and Dr Frances Baines – their work is available to read online. Leopard geckos were originally thought to be strictly nocturnal, then crepuscular, but are now defined as cathemeral – having sporadic activity periods in both the night and the day. By this logic, they will have some exposure to UV rays produced by the sun, which is necessary for reptiles to produce vitamin D3. This is essential for the uptake of calcium. Without these conditions, reptiles are extremely prone to bone disease and poor health.

What is recommended for leopard geckos is a low UVB output light – ranked as a ‘2%’, or Ferguson Zone 1 (low range of UV Index). A photoperiod of 10-12 hours of this light a day is recommended. As with heating equipment, refer to the manufacturer’s guide on lighting effects according to your enclosure dimensions.  Reptile Systems and their products feature a guide on selecting the correct Ferguson Zone UVI for your reptile species. For example, Reptile Systems’ Zone 1 570mm Eco T5 Unit would be suitable for a leopard gecko in a 90cm long enclosure.


Substrate choices for leopard geckos are progressing to be truer to nature. Their natural habitat consists of rocky, sand-soil scrublands and there are many reptile-specific substrates on the market to help simulate this. ProRep’s Leo Life is made for leopard geckos specifically, and many desert inspired substrates are also a good option. Leopard geckos will benefit from these natural substrates because they hold some warmth and allow enriching behaviours, like digging.

Mixing reptile-brand dirt, soils, or clay with a desert sand is a good way to create a naturalistic medium for your gecko. An additional substrate you may want to use is a humid reptile soil such as EcoEarth or sphagnum moss, for use in a humid hide. Your leopard gecko will need this small humid area to aid with shedding its skin. Overall humidity in the enclosure is fine to fluctuate between 40%-60%.


Most of this is down to what you like, but there are some essential items. Leopard geckos are prey animals and can be shy, and easily stressed by too much open space. At least one place to hide away in the warm area and one in the cooler area is minimum, and one hide should be a humidity hide as mentioned previously to help your gecko shed. Spray it with water daily to keep it humid. A shallow water dish is required – you may only very rarely see your gecko drink or perhaps never at all, but fresh water should still always be available.

It is also recommended to have a small container for a supply of calcium powder so that your gecko may self-regulate its calcium intake. See ProRep Calci Dust as an example of this. The rest is up to you; many styles of reptile décor are available and leopard geckos certainly enjoy the added enrichment and ‘clutter’. Lots of decorations that create shade is also a good way to provide a photogradient for your gecko to regulate their exposure to the UV light as they would in a natural setting.


The key to a healthy leopard gecko’s diet is variety and correct supplementation. Being insectivores, live feeder insects are a must. Choose insects the correct size for your gecko (use the space between their eyes as a rough guide). A range of live insect feeders are suitable for leopard geckos: locusts, crickets, roaches, and mealworms are just a few. To enhance the nutritional content of your feeder insects, feed them to keep them healthy and ‘gut-loaded’.

There are special bug feeds available specifically for the gut-loading of livefood, such as ProRep’s Bug Grub. Insects should be regularly dusted with a supplement. If you are providing a calcium dish for your gecko to access then calcium alone is not as high a priority to use on the insects, but several vitamin products are available to supplement your gecko’s health. Examples of these are ZooMed Reptivite or VetArk Nutrobal. Calcium and vitamin products are often available with or without added D3. Be mindful of this as under UVB lighting your gecko will be producing UVB quite well on its own, but added D3 can be given infrequently to ensure prevention of MBD – particularly in growing geckos. Follow the instructions of the vitamin brand you are using.

Feeding frequency changes as your gecko ages, from daily when young, every other day as a juvenile, to approximately twice a week once adult (1 – 1 ½ years old). As for the amount, however many insects your gecko will eat in an hour is plenty. You can hand/tong feed or allow your gecko to hunt and chase their food. If you are feeding worms, a specialised dish to prevent them escaping into the substrate will be useful. Weighing your gecko monthly can help to monitor health and any need for feeding adjustments, but since weight is quite variable in adult leopard geckos, visual monitoring can work better. The tail should be plump but not thicker than the neck. Some muscle tone should be visible on the limbs, with no fat ‘rolls’ on the sides of the body.


Once your enclosure is set up and your leopard gecko is settled in, daily maintenance is not very demanding for leopard geckos. Spot check to remove any droppings – leopard geckos tend to choose a specific area to expel waste. Change the water daily, topping up the moisture in the humid hide as well. Remove any uneaten insects until the next feeding time. Check your gecko over a few times a week for any signs of ill health. A full cleanout of the enclosure involving all décor and putting in fresh substrate is required infrequently (every few months or as you see fit). Make sure to use a reptile-friendly disinfectant such as F10.


Why is my gecko always hiding? When you first get your leopard gecko don’t be surprised if you don’t see them very much for the first few days or even weeks. It can take them a while to settle in and feel safe. Keep handling to a minimum at this stage and let them get used to you at feeding times.

How do I handle my gecko? Start off with patience, especially if your gecko is young and flighty. Allowing them to approach your hand in the enclosure is a good start. Gently lift your gecko from beneath their belly, without grabbing the tail. Sitting on the floor is a good idea in case your gecko tries to jump out of your hands – try not to restrict their movement and just let them walk over your hands. Give your gecko breaks from handling so as not to overstress them, and with time they should become very accustomed to you.

My gecko turned white? This colour change is related to the period just before shedding the skin. Make sure the humid hide is wet for your gecko to use. It won’t be long until your gecko looks vibrant again. Leopard geckos eat their skin as they shed so it is unlikely you will see any left behind. Keep an eye on retained shed on the toes – this usually comes off on its own, but you may need to intervene with a damp cloth if it builds up.

Can my gecko get sick? Yes, but with the correct care it is not likely. The most common issue seen is metabolic bone disease caused by incorrect lighting and diet. Too much humidity can cause respiratory problems, and inadequate heating can cause impaction from incomplete digestion. Another common issue is the loss of a tail – it will grow back, but your gecko will need a more sterile environment during this time to prevent infection. Leopard geckos can be affected by a disease called cryptosporidiosis which affects the digestive system.

Unfortunately, at present there is no reliable cure and only management; it is often fatal and highly contagious. Purchasing your animal from a reputable source is your best bet to avoid any health issues from the start – look for geckos that are alert and at a healthy weight with no discharge of the nose or eyes. Professional sellers will provide you with documents such as weight/health records. It is important when getting a reptile to locate your nearest exotic vet service so you can contact them should any problems arise.


Leopard Gecko Care Guide

AT A GLANCE: Eublepharis macularius

Origin: Iraq to India
Experience Level: Beginner
Longevity: 15+ years
Diet: Insectivorous
Temperament: Friendly, tolerates handling

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