The Gecko Spot

Leopard Gecko Caresheet

The information on this care sheet is the result of knowledge I have gained through reading other care sheets and books, discussions on various web forums, veterinary advice and my own experiences with leopard geckos. This information represents what I have personally found useful and interesting.

This page is copyright of Pauline Smith 2004

A basic leopard gecko caresheet is also available.

2 - Housing

Ideally, the enclosure for your leo should be set up about 1 week prior to getting your leo. This way you can ensure that everything is functioning correctly- you should particularly check the temperatures.


2.1 - Vivarium / Tank Size

Both vivariums and glass tanks are suitable enclosures for leopard geckos, providing there is adequate ventilation. Being a terrestrial gecko, the length of the tank is of more importance than the height. Since leos lack the sticky toe pads that most other geckos have, they are not able to climb glass. A secure lid will, however, give you peace of mind, stop the feeder insects from escaping and protect your gecko from objects that could fall into the tank.

2.1.1 - Hatchlings

I have found that hatchlings benefit from being kept in reasonably small containers (e.g. 12 inches x 8 inches), housed separately (to avoid competition for food), with minimal furniture. One advantage of this set-up is that there are less places for crickets to hide, meaning that the leo can catch them easily. The geckos growth rate seem much faster if kept in these smaller containers for around 1 month (following this they can be kept in larger tanks). Papertowel substrate is recommended as it avoids the danger of impaction (which can occur with other substrates) and it is very easy to keep the tank clean by changing it every time it gets soiled.

2.1.2 - Sub-adults / Adults

I would recommend a minimum size of an 18 inch long tank for 1 leopard gecko or a 2 foot long tank for 2, although the bigger the tank, the better. There are some very important points which should be noted if you are intending to keep more than one leo in a tank. Firstly, it is very important never to place more than one male per tank, as they will fight to the death!. I know that some breeders believe that if the males are raised together without any females no problems result, however, in my opinion it is never worth the risk. Secondly, only similar sized leopard geckos should be housed together. Larger geckos can intimidate/bully smaller geckos and if there is a big enough size difference, the smaller gecko may be eaten by the larger one.


2.2 - Substrate

The substrate debate is a very lively one. The only substrate which can be used without the risk of impaction is paper towel. However, many people prefer a more natural look. This comes with the risk of impaction, therefore if you opt for this look extra vigilance is required. Your leo should be constantly monitored for signs of impaction (lack of appetite/stools, lumpy stomach and/or substrate-filled stools), particularly when they are housed on a substrate which they have not been on before. Personally, I like to keep all of my geckos on paper towel until they are around 6 inches long.

One commonly used substrate is fine sand (that which is intended to keep reptiles on). Childrens play sand can also be used. Silica sand should not be used as this is basically glass!. Other substrates that should be avoided include corncob, bark shavings, and crushed walnut. It is always very important to read the ingredients of substrates, for example "Desert Blend" is actually composed of crushed walnut. Having mentioned substrates that I have been told to avoid, I have to admit that I have actually used Desert Blend (crushed walnut) without any problems. I have seen my leos get a couple grains in their mouths while they are hunting and they seem quite capable of spitting it out, I would think this is more difficult with fine sand. However, I have also read of several instances, on the Kingsnake Leopard Gecko forum, of leos dying due to crushed walnut consumption.

In my opinion most substrate impaction problems occur when the gecko is not receiving proper supplementation and in an attempt to correct the deficiency, the gecko will eat the substrate. It is a good idea, therefore, to provide a small dish of calcium powder in the leos enclosure (I do this, although I have rarely seen them use it). As long as you are providing the necessary supplements your gecko should not be attempting to eat the substrate. The only time it may grab some substrate is when it is hunting.

Substrates should be chosen very carefully, common sense should help you decide. It is always wise to monitor your geckos behaviour for any signs of substrate-eating or impaction


2.3 - Heating

Temperature is very important for the health of your gecko. A temperature gradient is essential because geckos are unable to physiologically regulate their own temperature. The thermal image below (reproduced here with kind permission from NASA/IPAC/SIRTF) demonstrates that geckos, being cold-blooded, cannot generate their own heat. Instead, the gecko takes on the environmental temperature. You can see how cool the gecko is in comparison to the warm-blooded human holding him. His body colour (i.e. temperature) is very close to that of the background. In other words, the gecko's body temperature is very similar to the air temperature. To see more thermal images of leopard geckos click here

The above image is copyright of NASA/IPAC/SIRTF (follow the link to see many more thermal imaging photos) and is reproduced here with kind permission.

Since geckos are unable to regulate their own temperature physiologically, they choose a position in the tank that is at the temperature they require.

A temperature gradient can be achieved by placing the heating devices at one end of the tank to create the warm end. The warm end of the enclosure should maintain a temperature of approximately 88oF . Room temperature should be sufficient for the rest of the tank, to maintain a temperature around 70oF (it is advisable to have a thermometer at both ends of the tank).

Suitable heating devices include under-tank heat pads and/or basking lights (note, hot rocks are not recommended as these can overheat and cause nasty burns!- however, I think this risk applies in the USA and not UK, UK hot rocks are apparently subject to regulations, however, I like to err on the side of caution, and therefore would not use these). Basking bulbs that give off light should only be used during the day, so as not to interfere with the geckos perception of day and night, if additional heat is required at night, heat-only bulbs that give off no light should be used (alternatively, red or black bulbs can be used as a night time heat source, these bulbs do not seem to disturb the leos activity). It is advisable to use all heat sources in combination with a thermostat to more-precisely regulate the temperatures.

The choice of heating devices will depend on the environment, they should be chosen in order to provide the most suitable temperature gradient for your gecko. Personally I prefer to use both a heat mat, and an ordinary bulb. The heat mat (which I leave on 24 hours per day) enables the gecko to absorb heat through their stomachs, as they would do from sun-heated rocks in the wild (maintenance of the correct temperature is vital to aid food digestion by your gecko). The bulb is efficient at heating the air in the tank, and is also regulated by a timer in order to keep a regular day-light cycle. The bulb goes off at night, providing a night time drop in temperature to the low 70s.


2.4 - Light

Lights are best operated using a timer device, this ensures that the day cycle is fairly constant. I prefer to provide a 12 hour light/ 12 hour dark cycle for the summer months. As the winter months approach, the day-light hours are gradually reduced, following the seasonal trend (i.e. I like to alter the timer weekly, to turn the lights off when it gets dark outside), so that a 10 hour light, 14 hour dark cycle is provided. This is again increased gradually during spring. Always ensure that any lighting is protected, or far enough out of reach, to avoid your gecko touching it, I use lamps which are kept outside of the tank.

2.4.1 - UV light

Exposure of the skin to sunlight is essential for the synthesis of vitamin D3 (see The science bit for further details). Most people believe that nocturnal species will not benefit from exposure to UV light in captivity. However, it has been shown that in the wild, nocturnal geckos are capable of synthesizing their vitamin D3 more efficiently than other geckos which are active during the day. Nocturnal geckos can synthesize the required D3 by basking for a very short time at sunset/sunrise, when the sun is not so strong. In agreement with this theory I have observed some (not all) of my leopard geckos coming out of their hides and basking for a short time immediately prior to the light going off. Therefore, it may be beneficial to provide a UV light. However, I have also read reports of vision problems in geckos due to exposure to UV lights (I dont know the details of these reports, or whether the affected animals had access to hides to get away from the light). It may be beneficial, and safest, to provide a UV light for a short time at the beginning and end of the day. Most keepers, including myself, however, do not use UV light, proper supplementation of the leos food with vitamins and calcium should be sufficient (see 2.2.5- Supplementation of food with calcium and vitamins).


2.5 - Decor

2.5.1 - Hides

The hide boxes are probably the most important part of the furniture. This is where your gecko is most likely to spend most of its time!. For hatchlings I have found that the best hides are over-turned plastic plant pot bases with a hole cut as an entrance. There is a wide range of hides which you can buy from pet shops. However, my adult geckos favour the hides that I make for them out of coconut shell (using a saw, simply cut the coconut lengthways about 2/3 of the way down, then cut an entrance hole, scoop out the coconut flesh, rinse the shell and leave to dry).

Hides boxes should be available at both the warm end and the cool end of tank, so that your gecko can choose which temperature box to sleep in. At least one hide box per animal is always a good idea, incase of disagreements.

In addition to the other hides, a moist hide should always be available to provide an area of higher humidity to aid in skin shedding. I make my moist hide boxes from tupperware containers: cut a corner off the lid (make sure there are no sharp edges), then fill the container with damp moss, peat or vermiculite (personally I prefer moss, as some will eat the vermiculite!). The moist hide should be placed towards the warmer end of the tank (to create a humid environment within the box) and should be checked frequently to ensure that it is still damp.

2.5.2 - Other Furniture

How much other furniture to put in the tank is a matter of personal preference. Large stones and branches (which should be without any sharp edges) look nice and give your gecko something to climb on (you should ensure that everything in the tank is made stable/secure to avoid any accidents). Most reptile shops should have a large selection of suitable decor. Rock and wood can also be taken from outdoors, however, you should be sure that it has not been exposed to chemicals, or anything else that would be harmful to your gecko. These items should be treated appropriately prior to being placed in your geckos home. Wood can be washed, left to dry naturally, then baked in an oven at 175 degrees for 1-2 hours to kill mites and other parasites. Probably the best way to treat stones is to scrub and rinse them thoroughly in hot water, then soak them in a 10% bleach solution for a few hours, then repeat the rinsing and scrubbing in hot water, soak the stone in hot water for several hours, then a final rinse/scrub in hot water to ensure that all the bleach is removed.

Some of my geckos make most use of a rock which is directly under the light, so they can lie on it and absorb the heat from the rock. Ornaments intended for aquariums (plastic rocks and caves etc) can make nice furniture. I also like to add a few plastic plants, these are nice decoration and are very easy to clean. It is also possible to include live plants, however, care must be taken to ensure that they are not toxic, or sharp (e.g. cactus). It may be difficult to find live plants that will thrive in the same conditions as your gecko (they will probably require higher humidity and exposure to UV light).


2.6 - Water

A shallow water dish should always be available. Spring water is a good choice as it leaves less residue in the dish and has less chemicals in it than tap water. Tap water is also ok though. When I use tap water I like to pass it through a Brita water filter first. Before I started using the Brita water filter, I used to fill a glass with tap water and leave it to sit for 24 hours to let any chemicals evaporate before use.

I have found that it is a good idea to place a stone in the water dish which will allow crickets to escape from the water if they land in it. I have often seen my geckos drinking from their bowls, however I also know others who have never seen their geckos use a water bowl, some geckos prefer to lick the spray from the sides of the tank. The drinking water should be changed, and the water dish cleaned every other day. This will prevent bacterial growth, and will reduce the risk of the gecko drinking contaminated water (for instance, crickets could contaminate the water with a parasite).


2.7 - Calcium Dish

Many people, including myself, like to provide a shallow dish containing some calcium powder. Although I have rarely seen any of my geckos eating from this (apart from when I’ve placed some waxworms in there) I believe it to be a good idea. It allows the gecko to regulate its own intake of calcium (geckos will tend to start eating the substrate if they feel that they require more calcium, and this can lead to impaction).