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.
In my opinion a varied diet is best, this lessens the risk of your leopard gecko losing interest in its food, and also varies the nutrients it gets. The various food items are best introduced to the gecko when it is young, juveniles are generally more willing than adults to try new food.
Personally I think crickets are the best staple diet. Silkworms are also a good nutritional source. However, not all geckos will readily take these, I think because they are not very “wiggly” so do not attract the leopard geckos attention. Most leos will eventually try one though, and will then eat them enthusiastically.
Mealworms can also be used, there are lots of scare stories about how these mealworms can eat their way through your geckos inside, however there are also many people (including well known breeders) who use these as a staple food for their leos and have not had problems and state that these stories are untrue. Personally I like to err on the side of caution, by using only newly moulted (the white squishy ones) mealworms to my geckos. Feeding only newly moulted mealworms will also allow the gecko to get the maximum goodness from them since non-moulted mealworms are very high in chitin (which is not digestible).
Waxworms are a favourite of most geckos, they are, however high in fat, and have a bad calcium : phosphorous ratio (see section 3.5.1) and are the equivalent of sweets, therefore these should only be fed as a treat. If fed too many of waxworms, geckos are known to refuse to eat anything else!. This can be used as an advantage also, if you cant for instance get your gecko to eat mealworms, you can squish the guts of a waxworm over it- the gecko will probably take it then.
I have seen many people asking why their geckos wont eat can-o-crickets and other dried cricket products. I would in fact be surprised if any leopard geckos ate this (although I have seen a couple of people report this on discussion forums) as they seem to be attracted by the movement of livefood. If its not moving they’re not interested.
During the breeding season, most breeders will feed the adults (particularly the females) pinkie mice to help them maintain a healthy weight. However, not all adults will take pinkie mice.
Although not documented in any books I have read, I have seen this come up in discussion forums quite frequently. Apparently some studies have shown that leopard geckos will eat small amounts of fruit in the wild. According to Dr Roger Klingenberg (author of Understanding Reptile Parasites, and co-author of the Leopard Gecko Manual) and Dr Frederick Frye (a world renowned reptile pathologist) leopard geckos will eat fruit and vegetation in the wild, not just insects and worms. Dr Frye is quoted as saying “Also, don’t forget that fruit nectar, scraped soft papaya, mango, peach, nectarine, apricot etc. or if necessary, strained baby foods containing these fruits can/should be fed a couple of times weekly; you can add whatever mineral supplement to these soft, tasty goodies instead of dusting insect prey”. The source of the above information was the kingsnake leopard gecko forum, message posted by Marcia McGuiness – The Lizard Lady. Personally I don’t feed my leos fruit as often as Dr Frye has suggested, but I do feed them a small amount of organic fruit baby food once every few weeks (it can be placed in a shallow dish in the tank, they just help themselves- a word of warning though- keep a check incase your leo happens to stand in the babyfood, its obviously very sticky which can cause problems in itself with toes getting stuck together, but it may also cause problems should any loose crickets decide to "clean" your geckos toes.. then continue to feed on the toes themselves!!. It might be a better idea to offer them babyfood from a dropper if they will take it).
I have actually seen one of my female leos eating pieces of apple on a few occasions. The first time I witnessed this, I'd put a small piece of apple into the tank for the loose crickets to nibble on. I was surprised to see her trying to eat parts off it, then was shocked to find the whole piece gone the next morning!. Leos don’t seem to be able to digest apple very well (as it was still recognisable when it was passed!!). It is therefore of importance to provide any fruit chopped up to avoid impaction. Probably softer fruits, like peach and mango, which are more readily digestible, are more suitable.
As a general rule, food items should be no longer than the width of the leopard geckos head (this should prevent them from choking on food, and should also prevent impaction, which can occur following the consumption of food which is too big).
All of the literature and discussions I have seen state that baby leopard geckos do not start eating until they have shed their skin for the first time after hatching. This may be true for most hatchlings, however, I have had hatchlings eat within 24 hours of hatching. Once they begin eating, hatchlings seem to have great appetites. They can be fed twice a day (although most people only feed them once per day). It is normal for them to consume 10-20 crickets in one feeding. Occasionally a juvenile will eat too much and will vomit (although I've never seen this happen myself), assuming this is a one off all is ok, the juvenile will have learned not too eat that much again. If however your leo vomits more frequently you should take it to a vet. Juveniles can be fed once a day, and adults can be fed either once per day or every other day.
It is important to remove any uneaten crickets. Crickets have been known to nibble on geckos!. While I said any uneaten crickets should be removed from the tank, I dont think it necessary to stress your gecko out by pulling its tank apart in search of one loose cricket. In the case where 1 or 2 crickets may remain in the tank, I like to place some chopped (fine pieces incase the gecko fancies a snack!) carrot or apple in a dish in the tank- hopefully any loose crickets would find this more appetising than snacking on your gecko or its stools!!!!
Livefood should be thought of as the packaging in which your geckos food is contained!. Insects which are bought from the petshop have not been fed, and are merely empty containers. It is therefore of great importance to start gutloading the insects at least 24 hours before they are used as food. Crickets can be gutloaded with a high quality fish food, however, I recommend the nutritionally complete dry cricket/mealworm diet (source= www.gexfiles.com) below. Vegetables and fruit (see list below) should also be provided to the crickets as an additional source of vitamins and moisture. To provide a variety of vitamins to your gecko different vegetables and fruit should be fed to each batch of livefood. The cricket food (both dry and fruit) should be changed daily to avoid mould growth.
Nutrionally Complete Dry Cricket Diet
The entire mixture should be ground to a powder in a food processor. The diet can be refrigerated for up to one week, the remainder can be stored in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Fresh Foods to Use as the Water/Nutrient Source
These are as important as the protein source and will fill the insects with even more nutrients which your gecko needs.
Fruit and veg which should not be used for cricket food include the acidic/citrus fruits (e.g. orange, lemon, tomato), these fruits cause diarrhoea in the crickets resulting in dehydration. Other fruits and veggies to avoid are spinach and broccoli which are calcium binders.
Supplementation of the food is necessary in order to better match the nutritional content of the diet with that which the leopard gecko would eat in the wild. The best way to add nutrients to livefood is to place the livefood in a bag, drop in some vitamin/calcium powder and shake the bag until the insects are coated. Supplements can also be mixed into fruit babyfood. The most commonly discussed supplements include calcium, vitamin D and phosphorous.
It is important not to use too much supplement, as it is possible for leos to get too much vitamins. I prefer to supplement each meal by dusting the insects, lightly, with calcium powder. Once a week I substitute multivitamin powder for the calcium powder. (Note, for gravid females and hatchlings I like to use the multivitamin supplement twice a week.) The level of supplementation should also be dependent on the quality of the gut load.
Calcium is needed to build and maintain bone structure, and is particularly important for hatchlings/juveniles and egg producing females during the breeding season. Calcium uptake is regulated by phosphorous and by vitamin D3.
Phosphorous is required to derive energy from carbohydrates and fats and for protein production. However, too much phosphorous is not a good thing, as it also inhibits the absorption of calcium. A well-balanced ratio of calcium and phosphorous is essential for bone formation and stability.
Vitamin D3 is required to facilitate the absorption of calcium from the intestine. (Vitamin D is actually a group of steroid hormones, it also has a role in regulating phosphorus levels.) Vitamin D3 is produced when a precursor molecule (7-dehydrocholesterol) in the skin, is exposed to sunlight. Vitamin D3 is subsequently converted to its biologically active form (1,25-dihydroxycholecalciferol) via a two step process, which occurs within the liver and kidneys, respectively. Since vitamin D is fat soluble it is toxic in excess amounts, too much vitamin D can also lead to over absorption of calcium, resulting in calcium intoxication.
Different species require different amounts of each type of vitamin/mineral depending on their natural diet. It is essential that the relative amounts of minerals and vitamins be balanced to ensure optimal uptake of each mineral/vitamin. The leopard gecko diet should consist of a low calcium : phosphorous ratio. The calcium : phosphorous ratio should be more than 1.1 : 1 (that is, for every part of phosphorous, there should be at least 1.1 parts of calcium). The values to the right are some calcium : phosphorous ratios for a few feeder insects.
Although there is a lot of variation between the results reported from different sources, it is clear that it is not possible to provide an acceptable calcium : phosphorous ratio without supplementation of the food. Dr Klingenberg recommends that leopard geckos should not consume calcium with vitamin D, he recommends using a calcium-only powder 2 times per week and vitamin supplements every other week.
Calcium Phosphorus Ratios of Livefood
Sources of information: