THE LEOPARD GECKO Leopard geckos (Eublepharis macularius)
Leopard gecko’s are without question, one of the easiest lizards to keep as a pet. The reason being that they are very hardy and require little specialized care and equipment. They are relatively small and adapt well in little spaces (although the bigger the better). They are nocturnal which means that they are active in the evening (when you are most likely to be at home).
The leopard gecko is native to dry, rocky habitat in Pakistan, India and Afghanistan. Leopard geckos can live for up to 20 years, some sources have reported up to 25 years! Adults can weigh anything from 50-100g. Generally, females are smaller, averaging 55g, 18-24 cm (but can get bigger), while the males averages 70-90g, 23-28 cm. Adult size (lengthwise) should be reached at around 1 year, by which time the leopard gecko should also be sexually mature. Once the adult size has been reached the leopard gecko may fill-out, continuing to gain weight for another year or so.
Leopard geckos can be quite feisty when they are young. They have to get used to being handled! They often scream at you as hatchlings! This can be quite a shock but not to worry as they do settle and learn to trust you.
Leopard geckos do not mind living together. You can have four or five females together with one male. Never put more than one male together, they will fight and can cause serious injuries. Also bear in mind the size of the geckos. They should be more or less the same size or bullying can occur!
Since leopard geckos are small (compared to other lizards kept as pets) and not too active, their habitat/vivarium can be relatively small. They are nocturnal and crepuscular animals so you will not need to worry about adding any lighting! Just make sure that the temperatures are warm enough.
UV Lighting and Leopard Geckos
The old Leopard geckos and UV lighting debate: Recent studies have shown that “The results of this study demonstrate that short duration exposure to UVB light can lead to increased circulating 25-hydroxyvitamin D3 concentrations in leopard geckos.” ,
For a good website on using UV lighting visit http://www.uvguide.co.uk/
“The Arcadia 8 watt MINI UV light Kit 2.4% UVB is an extremely low-level source of UVB. It's ideal for use in very small vivarium’s or those with very shallow depth, even inside tubs for snakes. For shade-dwellers with low
UVB requirements the max UV Index you need is round about UVI 0.5 - 1.0. You can get UVI 0.5 at a distance of only 4 inches away from the Mini UV 2.4% Kit when the reflector is fitted. So I think its use is very limited for a leopard gecko in an ordinary viv, where even if he climbs to the top of his hides, is still 8 - 10 inches below the tube.
I use Arcadia T8 (1" diameter tube) Euro Range 5%UVB, or T8 ZooMed Reptisun 5.0 or Arcadia T8 D3 6%UVB tubes, with no reflectors, about 8 - 10 inches above them. (No mesh between tube and gecko). This gives me about UVI 0.5 at gecko closest point. The tubes are on throughout the daylight hours. If they come out during the day, or leave their tails sticking out of their hides, etc., they are getting a little UVB every time they do it. Seems to work well for them.”
They also have calcium carbonate powder (no added D3) in small dishes in each viv. And I dust every other feed of livefood with a very small amount of multivitamin/ mineral powder with D3”.
Leopard geckos can live in glass tanks or wooden vivariums, provided there is enough ventilation. The best size for one leopard gecko is a 2 ft vivarium and a 3 ft vivarium would be ideal for 2 or 3 leopard geckos. Glass tanks are thought to be better as you can easily clean with hot water. You will also need a vivarium style lid with glass tanks.
You will need a source of heat but be careful what you use as you could end up burning your little friend! The best source of heat is a heating pad. Put a heating pad at one end under the vivarium and not on both ends. This way your gecko can choose if it would like to be in the warm end or the cooler end. This is very important as leopard geckos cannot regulate their own body temperatures. Geckos soak warmth up through their bellies which aids digestion and will often lie directly on top of the warm patch.
Leopard geckos need a daytime temperature of between 26 to 30 degrees and a night time temperature of between 21 to 23 degrees. If you really want lighting in the vivarium so that you can see them better at night, a red bulb is the best. PLEASE DO NOT FORGET TO TURN THE LIGHT OFF AFTER WATCHING THEM! The vivarium could get too hot. Likewise, never place the vivarium where direct sunlight can shine on it. This too can push the temperatures up too high!
You have to be careful of the substrate you use as many of them can cause impaction (blockages!). Baby’s and juveniles are at most risk of impaction as their digestive tracts are much smaller.
Kitchen paper towels – This is the best substrate to use for babies and juveniles. Its great for adults too but you might prefer a more natural look. I find this to be the best as it is easy to clean up the “messes”. As soon as you notice a “mess” simple remove that piece of paper towel and replace it! Another pro is that it is relatively cheap.
Sand – This must not be used for hatchlings as there is a risk of impaction. It looks natural. It cannot be washed and used again so can become expensive.
Slate tiles – these are also a good option. These can be lifted and cleaned. Make sure they are secure so as not to cause any injuries.
Astro-turf – This is safe to use and can be washed and re-used. Be sure to leave it in the sun to dry completely before returning to the vivarium, as it will rot if left moist.
With all substrates you should consider the ease of removing waste and whether or not the feeder insects can hide away in it making it difficult to remove uneaten insects!
A shallow water bowl should be provided. Tap water is fine but if you can filter the water, even better! The water bowl should be cleaned and the water replaced every second day to avoid bacterial growth.
Hide boxes are very important as geckos like to feel sheltered. They will spend most of there time in them. For a simple setup you can use a 2 litre ice cream tub with a doorway cut out of it. Sphagnum moss or organic peat is great for bedding. There should be one at the warm end and the cool end of the vivarium. This way the gecko can choose to be warm or cool. The hide over the heating pad should be the moist hide. This aids the gecko with the shedding of skin. With a moist hide, simply ensure that you add a little water to dampen (not soak) the moss. Check it every second day.
Many people like to add branches etc to make the vivarium look more realistic. This is fine. Just make sure that everything is secure so that nothing can fall on your gecko and cause injuries.
You can feed leopard gecko’s mealworms, superworms, silkworms, crickets, locusts and waxworms. They will only eat live (wiggly) food.
Mealworms and Superworms
Mealworms and superworms are an excellent source of fat and energy so can often be used to get your reptiles weight up. It has been said that mealworms and superworms can eat their way through the belly of a leopard gecko. This is not true. Some would say that mealworms are not a good food source. I disagree. If your mealworms are well fed they are an excellent food source. I have raised many leopard geckos on mealworms and superworms without any health issues.
Silkworms are thought to be the best meal for leopard gecko. There nutritional value is excellent. The problem is getting the leopard gecko to eat them as they are not very wiggly. Once they do try them they will happily continue to eat them.
Crickets would often be described as the ideal food for leopard geckos. They are the closest things to the gecko’s natural food and the gecko tends to enjoy chasing down the crickets.
You will need to remove any uneaten crickets as they are known to nibble on the geckos! Some breeders leave food in the vivarium for the crickets to eat so that they do not bite the geckos. Personally I prefer to remove uneaten crickets. Better safe than sorry.
Calcium and Multi Vitamins
In addition to feeding you will need to supplement your gecko with calcium and multi vitamins. This is very important as they need supplementation to maintain healthy bones and for the formation of eggs. Geckos can develop a disease known as Metabolic Bone Disease if they do not get enough calcium. The first sign is bendy and flexible limbs. The jaw also becomes slack. Leave an upturned plastic lid in the vivarium with some calcium powder in. Leopard geckos will normally eat it straight out of the lid. If so, you won’t have to worry about dusting their food. If yours will not eat the calcium out of the lid, it is important to “dust” their food. The best way is to put the crickets or whatever you will be feeding them into a small packet or plastic Tupperware. Pour a little calcium powder in and gently shake until the food is covered and then feed it to your gecko. Dust the feeder insects once a week with multi vitamins.
Size of food
The rule is that whatever you are feeding your gecko should not be bigger than the width of the geckos head. This prevents choking and impaction which can happen when they have eaten food that is too big.
Frequency of feeding
Offer your gecko food everyday when it’s still a juvenile and every other day when it is an adult. Bear in mind that every gecko is different. Some like to eat everyday and others will eat every three days. You will soon learn what works for your gecko. As long as the tail is nice and plump, there is nothing to worry about.
Every couple of weeks your leopard gecko will shed its skin. It is very important that all of the skin comes off. Most of the time the gecko will remove all the skin on its own. They eat the skin. They will need moisture to shed properly which is why the moist hide is so important. It is especially important that the skin comes off of all the toes properly. If shed skin is left on the toes it can dry up and constrict the toes and they might fall off! If, for some reason, the gecko does not remove all the skin properly you will have to help it. Just place your gecko in a shallow bowl with warm water in it. Let it stand in there for a while. You can also spray some warm water on it with a spray bottle. Be careful not to let the gecko get too cold. Gently begin removing the skin that the gecko could not get off. The gecko might not enjoy this but it is necessary.
The leopard geckos tail can be “let go” just like any other gecko! It is important never to pick up your gecko by its tail. If your gecko does drop its tail, separate it from the others and keep the wound clean until it has recuperated. The tail will regenerate but will not look like it originally did. It normally grows back a slightly different color and shape and will be shorter than before.
Leopard gecko’s can be sexually mature as young as 7 to 8 months but it is not recommended to breed them before the age of 1 year. If the female is too small you run the risk of egg binding and can lose your leopard gecko. Leopard geckos will breed in the warm summer months. A healthy female will lay 2 eggs every 2 to 3 weeks. Incubation varies between 30 and 60 days depending on the temperature they are incubated at.
The hatchlings must be removed from the incubator and placed in a tub with a lid on. The tub must have moist paper towel in it and ventilation holes and placed in a warm vivarium. The hatchling must be kept moist until the first shed which usually happens around day 3. After the first shed you may begin feeding the hatchling on baby mealworms or pinhead to small crickets (remember a good guide to food size is that the length of the insect must not be longer than the width of the baby leopard gecko’s neck). The hatchling can then be moved into a tank that is identical to the adult’s setup. Do not keep adults and hatchlings in the same setup as the adults may try to eat them or bite their tails! Hatchlings must be fed every day.
TREATING MBD I have personally used this slurry recipe with great success to rehabilitate sick gecko’s which people have given up on and I have taken in.
In a blender combine the following:
1 Small can of Hill’s A/D (available at most Vets’)
1 teaspoon calcium powder with vitamin D3
½ teaspoon herp vitamin powder
3 handfuls of mealworms
Blend until completely smooth, pour into ice cube trays and freeze. Store in zip lock bags until ready to use. Thaw one cube at a time for use. Using a medicine dropper, place a drop on the gecko’s nose (careful not to get any in the nostrils!). The gecko will lick it off of its nose. Do this twice a day. Only in extreme situations should you force feed a gecko.