Here are some care sheets prepared from my own experiences and additional research from many books and magazines.
Leopard geckos are fairly easy to care for if you know what you are doing. Now if you have a hatchling, there is a lot more care required than there is for an adult, but don’t get me wrong, taking care of any gecko, whether it is adult or hatchling, leopard or mossy leaf tailed takes responsibility and patience. In the end it is all worth it to know you can take care of a wonderful creature - the leopard gecko.
If you have started with an early adult or full grown it is a little easier to care for than an infant gecko. One or two adult leopards (no more) should be kept in a 10-gallon tank equipped with a shallow water dish, suitable substrate, and hide spots (plastic or wood hide spots will be sufficient). There are many types of hide spots. Some are fancy and some are just ordinary and either is fine. I personally like to keep nice things in my tank such as stone hiding spots bio vine (climbing supplement) etc. but these things don’t come cheap and believe me, geckos are not going to care much just as long as there is water, food and a place to go hide. Make it so there is no light in the hide spot except for the light that leaks through the front where they can enter the sanctuary. Leopard geckos, just like all lizards and other cold blooded animals in fact, need a temperature warm enough to digest their food and survive. For my guys, I like to keep a heat mat (under the tank) on one end of the tank that generates anywhere from 90-100 degrees on the tank substrate. The other end of the tank I like to keep it at 82-85 degrees. On the side with the heat matt, a red light or heat light should be placed on top of the tank to produce a spot where the gecko can relax after his feeding. The heat mat and heat light must be placed on the same side so that the gecko, if too hot, can retreat to the cool side, obviously in the” cool side” the gecko cools off. The heat light and heat mat are also vital for the gecko in that it will let them raise their body temperature to digest their food. To complete the heating requirements in the tank, you must acquire a full spectrum strip light that has an ultraviolet light bulb that gives off UV-B light that gives the gecko vitamin D3, which gives their bones strength and definition. All of these requirements must be met if you wish to keep your lizard alive for more than a week.
For substrate I recommend calci-sand and regular play sand put in sand boxes for young children. Now there are many rumors about the animal eating the sand and dying from a clogged intestinal passage, but fortunately I have not had to experience that. Just because it has not happened to me does not mean it does not happen in general so if you want to get another opinion from a professional. I put professional in bold because I want to emphasis that you shouldn’t assume that every clerk in every pet store is an expert. Many of them will give you a bull answer to make himself sound smart. There are many good books to consult and you can check my web site for links to professional whom I trust. If you don’t want to use sand because of the potential risks that is fine, just do research and give a professional a call and see what he says. Other substrates could be newspapers, which would not satisfy me but if that is what you want to do, do it, however, I would not recommend it. You can use paper towels, and vermiculite etc. No matter what you use, the substrate must be cleaned every day or every two days but no more than that because if it is not cleaned, bacteria can spread in the tank. All you have to do is get a plastic spoon and a small Tupperware and put the droppings in that and then empty it in your garbage.
There are many accessories you could add to you tank, which I have done which are not vital to your gecko’s health. I put some driftwood, bio vine, bendy vines and special wall backing that allow the geckos to climb. Though leopards are not known for climbing, like species such as the Tokay, golden, day etc., but mine climb on the materials provided so I don’t know why they would not climb yours (plus it makes the tank look very nice). Just remember that all items in the tank must be taken out every two weeks to be cleaned with soap and hot water and make sure all the soap is off the item before you put it back in the tank.
Geckos are not what you would call picky eaters. Many geckos are almost complete insectivores. Geckos should be fed insects every other day. They will feed on crickets (make sure the insect is no longer than the geckos head and is about half the width of its head), and wax worms that are a wonderful source of fat especially for pregnant and gravid (females who have just laid and are weak) geckos. You should also pick up an item called gut load. You feed that to the crickets and the crickets pass the nutrients to the geckos. It is very rich in vitamins and minerals but the geckos will not eat it like it comes in the package. It needs to move because a geckos visual acuity is based on movement so by giving it to the crickets, the geckos get healthy in a pretty sly way. Another item you should pick up is a vitamin and calcium supplement so that the geckos can become healthy and strong. You really have to get the calcium supplement because geckos do not get much calcium from crickets since they have no skeletal system that could give them a good amount of calcium. Another insect on the menu is the mealworm. Now, I do not feed my geckos mealworms because I read in a pretty reputable book that a mealworm ate through a gravid female’s stomach. The only reason I believe it is because a mealworm has a hard shell and the gecko might it more difficult to digest the insect. It is probably not true but I don’t want to take any chances.
Some people feed their geckos insects from their backyard but I do not simply because of pesticides. I do not recommend it unless you are completely certain that you and your neighbors do not spray insecticides on the property. If you do choose to catch your own insects, do not and I repeat do not feed them lightning bugs. The enzyme in the abdominal region of the insect that allows it to glow and attract a mate could in fact make the gecko ill or it even be fatal to the gecko. Some people choose to feed their geckos tiny newborn mice called pinkies. I do not feed them pinkies. If you choose, however to feed pinkies, make sure the gecko is full grown and not a juvenile who you desperately want to see kill and eat a mammal. If by any chance the juvenile ingests the pinkie they can be killed by being massively overfed. If you know it is full grown and you want to give it to a female to help give her nutrients and calcium after laying eggs, that is fine, but just know that she might not eat again for a while. It would be like you eating a 24 lb turkey. Also do not feed them mice every two days. You can feed them mice every week and a half.
Anatomy, Behavior, and the Dangers of Stress
The leopard gecko, like all animals are unpredictable. Normally the leopard gecko is a pretty docile animal that is not really known for biting. Although they are not known for biting, they are reptiles with a good set of teeth and those teeth are capable of biting down and drawing blood if these creatures are not shown the respect they deserve.
Geckos are very fragile creatures and if you need to handle them, it must be done very carefully. If you handle them too roughly you could injure it greatly and give the gecko the impression that when he is out of his tank, he is in great danger. This may result in the geckos reluctance to leave the tank and it may in fact bite. When you handle the gecko make it brief for the first time and then gradually as the gecko gets more assured he is not in harms way, have him out longer. The way to handle them is quite simple. When you take them out of the tank, slowly move your hand towards him and place your hand underneath his body on his underbelly. The reason for doing this is because when a gecko is in the wild, most attacks from predators will be aimed on top of the gecko, by the head so if you lift from underneath the gecko will be more confused than frightened. If by any chance you lift them and their tail detaches, just place the gecko back in the tank and do not handle it until the tail is fully regrown. The gecko most likely will not die - it will just be tailless for a while and that is what they are deigned to do.
Since geckos are able to lose their tails if being attacked, that makes the tail one of the best defensive properties owned by the gecko. It is designed to fool the predator by making him think that the tail is the head. Now being a predator, in the wild, it is hard to find prey and when it does, it is a challenge to make the kill. When a predator spots its prey, it will normally try to aim for the head to quickly kill the prey. In the gecko’s case, it is a little easier to escape them by making the think the tail is the head. When the predator, which maybe a snake, bird of prey, or any other carnivorous animal larger than the gecko, goes for the kill, it will normally go for the tail (thinking it is the head) and when the gecko senses attack, its brain sends a message to the tail and allows it to detach. When that happens, the gecko flees and the tail will keep wiggling to keep the predator occupied long enough to let the gecko reach safety. Now, that probably will not happen in you tank but if it does, have no fear, I just thought it would interest you to let you know about the anatomy of the gecko.
The last part of this section is about stress, which many call “the silent killer”. Stress is a very dangerous mental killer for geckos. Stress is caused by intimidating tank mates (other geckos in the tank that are larger), under feeding, over handling, loss of a tail, no water, or other household pets such as dogs, cats etc. All of this can be avoided if you just stay away from the things that cause stress. If you however do not follow these instructions stress can kill you animal.
Mating & Reproduction
Leopards, like most geckos, do not breed all year around. Their mating season normally takes action during the months of late September, (or early October) through late May of early June. During this part of their her life, the female will release an odor that will activate a spark in the male’s brain to make him unable to control himself and he will look for his mate. When the male spots the female, he will slowly stalk her if you will. He will gradually make his way right on top of her and begin to bite her neck to make it easier to hold the female in position while the male mates with her. If you think that the male is hurting her, he is not. Geckos have been doing this longer than we have and if every time the male was hurting the female, the species of geckos would be obsolete. After the female has been impregnated, she will begin to try to escape the males grip and he will eventually release her. If the female experienced wounds from the male’s grip during mating, I suggest taking her out of the tank and transferring her to a new tank to recover without stress. After the wounds heal you can reintroduce them. It will take about a week and a half (sometimes longer) for the female to lay her eggs.
Females lay a clutch of eggs and each clutch contains two eggs. There is some preparation that must take place to assure a successful breeding period. The first thing you should do is buy Tupperware or any small, plastic container (5” x 3” x 3” approximately) or paper cups large enough for the female to enter and be comfortable enough to lay her eggs. Whatever you choose should have a lid so she will feel secure. If she is not, she will bury them in the substrate and that will dry the eggs out and eventually kill them. Once you have the holding container for the egg laying, you should pick up some vermiculite. This can be found in you local plant store, or a place like Frank’s Nursery. After you pick that up go to RandallBurkey.com. He makes a device called a hovabator, which is an incubator for your eggs. There are 4 different sizes. I suggest the $75 one. It is equipped with an air-circulating fan that really helps the eggs grow.
Once you have acquired the three pieces, (hovabator, Tupperware, and vermiculite) you are ready to start. First, put the vermiculite in some cool/warm water, get it in a clump and strain the water until you have some relatively moist/wet vermiculite (not dripping wet). When that is done make a hole in the front or the cup or Tupperware and place the vermiculite in it (I recommend about an inch high). In a few days the mother will begin to dig and she will lay her eggs. After she has laid the eggs make a new egg holder. While you are making that the female will roll her eggs to make them firm and strong. Let her roll the eggs before you take them out because if you do not let her do that the eggs will most likely die. Take a new Tupperware just like you did before. Get the vermiculite in cool/warm water wring out the loose water but let it remain moist. You will be transferring the eggs into another Tupperware container but before doing this you will have to prepare the vermiculite in that container. Fill the container about half way with the vermiculite and then, bury the eggs so that half of the egg is exposed horizontally. Make sure you place the egg on the same side it was laid on. Before you put the top on the Tupperware, put a few holes in the lid for air circulation.
Now a few things can go wrong with the eggs. First, the egg could not be fertilized which means the male did impregnate the female. Don’t think the male cannot be a future father it just means one time he did not pull it off. Trust me, a gecko that can’t reproduce is very rare. If the egg is not fertilized it will start to mold after a few days of being laid. A second problem may be dehydration. Dehydration can be avoided. The eggs will start to implode or suck in. If that happens, take the eggs out and put more water on the vermiculite but do not make it so there is a pool of water, but a moist clump of vermiculite. Then once again, repeat the burial process. The eggs should gradually get larger from sucking up the water that was in the vermiculite. If everything goes right the eggs will hatch within 50-75 days. Studies have also shown that if you set the temperature to 82-85 degrees you will most likely you will get females. If you set it to 86 degrees you will probably get a male and a female. Last, if you set the temperature to 88-90 degrees you will most likely get both males.
Shedding is a relatively simple process. The gecko sheds because its skin does not stretch like ours. It will grow out of its skin and a new skin will be under the old one. The gecko will shed all through his life and will do it about once every three weeks. The gecko will gradually become paler until it is virtually white. Make sure you have a place that the gecko can rub against to get the skin off. Do not help the gecko remove the skin, it will eventually fall off. The leopard will eat most of the skin and the remainder should be taken out. Once the gecko has removed the skin, you will see beautiful vibrant colors now on the gecko.
Illnesses & Parasites
Most geckos will live 15-20 years but if it becomes ill or gets a fatal parasite, that life span could be shortened to five days without medical treatment. Like the fat tailed gecko, the leopard also stores body fat in its tail. If the tail prunes or shrivels up, a parasite is most likely infecting your gecko. If the tail is pruned, immediately take it to the local veterinarian. Also bring a stool sample so the vet can see if there is any blood or parasites in the feces. If so ask the doctor if he can contact a website called zoodermal.com. Zoodermal is a website dedicated to helping reptiles with parasites and illness. You must ask your vet if he can contact them because they do not sell vaccines and medications to regular people. They must sell it to your vet and your vet will sell it to you. If you follow these steps, your gecko should survive unless you are too late and that is why it is so important to bring your gecko to the vet at the first sign of illness.
Hatchling Leopard Gecko
Now taking care of hatchling leopard geckos is a little more difficult than taking care of an adult leopard. First off, since the gecko is a baby, it is more fragile to touch. I do not recommend holding them until they know that they are safe.
Housing Your Baby Leopard
Up until their first shedding I would recommend that you get a small cardboard box, and cut a small hole in the front of the box and put it in the hovabator so that the gecko can have a place to retreat to. Also keep a plastic bottle top like you would get off a Gatorade bottle and fill it with water so that they can have a drink. They probably will not drink from it but I like to keep it in there just in case they get thirsty towards the end of their stay in the hovabator. They probably will not drink or eat until the first shedding. You can keep water in there but no crickets. They will not eat them and if you put them in there it could put stress on the baby.
After a week has passed and the geckos have shed, it is time to introduce them into their own tank. I would say that you should get a five and a half gallon tank. The substrate I use is just regular play sand. It is soft and safe. Get an-under-the-tank heater, a UVB strip light (ultraviolet rays), heat light (night light), and place it on the hot side. The temperature in the tank should be 85-90 degrees and the cool side should be 79-85. Last, get a shallow water dish and a hiding spot and you have a tank that is suitable for a baby gecko.
Baby leopards will normally feed on pinhead crickets that you can find at your local pet store. That is all I recommend for feeding them because everything else is too big for them to digest. If they refuse to eat, don’t immediately get concerned, it just may take a little longer. Every meal should be prepped with a calcium supplement and gut loaded crickets. The geckos should be fed three times a day. They should also be given fresh water every morning. As they mature they, can be fed wax worms.
Sexing your gecko is quite simple. Some people probe them, which is absolutely unnecessary and very dangerous. As you probably know geckos are very quick and jumpy and so if somebody stuck a probe by them and they jump, they could easily be injured or impaled. You do not need to have your gecko probed because I will tell and show you how. Now males have a sexual organ called a hemipenes, which means split penis. They have two but they only use one during mating. The hemipenes is pretty noticeable. It looks like two large bulges under the gecko’s vent. Above the vent, males have a set of pores called femoral pores, which look like an upside down V made up of dark pores. This is what it looks like this. (photo on left).
The female just has a vent and it just continues to the tail, no bulges. It looks like picture shown at the right. You can probably be able to sex your gecko at 8-10 months and they will be able to mate at 8 months of age.
Patterns and phases
Leopard geckos come in many different colors and phases. One of the most popular is the high yellow or regular leopard. People normally choose this particular one because it is the cheapest. Other colors are a tangerine like my guy Vor who you can see on my website, also his child Poseidon. Other phases are albino, snow, which is all white with black spots, leusistic, striped, circle back, lavender, and jungle. I do not breed all phases but there are many other websites that will have them.
Well I hope this guide was helpful. In the future I will be selling geckos of all species including the wonderful leopard. Enjoy your gecko.
©2001 Trevor Daly, ‘The Leopard Gecko’, All rights reserved, Trevsgeckos.com
This page was last updated on 11/08/01.
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