Basic Care Guide; Leopard Gecko
The most bare bones basic care is on the Home page but please read on for more in-depth instructions for a healthy gecko 🙂
The natural/wild coloring is a sandy undertone with deep brown spots and splotches, hence the name ‘leopard’ gecko. But over decades of enthusiasts breeding them there is an enormous variety in colors and patterns. Please keep in mind that for the first 18 months, their patterns (and to a lesser extent their colors) change drastically. It slows way down after that and may hardly change at all from that point onward.
You can use any glass, plexi, or hard plastic enclosure or container. It must have ventilation on at least 2 sides that is above the level of the substrate, bedding, or flooring inside the enclosure. Aquariums outfitted with a wire mesh top are also fine. It needs to let light in, so transparent or near-transparent is a must.
Leopard geckos, like most reptiles and amphibians, live alone outside of mating. Housing them together is risky even with the best environment available. Putting 2 males in the same territory will result in only 1 male for sure, possibly both dying to injuries from fighting. A male and a female together outside of a coupling for breeding can result in the female being bred to death. Males are pretty much ALWAYS ready to breed and it’s a bit of a rough procedure. If a person is insisting on keeping multiple geckos in one enclosure, or an emergency situation has called for it, the lowest risk is housing females together. If conditions are near perfect within the enclosure and they are separated for feeding (they cannot see or get to each other), it is possible that females will leave each other alone. Just be warned that there is never a guarantee. It is their instinct to fight for supplies and preferred space.
For substrate, there are several decent options available depending on budget and preference. Since leopard geckos hail from rocky scrublands, they don’t usually like lots of loose soil. You can line the tank/enclosure floor with clean newspaper, paper towel, unwaxed brown paper/kraft paper (butchers, some automotive shops, and postal supply outlets carry this), natural (cleaned) stones/rocks, tiles (with texture), or a shallow mix of 70% organic soil (dirt with NO additives or fertilizer bits) and 30% play sand.
There should be at least 2 hides per gecko in the enclosure. One should be in the hot end, and one in (or within a couple of inches of) the cool end. The warm end hides should be made into “moist” hides. That is to say they need to be misted inside 3-5 times per week depending how fast they dry out. You can add half a handful of sphagnum moss or coconut coir fiber (not chips) in the moist hide(s) as once they soak up a bunch of moisture, they hold it and do not readily grow mold. This will help for good shedding.
If your hides are completely smooth plastic or somesuch, you will need to add some texture in the enclosure. Corkwood and driftwood will work (chunks, branches, logs). There are all varieties of aquarium and terrarium decorations with different textures. To clarify; you want texture, not sharp stabby edges. Feel all over your decorations to make sure there aren’t any uncomfortable sharp points or slivers (of wood) sticking out. If it’s really sharp, it could pierce through their scales. When your gecko’s skin color starts to fade and look “milky”, it is almost ready to shed. When you notice this, it’s a good idea to mist the textured items in the enclosure. The texture helps them scrape off shedding skin. Also note that if you’re misting and some hits your gecko, they’ll yell at you. They hate rain 🙂
Leopard geckos don’t typically drink a lot of water on any given day. They don’t need a big water bowl, and it should not be deep. The water should also be kept to no more than 1 inch deep (or roughly up to the first knuckle of your finger is good). They cannot swim, but some of them might lay and soak in a shallow wide water bowl. I check everyone’s dishes daily, but in most cases every second day is lots. Obviously if you spot poop in the water, pull the dish for a good scrubbing and rinsing clean as soon as you have a moment.
Hailing from dry rocky scrublands in India and the Middle East, leopard geckos still require a little bit of humidity. Normally they would find this in little crevices, tunnels, and caves. Hence why a moist hide is necessary. But also the general humidity should be about 30%-40% (as per SPCA requirements) and can be up to 50% comfortably. Our household hovers minimum in the low 30s so we don’t really need much extra. Though I still do some light misting when I notice my geckos turning ashy. Cranking the humidity up too high for too long can result in vet visits for respiratory (breathing) trouble.
Leopard geckos are insectivores. It is rare that they look at food that is anything aside from a living, moving insect. Mealworms and crickets are the easiest to get, and if you describe the size of your gecko and its head, the seller should be able to select food that is the best size.
I’ve been told that BSF (black soldier fly) larvae are fine to feed as well. Though I found that my leopards didn’t like them compared to crickets and worms. They and feeder roaches (ie; dubia and discoid) make great feeders if your gecko likes them.
Wax worms are a nice treat but I would limit them to one or two feedings a month. They’re very fatty, so unless a vet instructs you that your gecko needs to put on weight, it’s like trying to live on chocolate-covered nuts. Yes, there’s some nutritional value in the nuts, but the chocolate is going to far outweigh the benefits of said nuts.
Butter worms are very high in nutritional value, though usually cost a bit more compared to the previously-mentioned options. And you need to be okay gently pulling apart massive silk cocoons to find the orange grubs inside as they love spinning their silk and hiding.
Silk worms are great, but very hard to keep alive for long. So they’ll also be more of a treat than a mainstay.
For best nutrition, you need to either gut load your insects or dust them in reptile vitamins. Something as simple as a chunk of raw potato, apple, or carrot is totally fine. The insects will swarm and happily devour said item which fills them with the nutrients of the vegetation. You also need to calcium dust the insects before you feed them to your gecko at least once a week. For more information on why calcium is necessary, look up Metabolic Bone Disease. You DO NOT want this horrific condition in your little buddy!
As briefly mentioned above, your gecko will start going pale very soon before they’re about to shed. If you follow the advice about moisture and misting, the gecko should be fine to handle this job on its own. They start by rubbing their face all over everything (hence having textured surfaces), and then once they get it started peeling off, they grab it and pull.
Normally they eat their old skin as they shed. The old skin is full of nutrients so let them have as much of it as they please. You can do what you like with any shed skin that is left behind on surfaces in the enclosure as they don’t usually go looking for those bits to eat later (that I’ve seen). Any leftover shed that I find, or that gets donated to me via other reptile keepers, I use for gut loading insects alongside fruit and sweet veggies.
Sometimes, despite our best efforts to make shedding easy, it doesn’t go perfectly. This isn’t an emergency. Or rather it doesn’t have to be. Your little buddy needs a helping hand. When we (mammals) “shed” we do it very slowly over long periods of time as a few skin cells and a few hairs here and there. But reptiles do not have flexible skin like ours. They have scales which, though they’re soft, are limited on stretching. So every few weeks they have to take the whole outside off like a pair of skin tight jeans.
If there is going to be any stuck shed, it’s usually their toes, tip of the tail, or in the fold between a leg and their body. If they can’t get it off and it remains for more than 1 or 2 sheds, it becomes dangerous. It squeezes tighter over time, eventually cutting off circulation. This can result in skin damage and the loss of toes, part of the tail, or even limbs! So if your buddy looks to be done the shed, check them over. All over. It will look like dry white skin against their new sharp shiny layer. If you can’t rub it off with your finger, they’ll need a soak in a warm bath that’s 1″ – 1.5″ deep (depending on where the shed is and the size of the gecko). They should be able to keep their whole head above the water without straining their neck.
No soap. Just warm water and may add either a shedding aid or reptile electrolytes mixed in. You’ll want to use a container that is at least 9 inches deep (so no escapes) and put a piece of paper towel on the bottom so they don’t panic over lack of grip. At first they might squawk and scrabble, but if you stay calm and talk to them quietly, they will settle down. After 15 minutes of a nice soak, you should be able to get the rest of the shed off. If not, repeat the soak for another 10 minutes. In the end if the stuck shed is in an ultra sensitive place like around the eye or along the cloaca, and you aren’t comfortable continuing to try to remove the shed, you should at the very least contact a vet or a reptile breeder for further instruction. Leaving stuck shed will eventually result in injury, maiming, and disabilities.