Leopard Gecko (Eublepharis macularius)
Leopard gecko's are of the gecko subfamily Eublepharinae (meaning "true eyelid"). Macularis, meaning "spotted" combines the name "spotted true eyelid" gecko.
The leopard gecko comes from India and Pakistan, inhabiting in deserts and arid grasslands. Nocturnal in behavior, during the daytime they take shelter under rocks and in burrows that they may dig themselves. Their chosen shelters are higher in humidity and that is one of the important things required in housing leopard gecko's. (This is further explained in the HOUSING section) Leopard gecko's lack toe pads and do not stick on glass like other gecko's, but they have small claws to assist with climbing.
The leopard gecko can grow up to 12 inches, but average is about 8. Average weight is 45-60 grams, but can grow up to 100 grams.
Leopard Gecko's have and interesting defense mechanism along with several other lizards. Their tail breaks off very easily and the detached tail twitches, likely to distract the predator so the gecko can escape. The tail will grow back, but it will never be as pretty as the original. PLEASE NEVER HANDLE YOUR LEOPARD GECKO BY THE TAIL OR GRAB THE TAIL IN ANY WAY!!! The gecko also loses its fat and water storage when the tail is dropped, so if this occurs, keep the broken area clean along with its terrarium while the gecko regenerates the tail, keep the gecko on paper towels since that sand could seriously irritate and infect the broken area. Keep the tank warm (warm side 85-88 degrees) as well to keep its metabolism steady and fresh water should be always present.
Things to consider before purchasing a leopard gecko
- A leopard gecko makes a wonderful pet. However, this gecko could live as long as 20 years or more if all requirements are kept. Is this the type of long-term commitment you are willing to take on? There are far too many neglected reptiles in this world, please do not make a hasty or compulsive purchase. It could be detrimental to your pet.
- Are you willing to take on the routine of gut loading crickets and other insects?
- Can you keep their enclosure / vivarium at the warm temperatures needed?
- Research the requirements of the reptile you decide you want. Have the enclosure warm and ready when you bring it home. Ensure you can keep him/her warm on the transport home as well.
- Do not assume that just because it is a reptile that it does not need veterinary care. They need care and fecal checks just like any animal!
Aquariums are best for leopard gecko's and you can decorate it nicely for it. It can be a nice display piece at the same time and encourage natural behaviors. Aquariums are easy to clean as well. Once a week, clean with diluted windex (remove gecko please when doing this) or Wipe Out, a terrarium cleaner. Wipe completely clean and dry before putting your gecko back in, you don't want it ingesting or licking any cleaner!!!
For Hatchlings or juvenile gecko's, they thrive best when housed singly. Baby hatchlings should have paper towel as substrate because it is easy to clean and they cannot ingest it like sand. A ten gallon tank is OK for a baby gecko, but you will likely want to get a larger one once it grows, a ten gallon is quite crammed for an adult. Part of the joy of owning a leopard gecko is watching its behaviors in the evening and a larger tank allows that.
*WARNING: Please do not use cedar chips as substrate, it is TOXIC to your gecko. Any bark chips can be potentially deadly to your gecko because they can ingest it while going for their food and their gut will get impacted, which can lead to death.
Heat is a very important need of your leopard gecko, especially for babies who need that heat to grow (not to say it isn't important for adults, it is). Heat is vital to their metabolism (and keeps them hungry and going to the bathroom) It is also important to provide a warm side and a cool side to allow them to thermoregulate, to choose whether they need to warm up and absorb heat from their underbellies. Please do not use bare hot rocks, they normally get way too high in temperature (over 100 degrees) and can burn them pretty badly. The first best thing to invest in is an under tank heating pad and a thermostat to keep the temperatures consistent.
A high range reptile thermometer should be placed on the substrate of the warm side to ensure a surface temperature of 86-90 degrees. Lamps can also be used as a secondary heat source to achieve the temperature. Day and night lamps (black reptile bulbs or true infrared reptile bulbs) are also good to help them set their "internal" clocks.
Hiding spots are vital to your gecko's well being. it is their natural behavior to hide, no matter how social they are when they are out at night. A moist hide box, as mentioned, is, in my opinion, a natural, beneficial and therapeutic thing for your gecko to have. Use something like a NON-SEE-THROUGH (opaque) Rubbermaid sandwich container with a round opening of 1 1/2 inches wide for your gecko to comfortably enter and exit. Poke a couple holes in the lid as well for ventilation. Inside, put no more than a couple inches of a dry natural mixture of sphagnum peat moss and vermiculite (vermiculite is optional, though can keep humidity a bit longer, and when buying these products make sure they are all natural, that no pesticides or fertilizer are in them) They can be purchased in a resealable bag at a garden store or Wal-Mart for $2-3 and will last practically a year. Dampen the mixture in the hide box until clumpy but not soggy and press down lightly. Re-mist the hide box every other day, especially when your gecko is going to shed (the skin becomes almost silvery, about every 3 weeks) This ensures your gecko's skin is softened to help proper shedding. Place this hide box between the warm and cool side. A dry hide area can be placed on either or both sides in addition.
Rocks are nice to have for them as well. Ensure you disinfect them before putting them in by soaking them in a weak bleach solution (10% max) and rinse extremely well. If you decide to stack any rocks to make additional hiding areas, please ensure they are sealed together well with aquarium silicon. You don't want to accidentally crush them!!!
Pet stores also have excellent, natural looking furniture for reptiles and a plus is that they are easily cleaned when needed. Be careful with wood, I only suggest purchasing it out of pet stores
A shallow dish with clean water should be present at all times. An example of the shape of the dish is like a petri dish, one it cannot fall and drown in and can easily lap from it. Leopard gecko's drink like cats and they do drink a fair bit. Change the water daily and disinfect with the weak solution (10% chlorine bleach) once a month... rinsing extremely well and allowing to dry fully.
Crickets are a good staple diet with variation of mealworms, waxworms. Occasional dethawed previously frozen pinkie mice are sometimes accepted by adults only (mine were scared of them, though). Pinkies are hairless newborn mice.
Size factor: The food item should be no longer than the length of the gecko's head and no wider than half the width of its head.
FREQUENCY of feeding: Juveniles should be fed daily 4-8 food items (they need it along with daily dusting to ensure proper growth), adults can be fed every other day and usually eat approx 6-8 items.
Also silkworms, even though they may be a bit costly are the best food (possibly even a staple) for your gecko's. There soft bodies help in digestion and slow moving make it easier for feeding. The nutritional value is excellent.
THE IMPORTANCE OF DUSTING AND GUT-LOADING: Gecko's need calcium and dusting the insects is the best way to get your gecko the calcium it needs to grow strong and healthy bones. The D3 content in the calcium is what helps your gecko to absorb that calcium since it does not get natural sunlight.
What YOU put into those insects will go into your gecko (makes sense, right?)
The BEST dusting products: Rep-Cal products are readily available at most chain pet stores. Purchase the Calcium & D3 and the Herptivite. Dust the Calcium & D3 every feeding for babies, every other feeding or third feeding for adults. I personally use a brand called Sticky Tongue Farms Miner-All "I" (the "I" stands for indoor reptiles, it has the D3 your leopard gecko needs to absorb calcium properly since it gets no real UV or sunlight) and then once a week dust with the RepCal Herptivite. You can do the same schedule of supplementation with the Rep-Cal Calcium and D3, as the label directs.
Gut-loading Crickets: I use flukers orange cubes. Can be a bit costly but it gets the job done
Gut loading mealworms: Oatmeal or wheat germ mixed with dry diet plus a water nutrient source like mentioned with crickets. Take advantage of the fact that mealworms eat just about anything! Just be sure that it isn't too wet or they will drown. Feeding freshly molted mealworms are better for your gecko's because they are softer
Gut-loading waxworms: a wheatgerm/touch of honey mixture mixed with a small amount of the dry diet, bee pollen is good to use, too. Please do not overfeed your gecko with wax worms Though they really love them, they are almost pure fat. Consider them as "treats" and give only 4-6 per week. You gecko can get obese, too. They can also get fatty liver disease.
About every 3 weeks, your gecko will shed its skin. Most begin rubbing their noses and begin it there. Leopard gecko's eat their shed skin, likely to not leave a scent to predators in the wild. It also provides vitamins for them. Inspect your gecko after it sheds to ensure no skin is left, especially the toes. You may have to help them remove some unshed skin since it can lead to skin infections or toe loss since the skin constricts circulation. Use a dampened q-tip to very gently remove the skin and then provide more humidity in their hiding area to prevent this from repeating.
There are parasites that your gecko can contract before even coming to your home, that is why a fecal check is recommended (please visit the parasite information menu for more information). A fecal check is inexpensive and peace of mind for you, not to mention happiness and well being for your pet. Physically your gecko may be fine looking, but what happens is that reptiles do not usually show signs of real illness until it is too late. Medicines are also very inexpensive, so please consider this. Since parasites such as pin-worms can even be contracted from feeder insects, it is a good idea to get an annual fecal exam done, approx $20US a year is not much to invest.
Leopard gecko's are relatively easy to breed. One male will mate with several females so people tend to keep them in groups of one male to 3 or 4 females. Pregnant females can usually be detected because of a bump on each side of her abdomen. If provided with a laying box females will tend to use it. Something like a cool whip tub with a hole cut in the side that is filled with moist moss or vermiculite will provide an attractive place for the females. Females will usually produce multiple clutches of eggs during breeding season. The eggs should be removed from the egg laying box and incubated in vermiculite with a 1:1 ratio of water to vermiculite by weight. The plastic shoebox inside of a ten gallon aquarium makes an adequate incubator. If incubated at 85 degrees they should hatch in around two months. A higher incubation temperature will produce more females but may result in overly aggressive females. The newborn gecko's will not eat until after their first shed (usually after about a week). they can then be started on appropriately sized insects. It's also best to house them separate, such as in plastic shoeboxes.
Again, the references I provide are very good in-depth information and a great hands-on reference to a leopard gecko hobbyist. I have covered a lot of areas that I find the most important on this page, but nothing, in the broad spectrum of things, replaces a good book made by experts.
THE LEOPARD GECKO MANUAL
(the best leopard gecko book in print)
Philippe de Vosjoli, Brian Viets, Ron Tremper, Roger Klingenburg, DVM
Advanced Vivarium Systems, revised 1998
LEOPARD GECKOS: IDENTIFICATION, CARE & BREEDING
GECKOS: A Complete Pet Owner's Manual
(covers many species of Gecko's, not just leopard gecko's)
R.D. & P.P. Bartlett