So you’ve bought a lovable leopard gecko, and are wondering how to create the best possible environment for it.
Truthfully, creating the perfect leopard gecko habitat is more difficult than it looks, and requires more than just putting some rocks and a light bulb in a tank.
They have certain needs that need to be catered to in order for them to have a healthy, happy life.
Below, you’ll find a comprehensive guide to how to keep your leopard gecko, healthy, and happy for years.
But if you’re still undecided on whether you want a leopard gecko, let’s take a look at what makes them such appealing pets.
What Makes Leopard Geckos Good Pets?
Leopard geckos are also known as ‘leos’ by lizard enthusiasts, and are beautiful and intriguing creatures, with characteristics that make them unique from other reptiles and make them a favorite among lizard enthusiasts.
They have a stunning appearance, with bright colors and spots that give them their name. They’re undeniably adorable lizards, thanks to their mouth that is set in a permanent smile and big eyes.
They tend to be pretty docile lizards who tend to bond quite quickly with their owners.
This has given them a reputation of being a reptile great for families, and leopard geckos usually enjoy being handled and tend to not lash out aggressively.
If a gecko is healthy they tend to live quite a long time, with an average lifespan of 6-10 years. However, some geckos have lived 20+ years!
Tail waving: This informs other geckos of their presence. For example, males wiggle their tail to make their presence known to females, or will wiggle their tail more vigorously if they’re feeling defensive.
Although leopard geckos are not sociable in the traditional sense, they do interact with their surroundings, owners, and other geckos.
They have a specific body language and use their tails as a means of communication, although they do sometimes vocalize.
Being aware of these cues can give you great insight into your gecko’s health and mood. Let’s take a look at a few examples:
Tank climbing: While this may be your gecko just exploring their surroundings, it may also suggest that they’re unhappy with an element of their environment.
Chirping or squeaking: These noises usually mean ‘let me go,’ or ‘stay away,’ and some geckos will also make this noise when they’re in pain. If this is the case, try to check what’s wrong without touching them.
What Is A Healthy Leopard Gecko?
Once you’ve come to the decision that you would like a leopard gecko, now you can choose your new friend! But what should you look for in a leopard gecko, and where can you find them?
You can find leopard geckos at pet stores, and you can also buy them online. Or, alternatively, you can buy a leopard gecko from a breeder directly, or at a reptile show.
Carefully study any leopard gecko you would like to buy, as unhealthy geckos may need expensive veterinary care, or may not survive for that long.
Ideally, you would like a healthy gecko that has been treated well before you take it home.
Signs Of A Healthy Leopard Gecko
- Active and alert.
- Clear, bright eyes.
- Clean nose.
- Closed mouth.
- Round, full toes.
- Claws and toes intact.
Signs Of An Unhealthy Leopard Gecko
- Discharge around the eyes, nostrils, or mouth.
- Thin, flat tail.
- Claws and toes that are deformed or missing.
- Sunken eyes.
- Hip bones or ribs that are visible.
- Unable to completely close their mouth.
If you have concerns about your gecko, never feel like you can’t ask questions.
If a retailer or breeder avoids talking about their breeding methods, care routine, or is wary about answering questions, it’s a good idea to not buy from that breeder.
It’s important to support human, responsible breeders by not buying geckos from anybody who can’t demonstrate that they care for the animals they breed to a high standard.
Choosing The Best Enclosure For Your Leopard Gecko
Choosing the right enclosure for your leopard gecko is naturally the place to start when establishing the best habitat for your leopard gecko to thrive in.
There are a few factors to consider when you’re shopping around for the ideal leopard gecko enclosure.
Tank Size And Construction
If you’re looking for an enclosure for one leopard gecko, your tank should be at the very least 20 gallons, at least 12 inches high, and at least 30 inches long.
You also want a tank that is either made from clear plastic or glass.
Wire cages are a no-no when it comes to leopard gecko habitats, as these increase the risk of your leopard gecko injuring themselves.
They thrive in wide, long tanks rather than narrow and tall tanks, and while they do climb, they climb a lot less than their other reptile counterparts. This Exo Terra 24″ x 18″ x 12″ model is an ideal choice.
Safety And Security
It’s important to keep security in mind as you set up your habitat.
Your house poses many risks to your leopard gecko’s health and safety, so it’s crucial to make sure your habitat is one that is hard to escape from.
In other words, every corner of the tank should be sealed securely and have no gaps.
A removable top also gives you access to your gecko’s enclosure while keeping your enclosure secure.
We recommend a screened top, as it will provide adequate ventilation while protecting your lizard from other household pets or curious children.
Providing proper ventilation is a necessity for a terrarium that houses leopard geckos. Ventilation in a tank can be active, passive, or both.
Passive ventilation is the most popular type of ventilation, and is just a mesh covering the whole lid, part of the lid, or another part of the tank.
Meanwhile, active ventilation is electronic ventilators – kind of like the ventilators that prevent your computer from heating up.
Meanwhile, there are two main mechanisms for opening tanks.
One mechanism is from above via a lid (seen more with small terrariums), while the other mechanism is on the front glass that slides to the side.
A tank that opens from the front might be a better option for a few reasons.
One, it’s easier to clean and access, and your gecko might be less scared when you approach them from the front of their enclosure. Top access might cause your gecko to react defensively as, in the wild, their predators usually attack from above.
However, front-opening tanks make it easier for lizards to escape, and it’s also a lot easier for owners to accidentally leave the tank open.
On that note, opening the tank to ventilate it isn’t something you should do regularly, as it increases the risk of escape.
Where To Put Your Tank?
Your gecko tank should be placed on a firm surface that will be undisturbed by small children or household pets.
It’s also worth putting the tank somewhere that isn’t exposed to direct sunlight, as this can lead to overheating.
Should You Keep Multiple Geckos In Your Enclosure
Although a lot of pet stores will tell you that you can keep multiple geckos together in an enclosure, this is actually not true. We advise only having one leopard gecko in a tank.
While some experienced reptile owners will probably be able to keep multiple female geckos in large enclosures with no problems, 99.9% of the time this will lead to unnecessary fighting and stressed out geckos.
This is normally done by breeders who care more about producing tons of baby leopard geckos to sell rather than caring for geckos properly.
The Right Substrate For Your Leopard Gecko
Your gecko’s habitat will need some kind of flooring or substrate, but which kind should you go for? Well, opinions differ.
Which substrate is most appropriate for a leopard gecko habitat is a point of debate among gecko enthusiasts and experts.
But there are a couple of types of flooring that are safe for your gecko enclosure, and some flooring that isn’t.
An appropriate substrate should not be irritating or abrasive to your leopard gecko’s skin or eyes.
Ceramic tiles or flat stones are becoming a preferred choice of substrate in leopard gecko habitats.
They are cheap and incredibly simple to keep clean. Tile flooring is also attractive, and is available in a range of colors.
Many leopard gecko owners like to use paper substrates that are non-adhesive such as paper towels or newspapers.
Although it’s probably the least attractive option, paper towels or newspapers are easy to throw away, which makes them an appealing option.
These are thin carpeting strips that are made solely for reptile tanks.
They normally don’t cost a lot and are the preferred type of substrate for most leopard gecko owners. They are attractive, and are pretty simple to maintain.
The only true disadvantage is that these carpets need to be swapped out if there is any tearing or fraying, as your gecko’s claws can become caught in them.
We like Zilla Reptile Carpet in particular, as it’s budget-friendly, durable, and simple to install.
Non-adhesive shelf liner is an appropriate leopard gecko substrate that is also affordable. Keeping it clean is normally a simple task, and it can be replaced easily if needed.
It is one of the more underrated substrate options that we highly recommend.
The Wrong Substrate For Your Leopard Gecko
Now we’ll talk about some materials that are not appropriate for your leopard gecko enclosure, and at worst could be dangerous.
Calcium Fortified Sand
There is a common misconception that this type of substrate is safe for lizards to consume as it is partly made of calcium.
However, the issue is that calcium fortified sand can become lumpy and difficult for lizards to digest.
Mulch such as coconut fiber, sphagnum moss, shredded wood and other materials can be an ideal substrate for some reptiles or amphibians.
However, it is not great for a leopard gecko enclosure.
This is because mulch is messy, loose, could be eaten by your gecko, and also create excessive humidity for your gecko enclosure.
However, you can use some mulch beneath the moist hide in your tank, which we will discuss further later.
You may have seen some reptile enthusiasts using sand for substrate in their leopard gecko enclosure, you may have even heard some recommending it.
However, experts often advise against using sand as substrate as it can put your gecko’s health and safety at risk.
For example, sand may irritate your gecko’s skin and eyes, while the most pressing danger is your gecko potentially eating the particles of sand which can lead to possibly fatal impaction.
Furthermore, sand can be costly and messy, and contain harmful pathogens. Other materials to avoid using as substrate are corn cobs, gravel, and wood chips.
Setting Up The Environment In Your Leopard Gecko Enclosure
Now you have a good enclosure for your leopard gecko, you can set up the systems that allow you to create and sustain the appropriate environment and climate for your new friend.
It’s important that the habitat you create for your leopard gecko is adequately heated and lighted.
The aim here is to mimic the conditions that your gecko would experience in the wild as much as possible.
During summer, your leopard gecko will need around 14 hours of visible light a day, and 10 hours of darkness.
Meanwhile, in the winter your leopard gecko needs around 12 hours of light and 12 hours of dark, and this should be a gradual transition.
This light cycle is crucial to helping your gecko regulate their waking and sleeping rhythms.
When transitioning from summer to winter light schedules, try to reduce the number of light hours by about 15-30 minutes each day
Daytime lighting: Leopard geckos are extremely sensitive, so it’s crucial that the bulb isn’t too strong. Daytime lighting is only really needed to establish a day/night schedule, rather than for any health benefits.
If your gecko is kept in a room that is well-lit, you may not need a light at all as long as they are not constantly left in the dark. But if you wish to use a daytime light, ensure it’s not overly bright.
Nighttime lighting: As leopard geckos are nocturnal, it’s essential to avoid bright lights in the enclosure during the night, when your gecko will be at its most active.
Bright light can seriously impact their waking and sleeping cycle, and have an adverse effect on their health.
If you would like to monitor your gecko’s nightly activities, you can buy infrared lights that let you see what is going on in the enclosure without distressing your gecko.
It’s also worth buying a few of these in order to keep the lighting system operating smoothly.
Fixtures: To run any bulbs in your enclosure, you will have to buy a lighting fixture. This fixture can be hung above the tank, or it can be directly placed on the screened top of the tank.
Timer: It’s recommended to buy an automatic timer to make sure you establish a consistent light cycle for your gecko. These are cheap and simple to be used, and can be bought at most pet supply stores and improvement stores.
Surge strip: Because you’ll be plugging in times, light fixtures, and other accessories, it’s recommended that you buy a surge-protecting power strip.
This doesn’t just give you a dedicated power source to run your entire setup, it will ensure your equipment is protected during a power surge.
The Importance Of Vitamin D3
To get a sufficient amount of vitamin D3, a lot of pet reptiles have to bask under UV lights. Because they are nocturnal animals however, leopard geckos are unique.
In their natural habitat, leopard geckos are normally only active when there is little to natural light, except at dusk and dawn.
Of course, it would be pretty difficult to replicate the tiny slither of sunlight your gecko would experience in nature, and so it’s a good idea to supplement vitamin D3 with supplementation.
The Right Temperature For Your Leopard Gecko
Maintaining the proper temperatures in the enclosure is also essential for the health and well-being of your leopard geckos.
They have specific temperature needs, and you need to regulate and monitor the temperature in this habitat carefully.
It is important that you create and maintain an appropriate heat gradient in the enclosure. In order to regulate their body heat, your gecko will have to move to different areas of the tank.
They need a warm area to properly digest their food, and a cooler area to decrease their body temperature when necessary.
This cool zone should be kept at about 75-80 degrees Fahrenheit during the day.
Meanwhile, the warm zone should be kept around 84-90 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, and at night dropping the recommended temperatures to around 10 degrees cooler should be sufficient.
Although this may all sound a bit complex, monitoring and regulating the temperature in your gecko’s enclosure is made easier with the proper equipment.
Due to their sensitive eyes, strong lighting is usually advised against for use in gecko enclosures.
If heat pads don’t sufficiently heat the enclosure, you can turn to an infra-red heat lamp to boost the temperature without disrupting your leopard gecko’s light cycle.
Reptile Heating Mats
A heat pad can be a great help in maintaining the adequate temperatures of your leopard gecko’s enclosure.
These pads produce heat without burning your gecko or emitting harsh, bright light into the enclosure.
Your leopard gecko enclosure needs a thermometer to make sure that the habitats are kept within a healthy temperature range.
Having at least two thermometers in your enclosure is ideal, as this allows you to monitor your cool zones and warm zones at the same time.
It’s essential to maintain thermometers to keep them working, as well as monitoring them regularly.
We recommend this Zoo Med digital thermometer because it is very budget-friendly and typically accurate.
We also want to briefly talk about heat rocks. These rocks are great for some reptiles, but not leopard geckos.
This is because heat rocks are likely to burn your gecko, and placing them in their tank is not a risk worth taking, especially as proper temperatures can be maintained by far safer means.
How To Get Humidity Right For Your Leopard Gecko
Another important aspect of maintaining the best habitat possible for your leopard gecko is managing humidity.
Excessive humidity can lead to respiratory issues, while not enough humidity can dehydrate your gecko and lead to many other health problems.
A hygrometer is an essential purchase for your leopard gecko’s enclosure.
This is an inexpensive, small gauge that measures the levels of humidity in the tank, and this Zoo Med Hygrometer is a great option.
Your leopard gecko enclosure should have humidity levels of around 20-40%.
Although this may sound a bit technical, it’s actually not too complicated to correct your tank’s humidity with some minor adjustments.
If your enclosure has too much humidity, then you need to make sure there is adequate air circulation.
Giving your gecko a smaller water dish – and in turn, decreasing the water intake of your gecko – will also help to decrease humidity levels in the enclosure.
If your enclosure isn’t humid enough, switch to a larger water dish or put a live plant in the enclosure.
The addition of moist materials like damp paper towels or moss can also help raise the humidity levels.
The Best Accessories For Your Leopard Gecko Habitat
Once you’ve got your temperature setup and lighting down, you can consider the additional accessories needed to make your enclosure a fun and stimulating environment.
While plants can liven up the enclosure, they also provide benefits to your leopard gecko.
Adding plants to your enclosure can make your gecko feel safer, and they help your enclosure resemble more of your gecko’s natural habitat.
Leopard geckos don’t eat vegetables, so eating the plants is not a concern.
Still, you should be careful when selecting plants to add to your tank, as some may be poisonous.
Since live plants can alter the humidity levels in your enclosure, artificial plants might be your safest bet, especially since they need a lot more maintenance compared to plastic plants.
If you don’t want to deal with maintaining live plants, we recommend opting for Exo Terra artificial plants instead.
A ‘hide’ is a hiding place that is designed for your leopard gecko to, well, hide!
These critters need dark, cool places to retreat to during the day, and this is a critical aspect of maintaining their health and well-being.
These hiding places are also a great place for your gecko to retreat too if they feel overstimulated or spot something that spooks them, such as other pets or your family members.
You can create your own hiding places for your gecko with household objects like planter pots, plastic containers, or small boxes.
As long as these objects are large enough for your gecko to fit comfortably and safely inside, you’re good to go.
You will also have to create an opening for your gecko so they get in and out of their hiding place effortlessly.
It’s also important to not use any objects that have loose parts or sharp edges that could hurt your gecko.
Ready-made hiding places tend to be a lot more attractive than homemade hiding places. Ready-made hiding places tend to resemble branches or rocks that blend in nicely with your gecko’s habitat.
Whether you want to make your own hiding places or buy ready-made ones is all down to what you prefer.
The main thing is that your hiding place is accessible and safe. We recommend having about three hiding places in your leopard gecko enclosure.
Warm hiding place: A warm hiding place should – naturally – be located in the warmest part of the enclosure. This is where your leopard gecko can retreat to if they need to digest their food properly.
Moist hiding place: There should be one hiding place in your enclosure that is a lot more humid than the other hiding places. You can make your enclosure more humid by putting it in the center of the tank.
Place moist substrate beneath the hiding place. For example, damp paper towels or damp moss.
Cool hiding place: This third hiding place is where your leopard gecko goes when they get too warm, and this should be located in the coolest side of the enclosure.
Wherever you put your hiding place, make sure it can’t fall on top of your gecko.
Logs And Rocks
Leopard geckos love having a couple of logs or rocks in their enclosures that can also serve as extra hiding places if they’re accessible enough for your lizard pal to hide in.
You can use items found in your backyard to decorate your leopard gecko enclosure, but if you do this, make sure these are clean and sanitized to prevent your gecko from getting sick.
What To Feed Your Leopard Gecko?
Unlike other popular reptile pets, leopard geckos do not eat vegetables or fruit. Rather, their diet consists of live insects.
However, it’s still a good idea to have a food dish in your leopard gecko tank for worm feeding. Let’s take a look at what a leopard gecko eats.
Crickets: These bugs are an excellent food source for your gecko. Start by putting one or two crickets in your tan, and then add more crickets to the tank as your gecko catches and eats them.
Cockroaches: Cockroaches are a great addition to your gecko’s diet, and some leopard gecko owners recommend dubia roaches in particular as they are rich in protein.
Worms: Leopard geckos tend to enjoy worms, and the most popular types of worms to feed to geckos are mealworms, superworms, and waxworms.
However, keep in mind that worms are very fatty, and should therefore be a treat rather than the main nutrition source for your lizard. You should put the worms in a smooth dish.
It’s crucial that you only buy live food from trusted sources, and crickets, mealworms, and waxworms are usually available at your local pet store and online.
You should also not feed your gecko crickets or worms that you find outside, as they could be hosting contaminants such as parasites or pesticides that might make your gecko sick.
Fireflies and lightning bugs are also poisonous to leopard geckos, and as a general rule, you shouldn’t feed them any bugs that glow.
Plus, feeder insects are ‘gut fed,’ meaning they are fed a specific diet that is nutritious for your gecko.
Like a lot of pet lizards, leopard geckos require vitamin supplements to round out their diet and ensure they’re getting the right amount of nutrition.
Calcium: To maintain their bone health, leopard geckos require calcium, and a calcium deficiency can lead to serious health issues and even death.
Vitamin D3: This is what helps the gecko absorb that crucial calcium.
There are also multivitamin formulas that contain both calcium and vitamin D3, which is a more convenient and efficient way to ensure your gecko is getting the vitamins they need.
These supplements are often powdered, and you can give them to your gecko by periodically coating the insects in these vitamins.
Specific dosages will be displayed on the packaging of each supplement.
These supplements are available at most pet stores, and you can also order these supplements online.
In particular, we recommend Repashy Superfood that is much loved by reptile pet owners.
As you create a habitat for your leopard gecko, a water dish is a crucial addition, and it should always be filled with cool, fresh water.
A dish that is pretty shallow is recommended, to prevent your gecko from drowning and to ensure they can easily drink their water.
Glossary Of Common Terms
Let’s take a look at some common terms that you’ll typically find in discussions of leopard gecko care.
Air plants: There are about 650 species of air plants, and these robust plants can thrive even without soil.
Coconut coir: These are fibrous husks of coconut shells, and are often used as substrate or as a means of growing plants.
Heating rocks/hot rocks: These are heating accessories that are placed inside reptile enclosures. However, hot rocks shouldn’t be used as the main source of heat in an enclosure and should not be included in a leopard gecko tank.
Plexiglas: Also known as acrylic glass, this is transparent thermoplastic that is commonly used as a light alternative to glass that is resistant to shattering.
Stone slab: A flat, large and pretty thin stone that is used for covering or paving walls.
Terrarium: This is a vivarium for smaller land animals such as amphibians, terrestrial invertebrates, and reptiles that is glass-fronted and a detailed interior.
Tufa rock: This is a kind of extremely porous limestone that has a lot of tiny holes.
How To Make Sure Your Leopard Gecko Thrives
Now that we know how to create and set up a leopard gecko enclosure, let’s take a closer look at how to care for your leopard gecko and make sure they thrive.
Regularly clean your enclosure: Sanitize and wash the substrate often – or change it if the substrate is disposable – and always wash your hands after you’ve cleaned the enclosure and after you’ve handled your leopard gecko.
Monitor your leopard gecko for signs of poor health: Make sure to monitor your new friend in the habitat you’ve created for them.
The signs and behaviors of potential ill health are discharge around the eyes, nose and mouth, constant hiding, shedding irregularly, lethargy, liquid droppings that persist for a few days, not drinking or eating, discoloration, and swollen joints.
If you’re worried your leopard gecko might be sick, take them to a vet.
Don’t let your children around your leopard gecko unattended: Ensure your children don’t attempt to pick up or handle your gecko, or touch their objects inside the enclosure without your assistance or supervision.
It’s also a good idea to encourage your children to wash their hands after handling your gecko or touching objects in the enclosure.
Take care when handling geckos: While leopard geckos usually like being handled, this is a gradual process and they will need time to get to know you.
When leopard geckos are babies, start to build familiarity and trust slowly. When your gecko is comfortable letting you hold them, make sure to handle your gecko regularly so they get used to it.
We hope our article has told you everything you need to know about creating the ideal environment for your leopard gecko!