Leopard geckos are simple, low maintenance reptiles that make great beginner lizards. They are known for being calm and largely active at dawn or dusk. Yet, their crepuscular lifestyle does not mean that tank lighting is not important!
These geckos need proper lighting, on a fixed schedule and with the right wattage. This not only helps to establish a day/night cycle, but will also help to prevent certain illnesses. Leopard geckos are capable of seeing UVA light and are also able to use UVB to help absorb calcium.
It is important you understand their lighting requirements and avoid setup mistakes. Keep reading to discover the best way to set up lighting for leopard geckos.
Do Leopard Geckos Need Light?
Leopard geckos are not completely nocturnal, they are actually considered to be crepuscular. This means they are most active at dawn or dusk and are largely inactive during the day. Lighting plays a crucial role in how they behave as well as in their health.
There are many myths in regards to leopard gecko lighting that include:
- “Leopard geckos do not need any lighting”
- “Red lights are a nondisruptive way to view your gecko at night”
- “Windows provide free UVB light”
Some pet stores might tell you that “leopard geckos do not need any lighting,” or that you should “leave your lizard in the dark 24/7”. This is not true!
Leopard geckos rely on light to establish their circadian rhythm which creates a day/night cycle.
Certain types of natural light, like UVA and UVB, is also important to keep them healthy. UVB is especially important because leopard geckos need it to absorb calcium and strengthen their bones.
The myth that “red lights are nondistruptive” is based on the idea that leopard geckos cannot see red light. However, there is evidence that leopard geckos can see almost the entire spectrum of visible light, including red.
Having red lights on at night will disturb their day/night cycle. Using bright lights at night can also gradually damage their eyesight and color vision.
The myth that you can use windows for “free UVB light” is not true.
You cannot use the sunlight shining through your windows as a source of UVB. Due to the multiple layers of glass, the light that reaches your leopard gecko will have had its UVB filtered out. Not only will the gecko not receive UVB, but direct sunlight can also cause the tank to overheat.
UVB plays an important role in the health of a leopard gecko and is an important source of vitamin D3, which helps all reptiles absorb calcium.
Some keepers choose not to provide any UVB lighting for leopard geckos, but this can cause health problems like metabolic bone disease.
Those keepers who don’t provide UVB lighting will need to dust feeder insects with calcium and vitamin D3 at every feeding. However, with this method it can be hard to gauge if your lizard is eating enough supplements to stay healthy, especially during hunger strikes.
To completely reduce the risk of metabolic bone disease, it is best to use a UVB light.
Vitamin D3 is key to preventing metabolic bone disease, and UVB is a safer and more natural way of providing D3 compared to using supplements.
Leopard Gecko Lighting Requirements
You can add lighting to a leopard gecko’s setup in one of two ways:
- Use a UVA and UVB light source that is separate from a non-light-emitting heat source.
- Have one lamp that emits both light and heat.
Leopard geckos need a light source to generate UVA, UVB and visible light, not heat. Heat can be generated from other sources like a ceramic heat emitter, heat mat or deep heat projector.
Visible light will establish a natural day/night cycle.
UVA and UVB helps them to stay healthy and is a natural way of providing Vitamin D3.
There are many types of leopard gecko light bulbs and they each come with their own pros and cons:
|UVB coil||UVA, UVB and visible light||No|
|UVB tube||UVA, UVB and visible light||No|
The best type of leopard gecko lighting will provide UVA, UVB, visible light and should be used alongside a heat source. This way, the UVB bulb light helps to keep the leopard gecko healthy and you also have full control over the heat without changing their lighting schedule.
UVA and UVB Lighting
Leopard geckos are capable of seeing UVA light! It is thought that UVA has some sort of ability to make leopard geckos healthier and more active. UVA and UVB also serve in the production of vitamin D3 and absorption of calcium.
Many pet leopard geckos have gone their whole lives without any UVB/UVA light, but this is not the best way to make sure they stay healthy.
If you want to supply UVA and UVB lighting for a leopard gecko, there are two types of bulbs:
- UVB coil bulb
- UVB tube light (t5 or t8)
UVB coil bulbs are not a good choice because they produce unreliable concentrations of UVB across a small area, which is not ideal for any reptile. These light fixtures have also been associated with health issues in the past.
Tube lights spread the UVB across the entire tank and are not known for any health risks. This type of bulb will keep your leopard gecko healthy, establish a day/night cycle and produces UVB amounts similar to their native range.
The best form of UVA and UVB lighting for a leopard gecko would be a 5-6% T5 UVB tube. T8 tubes also work, but T5 tubes are used more often because they are brighter and they do not flicker like the T8s.
Leopard geckos are good at absorbing UVB, so anything more than a 5-6% tube is unnecessary and potentially irritating or harmful. You can choose a tube with a lower intensity if you have a gecko that is sensitive to the light, such as an albino morph leopard gecko.
The downside to UVB lighting is that it does not generate any heat, just lighting.
LED and halogen bulbs generate visible light and heat, but not UVA or UVB. They are often used by keepers who do not want to provide UVB to their geckos. These keepers will need to provide plenty of vitamin D3 in their leopard gecko’s diet through supplements.
Halogen bulbs are considered higher quality when compared to other light bulbs, however they can be particularly bright. You may need to use a sliding dimmer switch to adjust the brightness of the bulb. The problem with this is that if you try adjusting or dimming the light, you will be adjusting the heat as well.
If you find yourself lowering the brightness so much that it affects the temperatures of the tank, it would be better to use an alternative light.
LEDs are another great choice, but they are not as bright. LEDs can come in traditional bulbs, which you can install in a dome lamp fixture, just like a halogen bulb.
Unfortunately, neither halogens bulbs nor LEDs provide the vitamin D3 that leopard geckos need so we would not recommend them for beginners.
The option of using a halogen bulb can be convenient, but it does not provide UVB or vitamin D3 for leopard geckos. This is a major issue as a complete lack of D3 causes many health problems.
Best Leopard Gecko Lighting Setup
The best light for a leopard gecko is a 22” long 5-6% T5 UVB tube. This bulb will make sure your gecko is getting the correct amount of vitamin D3, even during a hunger strike. You can install the 22” UVB tube in a 24” long T5 hood fixture and leave it on top of the screen lid.
Make sure the UVB tube is 12-18” away from the basking spot and connected to a timer.
Beginners should expect to pay $20 to $40 for a 22” long 5-6% T5 UVB tube from a brand like Zoo Med or ReptiSun. A 4” long T5 hood fixture to house the bulb can be anywhere from $50 to $150.
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The UVB tube will fade in strength over time, so it will need to be replaced every 12 months. To get a better understanding of exactly how much UVB your leopard gecko is being exposed to you can use a Solarmeter.
A UVB tube will provide the right amount of light, but you will also need one of the following heat sources:
- 80 watt deep heat projector
- 150 watt ceramic heat emitter
- 16 watt heat mat or heat tape placed under 1/3 of your tank
Heat mats are most commonly used as a heat source for leopard geckos. To install one, for a 40 gallon tank, you should stick a 16-watt mat to the underside of your tank, covering no more than 1/3 of the floor space.
Make sure you use a thermostat and leave an open space between the heat mat and the surface the tank is sitting on.
If you pick a deep heat projector or ceramic heat emitter they should be installed in a dome fixture about 12-16” above the basking spot. These heat sources can get extremely hot at the base of the bulb, so you must use a compatible fixture with a ceramic socket. Any fixtures with plastic sockets can possibly burn or melt.
Using a 50 watt heat lamp is another common leopard gecko lighting setup.
Beginners are often surprised at how many different kinds of heat bulbs there are, especially considering how the wattages will vary.
To make it simple, a good choice for both heat and light in a 40-gallon glass tank would be a 50 watt halogen bulb. You can buy a halogen bulb from a pet store, but one from your local hardware store will be cheaper and work just the same.
A 50 watt halogen bulb will need to be installed in a compatible dome lamp fixture, which you can simply set on top of the screen lid wherever you want the hot spot to be, as long as it is about 12-16” above the basking spot.
To control the halogen bulb, you need to connect it to a thermostat with a probe.
Some thermostats work by turning the lamp off when it reaches the max temperature, others will dim the bulb. Dimming thermostats are typically more expensive, but they will help lengthen the lifespan of the bulb as well as reduce the annoyance that comes with a light turning on and off.
If you use an on/off thermostat and want more control over the light and heat, you’ll need a sliding dimmer switch. These switches are a great help for fine-tuning temperatures and dimming the light when it seems too bright.
A single heat lamp setup can be cheap and convenient, but unfortunately it does not provide UVB or vitamin D3. This is a major issue as a complete lack of vitamin D3 will lead to health problems like metabolic bone disease.
Even some leopard geckos that are given calcium powder with D3 have the chance of suffering from metabolic bone disease. This is especially true since hunger strikes are common and it is difficult to make sure they are getting their supplements when they do not want to eat.
A basic leopard gecko lighting schedule should have between 12-14 hours of light each day. If you want to mimic the lighting in their natural habitat, the lights should be on for 11 hours a day in the winter and 14 hours a day in the summer.
Too little light is problematic, but too much light can also be an issue.
Leopard geckos are crepuscular and need some darkness to feel safe and become more active. This is why the lights should be off for 10-12 hours at night.
Keeping a light on for too long, especially if it is bright, can be stressful and irritating.
It is best to achieve this lighting schedule by using an automated timer. Timers are important to make sure the lighting schedule is as consistent as possible. You can even set the timer to mimic their natural daylight hours in Iran or Pakistan.
The following is widely accepted as a sensible beginner lighting schedule for the summer and winter.
In the summer set the lights to be on for a full 14 hours, starting at 6am. At night, the lights will need to be off for the remaining 10 hours.
Basking temperatures during the day should be maintained around 88-92°F, and the cool side of the tank should be 75-77°F. You can use a heat mat or any other non-light-emitting heat source to keep these temperatures up.
During the night, leave the heat source off if the temperatures will not drop below 68°ۥF.
In the wild leopard geckos experience drops in temperatures every night. So, they will be perfectly fine if the heat source is turned off for a while.
In the wild leopard geckos will experience less light and lower temperatures during the winter months. This will often trigger them to go into what is known as brumation (a period of dormancy).
Brumation can be risky if it is not done carefully and can cause weight loss. It is more useful for experienced breeders than beginners as it will trigger a breeding response the following summer. Because of the complexity and risks of true brumation, it is not recommended that beginners reduce tank temperatures.
For the winter you can use a lighting schedule of 11 hours on and 13 hours off. This slight variation is enough to keep a leopard gecko happy and healthy.
- Avoid using a bright light all day and a red light at night. Leopard geckos need at least 10 hours of darkness to maintain a proper circadian rhythm and ensure they live a long and healthy lifespan.
- Do not use a colored nightlight for heat. These lights will disturb their day/night cycle just like any other light.
- Keeping leopard geckos in complete darkness is also a common mistake. They may be more active when it is darker, but they are more crepuscular than nocturnal.
- Using a UVB coil bulb as they produce unreliable concentrations of UVB across a small area.
- Not using a UVB tube light and replacing it every 12 months.
- Using lights without any equipment to control them. This mistake is very dangerous when the lighting element also produces heat, such as the case with halogen bulbs. Without anything to control the heat source, the enclosure can quickly overheat and burn the leopard gecko.
- One last mistake would be not using a timer to keep a consistent lighting schedule.
Leopard gecko lighting is something that is easily overlooked when discussing their husbandry.
LEDs, halogens and UVB/UVA tube lights are all good lights for leopard geckos. UVB tube lights are particularly important in avoiding metabolic bone disease. A single heat lamp setup can be cheap and convenient, but unfortunately LEDs and halogens do not provide UVB.
The best setup should include a 5-6% T5 UVB tube light and a 16 watt heat mat.
Keeping a natural lighting schedule and avoiding common mistakes can really help to improve the health of a leopard gecko. It will also help to reduce stress and establish a healthy day/night cycle.
Aim to keep a 22” long 5-6% T5 UVB tube on for between 11-14 hours a day. During the summer, the lights will need to be left on longer for around 14 hours. For winter, a schedule of 11 hours on and 13 hours off works well.