A leopard gecko is a small species of non-venomous lizard.
They are loved by reptile lovers for their docile nature, crepuscular activity and spotted pattern.
Caring for these geckos is simple, which is one reason why so many people keep them as pets.
With so many people keeping them as pets, you may be wondering if anyone has ever been bitten by a leopard gecko. If so, why do leopard geckos bite? And does a bite hurt?
In this article we discuss five reasons why they bite. We will also share tips for how to avoid this behavior in the future and what to do if you get bitten.
Do Leopard Geckos Bite?
A leopard gecko can use its mouth to bite.
However, it is very uncommon for a leopard gecko to bite. It is even rarer for the bite to result in any damage or bleeding.
If you are bitten by a leopard gecko, you will quickly realize that it is not very painful.
Many people describe a bite as a similar feeling to being pinched. At most it will be a little uncomfortable.
A bite is no cause for concern.
Leopard geckos have tiny jaws and small muscles, so they cannot generate any significant bite force. They also have a small mouth and small teeth so their bites cause no serious damage.
Looking inside their mouth you will find around 100 tiny teeth that are uniform in shape and size. Their teeth are so small that it can be difficult to see them clearly without getting very close. Each tooth is conical and comes to a blunt, round end.
Leopard geckos are insectivores, which means they eat insects like mealworms and crickets. Their blunt teeth help them crush the hard exoskeleton of insects as they chew.
This type of tooth is also beneficial for keepers as they are too blunt to break the skin!
When a leopard gecko bites, you might be uncomfortable, but it will not hurt you. You won’t feel more pressure than a moderate pinch.
While a leopard gecko bite is harmless to humans, it is never meaningless.
A happy and healthy gecko should not have much reason to bite, so being bitten may be an indication that something is wrong. Knowing and understanding why a bite happened will help you to improve your care, husbandry or tank setup.
While there are many reasons they may bite, let’s talk about the most common ones that you may encounter…
6 Reasons Why Leopard Geckos Bite
The first reason a leopard gecko may bite is that he’s trying to defend his territory from any threats.
This behavior is more commonly seen in males, rather than females.
A male usually won’t fight over his tank unless another male is around which he could view as a challenge.
However, a territorial male could see you as a threat and defend his tank. This could lead to him biting you during feeding and routine husbandry.
If left unchecked, this behavior could lead to multiple bites as males try to establish dominance.
Studies have shown that a male who has been housed with females will display more territorial behaviors, than males housed alone in their enclosure.
Having more than one male housed together, having a male housed with females, or both situations combined can all cause an increased territorial response.
To reduce this behavior it is recommended that two adults are never housed together.
If you decide to keep more than one specimen, keep their tanks out of eyesight from each other.
Getting to know someone new is a process that takes time, and the same is true for reptiles.
If you have just adopted a leopard gecko from a breeder then it would be best to avoid handling for the first few weeks.
Trying to handle a Leopard Gecko too soon could cause them to think they are being attacked.
In the beginning, even how you pick up your leopard gecko could cause it to think it’s being attacked.
If you try to pick one up by grabbing both sides of the body, grabbing from above, or lifting it by its tail, then you are doing it wrong! This could easily be misinterpreted as the behavior of a predator.
Your leopard gecko may bite you in an effort to protect itself and escape.
Any interaction that happens too soon, without a proper relationship, or with rough handling could scare your new leopard gecko and cause them to bite.
For the first two weeks, you should not be interacting with it beyond feeding, water changes, and cleaning out poop.
After this time, if your gecko has adjusted to your presence around the enclosure, you can slowly begin handling.
Start off slow, like giving gentle pets, and keep interactions brief. As time progresses, it may become familiar enough with you that it will allow you to gently scoop it up and handle it.
If it has been a while since your leopard gecko has been fed, a bite could simply be caused by hunger.
A hunger bite can happen due to several reasons.
The first reason is that it mistook your finger for a delicious worm to snack on!
Your finger is larger than the mealworms they are usually fed, but to a hungry leopard gecko the shape, size, and color may be close enough to try to eat.
Thankfully, a leopard gecko is too small to eat a finger, so it will realize its mistake and let go quickly.
Bites can also happen if you normally coat the insects with a supplement powder and get some powder on your finger. They can recognize the supplement by look and smell and will think your finger is part of their meal.
A leopard gecko will simply be trying to grab some grub, but instead will be munching on your hand!
Another common bite situation you will encounter while feeding is when they simply miss their insects. Overshooting a cricket and latching on to your thumb for example. If this happens they will likely realize their mistake and quickly let go.
These bites can largely be avoided by using a food bowl to put some distance between your hungry gecko’s mouth and your hand.
Leopard geckos are unique and have their own personalities.
This means that the gecko you end up with may not want to be handled or interact with you.
Not every gecko is social, and some are quite happy to be left to themselves.
Individuals who just want to be left alone will signal their displeasure with being held through body language (waiving the tail slowly back and forth) and vocalization with a high pitch screech.
If these signs of protest are ignored, then the leopard gecko may resort to biting.
They will bite to make sure you understand what they are trying to say.
Not wanting to be handled does not automatically make a leopard gecko ready to bite. Some may bite sooner than others depending on their personality, but most will give some warning.
Most are generally docile, so you will likely not have to deal with aggression. Should you get one that is more defensive, then it is best not to handle or stress them out.
Housing male and female leopard geckos together should only be done by breeders.
Summer is the mating season for leopard geckos. With the coming of this season also comes a change in behavior. Leopard geckos often become more dominant, especially if males are housed with females. Interrupting the courting process will not sit well with a male.
A male will be protective of a gravid female and defend her if he sees you as a threat.
He may start biting in retaliation and defense.
His goal is to prevent you from interfering with his courtship with the female.
This attitude change usually doesn’t last long and will go away once a male is returned to his enclosure
6. Past Experiences
Not every owner properly takes care of their pet.
If you adopt an adult that had a neglectful owner, they may not be receptive to the same things the average leopard gecko may be. This leopard gecko may be always on alert and ready to bite.
Simple things such as removing the water bowl for cleaning could cause the traumatized gecko to become scared and try to bite.
A traumatized adult may resort to biting quickly as it may have learned that biting was the only way.
Learning about your lizard and taking the proper steps to provide a less stressful environment can eventually lead to them being more comfortable around you, less defensive, and less likely to bite.
Being slow and calm about your movements can also help to prevent startling.
Do Leopard Gecko Bites Hurt?
You will quickly realize that a leopard gecko bite is not very painful.
Many people describe a bite as similar to being pinched.
Depending on the size of your leopard gecko you may not even realize that you’ve been bitten.
An adult can be 7 to 11 inches long depending on their gender. Less than one third of that total length is the head, which would be around 2 to 3 inches. An even smaller area within that houses the muscles used to close the jaw and bite.
Since their jaw muscles are so small, the amount of force that is generated is very low.
Juveniles have an even smaller bite force than a fully grown adult.
You may not even feel the bite from a juvenile. This is a good thing as it has been shown that juveniles tend to resort to biting more often than adults.
As they grow their bite force will increase proportionally, but not to a point where it is powerful.
How long the bite is held will depend on the reason why it is biting you.
If it thought you were food, then they may hold on for a bit until the misunderstanding is cleared up and it lets go. Other bites can just be a quick warning and are over before you noticed the bite.
Can Their Bite Draw Blood?
It is very rare for a leopard gecko bite to result in bleeding.
Leopard geckos’ teeth are not sharp and are usually too small to penetrate a human’s skin and do damage.
If a bite was to happen to an area of skin that is thinner than normal (like the webbing of your hand) then the teeth may be able to penetrate and draw blood, but even this is rare.
A larger gecko may be able to lightly pierce the skin and draw blood with one bite, although this is still rare.
If any blood is drawn from a bite, then it is normally due to movement during the bite. If you were to twist your hand or attempt to pull away, the movement could rake the teeth across the skin and cause cuts.
These cuts will not be deep, but may have light bleeding.
Thankfully, any blood that is drawn from a leopard gecko bite is minimal and easy to treat.
What To Do If You’ve Been Bitten
If you are bitten by a leopard gecko the first step is not to panic and avoid pulling away. If the gecko still has its mouth on you, and you pull away, it could cause its teeth to rip out. Having teeth ripped out of their mouths can cause a mouth infection.
It is better to “take the bite” than to increase the chances of harm or infection to your leopard gecko.
There are two ways to safely remove a leopard gecko if it is still biting.
First is to give it time to let go on its own, which is the easiest method.
Let’s say that the leopard gecko is just hanging on and doesn’t show any signs of letting go. The second method is to get some water and very gently run it over their mouth. Running water will cause them to release their bite.
Now that the gecko is no longer attached to you, put it back in its tank.
After returning your leopard gecko to its enclosure you will need to inspect the bite.
Check to see if your skin is broken or if any bleeding occurred.
If you find blood but no broken skin, then that could mean some teeth came loose from your leopard gecko. In this case monitor them for any changes in behavior, like lethargy or loss of appetite that may occur over the next week.
Should the rare situation happen where blood is drawn from the bite, properly treat the wound. If you are bleeding then disinfect the wound, wash thoroughly and apply a bandage.
These lizards are non-venomous, so there’s no need to monitor the wound any more than you would for a scratch.
Ways To Avoid Being Bitten
There are a few tips and tricks that may help you to avoid a leopard gecko bite.
While not fool-proof, the following are simple steps you can take to reduce the chances of being bitten.
First you should give your lizard space. If it is a juvenile, give it a few weeks before handling.
When you do handle one, always be gentle and handle for no more than a couple of minutes. You can gradually build up handling time as you feel your lizard becomes more socialized.
It is also important to learn about your leopard gecko’s personality. Look for defensive behaviors or uncomfortable body language, such as tail waiving and vocalization. Understanding their body language can help you to avoid a bite, before it happens.
The next tip is to avoid housing multiple leopard geckos together.
Pairing males with males is never recommended. Doing so could lead to territorial disputes and getting yourself bitten in the crossfire.
The least volatile pairing of females with males should only be done for breeding. Interrupting any courtship can result in a bite.
Finally, you should be careful when feeding. Beginners should feed insects with tongs or a bowl. Also, before handling your leopard gecko, make sure to wash your hands and do not have anything on them that could be mistaken for food.
It is important to remember that leopard geckos are generally docile pets and rarely bite.
Simple steps such as giving them the time to adjust and avoiding incorrect tank setups and housing can really reduce the chances of a bite.
Learning how to read your leopard gecko’s body language will help prevent bites or give you an indication that one is coming. Remember, if you do get bit, don’t panic!
Many people describe a bite as similar to being pinched.
The knowledge that a leopard gecko bite is harmless should help you to control the urge to panic.