Leopard Gecko Care Sheet, Tank Setup, Food, Size & More

Leopard geckos are one of most popular lizard pets and they have been for quite some time.

This desert dwelling lizard has simple care needs and a very gentle nature. These two traits make them great for beginners who do not have experience with reptiles. They are also a small species making them easy to house, handle and tame.

These spotted lizards are typically yellow and white with black spots and a very chunky tail. But they also come in a variety of over 30 interesting, cute and eye catching colors.

Has this lizard already caught your eye? Keep reading to learn all about them and learn how to care for one…

Leopard Gecko Overview

Leopard Gecko Social

Leopard geckos (Eublepharis macularius) get their name from the random black spots on their yellow body which looks like the coat of a leopard. They are often light yellow or tan with white or “lavender” patches along the underside of their body.

A healthy individual will have a “fat” tail which does indeed store fat. Their chunky tails are impressive and serve as both a defense tool and a nutrient store should they need it in the wild.

In the wild the leopard gecko is found in areas of the Middle East, more specifically in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and some parts of India. In those countries they are most commonly found in arid grasslands and mountains among rocky hides.

Out in the wild they do have some natural predators which includes large lizards, snakes and small mammals.

The leopard gecko is a small lizard you are probably familiar with, but there are some things that you may not know.

When compared to other types of gecko they are actually big, despite being a relatively small lizard species!

Normally their tail is a different color than the rest of their body.

Unlike other lizards they have a velvet-like feeling to their scales.

They are also the only gecko species that have an actual eye lid, though you may still catch them licking their eye on occasion.

Stranger yet they do not have sticky pads on their feet that many other species have. This means they cannot climb up smooth surfaces or defy gravity and climb on vertical surfaces! You won’t catch them climbing the wall of their enclosure.

They have been sold as pets since the early 1900s. At this time they were likely to have been caught from wild populations in Pakistan and then sold. About thirty years ago breeding programs became prevalent and now most sold are captive bred.

Common Leopard Geckos

All leopard geckos belong to the Family Eublepharidae and in the Genus Eublepharis. Their scientific name Eublepharis in Latin means good eyelids as this species have unique moveable eyelids. These moveable eyelids give them a cute, more cartoon like appearance.

The common leopard gecko is actually just one of 10 species:

  • Common Leopard Gecko (Eublepharis macularius)
  • Western Indian (Eublepharis fuscus)
  • Vietnamese (Goniurosaurus Araneus)
  • Zhou’s (Goniurosaurus zhoui)
  • Eastern Indian (Eublepharis hardwickii)
  • Libo (Goniurosaurus liboensis)
  • Bawangling (Goniurosaurus bawanglingensis)
  • Yingde (Goniurosaurus yingdeensis)
  • Zhe-long’s (Goniurosaurus zhelongi)
  • Chinese (Goniurosaurus luii)

Most of these species are considered vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered according to the IUCN Redlist.

The common leopard gecko has five recognized subspecies. Until the 1970s all five subspecies were considered one as they have similar color patterns. They only have a slight differences in body size.

What Does A Leopard Gecko Look Like?

Leo on rocks

Leopard geckos are palm sized lizards that are primarily yellow or tan with a black leopard-like spotted pattern and white or lavender belly. The series of random dark spots scattered along their backs is what they are famously named after.

Today you can also find a variety of non-traditional colors ranging from diluted yellow, orange, red, albino or white. Some can also have differences in their patterns ranging from stripes to just patterns on their tails:

  • Tangerine morphs will have a more orange coloring, instead of the natural yellow.
  • Blizzard means the skin takes an almost white color.
  • Ghost morphs are those that have a faint or reduced coloring.
  • If a morph begins with hypo there will be reduced or sometimes even no spots.

Interestingly the tail of a leopard gecko is often a different color than the body. Normally it is a soft lavender which helps them to blend into the texture of the areas that they live.

Raised bumps can also be found along the sides of their body to help them camouflage. These small raised indentations on their skin are often described as giving them a rocky appearance.

Leos also have stubby legs, but do not have the sticky pads which are a common trait of most geckos. Instead they have a small claw on each toe.

How Big Does A Leopard Gecko Get?

There are two main growth stages for a leopard gecko, hatchling and adult.

The hatchling stage is normally the same for both males and females with the length from nose to tail being between 3 and 4 inches and weighing between 2 and 5 grams.

As adults the full grown leopard gecko size range is a little bit different for males and females. Males will range in length between 8 and 11 inches and weigh between 60 to 80 grams. Females are smaller and will range 7 and 8 inches and weigh between 50 and 70 grams.

Size (inches) Weight (grams)
Hatchling 3-4 in. 2-5 g
Juvenile 4-6 in. 15-30 g
Adult Male 8-11 in. 60-80 g
Adult Female 7- 8 in. 50-70 g

Sometimes these lizards have large chunky tails which can make up one third of their body!

How To Tell If A Leopard Gecko Is Male Or Female

While comparing male vs female leopard geckos it is not always easy to tell.

There are no significant differences between males and females which therefore makes it difficult to tell the difference between the two, especially when they are hatchlings or juveniles.

Around four months of age males will have visible pores in a V-shape above their vent after their abdomen. If it is a male there will be preanal pores by the base of the tail, this will appear as a series of darker colored openings that will make a v-like pattern.

Males are also described as having broader heads, thicker necks and are more heavily bodied.

Females will show poorly developed pores above their vent. They may also be smaller in size, but this should not be the only way to determine their sex.

If the individual is a female and she is close to or in her breeding season you may even be able to see the outline of some eggs through the stomach skin.

Leopard Gecko Care

Leopard Gecko Tank Setup
Their docile personality and ability to easily adapt helped them become a popular pet lizard.

Leopard geckos are a small lizard that require a small enclosure. This makes them ideal for pet owners with limited space. They are also well tempered and easy to handle and to tame.

They continue to gain popularity for their gentle nature and small size. It has made them one of the most popular and prominent lizards since 1970.

Since they have been popular pets for so long everything from their husbandry to their behavior has been documented and studied. Because of this it is very easy for new reptile keepers to find sensible husbandry information and the supplies they need to have a healthy pet lizard.

While leopard gecko care is relatively simple, there are still some specific parameters that need to be met in order to keep them healthy. Also keep in mind that they should be ideally be housed individually as they can show aggression towards other individuals.

Leopard Gecko Tank Setup

Bigger enclosures are always recommended, but the minimum space needed to house a leopard gecko is a 20-gallon tank.

It is recommended to get a glass walled tank with a mesh top. This will keep your lizard safe as well as allow for air flow throughout the tank. Mesh walls can be dangerous as toes can get caught and cause injury.

You should also look for a 20-gallon long tank, as opposed to a tall-tank. Leos do not climb much so they need floor space rather than climbing space.

Your leopard gecko tank should also have:

  • Some type of non-abrasive substrate (textured five inch ceramic tiles).
  • Under-tank heating mat (11 x 17 inch).
  • Temperature-controlled thermostat and probe.
  • Hygrometer.
  • 15 watt incandescent bulb.
  • Low intensity 2-5% UVB lighting bulb.
  • Multiple dark hides.
  • Shallow water dish.

You should set up the tank so that there are three areas.

There should be a dry warm hide built above the under-tank heat mat. You can create a large cave that is on top of a textured ceramic tile. You should also add a moist hide above the under-tank heat mat for hydration and shedding.

You will also need a dark cool hide.

These warm and cool hides provide hiding space to use during the daytime.

Finally you will want to have an activity or feeding area. This can have logs, rocks and open space with food and water dishes. Be sure to get a shallow water dish and food dish. The logs should be low to the ground and never use cedar or pine in your tanks. Those types of wood are toxic.

Temperature and Lighting

Leopard geckos prefer to absorb heat through rocks, so an under-tank heater is the best option. Belly heat is very important for digestion and general health.

The temperature for leopard geckos is normally based on ground temperatures.

You should aim for a daytime ground temperature between 86°F and 92°F measured at the hottest part of the warm hide. The air temperature above the hide should be between 79°F and 82°F.

For a 20-gallon long tank an 11 x 17 inch under tank heat mat should be able to reach these temperatures. The heat mat should roughly be half the size of your tank. If you struggle to keep the air temperatures above 80°F then also use a ceramic heat emitter in an overhead dome.

Provided the nighttime temperature stays above 70°F you can set the heat mat to a 14 hour on and 10 hour off cycle.

In the cool end of the tank you will want a temperature between 70°F to 75°F. This heat gradient from ~82°F to mid 70s°F is important for their health.

You can use an incandescent spot bulb for lighting. Just make sure it is low wattage (ideally less than 15 watts) and is in the middle of the tank, next to the ceramic heat emitter if you are using one.

Some owners choose to vary the on/off cycle of the incandescent bulb based on the sunrise and sunset times in Pakistan.

You will also need a 2-5% UVB lighting bulb.

Humidity

Humidity for leopard geckos should be around 40% year-round.

You should also make sure the moist warm hide reaches a humidity of over 70%. This can easily be done with sphagnum moss and the heat from the under tank heat mat.

Substrate

Although sand is part of their natural habitat it can be dangerous if swallowed during feeding. For this reason sand is not a good substrate choice.

Leopard geckos need non-abrasive substrates and there are a variety for you to choose from:

  • Textured five inch ceramic tiles.
  • Shredded unprinted paper.
  • Reptile carpet – just ensure that that there are no loops.

Finally you should clean the tank, all the accessories, and substrate every few weeks. You can use either a reptile specific cleanser or a 1:1 vinegar to water mixture for weekly cleanings. Use the diluted vinegar every time you clean the tank.

Remove waste, eggs, uneaten food (i.e. dead insects) and debris daily.

Leopard Gecko Food

Leopard Gecko eating insect

So, what do leopard geckos eat?

Leopard geckos are insectivores and eat a large range of desert insects. In their natural habitat these spotty lizards will eat beetles, grasshoppers, spiders, scorpions and centipedes. Older geckos will become more opportunistic and eat other geckos and caterpillars.

This species will hunt their prey by stalking and ambushing with a sudden lunge.

There are four main insects that are easy to feed leopard geckos:

  1. Crickets.
  2. Dubia roaches.
  3. Mealworms.
  4. Superworms.

The diet of a leopard gecko is very simple compared to other popular lizards like bearded dragons. They should eat a varied diet of crickets, Dubia roaches, mealworms, grasshoppers and silkworms. You should only feed waxworms once a month as a sort of treat or to a lizard that is underweight.

Absolutely avoid feeding insects that glow, such as lightning bugs. They are toxic and can harm your lizard.

Hatchlings or individuals under one year should be fed daily. Adults should be fed every few days.

The amount of insects fed at one time is normally relative to their body size. Two insects for every inch is a simple rule of thumb. The size of each insect should be no larger than the space found between the eyes.

Ideally you should feed leopard geckos early in the evening to match their crepuscular habits. You can use a pair of feeding tongs to put 5-10 insects in their tank. Crickets and roaches should be released into the cage within sight so that they know food is available. When feeding mealworms use a temporary shallow dish so that the worms cannot bury themselves into the paper substrate.

Age Insects Frequency
Hatchlings (0-4 months) Small insects with calcium dusted every 5 days. 6 to 10 daily.
Juveniles (6-12 months) Small-medium sized insects dusted every 3rd day. 5 to 7 every other day.
Adults Large insects dusted with calcium every 3rd day. 6 to 7 every 2 to 3 days.

When a leopard gecko is healthy and well fed their tail with look fat. The center of the tail should be about the same width as their torso. If one has a skinny tail they are likely underfed or have a health problem.

Calcium dusting is very important, even if you are using a UVB bulb. When dusting do not use a supplement that says “without D3” and remember it is not necessary during every feeding.

If your leopard gecko is refusing to eat then do not worry, they have been known to ignore dead insects

They will need to eat live insects. Live insects allow them to tap into their natural hunting instincts and provide enrichment.

Sometimes they may become bored if they are fed the same insects daily.

A leopard gecko diet should be varied between many different insects like crickets, Dubia roaches, mealworms, grasshoppers and silkworms.

If an adult goes longer than 10 days without food and continues to refuse to eat then take them to the vet.

Leopard Gecko Lifespan

Orange Leopard Gecko
They can live anywhere from 6-10 years but often reach into their 20s!

The average lifespan of a leopard gecko found in the wild is about 6 to 10 years. When kept as pets they live between 15 and 25 years depending on their quality of care and diet. There has even been reports of a male living until he was 27 years old.

There are a couple of health issues that beginners should keep an eye out for when keeping a leopard gecko.

  • Metabolic bone disease is fatal and is caused by a lack of calcium and vitamin D3. This is why you must use a calcium supplement with vitamin D3. Signs will be weakness, limb and spine deformities, tremors or twitching and lack of appetite. It can be cured if caught early and treated by a vet.
  • Dysecdysis is complications with shedding their skin. The most common cause is a lack of humidity in the moist warm hide. Keep a close eye on the toes and tail when shedding. If scales do get stuck it can block circulation as bands of stuck shed constrict the skin and cause toes or pieces of the tail to fall off.
  • You may see that you leopard gecko is looking pale 2-3 days before they shed it. They are also known for eating their sheds because they provide additional nutrients.
  • Gastroenteritis is caused by an infection. Signs will include weight loss, watery or bloody stool, skinny tails, and undigested food items.
  • Pneumonia is a bacterial infection of the lungs. It is usually caused by improper temperatures and humidity in a leopard geckos’ tank. Signs are mucus bubbles coming from their nostrils and difficulty breathing.

The best way to tell if your leopard gecko is happy is by making sure they are housed alone, live in a large 20-gallon tank that stays within the suggested heat and humidity ranges and have access to a high quality diet and clean water.

Behavior

Lemon Frost Leopard Gecko
Leos are solitary in nature and like being kept alone making caring for them super easy.

In the wild leopard geckos are typically solitary and like to keep to themselves. They are usually a calm species, though they have a tendency to be territorial. This can lead to aggression between individuals, usually between males.

Aggressive males will show a series of behaviors towards each other. If one of them does not back down wrestling and tail biting will occur. This is why keeping males in the same enclosure is not recommended.

For a beginner is it best to keep and house just one leopard gecko in a tank.

These lizards prefer to be active in the early morning and late evening, this makes them crepuscular. While not active during the middle of the day their active hours can still overlap the average work schedule in the morning and evening.

It is possible for them to communicate with you or other lizards in several ways:

  • If they are hungry they might start to whine or cry.
  • They can make chirps when alarmed or are becoming stressed.
  • Some hiss when they are angry.
  • They will click when “talking” to each other.

There is an easy way to tell when a leopard gecko is ready to hunt. They will raise their tail above the rest of the body and slowly shake it. It is more like the rattling of a rattlesnake. This is normal to see after putting insects into the enclosure.

Leopard geckos will also shake their tails to mean different things. A fast tail shake means a male is noticing a female. Slow tail shaking or flicking is just to communicate to other geckos that they notice each other.

Adults will shed once every other month. During this time they will rub up against the edge of the decorations in the enclosure to help pull off the shed.

Once they shed they will often eat the shed skin. This is okay, as they do this to gain back some of the energy lost in the process as well as to hide their presence from potential predators.

Handling a leopard gecko
They are docile in nature and can grow to enjoy being handled

Care Tips

  • They are palm sized lizards that are normally yellow or tan with a black spotted pattern and white belly. The series of random dark spots scattered along their backs is what they are famously named after. Full grown males will range 8 and 11 inches vs 7 and 8 inches for females.
  • Leos are a small lizard that require a small enclosure. This makes them ideal for new owners with limited space. They are also well tempered and easy to handle and to tame.
  • Each gecko should be housed in a 20-gallon long glass tank. The enclosure should have a ground temperature between 86°F and 92°F with a heat gradient of 70°F and 86°F. Use ceramic tiles, under-tank heating mat, 15 watt incandescent bulb, low intensity 2-5% UVB lighting bulb and multiple hides to create the best setup.
  • Crickets should be the primary food fed to adults every other day and hatchlings every day. Dubia roaches, mealworms, grasshoppers and silkworms should also be fed to keep their diet varied. Make sure the insects are live as they have been known to ignore dead insects. You should dust the insects with a calcium supplement that has vitamin D3.
  • Their average lifespan is about 6 to 10 years in the wild and between 15 and 25 years as pets. Beginners should keep an eye out for metabolic bone disease, stuck shed, gastroenteritis and pneumonia. Many health conditions are caused by improper tank temperatures and humidity.

Quick Facts

  • Common Name: Leopard Geckos
  • Scientific Name: Eublepharis macularius
  • Size: 8 to 11 inches (male) and 7 to 8 inches (female)
  • Weight: 60 to 80 grams (male) and 50 to 70 grams (female)
  • Color: yellow or tan with a black leopard-like spotted pattern
  • Lifespan: 15 and 25 years
  • Tank Size: 20-gallon long glass tank
  • Tank Setup: 11 x 17 inch under tank heat mat
  • Temperature: ground temperature between 86°F and 92°F
  • Lighting: 2-5% UVB lighting bulb and 15 watt incandescent bulb
  • Humidity: 40%
  • Substrate: textured ceramic tiles
  • Diet: crickets, Dubia roaches, mealworms, grasshoppers and silkworms
  • Health issues: metabolic bone disease, stuck shed, gastroenteritis and pneumonia.

Related: Top 300 Best Leopard Gecko Names

Summary

Leopard geckos are fun, friendly, and cute pets to have.

They come in a variety of bright and fun colors with fun leopard-like patterns. They do not have heavily plated scales and are often described as feeling soft or velvet like.

Their small size makes them easy to keep in a small space and easy to handle. They make an incredible pet for any reptile keeper, no matter their experience level.

Leopard geckos eat insects which are easy to find and cheap to buy. You do not need to worry about giving them supplemental fruits or veggies or making salads like you would for a bearded dragon.

Tank set up is easy and minimum compared to other pet lizards. They only need a 20-gallon long glass tank with an under tank heat mat. With a simple habitat comes easy cleaning too.

Finally leopard geckos also have many interesting behaviors which are fun to watch. You can watch them wiggle their tails or chirp at you if they are hungry.

If you are looking for a pet lizard the leopard gecko is a fantastic choice. With proper care these lizards can live a long and happy life providing you with companionship for up to 20+ years.

About Nigel Robert

Nigel Robert Nigel is the managing editor at More Reptiles. He is a lifelong reptile lover, biologist and wildlife consultant who brings a decade of experience working in reptile conservation and consultancy. He joined our team in 2020 and when he’s not reviewing reptile care sheets, he’s out looking for reptiles in the wild!

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