How to Take Care of a Leopard Gecko

The leopard gecko lizard is one of the most popular pets in local stores. They are cute, with large eyes and a distinctive color pattern. And if you look hard enough, you might even find fancy leopard gecko breeds, with richer colors. But are these attractive little lizards easy to care for?

Leopard Gecko

What is a Leopard Gecko?

Leopard geckos are unusual in more ways than one. While they are true gecko lizards they don’t have the ability to climb up walls using their adhesive toes the way other geckos can. 

These ground-dwelling desert lizards prefer walking on the ground instead. Leopard geckos are also mild tempered. When handled they don’t try to dash away and will sit quietly in your hand or on your arm. They are the world’s first domesticated lizard, in fact.

Their eyes are large and light sensitive since leopard geckos are nocturnal in the wild. At night when the fierce heat of day has gone down they hunt for insects and other small prey. 

Their insectivorous habits make them easy to feed in captivity. Breeding them is also simple to do; all leopard geckos you find in stores are captive-bred.

Leopard geckos have fatter tail than most other lizards. Their thick tail is used to store fat so that in times when food is scarce, the lizard will survive. When choosing a leopard gecko to buy, one sign of health is a nice, thick tail.

That said, leopard geckos may lose and regrow their tails, just like other lizards. The regenerated tail will be shorter, even stumpy, however. It may also look a different color from the rest of the animal. A regrown tail is not a sign of poor health; just an old injury.

  • Common Names: Leopard Gecko
  • Scientific Name: Eublepharis macularius
  • Origin: South Asia
  • Length: 8 to 10 inches
  • Tank Size: 20+ Gallons
  • Diet: Carnivorous
  • Ease of Care: Easy

Leopard Geckos as Pets

Leopard Geckos as Pets

The common leopard gecko is gentle, grows accustomed to being held, and has a beautiful pattern of spots and colored blotches. It will live for several years and remain at a manageable size as a full grown adult.

Tank Size for Leopard Geckos

One reason why a gecko leopard makes such a great pet is due to their size. They are just large enough to be impressive looking without being difficult to house. 

A 20-gallon tank (either high or long-style) is suitable for a single adult leopard gecko. You should keep them alone unless you are trying to breed a male and female.

Leopard Gecko Substrate

The enclosure should be large enough for a basking zone, a bowl of water, space to move, and a spot to escape the light.

There are a number of substrate options you could choose from. Sand is by far the most popular; it clumps around feces and looks natural. Some hobbyists avoid it because leopard geckos sometimes get large mouthfuls of sand when eating. 

They will lunge to grab their prey and swallow everything, dirt and all. The swallowed sand may cause impaction (blockage) issues if too much gets stuck.

Impaction is rare but a real risk. I recommend using calcium carbonate sands (like ZooMed Vita-Sand). These substrates are digestible and even add valuable calcium to the diet of your leopard geckos.

Leopard Gecko Size and Lifespan

A single adult male will grow to be 8 to 10 inches long. Female leopard geckos are an inch or two shorter. An average leopard gecko lifespan is 15 to 20 years.

Leopard Gecko Lighting

Leopard Gecko Lighting

Lighting requirements for leopard geckos are a little different compared to other pet reptiles because they are more nocturnal. You still want to provide daylight hours (12-14 hours is ideal). 

Leopard geckos don’t spend much time basking unless they are getting cold. A heat pad will offer a leopard gecko enough warmth to move, grow, and digest normally. 

If your heat pad is not warm enough to increase the ambient air temperature without making the substrate too hot then you will need a basking lamp.

Leopard geckos also need some ultraviolet light for dawn and dusk basking. UVb rays help leopard geckos produce Vitamin D3, which aids in calcium uptake. 

What Do Leopard Geckos Eat?

Leopard geckos are carnivorous; insectivorous, in fact. They will eat worms, crickets, caterpillars, and any other small invertebrates they find. 

Spiders and scorpions often make it onto their menus. As do small vertebrates, like tiny lizards or baby pinkie mice. An occasional pinkie is a great source of extra fat and other nutrients. But they should not be the bulk of a leopard gecko diet.

Vitamin-dusted crickets, mealworms, hissing roaches, and other captive-raised insects are ideal. I also recommend gut-loading the insects you feed with a good meal of greens,water, and fruit beforehand. 

The food the insects eat is nutrient-rich and predigested; they pass on the nutrition to the predator that eats them.

Watching a leopard gecko hunt is a treat, in and of itself. The lizard may sway back and forth, triangulating the position of a mealworm or cricket. It will even wiggle its tail with excitement before it lunges for the insect.

Here is a video demonstrating the characteristic tail-wiggle before the strike:

Sexing and Breeding Leopard Geckos

Leopard geckos are one of the easier types of lizards to breed in captivity. So long as you have a well fed and sexed pair, you will soon come to find eggs in your tank.

Leopard Gecko Male vs Female

To sex leopard geckos you will need to pick them up and examine the region between their legs. Males have two characteristics that females do not have. First, the male will have twin bulges that are where their reproductive organs are housed.

Second, you will see a visible set of enlarged pores; the preanal pores. These are scent glands that release sexual pheremones used in communication. Female leopard geckos do have preanal pores but they are not large enough to be seen with the naked eye.

Conditioning Leopard Geckos for Breeding

Three things are important for breeding leopard geckos: a steady source of nutrient-rich foods, the right environmental cues, and a suitable mate.

A cool “winter” or “dry season” of 1-2 months will cue their bodies to expect a warm spring. Temperatures should be allowed to drop into the 70’s during the day, rather than the 85-88℉ that they expect.

Once “spring” has arrived, try introducing the male and female. A few hours of supervised interaction per day is recommended. 

In this way, if one lizard becomes aggressive towards the other you will be able to separate them. It’s best not to introduce one into the tank of the other. Move both of them to a neutral setup, if possible.

If they are confirmed to have mated, you then add a moist tray to the female’s tank. She will lay a clutch of two large eggs and then bury them. The eggs should be raised in a temperature and humidity-controlled incubator until hatching.


Leopard geckos just need the basics, in terms of food and water. Lighting and heat is a little complicated due to their need for ultraviolet light. But the enclosure is otherwise small, inexpensive, and easy to maintain. Even breeding a pair of them is achievable with little fuss. Few animals are easier to keep than leopard geckos as pets. 

Leopard gecko

Frequently Asked Questions About Leopard Geckos

As simple as these pet lizards are to keep, I do get a few questions beyond the basics when it comes to leopard gecko care. If you have any reservations on keeping these lizards, then take a moment to consider the following FAQ:

Are Leopard Geckos Nocturnal?

Leopard geckos are nocturnal, for the most part. They will move around during the day, especially if you tend to put food in their tank when the lights are on. But if you can feed at dawn or at dusk they will be more comfortable.

Where Are Leopard Geckos From?

Leopard geckos are native to the dry, desert regions of South Asia. Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Iran, and India are where you will find them in the wild.

Are Leopard Geckos Good Pets?

Leopard geckos are great pets. They get used to being handled and aren’t quick to flee, like other geckos. They come in a wide range of color varieties, are long-lived, and thrive on a diet of vitamin dusted and gut-loaded insects.