Leopard Gecko Care Sheet

Leopard geckos - Past & Future - by Ron Tremper

(c) Ron Tremper - www.leopardgecko.com

This care sheet is reproduced with kind permission of legendary leopard gecko breeder Ron Tremper, for more details about Mr Tremper and the amazing work he has done with leopard geckos creating some of the most amazing colour morphs please visit his website www.leopardgecko.com

 Stop! If you have just caught the reptile "bug" or are an advanced hobbyist don't overlook these saurian gems.

The leopard gecko, (Eublepharis macularius), is an ideal pet that takes up little space, has simple food requirements, comes in designer colors and patterns and can withstand the life dealt out by even the most absent-minded of keepers. They are excitable as babies, but harmless, and as adults they become very tame; taking food from your fingers. With a maximum adult size of 7-10" this lizard is easily handled by supervised children. But remember, their tails can breakoff (and be regrown), so make sure you never pick them up or grab them by that fleshy tail. 

For decades this lizard was the only species being bred in captivity generation-after- generation. It has a fantastic tract record and is probably the most widely kept pet lizard next to the sometimes troublesome green iguana, (Iguana iguana). Since 1992 serious breeders have developed striped, high yellow, "jungle", "ghost", and "leucistic" forms from the original wild-caught imports, which originate in Pakistan and India.

Being a terrestrial type of gecko makes keeping them at home a snap. They are easily kept (our caging system) in a glass or plastic cage that offers 10" x 10" of floor space for each gecko housed and that is at least 12" high. Now that you have a cage in mind, here's your gecko recipe for success:

  • Use paper toweling or newspaper for the cage bottom. You can see when it is soiled and the cost is low.
  • Never use fine sand as a substrate since geckos up to 5" in length may eat the sand and become impacted.
  • Always provide water in a shallow lid or bowl that won't spill.
  • Use a gallon jar lid or shallow plant dish to serve as a food bowl. It's nice if the insects you are using as feed don't escape from this bowl..
  • Use a 6" wide plastic container for a hide box. Fill the container with moist peat moss or Vermiculite and cut a 1 1/2" diameter hole in the lid or side to serve as an entrance for your pet.
  • Mist the hide box medium daily. This aids in skin shedding, which they eat.
  • Provide a screen top for your cage; especially if you have young children or cats.
  • Keep the gecko cage off the floor and create a temperature of 82-88 F for the daytime. The night temperature can go as low as 64 F with no ill effects. Heat can be gained from commercially available reptile heat tapes, hot rocks or a 40-watt light bulb placed over to screen cage top to reach the needed daytime high temperature. Twelve hours of light is fine.
  • Feed four live food items daily per gecko.
  • Never let direct sunlight strike your cage, since it will overheat quickly, like a closed automobile standing in open sun, and kill your pet.
  • Never have more than one male gecko per cage. Adult males of all types of lizards will fight each other, and sometimes to the death, if they come into contact. A male will vibrate its tail rapidly when it sees another gecko. If the other gecko in turn vibrates its tail in the same fashion then each of them knows that contact has been made with another male and a fight will occur. If, however, a male signals his presence via the tail shaking and the other gecko does not respond in like fashion, then the male knows that the gecko near him is in fact a female. This behavior is one means of determining their sex.
  • Sexing your gecko is not very difficult. Male geckos are larger, heavier in the neck region, have a line of small pores on their belly between their hindlegs which are just in front of the anal opening or vent and they exhibit two swellings at their tail base and just past the vent. Females lack the large size, in general, and the pre-anal pores and post-anal swellings are missing. Sex can't be easily seen until your gecko reaches 5-6" in total length. Most of the geckos sold in pet shops are females.
  • You can keep a male with 1 to 10 females all their life. Cage size is the only limiting factor.
  • Keep a jar lid full of vitamin-mineral powder available in the cage at all times.

These are the main points for daily care and keeping, but should you wish to deal with the breeding of leopard geckos, there are detailed sources of information at your local pet shop or from the ever-growing Internet. Always keep in mind that your gecko is subject to the temperatures and food you provide. If the temperature is not warm enough the lizard will not feed well and if the feed is not nutritionally balanced their bones will not form properly. This is true for all reptile pets. 

In captivity, leopard geckos are best fed mealworms, (Tenebrio molitor), or crickets, which you can order through the mail or purchase at any bait or pet shop. It is important to "power feed" such food items for 24-48 hours prior to giving them to your pet. This is done simply by using a cutdown one-gallon plastic milk jug that is filled with chicken or hog feed. Place a piece of potato or carrot in the jug to provide a source of water for the insects. The idea is to fill the insect with nutritious food itself so that your pet can then fill itself with a balanced diet. Many shop owners do not feed their insects such diets and if you merely feed-out recently purchased insects then your lizard will suffer from poor health within 3-6 weeks. The first signs of such nutritional problems are a soft or shortened lower jaw or bent limbs.

Leopard geckos are sexually mature at 10 months of age and usually lay their first pairs of eggs of the season from January to August. First-time females will sometimes only lay a single egg, but a sure sign that you have done a good job raising your female gecko is seen when two fertile eggs are laid in the box of mosit soil you have been providing. From then on, a clutch will always consist of two eggs unless your female is old or sick. Older females may lay 10-16 eggs per season. A fertile egg feels like a stale marshmellow while an infertile egg looks and feels like a half-filled hotwater bottle.

Eggs are easy to hatch. In fact, you get to have a powerful job, if you wish, since gecko eggs are temperature sex dependent. This means that the sex of the gecko is not determined at fertilization, but is set during the first two weeks in captivity by the high daytime temperature you expose the eggs to. A daytime high that does not exceed 82 F will give you all female offspring, but if you want to make that egg a "male" then you simply place the egg where it will experience 90-92 F as a daytime high during the first two weeks of incubation. (the following line was revised 07-22-03) If you keep "male" eggs at a constant 89-91 F you may have some embryos die from heat stress or if they are exposed to temps over 92 F they may become what we call "hot" or high temperature females, which never reproduce and often bully their cage mates.

Now that you have learned a bit of science you can place your new eggs in a plastic container of moist potting soil, Vermiculite or Perlite. Bury the eggs only 1/2" and place two or three push-pin size airholes in a tight fitting lid. You can get fancy and buy a commercial incubator if you are after a particular sex or you can just place the container of eggs on a high shelf in your reptile room or home where the temperature varies from 74-94 F. (Don't worry if you only have a single female as a pet. She may lay eggs and of course they will be infertile.) Young will emerge on their own in 60-70 days using this method of incubation.

Care of the young is the same as for the adults. They begin taking 1/4" crickets or one-inch mealworms at day 3 of their lives. Plastic shoeboxes are ideal homes for babies. At our reptile ranch we use #2 styrofoam meat trays (available in your grocery store) upside-down for a hide box, a pickle jar lid serves as a place for vitamin-mineral powder and the mealworms and a peanut butter jar lid works perfectly for a water bowl. The young need to be fed live insects daily or they may bite off the tails of their cagemates. Always sort the young to size every two weeks as there will be one or two babies that outgrow everyone else and once this competition begins it is only a matter of time before a small gecko will be eaten by its big brother or sister. If you wish to feed baby mice to an adolescent gecko you can achieve larger size and for a female you will get more eggs laid per season.

Just how long will your pet gecko live? Well, we have had female leopard geckos live 19 years and a friend in Florida had a male, that died recently, that lived a verifiable 27 years! Females are usually able to lay up to the age of 8 years without problem. Again, the key is a proper nutritional foundation; especially during that first year of life. 

If you have made a choice to select a leopard gecko as a pet, all you have to do now is find a healthy specimen. A gecko in top condition will have a fat tail - usually 3/4 of the thickness of their neck; they will be alert when awake and the colors should be bright. Kindly, ask your pet shop manager to throw in a live cricket with any gecko you are considering. If the gecko immediately goes after the food item then that is a gecko for you. Avoid lizards that do not readily open their eyes when touched or that have old skin stuck to their toes or are thin.

The normal phase leopard geckos are seasonally available in pet shops while the "designers" must be had directly from the breeder or at some of the larger reptile expositions. Generally, geckos can be bought during the hatching season, from April to October, without any problem. The most difficult months to make a purchase are usually January and February. Shipping through the mail is quite simple and safe.

With all the new color and pattern variations occurring in this species, its future will likely take on the huge assortment of mutations seen in the common goldfish. So far, the first albino has not appeared on the scene, but that is only a matter of time. (this article was written in 1996, but now, since 1999, the first albinos are on the market.) Designer leopard geckos, which are all black or snow white and even all orange are now being developed.

The leopard gecko has become a top reptile choice for anyone at any level of experience. They will never let you down as long as you follow the basic care. The rewards are worth it.

(c) Ron Tremper - www.leopardgecko.com