Leopard Geckos are one of the best first reptiles that anyone can keep. They are hardy, interactive and offer endless fun. Leopard Geckos are how I got into the hobby when I purchased my first two many years ago. And I’ve always enjoyed watching them go about their day and interacting with them. And over the years I’ve come up with a Leopard Gecko Setup Guide that is suitable for those who are new to the hobby and experienced keepers alike.
What Are Leopard Geckos?
Leopard Geckos (eublepharis macularius) are small lizards from the Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Iran and Nepal area of the world. Unlike the common image of geckos, the Leopard Gecko doesn’t have sticky toes and so doesn’t climb vertical surfaces, however, it does have a detachable tail.
The Leopard Gecko can grow to about 60-80 grams and can live up to 20 years in captivity. They’re a crepuscular species , which means that they’re most active when the light is low. This is one of the reasons why they can be a very popular kept species because they’re often out when an owner is about (early morning and evening).
What is the Wild Leopard Gecko Habitat
Leopard Geckos aren’t well studied in the wild due to their location. The main leopard gecko habitat are in locations like Iran and Afghanistan> These are often caught in war zones. Despite this, we know a fair bit about them from observations in captivity and the little fieldwork that has been completed.
Contrary to popular belief, the leopard gecko habitat is not deserts. They’re found in a wide range of habitats from dry rocks, caves, river shores and grasslands. In the wild, they eat a varied diet of insects and spiders.
Leopard geckos are known to live in loose colonies. This is where several geckos can be living within an area but there isn’t a social structure that you would get with a pack.
Leopard Gecko Setup: Housing
What Enclosure To Use for a Leopard Gecko Setup
There are four types of housing that reptile keepers use for Leopard Geckos. The main is the leopard gecko vivarium, a wooden enclosure that has a glass front. There are also top-opening vivariums. These are easily acquired and can have lighting, heat sources and other equipment attached to the vivarium for ease.
There is also a plastic version of vivariums, known as a leopard gecko terrarium. While these are less costly than vivariums and don’t require any assembly, they are harder to include lights. They’re also not as aesthetically pleasing.
The third option for housing a Leopard Gecko tank or aquarium. These are a good option for certain geckos, but they aren’t great for Leopard Geckos in my opinion. It is harder to maintain good control over the humidity, heat and you’ll be approaching the gecko from the top like a predator would. This could scare your Leopard Gecko. In addition, aquariums are harder to clean.
To compromise, there is also a glass tank version of the leopard gecko vivarium. This is a class terrarium. A good brand here is Exo Terra. However, they do also suffer from heat problems.
The final option is a rub set-up. This is a plastic box with handles which secure the lid to the main box. There are numerous versions of this around, but the best version is the Really Useful Box. You can read how to prepare a Really Useful Box for snake habitation here, the same process can be followed for creating a leopard gecko enclosure, just the substrate and other areas need to be changed for the species.
The size of the enclosure must be carefully considered. A minimum of 2ft is required for the leopard gecko. However, if you can afford it and have space, a larger enclosure is always better.
Leopard Gecko Setup Substrate
Much like housing, there are many different options for Leopard Geckos substrate (the floor layer in their enclosure). We tend to let our Leopard Geckos choose. This may sound strange but when you get to know your Leopard Gecko you can work out their likes and dislikes. So for example, a more relaxed Leopard Gecko, who would have their food placed in their mouth if possible might prefer paper towels where they can see crickets easily. Paper towels are generally used by breeders and make cleaning easy.
Paper towel is really important for a baby leopard gecko.
Many Leopard Geckos like digging, particularly adult females, so you can offer a substrate that allows them to do this. If your adult gecko lives on paper towels and regularly shreds it up and does digging movements on the side of the box then they would likely benefit from a digging substrate such as Leo Life.
Many people are not keen to put their Leopard Gecko on straight-up sand because of the risk of impaction and you should definitely not use children’s play sand. Because of this we also offer Leo Life which is a sandy soil naturalistic blend.
Ensure that you are giving your Leopard Gecko at least 1 inch of the substrate to dig in. This could be something like eco earth. You can also provide your Leopard Gecko with a bioactive set-up that provides fantastic enrichment. This leopard gecko care guide does not cover how to establish a bioactive enclosure.
This leopard gecko setup guide also does not recommend that you use calcium sand or reptile carpet. These can cause numerous health problems.
Leopard Gecko Setup Heating
Heating is an essential part of Leopard Gecko care. This needs to be researched and set up before you purchase your Leopard Gecko. Leopard geckos require belly heat to digest their food properly.
If you are using a rub or terrarium setup, place a heat mat under one-third of the tub. In the rub, use a thermostat to prevent the heat mat from getting too hot. The thermostat should be set between 28 and 31 degrees Celsius (83 to 88 degrees Fahrenheit). This might also work with an aquarium, but some heat mats can’t fit under aquariums.
If you’re using a vivarium, you can use a heat mat inside the vivarium, as long as you place a plastic or glass sheet with smoothed edges on the top of the heat pad. This will prevent the Leopard Gecko from rubbing directly against the heat mat that could cause burns.
We don’t use a ceramic heat projector or heat lamp. This is because it encourages your Leopard Gecko to come out during the day when they are naturally crepuscular in the wild. They also absorb heat from rocks underneath them in the wild so we feel a heating pad is a more suitable way to replicate their temperature in the wild. However, some people do use these as an alternative.
Do not use heat rocks, they can be dangerous for your Leopard Gecko and cause burns. However, a gecko will be attracted to them because of the temperature and a potential source for belly heat.
Within your Leopard Gecko’s enclosure, you should create a temperature gradient. This is where you have one side that is warmer than the other. This can be done by placing the heat source at one end and leaving the other side free from a heat source. Your Leopard Gecko will travel to an area to heat or cool its body as is required. Therefore, you need to create an environment that allows it to warm up or cool down. The cool area for a Leopard Gecko should be between 24 between 28 degrees Celsius (83 to 88 degrees Fahrenheit).
Leopard Gecko Setup Lighting
Leopard Geckos do not require any special uv light. This is because they are crepuscular. Therefore, they are most likely hiding during daylight hours and would not come into direct sunlight during the day.
If you do want to use lighting, then ensure that you are using your UVB lighting for only 6-8 hours a day. You should also use a low emitting UVB, not a desert one. Something around 6% within the vivarium should be sufficient.
If you do not provide your Leopard Gecko with any UVB, you will need to provide a calcium dust with D3 in it.
We have noticed that some leopard geckos will often overexpose themselves to UVB. This can cause skin problems. When we removed the UVB from the enclosure, the leopard gecko would heal up after 2-3 weeks.
Hides and Decorations
You should provide your Leopard Gecko with two hides. One should be placed on the cool side (aka the cool hide) and one should be placed on the warm side (aka the warm hide)of the enclosure. Hides can be made from coconuts, bought plastic hides, flowerpots and other items.
You can also add in a third, humid hide, to help with shedding that contains damp moss and provides a higher humidity level within the enclosure. The moist hide, designed for shedding, can be made from a Tupperware box or cricket feeder box with a hole cut in the top to allow access. Make sure the edges are all smooth.
All enclosures should use decorations to create a habitat or environment your Leopard Gecko will enjoy. Plastic plants can be easily cleaned. Tunnels may be of interest, Felicity has an aquarium bridge made of fake pebbles which she likes to go under and peek out of.
You can add cork bark but make sure there is plenty of space around it. Cork bark offers hiding places for insects which is especially useful in a bioactive set-up and in providing enrichment. Keep in mind that Leopard Gecko characters vary and some just will not hunt their food. If you have a lazy gecko, like our lovely Leo, you might just want to get them a special mealworm bowl that contains the prey items.
Finally, you need to add a water bowl that is cleaned and replaced daily.
Leopard Gecko Setup: Feeding
Learn more about feeding your new pet with this leopard gecko care guide
Leopard Gecko Diet and Frequency
The natural diet for Leopard Geckos in the wild is made up mostly of insects. We offer our Leopard Geckos a variety of live food including Mealworms, Crickets, Locusts, Dubia Roaches and occasionally Wax Worms as a treat. You can read more from our leopard gecko care guide on feeding.
An adult Leopard Gecko will eat either 4 crickets/locusts, 8 Mealworms or 4 Dubias every other day on average. For babies and juveniles, they eat smaller versions of the above insects and every day. In the feeding bowl, you should add a layer of Calcium and D3 supplement. If you pop the insects in the bowl then they will pick up some of the supplement and this will benefit your Leopard Gecko when they eat the insects.
Another important way to provide good nutrients to your Leopard Gecko is to feed your insects a variety of healthy vegetable and salad items while they are in your care. You should also buy good quality feeder insects.
Leopard Gecko Setup: Handling
Handing your Leopard Gecko can be really good fun. Your Leopard Gecko will need time to get to know you. Start with just short handling sessions every day for just a few minutes. This is long enough for your Leopard Gecko without stressing it out and a good amount of time for you, the owner, to enjoy spending time with him/her.
Handling is easy, you can allow your Leopard Gecko to walk onto your hand, gently scoop it up or, lift him/her gently from around the tummy. Never squeeze your leopard gecko and remember it will take time for you and your leopard gecko to get used to handling sessions.
Once in the hand, you can let your Leopard Gecko naturally run between your hands.
Leopard Gecko Setup: Shedding
A Leopard Gecko will regularly go into shed . This is when it removes the outer layer of its skin and replaces it with a new layer. This allows the Leopard Gecko to grow and for it to replace dead cells on the top layer of skin. All animals do this in some respects, humans regularly shed their skin. We do it all the time in tiny particles that it’s hardly noticeable.
The first sign of a Leopard Gecko going into shed is that it will begin to look a paler colour but this only lasts a day and isn’t always noticeable. Leopard Geckos eat their shed skin so you may only spot a shed by your Leopard Gecko suddenly looking brighter!
You can help shedding by using a moist hide in the enclosure and something rough for them to rub up against. If your Leopard Gecko is having trouble with its shed, you can bathe him/her to help remove any skin that hasn’t come off in the first go. However, look at the humidity and temperatures in the enclosure. A Leopard Gecko with stuck shed demonstrates that something is wrong and you need to correct this for better care.
Leopard Gecko Setup: Regular Maintenance
To keep your Leopard Gecko healthy you need to regularly maintain its enclosure. Every day you should replace the water in the bowl. You can do this at the same time as feeding your Leopard Gecko for convenience.
This is a good time to spot check for waste. Small waste can be cleaned up quickly and the bedding or paper towel can be replaced. Leaving waste can cause harmful bacteria to increase in the enclosure and can cause infection. Therefore, always maintain the enclosure for the best Leopard Gecko care. Luckily, Leopard Geckos like to use one particular spot for toileting, so it shouldn’t be hard to find each day.
Every month you should fully clean out and disinfect your Leopard Gecko’s enclosure. There are specially created reptile disinfectants you can use. Don’t use commercial or home disinfectants.