Setting up an ideal leopard gecko habitat is more complicated than simply putting a couple of rocks and a light bulb in a tank. These reptiles have very specific needs that must be met to ensure their health and survival. Use this guide to help you create a leopard gecko setup that will keep your lizard safe, happy, and healthy for years to come.
Why People Love Leopard Geckos
Leopard geckos, affectionately referred to as “leos” by some enthusiasts, are fascinating and beautiful creatures. They possess some very unique characteristics that make them highly popular among reptile enthusiasts.
They have striking looks, with their signature spots and bright colors. They’re also rather cute, as far as reptiles go, due in part to their large eyes and “smiling” mouth. They are generally docile, and grow to become comfortable around their owners. Considered to be a family-friendly reptile, the leopard gecko typically enjoys being handled and will not act aggressively toward people.
Healthy geckos tend to have a very long lifespan, living for an average of 6-10 years. There are many cases of leopard geckos living for 20 years or more.
Choosing a Leopard Gecko
Once you’ve decided you want a leopard gecko, the fun part comes: choosing your new little friend. There a few choices when it comes to buying your lizard. You can find them at pet stores, as well as from online retailers. You may also be able to pick up your new leopard gecko directly from a breeder, or at a reptile show.
Look carefully at any lizard you are thinking about bringing home with you. Unhealthy leopard geckos may require veterinary care, and may not survive very long. Ideally, you want to start with a lizard that is in good health and has been well taken care of.
Signs of a Healthy Leopard Gecko
- Intact claws and toes
- Alert and active
- Bright, clear eyes
- Clean nose
- Closed mouth
- Full, round tail
Signs of an Unhealthy Leopard Gecko
- Sunken eyes
- Discharge around nostrils, mouth, or eyes
- Flat, thin tail
- Lethargic behavior
- Unable to close mouth completely
- Missing or deformed claws and toes
- Visible rib or hip bones
Don’t be afraid to ask questions when shopping for your gecko. If a breeder or retailer seems reluctant to discuss their breeding methods, care routine, or other any other issue you’re concerned about, it might be better to go somewhere else. Support responsible, humane breeders by refusing to buy lizards from anyone who doesn’t demonstrate a high standard of care for the animals they deal with.
Leopard Geckos in the Wild
To create an appropriate habitat for a leopard gecko, it’s important to understand the conditions of their natural environment. There are five recognized subspecies of the common leopard gecko. They are found in certain regions of Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Iraq, and Iran, along the edges of deserts and within arid grasslands.
Leopard geckos have been captive-bred in many areas of the world for decades. Still, in order to thrive, they require conditions close to those found in their natural environment.
Selecting the Right Enclosure For Your Leopard Gecko
Choosing a proper enclosure for your leopard gecko is the foundation of creating an ideal habitat where your pet can grow and thrive. There are several factors to consider as you select your leopard gecko tank.
Tank Construction and Size
For a single leopard gecko, your tank should be (at absolute minimum) 10 gallons. It should be at least 12 inches high and a minimum of 30 inches long. If possible, I highly recommend going with a 20 gallon to help make you gecko as happy as possible.
Select a tank that is made from glass or clear plastic. Never use wire cages as leopard gecko habitats; these present too high a risk of entanglement and injury. Geckos thrive in long, wide tanks rather than tall and narrow varieties – lizards are not big climbers like some of their reptile relatives.
The Exo Terra 24″ x 18″ x 12″ model is a great choice if you’re really looking to put together a nice setup.
- Glass terrarium for reptiles and amphibians
- Front doors can open separately
- Closable inlets for wires and/or tubing, waterproof bottom
Security and Safety
Be mindful of security as you put together your habitat. There are so many risks to a lizard’s health and safety around the house, so it’s important to ensure yours doesn’t escape. All corners of the tank should be securely sealed and not have any gaps.
You’ll need a removable top that allows you to access your leopard gecko’s enclosure and also provides the security you need. A screened top is best, since it will allow for proper ventilation while still protecting your little buddy from curious kids or household pets.
Placing Your Tank
Place your leopard gecko habitat on a sturdy surface where it won’t be disturbed by other pets or small children. Try to place the tank somewhere it will not be exposed to direct sunlight, as this can cause the enclosure to overheat.
Leopard Gecko Substrates
You’ll need to select some type of flooring material, or substrate, for your gecko’s habitat. Which type is best? That usually depends on who you ask. There is some debate among reptile experts and enthusiasts about which substrate is most fitting for a leopard gecko habitat. The bottom line is that there are a few types of flooring that are safe to use in your enclosure, and there are a few others that aren’t.
Best Leopard Gecko Substrates
Reptile Carpets: You can purchase special thin carpeting strips made specifically for use in reptile tanks. Reptile carpets generally don’t cost much and are a favorite substrate type for many leopard gecko owners. These usually look very nice, and are fairly easy to maintain. The only real drawback is that they’ll need to be replaced if you detect any fraying or tearing, since this could cause your lizard’s claws to become caught.
We recommend Zilla Reptile Carpet. It is affordable, durable, and easy to install.
- A low maintenance bedding, simply roll out and cut to size as needed
- Safe because it cannot be digested like other substrates, a good alternative especially for juvenile...
- Treated with a biodegradable enzyme that reduces odors and is easy to clean with cold tap water
Ceramic Tile: Ceramic tile or flat stones are an increasingly popular choice in leopard gecko habitat substrates. They are inexpensive and very easy to keep clean. Tile flooring looks nice, too, and is available in a variety of colors to suit your taste.
Shelf Liner: Non-adhesive shelf liner paper makes a suitable and affordable leopard gecko substrate. Shelf liner is usually easy to keep clean, and can easily be replaced as needed.
Newspaper/Paper Towels: Some leopard gecko owners use non-adhesive paper substrates, like newspapers or paper towels, for their enclosures. While it’s not the most attractive option among substrates, some owners enjoy the ease of being able to throw away and replace the flooring rather than cleaning it.
Substrates to Avoid
A suitable substrate should not be made of materials that could be abrasive or irritating to your leopard gecko’s eyes or skin. The following materials are not ideal for a leopard gecko habitat – and some could even be dangerous to your pet.
Sand: You may see people who use sand for their leopard gecko substrate, and some lizard owners may even recommend it. However, many experts warn against using sand as it poses significant health and safety risks to reptiles. Sand can irritate your pet’s eyes and skin. The biggest danger is that your lizard may ingest the sand particles, which can create a potentially deadly impaction. What’s more, sand is messy and can be expensive, and it can harbor dangerous pathogens.
Calcium Fortified Sand: You have probably also heard about calcium-fortified sand. The idea behind this product is that it’s safe for lizards to eat since it consists partly of calcium. The problem is that even calcium-fortified sand can become clumpy and create digestive issues for your lizard.
Mulch: Mulch (like coconut fiber, shredded wood, sphagnum moss, and similar materials) can be a great substrate choice for certain reptiles and amphibians, but is not ideal for use in a leopard gecko enclosure. It’s loose, messy, and could be ingested by your pet. This kind of substrate can also create an environment that is too high in humidity. The exception to this rule is that you can use a bit of mulch underneath the moist hide in your tank (more about this later).
Other substrate materials to avoid include corn cobs, wood chips, and gravel.
Creating the Right Environment In Your Leopard Gecko Enclosure
Once you have the right enclosure, it’s time to set up the systems that will enable you to create and maintain an ideal climate and environment for your new pet. It’s critical that your habitat provides for your leopard gecko’s heating and lighting needs. The goal here is to imitate the conditions in your pet’s natural environment as closely as possible.
Leopard Gecko Lighting
In the summer, your gecko will need about 14 hours of visible light per day and 10 hours of darkness. During the winter, you should gradually transition to about 12 hours of light and 12 hours of dark. This cycle is important to help your pet regulate his sleeping and waking rhythms. Aim to taper back the number of light hours by about 15 – 30 minutes each day when you change the light cycle from summer to winter schedules.
A daylight bulb is necessary in any leopard gecko habitat. The daylight conditions signify to your lizard that it’s time to rest and sleep.
It’s important not to use any bright lights inside the enclosure during the night when your leopard gecko is most active. This can seriously disturb their sleeping and waking cycle, and adversely affect their health. If you want to watch your lizard’s nocturnal activities, you can purchase special infrared lights that allow you to see what’s going on without upsetting your little leo.
To keep your lighting system running smoothly, you’ll need a few extra supplies.
- Fixtures: You will need to purchase a lighting fixture to run any bulbs you use. You can hang the fixture above the tank. Alternatively, the fixture can be set directly on the screened top of the enclosure.
- Timer: It’s best to purchase an automatic timer to ensure a consistent light cycle for your lizard. These are inexpensive and easy to use, and can be found at home improvement stores as well as pet supply stores.
- Surge Strip: Since you’ll be plugging in light fixtures, timers, and other accessories, it’s best to purchase a surge-protecting power strip. Not only will this give you a designated power source to run your whole leopard gecko setup, it will help protect your equipment from being damaged during a power surge.
A Word About Vitamin D3 and Lighting for Leopard Geckos
Many types of pet reptiles need to bask under UV lights in order to get enough vitamin D3. Because of their nocturnal nature, leopard geckos are different. In the wild, leopard geckos are usually only active when there is very little or no natural light (typically at dusk or dawn). Since it would be extremely difficult to mimic the small bit of sunlight your gecko would get in nature, it’s best to provide for your pet’s D3 needs through supplementation.
Leopard Gecko Temperature Needs
Maintaining the right temperatures within the enclosure is also critical to your leopard gecko’s health and well-being. Leopard geckos have specific temperature needs, and you must monitor and regulate the heat levels in your pet’s habitat carefully.
It is essential that you create and maintain a proper heat gradient across the tank. In order to regulate his or her body heat, your little friend will need to move to different areas of the enclosure throughout the day and night. Leopard geckos need a warm zone for proper digestion, as well as a cooler zone where they can bring their body temperature down when needed.
The cool side of your enclosure should range from about 75-80 degrees Fahrenheit during the day.
Keep the warm side around 84 – 90 degrees in the daytime hours. At night, aim for about 10 degrees cooler across the tank.
While monitoring and regulating the temperature in your pet’s habitat might sound complicated, it’s not that difficult if you have the right equipment. Here’s what you’ll need.
- Heat pad: You can help maintain the right temperatures in your leopard gecko habitat by using a heat pad. These generate heat without posing burn risk or introducing any bright light into the tank. These pads are generally placed under the tank. Don’t use just any type of heat pad; purchase one that is specially made for a reptile habitat.
- Heat lamp: If you find that your heat pad does not sufficiently warm the enclosure, you can use an infra-red heat lamp to increase the temperature without disturbing your leopard gecko’s light cycle. If you use one of these, you will not need a separate nighttime viewing lamp.
- Thermometer: Thermometers are necessary to ensure that temperatures in your habitat are within a healthy range. Ideally, you should have at least two thermometers in your leopard gecko habitat so that you can monitor your warm and cool zones. It’s important to keep thermometers in good working order and check them regularly to be sure they’re functioning properly.
A note about heat rocks: Heat rocks are a good choice for some reptiles, but leopard geckos are not one of them. Heat rocks introduce a burn risk into your pet’s habitat, and are not necessary since adequate temperatures can be maintained by other (safer) means.
The Importance of Humidity in Your Leopard Gecko Habitat
Another critical aspect of keeping a proper habitat for your leopard gecko is humidity. Too much humidity can cause respiratory problems, and too little can lead to dehydration and a host of subsequent health issues.
You will need to purchase a hygrometer for your leopard gecko habitat. This is a small, inexpensive gauge that measures the humidity level inside your tank. We recommend the Zoo Med Hygrometer shown below.
- Digital read out
- Quick and easy to read
- Waterproof probe
Your leopard gecko tank should be kept between 20-40% humidity. This might sound rather technical, but it’s usually not too hard to correct the humidity in your tank by making a few small adjustments.
If the humidity in your enclosure is too high, be sure you’re allowing for good air circulation. Reducing the size of your water dish (and therefore the amount of water) in the tank can also help to bring down the humidity level.
If the humidity is too low, switch to a bigger water dish or add a live plant to your enclosure. You can also increase tank humidity by adding more moist materials, such as moss or damp paper towels.
Leopard Gecko Habitat Accessories and Decor
Once you lock down your lighting and temperature setup, it’s time to think about the other supplies you’ll need to make your lizard feel at home.
Plants for Your Leopard Gecko Habitat
Plants make nice decorations for your leopard gecko’s enclosure, and they can also be beneficial to your pet. Putting some plants in the tank can help give your lizard an added sense of security, and more closely mimic the creature’s natural habitat. Since leopard geckos don’t eat veggies, you won’t have to worry about them ingesting the plants. However, you should still take care not to use any plants that could be poisonous.
Because live plants can change the humidity level in your tank, you may want to opt for artificial varieties. Obviously, live plants also require a higher level of maintenance than plastic ones.
Leopard Gecko Hides
A “hide” is a designated place for your leopard gecko to do just that: hide. Leopard geckos need cool, dark places to crouch under during the day. This is an important aspect of their overall health and well being. These hides are also important as a place for your pet to get away from too much stimulation or things that frighten them, like people and other pets.
You can design your own leopard gecko hides using household objects such as small boxes, plastic containers, or planter pots. As long as the object creates an enclosure that is big enough for your lizard to fit safely and comfortably inside, it should work fine. You will need to cut out an opening so your leopard gecko can easily get in and out of the hide. Be careful not to use any objects with sharp edges or loose parts that could injure your lizard.
You can also purchase ready-made leopard gecko hides. These are available at most pet stores, as well as online. Often, these are more aesthetically pleasing than homemade hides. Store-bought hides usually look like rocks or branches, so they blend nicely into a leopard gecko habitat.
- Gecko Cave that provides a secure hiding for reptiles and amphibians
- Helps reduce stress and Large Gecko Cave
- Integrates easily in desert and tropical terrariums
Whether you should go the DIY route or buy pre-made hides depends on your personal preferences. As long as your hide is safe and accessible, your leopard gecko will love it.
Ideally, your leopard gecko habitat should have three hides.
- Warm hide: The warm hide should be placed in the hottest area of the tank. This is the place where your leopard gecko can go if he or she is feeling too cool to digest food properly.
- Moist hide: You should have one hide that is higher in humidity than the other hides. You can achieve this by placing it in the middle or on the cool side of the tank, and keeping moist substrate just underneath it. You can use damp moss or damp paper towels for this.
- Cool hide: You can add a third hide for your leopard gecko to cool down if he or she gets too hot. Place this hide in the coolest part of the tank.
Use care when you place any type of hide so that it can’t tip and fall on your lizard.
Using Rocks and Logs in Your Leopard Gecko Tank
Leopard geckos like having a couple of rocks and/or logs in their habitat. These can double as hides if they offer a sufficient space underneath for your little pal to get away from it all. If you opt for items you found out in nature (or your backyard), make sure you clean and sanitize them before adding them to your leopard gecko enclosure.
Leopard Gecko Dietary Needs
Leopard geckos do not eat fruits and vegetables like many other popular reptiles. Instead, they prefer a diet of live insects. You will still want to have a food dish in your enclosure for worm feeding. Here’s what leopard geckos like to eat.
- Worms: Leopard geckos generally enjoy eating worms. The most common types of worms used for leopard geckos are mealworms, waxworms, and superworms. Be aware that worms are high in fat, and should not be the main source of nutrition for your lizard. Place worms in a smooth food dish to feed them to your lizard.
- Crickets: Crickets are a great food source for your leopard gecko. Place one or two into the tank at a time, then add more as your lizard catches them.
- Roaches: Roaches can also be included in your leopard gecko’s diet. Some leopard gecko owners swear by dubia roaches as a protein-rich food for their lizard.
Like most pet lizards, leopard geckos should be given vitamin supplements to ensure a complete and nutritious diet.
- Calcium: Leos need calcium to maintain proper bone health. Calcium deficiency can cause severe health problems and eventual death.
- Vitamin D3: Vitamin D3 is necessary for leopard geckos to absorb that essential calcium into their bodies.
You can purchase these supplements at most pet stores, or you can order them online. There are multivitamin formulas available that contain both, which can be a convenient way to be sure your pet gets enough of each.
These supplements come in powder form. Feed them to your gecko by dusting his insects with it periodically (each supplement will have its own specific dosage guidelines).
As you put together your leopard gecko’s habitat, be sure to include a water dish. You’ll need to keep it filled with fresh, cool water for your pet. Use a dish that’s fairly shallow, to eliminate any drowning risk and to ensure easy access for drinking.
What Else You Should Know About Feeding Your Leopard Gecko
Buy live food only from reputable sources. You can usually get mealworms, waxworms, and crickets from your local pet store. You can also order them online. Don’t feed your pet worms or crickets you catch outside. They could harbor contaminants (such as pesticides or parasites) that might make your little leo sick. Also, feeder insects are “gut fed,” which means they are given a special diet to make them optimally nutritious for your lizard.
Lightning bugs and fireflies are toxic to leopard geckos; don’t feed them any insect that lights up.
Housing Multiple Leopard Geckos
While you can keep more than one leopard gecko in your habitat, it’s important to take care before placing multiple geckos together. It’s not advisable to put more than one adult male gecko in an enclosure, though males can be housed together as juveniles. As they mature, the male geckos may become territorial and fight.
Female geckos usually do well sharing a habitat. Male and female leopard geckos typically get along when placed together, just keep in mind that they will likely mate. If you’re not interested in breeding geckos, it’s best to keep males and females in separate enclosures. Geckos housed together should be close in size and age, and ideally should be placed together when both are young.
As a general rule of thumb, about 5 gallons of tank space should be added for each additional gecko you plan to add. The total number of geckos in one enclosure should not be more than three.
Experts recommend that novice reptile enthusiasts stick to keeping only one leopard gecko in a habitat.
Final Tips – Keeping Your Leopard Gecko Happy In Its Habitat
Clean your enclosure regularly. Wash and sanitize the substrate (or change it out if you’re using disposable materials) often. Always wash your hands after handling your leopard gecko or cleaning its tank.
Watch your leopard gecko for signs of ill health. Be observant of your new pet in the habitat you have created. The following list includes some behaviors that can indicate a problem.
- Not eating or drinking, or eating very little
- Hiding all the time
- Skin discoloration
- Irregular shedding
- Swollen joints
- Eye, mouth, or nose discharge
- Liquified droppings that persist for more than a few days
As soon as you suspect your pet might be sick, take him or her to a veterinarian.
Always supervise children around your leopard gecko habitat. Be sure they don’t try to handle your pet or re-arrange objects inside the habitat without your supervision and guidance. Also, teach kids to wash their hands after handling a reptile or touching things inside its enclosure.
Leopard geckos generally grow to enjoy being handled, but may need some time to get to know you first. Start out slowly when they are juveniles, and work to build trust and familiarity with your pet. Once your lizard is comfortable letting you hold it, keep it up so that regular handling becomes just another part of your leo’s routine.
Last update on 2020-04-04 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API