The leopard gecko is considered the ideal pet for those new to terraristics, although the small reptiles naturally have a few requirements. However, these can be fulfilled relatively simply and easily. The Eublepharis, as it is called in Latin, has a sociable nature and can even become tame. With patience and care, leopard geckos are exciting roommates who not only look impressive, but also find a permanent place in the family thanks to their long life expectancy.
The leopard gecko as a pet
Geckos owe their name to the unusual coloration of their skin that they get as adult animals. The yellow skin is then covered by brown spots that look confusingly similar to the leopard pattern. Beyond that, however, they have little in common with the big cats. On the contrary: leopard geckos like it quiet, warm and humid.
Therefore, once domesticated as a pet, they move to a terrarium. Here they find the conditions they would prefer in their natural environment. The species originally comes from the steppes of Pakistan, north-west India, and Afghanistan. The agile reptiles feel most comfortable between stones and in small caves. The terrarium should be set up accordingly and the keeping of the animals should also be adapted to their nature in a way that is appropriate to their species.
Essence and characteristics
Leopard geckos live up to 25 years, reach a weight of around 40 to 70 g and a maximum length of 25 cm, half of which is made up of the tail. This is where the peculiarities of the species begin: In dangerous situations, the animals can throw off their tails. With the help of this tactic it is possible for them to escape an attacker in the wild. However, this reflex should not have to be triggered when keeping pets. Therefore, leopard geckos should never be held by their tails! Even if this grows back over time, shape and color are no longer the same. The house gecko should also be spared such stress.
Another distinctive feature compared to other reptiles is the presence of the eyelid. Very few gecko species have eyelids. The leopard gecko, however, primarily targets its prey with its eyes. The sense of smell is rather secondary.
Furthermore, he has no adhesive strips on his feet, but claws. In other words, he’s lightning fast on rocks and sand, but he can’t climb up panes of glass, for example.
In principle, leopard geckos are crepuscular and nocturnal. Accustomed to the hot days of the steppe, they hide in crevices and caves during the day. As soon as it gets dark and cooler, they go on the prowl. The menu includes insects, spiders and scorpions.
However, the most interesting thing is and remains the variety of colors of these reptiles. Due to breeding and certain preferences of the buyers, the most diverse variants have emerged. The leopard gecko is now a real fad. The latest creations are presented at stock exchanges and markets:
- Wild colors: This refers to the original leopard coloring as it also occurs in the wild. Optimal for camouflage and still very popular with terrarium friends.
- Albinos: They lack the color pigment melanin. Instead, they have pale pink to pink colored skin and red eyes. Cultivated forms are for example Tremper, Rainwater, and Bell – named after their respective breeders.
- Patternless: This breeding line no longer has a typical pattern, but a pure coloring. The palette ranges from bluish, greenish, gray to strong yellow. The blizzards are extravagant forms – no signs of patterns whatsoever, but the most adventurous color creations. Like the Banana Blizzard with a white head and yellow body.
However, geckos are not purely show objects and should certainly not be treated as such. First and foremost, they are scale reptiles. They love to hunt, climb and socialize with their peers.
Leopard geckos should therefore be kept in groups, but at the same time they have strong territorial behavior. To avoid arguments between rival males, a group of one male and/or two to three females is recommended, especially for beginners. The tricky thing is that the gender of the young animals cannot yet be clearly identified. Experienced breeders and zoologists will ideally be on hand to advise buyers and only sell the animals after the sex has been determined.
In terms of keeping them in the terrarium, the tiny creatures are very modest. Approx. 28° C during the day and around 40-50% humidity, at night 20° C with 50-70% humidity, plus steppe-like equipment, species-appropriate food, a bit of care – and they’re satisfied.
The hibernation of leopard geckos should also be taken into account. From the beginning of November to mid/end of February, the terrarium will be quiet. During this phase, temperatures are gradually reduced to around 15°C and lighting is reduced to a maximum of 6 hours a day. Leopard geckos are cold-blooded, but do not fall directly into hibernation. Rather, the animals withdraw and stop eating. It is important that only healthy geckos are allowed to go into hibernation. The stool must be checked for parasites in advance (submitted to the laboratory) and the weight and general state of health must be checked. Hibernation is essential for geckos to revitalize themselves. At the end of this phase, the summer conditions are gradually restored and the geckos are fed and cared for as usual.
With a little patience, they even become tame and really trusting. This makes them very popular not only with beginners, but especially with children. However, their average life expectancy should be thoroughly considered and considered before purchasing. Children who grow up with geckos can probably take them with them when they move out of the parental home. And who knows, maybe the first geckos are just the beginning of a lifelong passion for terraristics.
Nutrition and care
The diet of the geckos, on the other hand, is not for everyone. As insectivores, they prefer live food. On average, an adult leopard gecko eats two to four food animals per day, young animals under six months only one to two. It doesn’t have to be fed every day. Three times a week is perfectly sufficient, otherwise the prey animals stay in the terrarium as roommates until the geckos are hungry again.
In some cases it is advisable to enrich the food supply with minerals and vitamins. For this purpose, the food animals are sprayed with a mineral powder shortly before they are added to the terrarium. Sprayed with a little water beforehand, the particles adhere better to the insects and are actually absorbed.
In terms of care, leopard geckos only need a so-called wet box in which there is increased humidity and in which they can molt. Similar to snakes, the skin does not grow with it, but is shed regularly. The gecko manages the molting process itself. As the owner, it is only important to ensure that the old skin has been completely removed. Residues could strangle limbs and may require some tutoring. No problem with the tame leopard gecko.
The terrarium should contain certain materials to support skin and claw care, such as a sand bath, angular rocks and various types of wood.
The terrarium for the gecko
No matter how hardy leopard geckos are, bright light, drafts, noise and physical shock all affect their well-being, if not their health. Your terrarium should therefore find an appropriate place where it is above all stable. Special base cabinets, such as those also available for aquariums, provide sufficient stability.
And of course the terrarium should be easily accessible for cleaning, but above all for watching, admiring and marveling at the animals.
The Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Forestry has given some thought to terrariums and has established the following principle for keeping leopard geckos:
The calculation of the minimum size of the terrarium is based on two animals in total and is measured on the basis of the largest animal. Its head-torso length (i.e. from the tip of the nose to the rump, without tail), short KRL, is multiplied by 4, which results in the length, by 3 for the width and by 2 for the height.
A leopard gecko pair, in which the larger animal has a SRL of 10 cm, therefore requires a terrarium with 40 cm (L) x 30 cm (W) x 20 cm (H). If the group consists of other animals, an additional 15% of space is required for each.
Mind you, this rule of thumb is only a minimum requirement. The terrarium forms the gecko’s entire territory. In order for them to feel comfortable in it, they should be given as much space as possible. The larger the terrarium, the better quality of life the little ones have. With three animals, it can also be 100 cm x 50 cm x 50 cm and more.
The glass tank is set up with terrarium sand. A high proportion of clay has proven to be particularly popular with the geckos. They can dig better in it and at the same time do not sink so deeply. When dry, it piles up well and creates desert-like conditions. Mixed with a little water, the clay sand hardens and then resembles the hard ground of the steppe.
It is particularly important for the nocturnal animals to have many retreats where they can rest during the day. Cork rock slabs, real stones and wood form the basic framework of the terrarium equipment. In some cases, complete backgrounds can also be purchased, but some would prefer to be creative themselves. Crucial are rough materials on which the claws find optimal grip as well as several crevices and caves to hide.
In addition, the geckos need a watering hole that corresponds to the size of the animals, a feeding place, a small sandpit for bathing and slabs of slate for “sunbathing”. Depending on the location, there is of course no real sun, but it is part of the behavior of the leopard geckos to relax extensively on flat stones.
In addition to stones and cork bark, artificial structures such as rock imitations, clay bowls with moss, as well as roots, lianas and stretched ropes are suitable for the retreat and climbing offer.
Planting, on the other hand, is more for visual decoration, but is not really needed by the geckos. That is why many terrarium holders use artificial plants that are similar to those in the steppe. Tillandsia and cacti, for example, also grow in the leopard gecko’s natural environment. In order to protect them from the digging animals, plants should be firmly attached.
In order to simulate the original living conditions of the geckos as best as possible, the terrarium needs certain technical equipment.
- Light sources to create a day-night rhythm.
- additional UV lamps to stimulate vitamin formation.
- Thermometers and hygrometers for measuring temperature and humidity.
- Ideally, several measuring stations are set up.
- Timer to control the temperature, humidity, and lamps in the day-night rhythm
- Various heat sources, such as spotlights that specifically heat the sunbathing area, but heating mats and stones are also possible
and not to forget: the wet box for skinning.
Care tips for the terrarium
There is not too much to care for the terrarium. First and foremost, the legacies of the leopard geckos have to be removed. With this weekly maintenance, the water bowl can also be refilled and the measured values can be checked.
During the hibernation of the leopard geckos, the terrarium can then be cleaned all around. The sand on the floor is replaced and the equipment, technology and glass walls are cleaned. Fresh water should always be available, even during hibernation. However, the animals must not be startled or disturbed during this phase.
If you want to go away for a day or two over the weekend, you don’t really need to worry. On longer vacation trips, however, a person you trust should often check that everything is in order, take over the feeding and provide fresh water.
Grants for leopard geckos
Many beginners understand “trustworthy” and “tame” to mean that they can take the geckos out of the terrarium for fun. Almost as a kind of freewheel. However, this comes with a lot of risks. Mainly, the cold-blooded animals would cool down extremely quickly. In addition, small, delicate creatures do not necessarily like being touched all the time. Any access initially means a danger or an attack for them.
Once the leopard geckos have settled in, know where the food comes from, and know their territory – then they can be touched in the terrarium and even picked up briefly to check their skin and claws. Extreme caution should be exercised when touching. The bodies are very light and easily injured by large human hands.
Geckos soon learn, however, that cautious attempts at contact will not harm them and will sometimes approach the offered hand out of curiosity.
However, they have no place outside the terrarium. They slip out of your hand too quickly and crawl under cupboards, heaters, or the like, where they might get stuck or injure themselves. Not to mention the stress factor (for humans and animals).
If you want to give your leopard geckos the best possible quality of life, try to find a species-appropriate terrarium and enjoy being together as mutual viewing and admiration. Whether you’re a beginner, a kid, or a pro, there’s never a dull moment with these pets, and there’s always something to learn from them.