The Leopard Gecko

(Eublepharis macularius)

By: Eric Wilson - UltimateHerps™

Introduction: Leopard Geckos have become very popular in the pet trade today. Many breeders, amateurs and professionals alike, breed them and have produced many new color morphs and combo-morphs such as Mack Snows/Mack Super Snows, Blazing Blizzards, Raptors, Aptors, Enigmas, and many more. Since Leos are easy to care for, breed, and are readily available in a large variety of beautiful color morphs, it’s no wonder they’ve grown so popular in the pet trade today! Leopard Geckos are a great beginner animal. They are cute, stay relatively small, are low maintenance, and are generally inexpensive. Plus, there’s loads of information about their care available on the internet and in books. With proper care, Leos can live over twenty years in captivity. Some have lived for more than thirty years.

Links: VMS Herp-Leopard Gecko Trade Names


Native Range: Most Leopard Geckos that are sold are Captive-Bred meaning that the parents were bred in captivity and then the gecko hatched in captivity. Leopard Geckos are native to Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India. In the wild they live near the desert and scrub-land in a rocky habitat which provides a suitable shelter. They are nocturnal, which means that they are active at night. They tend to hide underground during the day to escape the heat. When dusk falls, they come out of their shelters to hunt for insects.

Size: When Leopard Geckos first hatch out of their egg, they measure roughly four inches from nose-tip to tail-tip. As adults, they grow to be eight to nine inches long on average. Ron Tremper produced the Tremper Giant/Super Giant Leopard Geckos, a Co-Dominant genetic morph. Within a years time, Giants grow to be ten to eleven inches long, with females weighing 60g-90g and males weighing 90g-110g. Within a years time, Super Giants grow to be eleven to twleve inches long, with females weighing over 90g and males obtaining weights of 110g-150g+! Now that's a big Leopard Gecko!

Handling: A stressed baby Leopard Gecko can sometimes be a challenge to handle. They will sometimes hiss and run around their enclosure, but as they mature, they tame down nicely. A newly bought Leopard Gecko shouldn’t be handled for a minimum of two to three days, and should be quarantined for four to six weeks. While in quarantine, the Leo should be housed alone in a simple enclosure where you can observe that it is eating and that it is healthy. You may also want to bring a fecal sample to the vet to test for parasites (better safe than sorry). Leopard Geckos rarely bite and are easy to handle as adults. To pick up a Leopard Gecko, simply reach your hand into its enclosure and gently scoop the Leo up so that it is resting on your hand. As a precaution when holding a younger Leo for the first time, you might consider handle your Leopard Gecko over its enclosure. A Leopard Gecko that is frightened could leap off your hand and make take a fatal fall if you are standing up and have nothing below your hand to catch it. Once you have a feel for your young Leopard Gecko's personality and temperament, you can try holding him while standing up. Try not to handle your Gecko too often, as it can cause unneeded stress.

Caging: There is a wide variety of enclosures available that will match the needs of a Leopard Gecko. A ten-gallon tank works great for an adult Leopard Gecko. Another option is a commercially available reptile cage, such as the Critter Keeper. You may choose to house your Leo in a clear Rubbermaid container with air holes in the side. Leopard Geckos don’t have any adhesive pads on their toes, so a screen lid is not absolutely necessary in a tall cage, but it will help keep crickets in and any "unwanted guests" out. Other enclosures like the Critter Keeper or a tub should have a lid.

Links: VMS Herp-Leopard Gecko Care

Substrate: Paper towels are ideal for baby and juvenile Leopard Geckos because they won’t impacted the Leo, they are easy to clean, and they can hold some humidity in them for hatchlings. You will need to replace the entire paper towel at least every week. With adults, you can use news paper the same way you do paper towels for baby and juvenile Leopard Geckos. Do not use sand as a substrate for any Gecko at all, or they may ingest the sand and become impacted. That goes for any type of loose substrate as well. Leos constantly smell their environment with their tongues, which is why they will often lick you and their surroundings while walking). If you have them on sand or any loose substrate, they may ingest enough of it to clog up their digestive track. It can take anywhere from a couple days to a few years before you see the visual effects of impaction. Their intestines are the size of their smallest finger. Do you think a piece or group of sand particles could fit through that? Calci-Sand and all of those small grained sands will clump up when they get wet from the saliva and digestive juices that your gecko has, so they too present a risk of causing impaction even though they are deemed  ‘safe’ on the packages.

Food: When you acquire a Leopard Gecko, ask the person that you are purchasing it from what it is feeding on. Mealworms, pinhead crickets, or small silkworms are ideal for juvenile Leopard Geckos, while large crickets, silkworms, and certain species of roaches work great for adults. If you are feeding mealworms or silkworms to your gecko, keep the worms in a shallow dish to prevent them from escaping to other parts of the cage and hiding from your Leopard Gecko. You can take the crickets hind legs off so they can’t escape as easily if your gecko is having trouble catching them. Gut-load crickets before offering them to your gecko. This means that you feed the crickets a healthy diet for at least twenty four hours. There are many commercial cricket diets available that work well for this. Another option is to give the insects a piece of fruit or vegetable with either some fish food or dog food, but make sure that it isn’t dyed. Dust the insects that you are feeding your gecko with reptile calcium powder that contains vitamin D3, such as Repti-Cal, at least once every other week. If it is a breeding female, then you need to dust the feeder insects daily. You can give a waxworm as an occasional treat to your Leopard Geckos, but only around once a month maximum because wax-worms are very addictive and are very high in fat. Only use them to fatten up a Leopard Gecko that is extremely skinny and that really needs fattening up. I suggest using silkworms instead of waxworms because silkworms are extremely nutritious and Leopard Geckos love them.

Water and Humidity: Provide a shallow water dish with fresh, clean water for your Leopard Gecko. The water bowl should be either as tall as, or shorter than your Leopard Gecko. Clean the water bowl and put fresh water in it at least once every week. Humidity should be kept low, otherwise your Leopard Gecko can suffer from respiratory problems. Some Leopard Geckos will have trouble shedding their skin, especially their toes, if the humidity in the cage is too low. If you see that your Gecko is shedding, or having trouble shedding, simply put a moist hide in the tank if you don’t already have one. This will increase the humidity in the cage which will help your Leopard Gecko’s shed skin to not remain stuck on the toes. Otherwise, the skin will harden and block the blood from flowing into the toe which might result in the loss of the toe. A moist hide can be constructed by flipping a plastic container over and cutting a hole that is two to three times the size of your Leopard Gecko. This will ensure that your Leopard Gecko will not become stuck. Make sure that the edges of the hole in the plastic container are smooth so that they do not injure your Leopard Gecko. After you have done this, fill it up with either peat moss or sphagnum moss. You can mix in some Bed-A-Beast or a similar product as well. Make sure that the contents of the moist hide are damp, but not wet.

Heating and Lighting: There are a few different options when choosing how to heat your  Leopard Gecko's enclosure. If you are housing the gecko in an aquarium, you can use a heating pad under one side of the enclosure or you can use a heat lamp to heat one side of the cage. If you choose a heat pad, it should go underneath the tank on one side. I would suggest using a separate thermostat to control the heating pad since I've heard too many stories of heating pads going haywire and burning reptiles. There are many commercially available thermostats with all sorts of price ranges. Some of the higher-end ones include Herpstat, Helix, Ranco, and Johnson. If you choose a heat lamp instead, set it next to the tank and point it towards one side of the tank. Either way, a quality digital thermometer with a probe or a temp gun is a good idea. That way, you always know what temperature your cage is at. It should be around 90 degrees Fahrenheit on the warm end during the day and around 80 degrees Fahrenheit on the cooler side during the day. A night temperature drop is not necessary, but if you choose to have one, make sure that the temperatures are be between 78-84 degrees Fahrenheit during the night. Temperatures should never go above 95 degrees Fahrenheit and never go below 75 degrees Fahrenheit, at any time.

Health Problems: 1. Your Leo may stop eating for many reasons. One, it may be getting ready to shed or has just finished shedding (some Leos don’t eat during this time). Another reason why it has stopped eating may be because it is stressed out or is still adjusting to its environment. If this is the case, don’t handle your Leo for a week or so. This can be caused by a newly rearranged cage, having just been purchased where it hasn’t yet adjusted to its new environment, or it being bothered or handled too much. If neither of those is the reason, check to make sure that the temperatures in your cage are correct. Make sure that you are using a quality digital thermometer or a temp gun to measure your temperatures. Some thermometers, including the stick-on ones that I've seen for sale at pet stores, have been know to be off by over twnety degrees! You can also bring a fecal sample to the vet to test for parasites. Get further instructions from your vet, but you may need to force feed the gecko or feed it ‘Jump Start’ (which stimulates the digestive system and usually gets them eating again after a week or two). 2. Many lizards (including Leos) have the ability to drop their tail in defense. The tail will continue wiggling, distracting the predator, while the lizard makes its escape. Over the next month or so, its tail will regrow. Its new tail won’t look the same as the original, though, it will have a more ‘bulbous’ appearance. If your Leo does drop its tail, do not worry. Just dab a small amount of anti-biotics such as Neosporin or Polysporin (make sure that it is the type without pain-killers, incase they lick it) on the part of the tail that broke to keep it from becoming infected. Also, try not to handle your Leo for a few days. If the tail does become infected, please consult a Herp Vet for further instructions. 3. Calcium with vitamin D3 is extremely important. Without it, Leos can develop MBD, Metabolic Bone Disease. If your Leo seems exhausted, in pain, or their legs look really thin or are in really odd positions, then they might have MBD. If you have any questions on MBD, consult a breeder or a Herp Vet.



Sexing: It is possible to sex Leopard Geckos at a very young age once you know what to look for. Most Leopard Geckos are easy to sex at five to nine months old. By nine months, it should be quite obvious whether it is a male or a female, although there are some exceptions. Males become sexually mature around nine months of age. Males will have two hemipenal bulges at the base of their tail and a V-shaped set of pre-anal pores, usually consisting of around thirteen pores. They will secrete a waxy substance from these pores, often smearing it around their cage. This is their way of marking/scenting their territory. Although females will also have these pores, they aren’t as pronounced, and look like ‘pits’ when magnified instead of true pore. They are also harder to see with the naked eye. Females will also lack the bulges at the base of the tail.

Mating: The breeding season for Leopard Geckos is usually January through September, but sometimes it will continue into October. In order to have fertile eggs, you obviously need a male Leopard Gecko and at least one female Leopard Gecko. The female should be at least 45 grams, but 50g+ is preferred. The male should be at least one year old in order to breed, even though he will become sexually mature at about nine months of age. You will need to put the male in the tank with the female for about one week. In this time, the male will follow the female around and eventually bite the female on the neck. He may start nibbling on her back and gradually get up to her neck as well. This is normal, so don’t separate them if you see this, unless he continues biting to the point where he is going to cause serious injury to the female. After he bites the female Leopard Gecko, he will mate with her. This will only take a few minutes. You can quietly observe, but don’t bother them. You can take the male out of the enclosure when he is finished mating to reduce the stress on the female. Females can retain sperm, so it isn't mandatory to reintroduce a pair until the next breeding season after a successful mating has been observed. I would suggest pairing them together a few different times so that you can be sure to receive fertile eggs from your female. Some breeders leave their males in with a group of three or more females year round. When breeding Leopard Geckos, it is essential to offer your females additional calcium to aide in proper egg development. If you aren't already, offer a small dish or a water bottle lid in the female’s enclosure filled with calcium powder, but use the type that does not contain vitamin D3. This way, she can receive calcium whenever she needs it. And yes, they will sit there licking up calcium powder when they really need it. Also, dust all of your feeder insects with calcium every time you feed your female while she is producing eggs. If you don’t think your female Leopard Gecko is gaining enough weight, you can offer her some silkworms, which are extremely nutritious, and maybe even a wax worm or two. Just be careful with the waxworms, as they are very high in fat and may become addicting to your Leopard Gecko.

Choosing/Making an Incubator: An incubator can be made out of many different things. You can just buy an incubator like the highly recommended Hova-Bator (without a fan), or you can make one from scratch. If you choose to make one, you can use an aquarium with an under tank heater underneath. Fill the aquarium half way up with water. Then, place two bricks in the water, but the top of the bricks need to be at least an inch out of the water. Place a deli cup or the container that you are using for the eggs on top of the bricks. The deli cup or the container that you are using should contain either vermiculite or perlite that is damp, but not wet. Make a dent in the incubation medium to stick the eggs in. Either have a couple of tiny air holes in the container or open the container once a week to allow fresh air into the container. Also, have a digital thermometer with a probe in the container so that you know what temperature it is so the eggs don’t become too hot or too cold. Set the thermometer on the bricks next to the egg container. Keep a lid on the tank to keep the evaporating water in. This way, the humidity will rise. You do need to have a couple of little holes in the lid to allow fresh air to come into the aquarium, but not too large, otherwise you will let all of the humidity out. If you are using a screen lid, be sure to place towels over ¾ of the lid in order to keep the humidity in, otherwise the majority of the moisture will go out through all the holes in the screen lid. See, what will happen with this incubator is the under tank heater will heat up the water, which will cause the water to evaporate, which will also increase the humidity. The heated water will also heat the air which will cause the temperature to rise. You can also just take deli cups and set them on a counter with a thermometer and a heat lamp, but then you will have to make sure that the humidity stays at the correct level so that the eggs do not dry out. You can also make an incubator out of a cooler or an old refrigerator or freezer. So even though it is possible to create your own incubator, I'd suggest just purchasing a commercial incubator. There are some extremely affordable incubators available and they will make the incubating process a whole lot easier and less stressful!

Links: Degei-Building an Incubator from a Cooler, Clay Davenport-Making an Incubator out of an Old Fridge or Freezer


Egg Laying: Egg Laying will normally take place three to four weeks after mating occurs. A week or two after mating, you should be able to tell whether or not your female is gravid by looking at her stomach. Either place her in a clear container and look through the bottom, or simply hold her up. If she is gravid, you will be able to see them through her skin because the skin on her belly is partially transparent. If you can see the eggs through her stomach, then she is gravid. Be careful not to mistake internal organs for eggs. This is a common mistake. A gravid female should be provided with an egg-laying box, a suitable place for her to lay her eggs. An egg-laying box can be constructed by flipping a plastic container over and cutting a hole that is two to three times the size of your Leopard Gecko. This will ensure that your Leopard Gecko will not become stuck. Make sure that the edges of the hole in the plastic container are smooth so that they do not injure your Leopard Gecko. After you have done this, fill it up with either peat moss or sphagnum moss. You can mix in some Bed-A-Beast or a similar product as well. Make sure that the contents of the moist hide are damp, but not wet. People have successfully used moist paper towels as well. I've even heard of people using vermiculite in their egg-laying container.

Over the next few days, your female Leopard Gecko will spend lots of time in the egg-laying box. This is where she will most likely lay her eggs, although some females get extremely active while gravid, and prefer to lay their eggs in their water bowl or elsewhere around the cage. Eggs, when laid, are usually about one inch in length and roughly two-thirds to three-fourths of an inch wide. Set up your incubator when your female Leopard Gecko is gravid or when you pair up your Leopard Geckos for breeding because you need to have your incubator up and running at the right temperature before you actually receive eggs. Females usually produce a clutch of eggs every three to four weeks with an average of eight clutches (sixteen eggs). Some females have successfully laid more than ten clutches (twenty eggs) in a single breeding season.

If you see your female laying her eggs, do not disturb her. Don’t take out the eggs until she has finished burring them (if she's laying them in the egg-laying box), and if at all possible, until she leaves the eggs. When you first find eggs in the egg-laying box (or around the cage), take a sharpie and draw a line on the top side of each egg running the length if the egg. This way, you can always tell which side should be up incase the egg rolls over or turns during incubation. The embryo forming inside can drown inside of the egg if the egg is turned from the position in which the egg was laid. If you see that an egg has rolled a bit, move it back so the line on the egg, that you drew with the sharpie, is facing up. After you have drawn the line with the sharpie, take the eggs out and put them in the incubator, even if you think that they are infertile. You should almost never throw away newly laid eggs because females can sometimes retain sperm for a little over a year. Even if you don’t own a male, if you acquired your female within the last year or so, she could have mated and retained the sperm from before you received her. A fertile egg will be white and will feel firm like a stale marshmallow, while an infertile egg will feel like a hot water bottle, will have a yellowish 'tint' to it, and will look more translucent than a fertile egg. Females will sometimes produce eggs without mating with a male, but these will obviously be infertile and can be thrown away once you have confirmed that they are indeed infertile. First time females may only produce one egg for their first clutch, but this is normal and nothing is wrong with your female.

Links: Leopard Gecko Eggs: Laying Through Hatching, VMS Herp-Breeding Leopard Geckos

Egg Binding: If a female doesn’t weigh enough, or can’t support egg growth, she can sometimes absorb her infertile eggs and receive all of the nutrients from them. If the egg has been fertilized, then it is too late for that. This is when egg binding occurs. Egg binding is a condition when a female cannot lay or absorb her eggs, so they just sit there. If you think your gravid female is egg bound, feel her underside where the eggs are. If the eggs feel hard like rocks, then she is egg bound. Take her to an herp vet and have the eggs surgically removed as soon as possible. Egg binding is a serious condition and can kill your Leo if not taken care of. If you think your Leo may become egg bound since she won’t lay her eggs, soak her in luke warm water for thirty minutes and make sure that the temperatures in her cage are correct. Also, make sure that she has a place to lay her eggs. You can consult an herp vet if you are concerned about egg binding.

Preparing the Incubation Container: The container that you will be incubating the eggs in can be anything from a deli-cup, to a 24+ oz Rubbermaid container. The container that you choose should be filled about halfway with moist vermiculite, perlite, or a mix of both which usually consists of mostly vermiculite with just a small amount of perlite mixed in. Many breeders carefully weigh out the water/medium ratio, usually something along the lines of 1g medium for every 0.8g of water (by weight). Some people are able to tell “by feel”, but I wouldn’t recommend attempting to judge it by feel unless you have experience with it. Once you are ready to put eggs in, just take your thumb and make a thumb imprint in the incubating medium for each egg to sit it. Place the egg in the imprint and move the incubation medium against it until it appears as if the egg is buried about halfway in the medium. Be careful not to turn the egg at all, otherwise, you may drown the growing embryo inside. Also, add two to three small holes in the container for proper ventilation. You can also open up the container for a few seconds once every week or so instead of having holes in the incubation container.

Links: Albey’s “Too Cool” Reptiles-How to Incubate


Incubation: Once you have your incubator up and running and you have eggs, the incubation process begins. The incubation process generally takes from thirty five days to seventy days or more. One of the cool features of the Leopard Gecko is that you can almost decide which eggs you want to hatch out as males, and which eggs you want to hatch out as females. This is called Temperature Dependant Sex Determination. For the first twenty days or so of incubation, the temperature plays a role in determining what the sex of the babies will be. You will produce mostly males at temperatures of 88-90 degrees F, you'll get mostly females at temperatures of 79-83 degrees F, and you'll get a mix of males and females at 84-87 degrees F. If you incubate above 92 degrees F, it is said that you will most likely get “hot females” meaning a female Leopard Gecko that was hatched at a very high temperature. “Hot females” are normally very aggressive and are incapable of producing offspring. It is recommended to house them alone because of their aggression. The way I see it, is the warmer the temperature of incubation, the more territorial and aggressive the Leopard Gecko is since males are normally hatched at higher temperatures and are territorial. This seems to hold true for "hot females". I have no scientific data to back this up, but it would be interesting to pay closer attention to this. Anyway, after the first 20 or so days, the amount of pigment is determined. The higher the temp (in the 79-90 degrees F range) during the rest of incubation will give the offspring less pigment. The babies will have more pigment at lower temps. Also, the higher the temp, the quicker the babies will hatch.

Links: Ron Tremper-Temperature Color Dependency (


Common Incubation Problems: During the incubation process, you may encounter some problems with the eggs. If the eggs become dented. This is most likely from dehydration, so gently mist water around the egg and within a few hours, the egg should rise back up. Do not spray water directly on the egg, otherwise mold may start growing on the egg, killing the developing embryo inside. Mold on the egg can be caused either by having too high of humidity in the container or by spraying water directly on the egg. Simply wipe off the mold with a either a normal towel, or apply an anti-bacterial athletes foot powder to a tissue or a towel, and gently wipe the mold off of the egg. Leave the incubation container open for fifteen minutes or more to allow some humidity to escape and discourage continued mold growth. When the egg is getting ready to hatch, it will collapse, so be careful not to throw away collapsed eggs when they are nearing their hatch date. I know people (even professional breeders) who have thrown away eggs that they figured were either infertile or collapsed due to dehydration, and then have found baby geckos in their trash cans.

Candling: Candling is a process developed by farmers long ago to check if their chicken eggs were fertile. They'd hold a candle near an egg in a dark room and they'd look for veins in the egg so that they could see if there was an embryo growing inside. You can use a very similar method with reptiles. After the egg has been incubating for at least four to seven days, take the egg into a dark room or turn the lights off in the room that you are in. It you pick the egg up to move it into a dark room, be careful not to turn the egg so that you do not drown the embryo inside. Once you have it in a dark room, hold a small flashlight (a pen light works well) right next to the egg. If the egg is fertile, veins and/or the growing embryo will be present. A fertile egg will also have a 'reddish/pinkish glow' when placed next to a small light. Do not spend a lot of time candling and observing the egg because you do not want the egg to be exposed to cooler temperatures for long periods of time.

Links: Leopard Gecko Eggs: Laying Through Hatching (Scroll down)

Hatching Process: You can begin to anticipate the hatching process about a week before it actually begins. Some of the signs that the hatching process is well on its way to beginning is when the egg becomes noticeably larger than it was when it was laid, sometimes up to twice its original size! The egg will start to sweat and then it will collapse when it is hours away from hatching. When the hatchling begins to hatch, it will make little slits in the egg with its egg-tooth and then push its nose out. Then it will push its head out of the egg, and then it might retreat for a quick break. During this break the baby gecko will absorb the final remainder of its yolk sac. Then, it will go at it again It might even clean itself as well. It will keep on working until it gets its front legs, back legs, and its tail out of the egg. The whole hatching process takes about two hours. After it hatches, it will explore the container that it is in. You shouldn't bother it for at least a few hours, although some breeders choose to leave them in their hatching containers until they have completed their first shed, which will take place roughly two to three days after the hatching process is complete. If a hatchling hatches with its yolk sac still attached, it was probably scared or stressed while hatching, so don’t bother it for at least a day so that it will have some time to calm down. The new born Leopard Gecko won’t eat until it completes its first shed, so you don’t need to offer food until then.

Links: Leopard Gecko Eggs: Laying Through Hatching (Scroll down), Albey’s “Too Cool” Reptiles-The Birth of a Leopard Gecko

Raising Hatchlings: Hatchling Leopard Geckos will start eating after they complete their first shed. They should be kept on paper towels, and should be offered three to five crickets, or other prey items such as Silkworms, daily. If there are still multiple feeder insects left in the enclosure, don’t add more unless there are only a couple left or the hatchling is looking for food. You can always remove uneaten food items and add them back in at a later time. Change the paper towels weekly if not every four to five days. Water should be available at all times. Hatchlings should have a slightly higher humidity than adults. If you can't provide an increased humidity, offer your juveniles a moist hide to aide in shedding since juveniles shed constantly due to their constant growth. They should be provided with at least one hide box. You can begin to detect the signs of whether a juvenile Leopard Gecko is a male or a female once it reaches the age of about three to five months, but some males don't start developing until they reach six to nine months of age.

Extra: Do not let all of this information keep you from purchasing a Leopard Gecko. They are extremely easy to keep. We have been keeping Leos since 2003. We have learned from the past mistakes that were made when we first started to keep Leopard Geckos and  would like to help people to not make the same mistakes that we did. Don’t think that you’re going to learn everything overnight. Just continue to read about Leopard Geckos and study them. We hope that this has increased your knowledge of these amazing creatures.

Recommended Books:
The Herpetoculture of Leopard Geckos-By Ron Tremper, Philippe de Vosjoli, and Roger Klingenberg, D.V.M.-Twenty-Seven Generations of Living Art

The Leopard Gecko Manual-By Philippe de Vosjoli with Roger Klingenberg, D.V.M., Ron Tremper, and Brian Viets, Ph.D.

The Leopard Gecko-By Lyle Puente-part of the "Owner's Guide to a Happy Healthy Pet" series.

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