If you’re thinking of keeping a leopard gecko as a pet, you’ll want to make sure you have a good habitat set up before you bring your new pet home. A change of scenery is likely to be stressful enough for a lizard without having to live in a cold, cramped box while its home is put together! Here are a few pointers on creating a comfortable environment for a new leopard gecko.
The first thing you’ll want to think about is where your leopard gecko will live. A single adult gecko should be comfortable in a 10-gallon aquarium tank with a mesh lid; if you’re interested in keeping more than one gecko, the enclosure will have to be larger. (Leopard geckos will readily do what comes naturally if you house males and females together, and two males kept together will fight – so be sure of the sexes of your lizards if you’re going to have more than one!) As for what to put in it, sand is the obvious choice to create a desert environment, and there are several brands of calcium-enriched sand specially designed for use in lizard cages. Other alternatives include shredded newspapers or paper towels, although these do not look as attractive. Sand will occasionally get eaten by the gecko, and young ones sometimes have trouble passing the large grains. If you are starting with a baby gecko, sand is not the best choice – use paper towels instead.
Leopard geckos, as desert lizards, require a desert environment – and primarily this means heat. An undertank heater combined with an overhead light during the day will keep your leopard gecko nice and toasty. The undertank heater, which should be attached to one side of the bottom of the tank, provides a consistent supply of heat and also what is called a heat gradient – since it is placed on only one side, the lizard can then choose the hotter or cooler side of the cage to rest in. The overhead light, which can be placed on a timer so that it simulates the sun during the day and is out at night, can be an incandescent light bulb with a reflector, or a special ceramic heater meant for reptile enclosures.
You’ll want to include some reptile thermometers in the cage design so you can monitor the temperature in the warmest and coolest points of the habitat – the hottest part of the cage should be between 85 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and the coolest part should be about 10 degrees cooler. You may sometimes see your gecko moving around its cage in the daylight, primarily in order to do what is called “thermo-regulation.” Since lizards are cold-blooded, they cannot regulate their own body temperature, so if the gecko overheats it will need to move to a cooler area of its cage.
As for furnishings, your gecko will want at least two hiding places – one on the hotter side and one on the cooler side of the tank. There are many types of reptile furnishings available at pet stores that look like trees, caves, or fallen logs. Because leopard geckos are ground-dwelling desert lizards, they shouldn’t be provided with furnishings that are high enough for them to fall off and hurt themselves – they’re not strong climbers like many other gecko species. Similarly, make sure that all furnishings are stable so they don’t fall on and hurt your gecko. Water and food dishes complete the furnishing requirements, although you may also add decorative rocks and moss as well. It helps to put some moss inside the most enclosed hiding place; when the gecko is shedding its skin, it will appreciate the rough surface to rub against.
A leopard gecko habitat should be designed to make the lizard feel at home while also being safe. For more in-depth information about creating a home for your gecko, two good books are The Leopard Gecko Manual by Philippe de Vosjoli and Leopard Geckos for Dummies by Liz Palika.