Have you ever considered keeping a lizard for a pet, but didn’t know where to start? Leopard geckos are generally considered to be a good choice for beginning reptile owners. At an adult length of approximately 8 inches, they do not require the amount of space demanded by the larger pet lizards, but they’re large enough to be viewed and handled easily. In the wild, the most typical color variety, or “morph,” is a leopard-like spotted pattern in yellow, black and white with slightly purple tinges. In captivity, these lizards have been bred in a number of exotic colors and patterns including stripes, jungle patterns, and brilliant yellows. And there is nothing quite like looking into a leopard gecko’s scintillating, vertically-slit eyes!
Leopard geckos are a nocturnal desert species native to the area encompassing Afghanistan, Pakistan, and northeastern India. Instead of the remarkable climbing feet of other gecko species, leopard gecko feet are equipped with tiny claws that are more adapted to moving on rough ground than climbing. Given their adaptation to the harsh desert environment, they are very hardy lizards, and can live to an age of close to 30 years old! If you’re thinking of bringing a leopard gecko into your home, be sure that you are ready to care for it over its long life. Luckily, they don’t require too much extravagance in their daily care.
As a desert lizard, the leopard gecko will want a desert-like environment. They’ll sleep during the day, moving as necessary between the hotter and cooler areas of their habitat in order to regulate their own body heat. At night they’ll venture out to look for food and water. A diet composed primarily of mealworms is typical for domestic geckos, and some owners like to throw in crickets for variety. An added advantage of supplementing your gecko’s diet with crickets is the hunting factor. While mealworms will typically remain within a feeding dish, crickets will require the lizard to catch them as they hop around the enclosure. The leopard gecko’s diet should be supplemented with a dusting of calcium powder on the food; you can find this dietary supplement at a local pet store along with its food.
All creatures require water, and the leopard gecko is no exception. Being a desert native, however, water requirements are lower than for other animals. Leopard geckos are used to looking for water condensation underneath rocks, so a shallow dish of water, set low in the sand, is ideal. Water should be made available two or three times a week, and the water dish kept very clean and clear of debris.
Like many other reptiles, leopard geckos shed their skins periodically. This will usually take place at night, and inside a hiding place out of sight. You’ll notice, however, that its skin will appear cloudier and cloudier as the lizard gets closer to a shed – and then one day, its coloring will be bright and new. You won’t see the old skin lying around anywhere, though; leopard geckos eat their shed skins, presumably for the added nutrients and to conceal their presence from predators.
While long periods of handling are stressful for leopard geckos, the lizards easily learn to be docile when handled for short periods. Care must be taken with their tails, which can break off if the gecko feels threatened. While the tail will grow back, it will never be as well-formed as the original. Being ground-dwelling lizards, leopard geckos seem to have little fear of falling, and so care should be taken when handling them to make sure they don’t fall.
A leopard gecko is a great choice for a first pet lizard. They are attractive to look at, easy to care for, and can provide many years of enjoyment. For more in-depth information about selecting, caring for, and breeding leopard geckos, two good books are The Leopard Gecko Manual by Philippe de Vosjoli and Leopard Geckos for Dummies by Liz Palika.