There are many types of geckos. With over 700 species and 80 genera they range in various sizes and types. We have native geckos in North America, such as the Western Banded Gecko (Colemogy) of the very southwest U.S. The native species and others such as Hemidactylus are not routinely sold as pets. In Colorado it is illegal to catch wildlife of any species and house them as pets. The Leopard Gecko is the most common Gecko sold as a pet. Eubelpharis macularius (Leopard Gecko) is native to the area around Pakistan, yet most all of the geckos are captive bred in the states. Sometimes the African fat-tail gecko and the crested gecko are kept as pets. The Australian Knob-tailed geckos have two varieties; the smooth variety needs more humidity than the rough skin. There also is the Tokay gecko, also called the “vice-grip of lizards” and does not make a good pet. The Tropical geckos are also a little “wilder” than the over species. A tropical gecko can be a fat-tailed, a fan-footed, a day, a golden and/or a leaf-tail species. This handout is for the leopard gecko.
Leopard geckos are a good lizard for the average person. They are easier to care for and easier to handle than most other lizard species. They are gentle lizards which do not get as large as the iguana species. When handling any pet we recommend you be gentle and tap on the glass before startling the sleeping lizard. Always wash your hands after handling any reptile to avoid salmonella. The average gecko will mature at 8” in length, although some can get up to 12“. Geckos can live up to 20-30 years, although ten years or less is average if the habitat, food and parasite care are not properly provided. Geckos are nocturnal, which means they prefer to be more active at night than in the day. Geckos, as most lizards, have a tail which may break off if they are caught or picked up by their tail. Their tail will regrow.
We recommend a 10 gallon aquarium for 1 gecko, and a 20 gallon if 2 or 3 of them are housed together. A hood or screen on top is needed for all reptiles. Disposable paper pellets or gravel makes good bedding, but we do not recommend wood shavings, bark or corn cobs. Some people may use Orchid bark and/or peat moss with success. Never use aromatic wood shavings with any pet, especially pocket pets. A laid out newspaper, taken up daily, or carpet laid upside down can also be used; we prefer overall that you use newspaper. Lizards sometimes eat their bedding substrate, and thus we do not recommend sand or gravel less than 1.5x the width of the head of the smallest gecko. You will need to clean and change the bedding as needed, at least every 1-2 weeks. When cleaning use a 1/30 chlorine bleach dilution, then a water rinse and allowed to air dry for a few hours. We also recommend placing sticks, leaves, hollow logs and other items in the habitat for the lizard to hide under. Leopard geckos are not climbing lizards, as they do not have the toe pads some other species may have. Once you have found a hiding box they like, leave that same house in the habitat so you can easily find them later. You do not want too many hiding places, as one cannot determine if they are eating their insect food. Some geckos may use one end of their habitat for elimination purposes. We recommend that reptiles be fed in a bowl, or similar container, within their habitat.
With geckoes it is very important to have a hiding area, and also a separate box for dampness. The hiding area may be a hollow log. This dampness box can have pet moss and sprayed every few days. Even though these lizards are from a desert, they do need some dampness. Geckoes can loose their toes from constriction, due to a lack of dampness. One can also spray a corner of the area of their bedding every 2-3 days, yet a mold growth inside the aquarium is to be avoided and can be as harmful as no humidity.
Geckos should have one end of their habitat at 85 degrees F. We prefer a heated rock inside or a heating pad under one end of the aquarium. A light bulb is adequate, yet the gecko then definitely needs a hiding box with a light on at night. Always place a thermometer inside on the floor to periodically check on the temperature. If utilized the light can be used on a timer, but lights alone should not provide the heat needed for keeping a reptile warm. Unlike iguanas the geckos do not have problems with light spectrum deficiencies. Geckoes do not need a UV light.
Geckos eat insects. Crickets, mealworms, other insects and some wax worms can be fed. Feed insects less than 3/4 the width of their head. You also should feed immature insects, or those who have just shed and do not have a hard shell covering. We have a separate handout on prey insect care, as well as reptile care in general. Being nocturnal lizards, feed only 1-2 insects before going to bed each night, or after 8 pm. Another method is to feed all they can eat in 15-20 minutes, every 1-2 days and remove any excess food. We recommend the use of reptile vitamins and/or gut loading the insects before feeding. Small newly hatched worms can be dusted with vitamins in a bag, while larger insects can be fed supplements their food before they are offered to the gecko. If possible the prey can also be placed in a small bowl, with a small amount of calcium-vitamin powder. Calcium containing powders may be adequate, yet we recommend a more complete mineral-vitamin powders to be used 2x a week. Calcium powders should not have a high level of phosphorus. A separate small water bowl is also recommended. The water in the bowl and water sprayer should be chlorine free and/or water that has set out in an open container for 2 days. Unlike iguanas, which should be fed only a vegetarian diet, geckos are not vegetarians.
The colors of geckos can be striped, leucistic, jungle, ghost and other patterns. The young leopard geckos will loose their bands as they age, and their spots will develop with maturity.
Geckos can be sexed after they mature, or by 10 months of age. The males have a forward “V” shape of dots (femoral pores) in front of their vent, which is between their back legs. The hemepenes, which is a little more difficult to visualize, can also be seen in males. Females have no visible femoral pores or hemepenes. One may house females together, but males will fight and should be separated into individual habitats. When breeding, one male can be place with 2-10 females. Lowering the nighttime temperature to 70 degrees, such as observed in their natural habitat in the fall can enhance the breeding cycle. As with turtles the females can keep the male sperm alive for awhile, and can lay fertile eggs a few weeks after removal from a male. The eggs are usually laid 2/spot, covered up by the gravel or substrate in the habitat. She will repeatedly lay eggs for a few weeks. If you remove and incubate the eggs at 90 degrees most will develop into males, while an 80 degree incubation will result in mostly females.
This is only a general guide for geckos and we highly recommend the individual species books available for the wide variety of reptiles. We have more information within our library at the clinic. Since all reptiles can be carriers of Salmonella, always wash your hands after handling them. We have more information if you request regarding this zoonotic issue. If you do not plan to breed reptiles, we recommend you keep one per habitat to reduce aggression and fighting wounds. A few females can be kept in one habitat or one male with other females, but do not house more than one male per habitat. Signs of sickness in reptiles can be trouble breathing, constipation or egg binding, diarrhea, ear infections, swollen eyes, lumps, mouth rot, shell/skin rot, a softening shell, swollen eyes, increased thirst and/or not eating for a week or longer. Humidity over 60% may cause skin infections and blisters to form. Some geckos are from the humid areas of the world, and some species are not. We advise that you bring in a stool exam of all animals, including reptiles, so that we may run a fecal test for internal parasites.
The Staff at the Nelson Road Veterinary Clinic