*put together by two very respected members of this site, littlelouie and saucy, this caresheet is much appreciated, many thanks!* Beginner’s Guide to Keeping a Healthy, Happy Leopard Gecko The leopard gecko (Eublepharis Macularius) is a small easily tamed lizard. They come from arid desert regions of Pakastan, India, and Afghanistan. Wild leopard geckos are yellow with black spots, but by selectively breeding them in captivity, breeders have discovered many amazing morphs including almost solid white, vibrant orange, and heavily spotted nearly black leos. Before you choose your pet, you will want to get his home set up properly for him. He will need to have the following: Tank, Lid, Hides, Under Tank Heater, Thermometer, Thermostat, Flooring (Substrate), Dishes, Insects, Vitamins Tank – Leopard geckos are not climbers, so floor space is more important than height to them. A ten gallon sized tank (10”x 20”) is the absolute minimum size that a leopard gecko can be kept in. It can be difficult to obtain the proper temperatures (a warm and cool side), fit in three hides, and still leave room for your leo to lay out in the open or explore, so many hobbyists prefer a 20 gallon long tank (30”x 12”) or larger. Lid – It is important to have a lid that fits onto your tank. A screen top will allow for plenty of ventilation, prevent your leo from using his hides as a step stool to get out of his tank, and keep undesirable insects from getting into your tank with your leo. A sturdy screen lid, possibly with screen top locks, is especially important in homes with small children, cats, or other curious pet that may try to get inside the tank. These screens are usually painted completely black, and the heavy screen wires are secured between the edges of the metal frame. Hides – Hides are simply small, dark places where your leo can hide or sleep. Your leo should have three of them. They can be as elaborate as you can buy, or as simple as a small cardboard box with a hole cut in the side of it. The leo really doesn’t care, just so he is able to find a small dark place where he can hide and feel safe. Hides should not be lifted and moved around when the leo is hiding in them. It is important to have one dry hide on the cool side and one dry hide on the warm side of the tank. The third hide is the humid hide. It can be easily made from a plastic container with a lid, and a hole cut into the side of it. One good way to keep it humid is to keep a damp paper towel inside it. This hide should help your leo to shed its skin properly when the time comes. Leos also use their humid hides to hydrate themselves by drinking the water droplets that form on the top and sides of their humid hide. It seems to be used most often when it is placed on the warm side or in the middle. Heating – Temperature is probably the most important thing to get right when keeping a leopard gecko. Leos use heat to help them digest their food. It is important to give them a temperature gradient in their tank. This means that one part of the tank should be warm, and another part should be cool. The warm end of the tank should be 88-92 measured accurately on the substrate It should cover 1/3-1/2 the tank. The cool end of the tank should be about ten degrees cooler. When you have a good temperature gradient, your leo can move back and forth between the warm and cool side, depending on what his needs are at the time. This is called thermoregulation. There are several possible ways to achieve a good temperature gradient. What will work best for you will depend a lot on your home and your tank. Two popular ways to heat a tank are through the use of an Under Tank Heater (UTH) and red reptile light bulb. Since leos depend on belly heat to digest their food, the UTH is preferred; however, with a bit of work and monitoring, a bulb can do the job as well. Whatever heating method you use, it is important to get an accurate temperature reading and KNOW your temperatures. Thermometer – To know your temps, an accurate thermometer is a MUST. An indoor/outdoor digital thermometer with a probe can easily be picked up at any hardware store and some pet stores for about $10. The probe is the important part, as it is what is used to get an accurate reading of the warm side substrate (floor) temperatures. Another good accurate thermometer is the IR (infrared) temp gun. The strip and dial thermometers sold at most pet stores measure air temps rather than substrate temps, and are not accurate enough to do this job. However, one could be used to monitor the air temps, which should range in the upper 70’s – lower 80’s. Thermostat – A thermostat or rheostat (lamp dimmer switch) are tools the leo owner cannot live without. Either of these can be used to regulate the amount of heat put out by your heater. A thermostat is preferred, because once it is set to the correct temperature (which may not line up with the temps on the dial), it can almost be forgotten. Just check it occasionally to make sure it is in place and working properly. When using a rheostat, the temperature of your tank will fluctuate with your house temperature. For this reason, you will have to watch them more carefully. Substrate – Substrate is what you put on the floor of your tank for your leo to walk on. Good substrates for the beginner include slate or ceramic tile, reptile carpet, paper towel, and non-adhesive shelf liner. Tile users love it because it is easy to clean, it holds heat well, looks nice, and is relatively inexpensive. Carpet users like it because it looks nice, is safe, and lays down well. Paper towel users prefer it because it is easy to clean up. Shelf liner users like it because it is easy to clean, comes in a variety of designs, and is relatively inexpensive. Calcium sand, ground walnut, ground corncob, aquarium gravel, bark, and other particulate substrates are not recommended due to their impaction risk. Impaction can happen when your leo eats too much of his substrate which then forms a blockage in his intestines, preventing him from eating and digesting his food. Particulate substrates also have a tendency toward harboring bacteria and mold, hiding insects, and raising humidity or dust level in the tank, which can result in eye and respiratory infections. Water Dish – All creatures, even those from the arid deserts need fresh water to be provided. The dish should be shallow, so your leo will not drown in it. It should be washed and refilled at least every other day. A lid to a peanut butter jar can make a very good water dish. Feeding your leo – Leopard geckos are insectivores. This means that they are designed to eat insects. Young leopard geckos should be fed once a day as many dusted insects as they will eat in 20 minutes. Once their growth slows down, older juvies and adults will often begin refusing food, and only eat a couple times a week. This is normal, and nothing to be concerned about. If a leo is nervous, has a difficulty catching insects, or is still showing interest in food, it can be left longer. Crickets left for too long have been known to nibble on napping leos, so be careful. Feeder Insects -- Good insects to feed leopard geckos include crickets, mealworms, super worms, silk worms, phoenix worms, butter worms, roaches, and locust. Wax worms are high in fat, and should only be fed sparingly. Leos should be fed appropriately sized insects. The approximate sizes are as follows: Crickets, Roaches, Locust – as long as the leos head is wide Meal worms, Superworms, and other skinny worms – 1 ½ the length of your leo’s head or maybe a tad longer Silk worms, Phoenix worms, Butter worms, Waxworms, and other fat worms – the length of your leo’s head Before feeding insects to your leo, you should gut load them, or fill them with nutritious food that they can then pass along to your leo. You can buy gut load commercially, or you can make your own using whole grain natural ingredients. Insects caught outside should not be fed to your leo. These insects could potentially pass on to your leo parasites and other problems which because it is not native to this area, it is not equipped to handle. They could also possibly be contaminated with chemicals from pesticide, weed killer, fertilizer, or other harmful things. Vitamins – Because we are keeping our leos in captivity and offering them a limited diet, it is important to supplement their food to prevent vitamin deficiencies. There are many options available. Vitamins (a general multivitamin) D3 (sometimes found in the multivitamin, and other times in with a calcium) Pure calcium (no d3 or phosphorus) Young leos less than a year old are growing rapidly, and need lots of vitamins. They should be supplemented as follows: Vitamins – once a week D3 – once a week Pure calcium – all other feedings Older leos who are eating less frequently can be given supplements as follows: Vitamins – twice a month D3 – twice a month Pure calcium – all other feedings Leopard gecko behavior - What can I expect? Settling in – It is important to give your new arrival two weeks to settle in. During this time, he may refuse to eat and hide all the time. He may also be skittish and squeak at you or try to bite you. Try to watch him from a distance, and only do necessary cleaning for the first two weeks. Do not lift hides or try to hold your leo during this time. He is stressed out from his big move and new home, and needs time to settle in. Taming – After giving him a couple weeks to settle in, the time has come for your leo to get to know you. It is best to start slowly. Lay your hand on the floor of his tank to get him use to you. By now, hopefully he is beginning to see your hand as being the kind giant who brings yummy food and cleans the tank for him. Leos are curious by nature, and if you are patient and still, he may get curious and come over to check you out. Or if he is a nervous youngster, it may take a couple months for him to feel comfortable around you. Sleeping – Leopard geckos are nocturnal. You may occasionally find your leo wandering around his tank during the day, but most leos will spend the day sleeping inside one of their hides, and only come out in the evening when the lights have been turned off. Young Leos – A young leo will go through tremendous growth and changes the first year of his life. He begins life as a solid banded 3-4 gram hatchling, and by the time he is an adult, those cute little baby bands have disappeared. He has probably grown to six or more inches, and probably weighs 40 or more grams. When a baby eats, he will often vibrate the tip of his tail with excitement before striking at his food. This cute little display usually ends when the leo grows older. Shedding – A young leo may shed it’s skin as often as once a week. Older leos may wait as long as a month between sheds. Leos eat their skin when they shed, so they can easily shed without their owners ever knowing it has happened. You can sometimes guess that your leo is about to shed when you notice that it’s skin is looking dull or grayish. After a shed, the leo’s skin will appear to be bright again. It is important to check your leo after a shed to make sure that it has successfully removed all the skin from its body. It is especially important to check that he has gotten all the skin off his toes. Skin left on the toes can constrict them so that blood is not able to flow, and the gecko looses its toes. Because you may not notice that your leo is preparing to shed, it is important to make sure that the humid hide is kept humid. Gender – It is difficult to determine the gender of a hatchling leo . Usually, a young male will become obvious around six months old. Between his back legs, you will see a V shaped row of preanal pores, which will turn, dark and obvious. You can also look for two hemipenile bulges at the base of his tail. Multiple Leos – While multiple leos can be kept together, I do not recommend this for the beginner. Multiple leos require careful observation to make sure that everyone is getting along and no one is overly stressed. Two leos snuggled up together in one hide may look cute, but it is not cuddling like we would like to believe. Rather, it is a show of dominance, with them both competing to get the best spot. One following another is not from a desire for companionship, but rather a display of dominance. Adult male leos must never be housed together, or there will be a serious fight. Male and females should only be housed together if they are of healthy weight, you are wanting them to breed, and are prepared to take care of the several sets of eggs and babies that can result. Female leos can sometimes be kept together without a serious problem resulting, but even they can fight, or one can be dominant and keep the others from eating. In general, leos are solitary. In the wild, they live alone, or in loosely connected colonies over miles of space. In captivity, they can sometimes co-exist peacefully, but seem to be healthier and happier when kept by themselves. Record Keeping – To keep up with your leopard gecko’s health it is wise to keep a log of Food – how much of and what your leopard gecko is eating Poop – how often Weight – Weigh at least monthly. This way, when your leo goes off food (which he will from time to time), you can check his weight and KNOW whether all is well, and he’s just being a silly gecko trying to worry you, or whether he really is loosing weight and needs to see the vet.