Tyrannosaurus Pets

Leopard Gecko (Eublepharis macularius)


Starter Kit Set Up and Care


Leopard geckos are small docile lizards from the arid mountains of Pakistan and Afghanistan. They are easy to care for and an excellent choice as a first reptile pet.  Their small size and nocturnal nature make them ideally suited for keeping in a bedroom.  With a little patience leopard geckos tame easily.  In the wild these animals are dusky yellow with black spots. Generations of breeding in captivity have produced a large variety of weird and wonderful colour morphs.


Housing your Leopard Gecko


Leopard geckos can be housed in a variety of different styles of enclosure. Young or baby geckos can be kept in small glass or plastic tanks, a tank 45cm x 30cm will last until the lizard is about six months old.  An adult gecko will need to be housed in a vivarium 60cm x 40cm. You can use larger if you wish. Leopard geckos do enjoy climbing on piles of rocks or bark so a vivarium at least 40cm tall will allow you to add in some climbing areas.


Heating a plastic or glass vivarium


The heat mat goes under the tank. If the tank has feet raising the floor of the tank above the surface that the tank will sit on then simply slide the heat mat under the tank.


If the tank has a flat base then you will need to make a platform out of some thick cardboard. You need two panels one about 5cm wide and the other the size of the rest of the tank minus the width of the heat mat. This creates a gap for the mat to slide into. If the heatmat is in contact with both the stand and the base of the tank it can overheat or burn out and it will shorten the lifespan of the mat.


Heating a wooden vivarium


Place the heat mat inside the vivarium.  Put a ceramic floor tile over the heat mat, this will prevent the gecko from digging down to the mat. The tile should be raised on little feet to allow some air flow over the surface of the heat mat 


Setting up the thermostat


Heat mats are not very good radiant heaters, this means that they will heat solid objects like the floor of the vivarium rather than the air in the tank.  Because of this any equipment used to control or monitor the heat mat must be lying flat on the floor directly above the mat.


Leopard geckos need to be maintained at 28 - 31'. Set the thermostat to 29'c and place the thermostat sensor flat on the floor of the tank at the warm side. This should heat the vivarium to the right temperature.  Leave the tank for an hour to warm up and then check the temperature of the floor, this should be between 28'c and 31'c.  If the floor is too hot or cold adjust the temperature of the thermostat and leave for another hour then check the temperature again.  Keep checking and adjusting until the temperatures have been correct twice in a row, the heating is now set up.


Decorating the vivarium


Substrate


A wide variety of substrates are available and they all have positive and negative points.  We are often asked "What is the best substrate?" this is very difficult to answer as no substrate is truly the best, they all have drawbacks.  We prefer to use loose particle substrates as these allow the gecko to dig, but any loose substrate could cause a problem if it is eaten.


Below is a list on the commonly used substrates with the associated positive and negative points, which should allow you to choose the best substrate for you and your gecko. 



  • Beech wood chip - Probably the most commonly used substrate.  This is cheap and easy to clean.  As the wood is not a food source and contains little or no nutrients required by the gecko it is unlikely to be deliberately consumed, but may be eaten by accident.

  • Calci-Sand - Often brightly coloured this is made of calcium carbonate and is digestible if eaten in small quantities. As calcium is a mineral used by the gecko the lizard will deliberately eat the sand if lacking in calcium from another source.  If the lizard's food is being supplemented correctly then the gecko will have no reason to eat the substrate and so it should be safe to use.

  • Silica sand - This is washed river or desert sand.  The silica is not a mineral required by the gecko so silica sand is not commonly eating on purpose, however this is not digestible so if it is eaten in any quantity then it may cause a problem.

  • Clay soil substrates - Available under a variety of brand names including desert bedding, cave sand, and excavator soil.  These are clay soils mixed with sand. If mixed with a little water and allowed to dry then these set solid a bit like sandstone. This most closely simulates the rocky outcrop where the leopard gecko is naturally found. These look very good especially if a layer of silica sand is spread over the top when the base layer has dried.

  • Dried corn cob - Sold under several names including repti-maize and corn cob this is dehydrated corn.  As it is an organic product it goes mouldy very quickly when wet, and because it is dehydrated it can swell in the stomach causing problems if it is eaten.

  • Solid flat substrates - Lino, tiles, carpet, newspaper and kitchen towel are often recommended for leopard geckos.  These are impossible for the animal to eat so are regarded as the safest, however they prevent the lizard from digging which is a major part of their natural behaviour and not being able to dig can cause stress in the lizard.  These are harder to keep clean as they cannot be simply spot cleaned meaning a full clean out and disinfect is needed more frequently than when using a loose particle substrate.


As any substrate can reduce the heat available from the heat mat only a thin layer (5 - 10mm) should be used at the warm end of the vivarium.  At the cool end the substrate can either be kept level or banked up to create a hill at one side.  Landscaping the substrate can make the tank look more attractive but you will need to keep moving the substrate back as the gecko digs around in it.




Hides


The gecko should be provided with at least two hides, one in the cool end of the tank and another over the heat mat.  A long piece of cork bark can act as two hides if it is positioned half over the heat mat and then extends out into the cold end.


An ever expanding range of commercial hides are available the most common styles are,



  • Cork bark - The simplest form of hide.  This can be laid flat on the floor of the tank giving a hide under it or positioned upright against the back or side of the vivarium. This creates a tunnel to hide in as well as a third dimension to the tank allowing the lizard to climb.

  • Resin hides - These are often moulded to look like rock or boulder caves.  These are easy to clean as they can be scrubbed if needed, some coloured or painted hides may lose the pattern if scrubbed too hard so be careful with these.

  • Two part resin hides - If the moss in a humid hide can come into contact with whatever substrate you are using, it will make substrate damp which can cause mould or other problems.  These two part hides have a solid base creating a container keeping the moss and the substrate separate.


Plants


To make the tank look more attractive you can add some fake plants.  These can either be trailing vine type plants which look good attached to the back and sides, or free standing plants with a solid base which can be hidden in the substrate.  These fake plants are much better quality than they used to be and some are quite realistic.  You can use live plants but the leopard geckos natural digging ability tends to mean the plants will be uprooted during the night.


Rocks


In the wild leopard geckos live in and around rocky outcrops.  You can mimic this by adding a small pile of stones to the vivarium.  Ensure that any large heavy objects have a flat bas and are placed directly onto the floor of the tank before the substrate is added.  This prevents the gecko from tunnelling under the rock and helps keep it safe.  If you want to make a pile more secure they can be glued together using a silicone sealant.  A lightweight alternative to real stone is to use a pile of cork bark pieces.  These can also be glued together with silicone to increase the stability of the outcrop.


Dishes


Leopard geckos will drink standing water so a small water dish should be provided at all times.  If the dish is too large then it will increase the humidity in the tank, one measuring 5 – 10cm x 5 – 10cm should be plenty.  If you intend to feed your gecko on mealworms then you will also need a dish to keep them in.  A simple smooth sided plastic dish works well, although there are also several commercial worm dishes with moulded lids to prevent the worms from climbing out.


The dishes should be kept at the cool end of the tank this will keep both the worms and the water fresher for longer.




Daily care


Change the gecko’s water daily, and spot check daily. Leopard geckos will pick a corner to use as a toilet.


Give the tank a full clean out every four weeks.  Put the animal in a secure ventilated container.  Remove and clean any decorations from the tank.  Remove the old substrate.  Clean and disinfect the tank with a reptile specific product.  Dry the tank, and put in clean substrate, replace the décor, and the gecko.


Baby geckos need to be fed daily.  Once the animal is six months old drop off one day of feeding.  Then drop another day every three months.  Adult Geckos only need to eat two or three times a week, as they are prone to obesity.


Look after the crickets as ‘you are what you eat’.  The live food will last longer if kept in a larger well aired tank like a cricket keeper, and fed spider water and cricket food.


With baby geckos use a full spectrum vitamin and mineral supplement twice a week (Monday and Friday) and a pure calcium supplement a further three days a week.  Put 6 - 10 appropriate sized prey items in a large jug, or clear plastic bag.  Add a pinch of powder and shake to cover the food with the dust.


Feed the dusted food to the gecko.  If the animal eats all the food, but is still hungry, feed a further 2 – 3 prey items to the gecko.  This extra food does not need to be dusted.  Keep feeding in this way until the animal is full.


As the animal grows keep the ratio of supplements the same, so an adult gecko will receive the full spectrum supplement once per week and the calcium once or twice per week.


Handling Your Leopard Gecko


Geckos shed their tails as a defence mechanism.  Never hold a gecko by its tail or it will come off.  For the first couple of weeks handle the animal inside the tank so if it chooses to jump off your hand it will be safe in the tank.


Allow the animal to settle into the tank before trying to handle them, wait till it has started to feed regularly.


Baby geckos shed their skin every four to six weeks.  The animal will lose its colour and then go ghostly grey.  This is the old skin coming off.  Leopard geckos eat their shed skin.


In the wild the geckos dig a tunnel to aid shedding.  We mimic this with a plastic box containing moss.  Cut a hole in the front of an empty margarine tub and fill with damp sphagnum moss.  Put the box in the warm end of the tank.  Every couple of days check that the moss has not dried out.


When the gecko has shed check the animal thoroughly particularly the toes and around the jaw line/eyes.  Any shed skin that has been left will appear as a plain white patch.  If this happens ring in.

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Tyrannosaurus Pets