Leopard geckos make interesting pets for both novice and veteran herp (reptile and amphibian) keepers. They are usually friendly, highly adaptable to captivity, and often boast beautiful coloration patterns.
These lizards have less demanding care requirements than other exotic lizard species. They don’t grow very big and therefore don’t require a large cage for their maintenance—a useful characteristic for people with limited living spaces. They also thrive for years on readily available food sources, don’t require special lighting, and acclimate easily to a variety of living conditions.
Leopard geckos range in size from 3.5″ (8 cm) long as babies to up to 8″ (20 cm) or slightly more as adults. The head is similar to that of most geckos: triangular, with a distinct neck. The skin has a bumpy appearance due to small tubercles (wartlike protrusions) that appear on the surface.
As babies, leopard geckos have purplish-brown and light-yellow bands along their bodies, but as they reach maturity, the dark bands start to break up into dots, creating the spotted pattern from which these geckos get their name. The background color can range from a muddy gray to a bright yellow to a brilliant yellow, depending on the individual. The spots are usually a darker brown and serve to conceal the gecko from predators in the wild.
After a boom in the captive breeding of leopard geckos, numerous colors and patterns not found in the wild have recently emerged in the pet market. These human-produced colors and patterns are known as morphs.
There are currently more than 30 different morphs of leopard gecko available, with new ones generated almost every year. Most of these new color morphs are prohibitively expensive to the casual gecko keeper, but over time they become more affordable to the general public. The following are some of the more common leopard gecko varieties that you’re likely to find:
- Normal: The typical or normal pattern of a leopard gecko consists of two dark saddles across the body and three or four tail rings. The body also has numerous dark spots that are black, brown, or purple in coloration.
- High yellow: The high yellow variety has more yellow coloration than is normally present in leopard geckos. The dark spots are reduced in size, with more yellow background showing through. The result is a brightly colored leopard gecko that is quite appealing to hobbyists.
- Amelanistic (albino): The amelanistic leopard gecko has no melanin in its skin. A beautiful yellow hue dominates the overall coloration, and the spots are pinkish. It is one of the most popular leopard gecko morphs. There are three different strains of this morph, which vary in the brightness of their color and the contrast of their pattern.
If you want an animal that will respond to you as a cat or a dog will, the leopard gecko may not be for you. It will, however, respond in a manner indicating that it recognizes you. If you open the cage, for example, your leopard gecko is likely to immediately wander over to inspect what you’re doing and may actually climb up on your hand—probably hoping for some food.
There is also a wide variation in personality among individual leopard geckos. Some may squeal with discontent every time you look at them or attempt to maintain their enclosure (although this behavior is uncommon). Most leopard geckos are very friendly and accommodate some interaction with their human keepers, though as with most herps, excessive handling can be stressful for the lizard.
The Leopard Gecko in the Wild
Leopard geckos have a natural range from northern India, Pakistan, and possibly Afghanistan. They are terrestrial and spend most daylight hours in the comfort of their underground homes. They live in arid regions, including grasslands, that have substantial cover. They eat insects and other invertebrates in the wild, as well as small mammals and even other lizard species—a diet that is fairly easy to recreate in captivity.
Keeping Multiple Leopard Geckos
As long as you provide enough space in your enclosure, you should be able to house a small group of leopard geckos together if you choose to do so. Just don’t keep more than one male leopard gecko in the same cage. When the males become mature, they will start fighting. You may not actually see them skirmish, but you will notice bite wounds and missing tails. To avoid this, house only one male per enclosure, or keep only multiple female leopard geckos.