Leopard Gecko

STATUSLeast Concern

COMMON NAME (SCIENTIFIC NAME)Eublepharis macularis

DIETInsects, other small invertebrates, and newborn rodents

RANGEIran, Afghanistan, Western India and Pakistan

HABITATDeserts and arid grasslands spending time under rocks or in small caves to avoid temperature extremes

Leopard Gecko

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Program and General Information

The Leopard Gecko has a wide tail which acts as a fat reserve and is utilized as an energy source when prey is hard to find. The tail is shorter than the length of the body. It has a pointed tip and a dilated middle. Leopard geckos can lose their tail (a process called “autotomy”) in order to escape potential predators, the wiggling of the lost tail distracts the predator. It is then regrown over the course of several months to a year, depending upon nutrition found after the dropping of the tail. Upon regeneration, the tail appears bulbous and irregular in pattern and color. The bone that was originally in the tail will have been lost, and the new tail lacks the ability to drop again.

They have small claws ideal for terrestrial living, as opposed to the adhesive lamellae on the digits of other geckos. Therefore, they are not adept climbers. They do possess movable eyelids, rare among geckos, and is what their Latin genus name refers to. (Eu = good, blepharos = eyelid)

Common Physical Features

The Leopard Gecko is a nocturnal ground dwelling gecko. It is hardy, prolific, and comes in a variety of interesting color and pattern morphs. Leopard Geckos reach a size of 8 to 10 inches and weigh 45-65 grams, although some have been known to reach 100 grams. Their lifespan in captivity is up to 22 years, although the oldest known leopard gecko lived to 28 years. Most adults are yellow with dark brown spots. Leopard geckos are carnivorous and “dermatophagic”, meaning they eat the skin that they shed.

Juveniles generally are banded yellow and dark brown which fades into the spotted pattern as the gecko matures. Today, breeders also have developed the “designer” and leucistic geckos.

There is little visible sexual difference between male and female leopard geckos. The male seems to have a broader head and neck than the female and their body is usually somewhat larger. However, looking at the undersides, adult males have a prominent V-shaped row of pre-anal pores while the pre-anal pores of the female are barely noticeable. Adult males also have hemipenile swellings and a wider tail base.

Habitat and Global Range

Leopard geckos are found in Iran, Afghanistan, Western India and Pakistan. Most of today’s captive bred leopard geckos are descendants of geckos imported from Pakistan. They reside in deserts and arid grasslands. In its natural environment, the leopard gecko lives under rocks or in small caves to avoid temperature extremes.

Diet

Insects, other small invertebrates, and newborn rodents. They also eat their shed skin to ingest essential nutrients or to hide their scent to reduce the chance of attracting predators.

Behavior and Life Cycle

Sexual maturity is dependent in weight, usually being able to breed once they reach 35 grams. Throughout the breeding season females produce one to five clutches of two eggs. During egg development they are visible through the ventral skin. The eggs are soft and sticky when first released and measure approximately 28 x 15 mm. Fertilized eggs are covered with a thick, leathery, white membrane and quickly firm up. Eggs that remain soft are infertile. Incubation temperature determines sex of the offspring. At 26°C (79°F), a majority of females will be produced. Between a range of 29°C to 31°C (85°F to 87°F), equal males and females will be produced. At 32°C (90°F), a majority of males will be produced.

Eggs hatch after an incubation period of 45 to 53 days. Hatchlings feed off of the egg yolk for the first week following hatching. After the first week, the young will have their first shed and will then begin to hunt for their own food. Young leopard geckos have a banded black and yellow pattern which has a stronger contrast and brighter colors than mature adults.

Males are highly territorial and aggressive toward one another. When aggressive, the male will approach the other male in a sideways motion and wave its tail. It then may bite the neck or head, tear off the tail or rip a piece of skin from the intruder. Most geckos are known to vocalize with a voice, an ability that is often used for territorial, self-defense and courtship behaviors. Females do not vocalize as much as the males, but they will hiss if they are disturbed.

Leopard geckos recognize the sex of another through chemoreception. Chemical signals are excreted by the skin of each gecko. Males exhibit courting behaviors toward females; however while the female is shedding, the male has been known to be aggressive due to the lower concentration of chemicals released from the female’s skin during this time.

Only Pakistan allows the export of wild caught geckos to the United States. Most of the leopard geckos sold in the U.S. are captive-bred.

Fun Facts

  • Leopard geckos are one of only a few gecko species (all of them members of the subfamily Eublepharidae, a small family of tropical/subtropical species found in the Americas, Africa, and Asia) that have eyelids.
  • Their ear holes (drums) are situated on the head so that if you shine a light through one ear you will see it through the other.
  • Leopard Geckos have small claws ideal for terrestrial living, as opposed to the adhesive lamellae on the digits of other geckos. Not and adept climber.
  • They are believed to have been one of the first domesticated species of lizards.
  • Eublepharis means true eyelids and macular means spotted.
  • Geckos have eyesight comparable to a cat, giving them the best vision of any lizard ever studied.
  • Leopard geckos are unaffected by scorpion stings