The leopard gecko is one of the most popular types of pet reptiles, especially for beginner reptile owners and children. They are typically fairly hardy lizards, docile, have attractive colors and patterns, don't take up a lot of space, are quiet, and are easily handled. These qualities also make them a favorite among seasoned herpetologists, too. But while leopard geckos have a reputation for being easy to care for, they still have specific environmental needs. Heat and lighting elements, including UVB lights, are necessary for many reptiles, so it's important to know exactly what leopard geckos need to thrive.
Leopard Gecko Lifestyle
Leopard geckos are nocturnal reptiles that are native to Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Iran, and neighboring regions where they enjoy warm, dry, rocky deserts and eating insects. They spend their time cooling off in the shade during the day and sleeping in burrows. Right before sunset and sunrise, these small lizards become more active and begin to hunt for food since the temperatures are cooler. This means they do not spend much time in the sun but still need to maintain their body temperature from the warm ambient air. In captivity, leopard geckos are not much for basking under a light since they are not diurnal, but they still need warm homes like they would find in the wild.
What Lighting Do Leopard Geckos Need?
Since leopard geckos are nocturnal, they do not appear to need UVB lighting like many other reptiles do but some research shows it may be of benefit nonetheless. Juvenile leopard geckos that were exposed to low levels of UVB rays during the first six months of their lives were found to have higher vitamin D3 levels than those that were not exposed. Both groups of geckos were given vitamin D3 in their diets and neither group had an apparent negative or positive effect from getting or not getting the UVB rays. More research needs to be done to determine whether these higher vitamin D3 levels in the body are of benefit in other ways such as immune support or bone density.
Whether or not you choose to provide UVB lighting to your leopard gecko, you should always provide heat lights and some sort of white light on a 12 hour cycle. The heat lights should provide an ambient temperature gradient between 78 and 90 degrees during the day and the enclosure should not be allowed to drop below 70 degrees at night. The white light can be a simple incandescent or fluorescent bulb if the heat light does not emit white light. This is to mimic the natural day/night cycle for your gecko's behavior patterns.
How Do You Give Leopard Geckos UVB?
If you want to provide UVB rays to your leopard gecko, the best way is to use a special reptile bulb. vitamin D3 and calcium should still be administered to your leopard gecko either in the gut load that its food eats or as a dusting on the insects themselves, but UVB will help your gecko absorb them.
UVB bulbs will emit invisible rays when they are on but they need to be placed at an appropriate distance from your leopard gecko and without anything blocking them. UVB lights should be placed about 18 inches from where your leopard gecko sits and be turned on for between two and 12 hours each day. Be sure there is no glass or plastic between the light and your gecko as this will block the beneficial rays. Even a mesh screen can block a portion of the UVB rays, so ideally there is nothing between the light and your pet, although this is not always possible. It's also important not to place the light too close to your gecko or leave it on for too long. Eye and skin problems can occur, especially in lighter colored morphs, if too much UVB is received. Finally, UVB bulbs should be replaced about every 12 months to ensure the invisible rays have not been depleted.
What Is the Difference Between UVA and UVB?
UVA and UVB are two different wavelengths of light that are invisible to humans and found in the sun's rays. UVA helps regulate various behaviors such as feeding and mating, while UVB helps reptiles synthesize vitamin D3 which in turn helps the body absorb calcium.
Signs a Leopard Gecko Needs UVB
Leopard geckos that have metabolic bone disease (MBD) will benefit from UVB exposure. Broken bones, jaw malformations, lethargy, a decrease in appetite, or bowed legs may be seen in a gecko with MBD. These signs indicate your leopard gecko may benefit from a little UVB in its life.
Oonincx DGAB, Diehl JJE, Kik M, et al. The nocturnal leopard gecko (Eublepharis macularius) uses UVb radiation for vitamin D3 synthesis. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part B: Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. 2020;250:110506.