How to Build a Favorable Habitat For Your Leopard Gecko

Leopard gecko coming out from under rocks.
Leopard geckos need dry, warm habitats.

Getty Images/Daniel Castillo

Leopard geckos are very popular pet reptiles for both kids and adults. They're small, quiet, colorful, and easy to handle but like other reptiles, they do require appropriate habitats in order to thrive. By providing your leopard gecko with an appropriately sized enclosure, the correct substrate, lighting, and accessories, you'll not only give your gecko what it needs, but also what it wants.

Leopard Geckos in the Wild

Leopard geckos are native to Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Iran, and Nepal. Here, they live in dry deserts and grassland areas made up of rocky terrain and sandy soil. They can be found in rock crevices or if it gets too cold, underground in a burrow where they can enter semi-hibernation. Despite popular belief, leopard geckos don't enjoy extremely hot temperatures and sand but will instead hang out in the shade during the day. They are also more often found in desert areas with a clay or gravel mix in the soil rather than strictly sand. To create the best habitat for a leopard gecko, you'll want to try and mimic these attributes as closely as possible.

Leopard Gecko Enclosures

While some leopard gecko owners have beautiful, custom-made, open-top enclosures, if you have children or other pets in your household, it is safer to have a terrarium with a screen lid. Leopard geckos cannot climb walls but a lid will them from curious cats, dogs, or birds as well as children who may accidentally hurt them.

A plastic or glass aquarium is commonly used for housing reptiles and is what is recommended for leopard geckos. For one leopard gecko, a minimum of a 10 gallon tank is usually sufficient, especially when it is young, but a 20-gallon long tank is more ideal. If you opt for the preferred 20 gallon tank over the 10-gallon tank, be sure to get the long version and not the high or tall varieties. Leopard geckos need more ground space than height in their enclosures and the long version offers just that. A fitted screened lid placed on top will allow good airflow while still protecting your pet. If you decide to house multiple geckos, a larger tank will be necessary.

Leopard Gecko Habitat Substrate

To make your leopard gecko habitat as natural as possible, large rocks, gravel, and bioactive soil designed for reptiles should be used as substrate. If you prefer to have a less natural but easier to clean substrate, you can use sheets of paper, recycled paper bedding designed for hamsters, or reptile carpet instead. Sand is not recommended since it can be easily consumed and cause an impaction, especially for young and small leopard geckos.

Leopard Gecko Habitat Lighting

Many pet reptiles require high air temperatures and high levels of UVB rays but leopard geckos aren't like many other pet reptiles. Leopard geckos are nocturnal reptiles so they spend most of the daylight hours sleeping. This means they don't get much natural exposure to UVB lighting like reptiles that spend time in the sun receive. Some research shows that UVB lighting may be beneficial to some leopard geckos but most do not require it. Because of this, UVB bulbs are considered to be optional for leopard geckos. If you choose to provide a UVB light, be sure it is a low wattage one.

Despite not needing much, if any, UVB, leopard geckos do need warm air temperatures in their habitats. Having a heat light is the best way to ensure your gecko's enclosure doesn't get too cold but you'll want to use a thermometer to ensure it also doesn't get too warm. You can let the enclosure drop to about 70 degrees at night without the light but during the day, make sure it doesn't go above 90 degrees directly under the light where your leopard gecko would sit.

Leopard Gecko Habitat Accessories

A hide of some sort is the most important accessory in your leopard gecko's enclosure and the item it will use the most. You can create a hide (or burrow) for your gecko using large rocks, a plastic food container turned upside down with a door cut out, or you can purchase one designed for reptiles from the pet store. It is best to offer your leopard gecko a few hide options with at least one on the side of the tank with the heat light and the other on the opposite end. During a shed, providing wet paper towels or moss in one of these hides can help with any shedding issues. A bowl for water, a small plate or dish for calcium powder, and a log or rocks to climb on are the only other necessary accessories for your leopard gecko's habitat.