What Do Leopard Geckos Need in Their Tank? 6 Things to Remember

Leopard geckos are magnificent creatures with adorable little smiles and cute spots. There is a reason they are one of the most popular lizards to have as pets, but what goes into keeping one of these sweet little critters alive? What do leopard geckos need in their tank?

It’s one of the most important parts of owning an animal, learning everything you need and why you need it. To ensure best care for your Leopard gecko you will need a few things that we will discuss in this article. But don’t let it seem overwhelming, you once you are all set up you won’t regret a thing. Leopard geckos are fascinating and one of the easier reptiles to care for.

What do Leopard Geckos need in their tank?

In a Leopard gecko tank you will need substrate, a heating device, places to hide, water, a food dish, a thermometer and a hydrometer. Now let’s dive into the specifics of each of these items.

Leopard Gecko – Jessi Swick | Flickr | CC 2.0

1.Tank

I know, pretty obvious, but we have to start with the tank. When shopping for your Leopard Geckos, tank size matters. If you have a baby Leopard gecko, you want the tank to be a minimum of 10 gallons. For an adult Leopard gecko, the minimum tank size should be 20 gallons. If you get a tank above those sizes that’s great too, the more gallons the merrier. Plus you want ample room for all the tank items.

Leopard geckos, unlike other gecko species, are not arboreal. Meaning they are not climbers. So when buying their tank, you’ll want to think length over height.

Once you have your tank, what goes inside?

2. Substrate

The first thing you’ll put into their tank? Substrate. Substrate is a fancy word for the ground cover that will go on the bottom of the tank. Let’s look at some of the most agreed upon substrates from Leopard gecko enthusiasts.

Best Substrates: Tiles, reptile carpet, slates/stones, sand mats, Excavator clay, and if you want to keep it simple, newspaper or paper towels. 

Each of these options has its benefits:

  • Tiles are easy to clean and have a very “clean” look. Tiles also have endless options with all the styles and colors you can choose.
  • Reptile Carpet is commonly used because of its ease as well, and it has a more appealing look than other options. When it gets dirty, take it out and give it a good, thorough wash. But make sure to also replace it with a new carpet every so often to keep bacteria growth down.
  • Slates/Stones are a bit harder to clean and will take a bit more time, but Leo owners agree it’s worth it for the more naturalistic look they enjoy.
  • Sand mats have a nice look, without the worry of impaction, and as a plus, they help file down your pets’ nails!
  • Excavator Clay is a popular choice because, like stones, this clay gives a very natural look. Honestly, a combo of the two would make for a very nice looking tank. With excavator clay, you can mold and sculpt their whole habitat. All without the worry of impaction you might get with loose substrate.
  • Newspaper and paper towels Once pooped on, throw it out and lay another one down, doesn’t get any easier than that. Owners who prefer convenience love the ease of paper towels and newspaper.
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Using sand as a substrate is often not recommended. Many reptile specialists say this can cause impaction, sand getting stuck in and blocking the digestive tract. It is much safer to use mats or substrate with large pieces that cannot be ingested.

3. Heat Source

Leopard geckos do need heating. Without proper external heating, they can not keep themselves warm or digest their food correctly.

Unlike some other reptile tanks you might have seen, heating for Leopard Geckos won’t come from above. Their heat source comes from a heating mat you stick to the bottom of the tank on one side. You want to create a “hot side” (87-90 degrees F) and a “cool side” (74-80 degrees F).  You will need a heating mat and a thermostat controller to keep the temps where you want them.

A great combination of the two, a heat mat and thermostat controller, is the Aiicioo Under Tank Heater Thermostat.

It is important to note that with a heating mat and proper room lighting, your gecko does not need a heat lamp or light. But if you wanted to use a heat lamp or a CHE (ceramic heat emitter) you can. It just should not replace your UTH (under tank heating mat) as the main heat source. A few options are:

Che bulb 

Fluker’s Repta-Clamp Lamp Ceramic with Dimmable Switch (with a CHE, it is necessary to buy a lamp with a dimmable switch to control the temperature)

Never have any basking area above 94 degrees F.

4. Hides

Reptile hides are very important. They provide shelter if the gecko gets spooked, a place to help them regulate their temperature if they get too warm or too cold, and a place to regulate the moisture level in their skin.

Leopard Geckos require a minimum of three hides: one for the cool end of the tank, one for the warm end, and a humidity hide.

A few favorite hides are:

Climbing hides

Rock lair

Bark Hideout

Humidity Hide: the humidity hide should be on the cooler side of the tank, since the warm side will evaporate water faster. They need this moist area to prepare their skin for shedding. Humidity in this hide should be higher than the others. You can do this by adding damp moss or damp paper towels. Check the humidity hide daily to make sure it is still moist and replenish the damp substrate as needed.

5. Water and Food dish

Leopard geckos eat live food so, having a bowl where the food can’t escape easily comes and handy. This often means a bowl with a bit of a lip around the rim and/or taller walls. A few options are:

Living World Ergonomic Small Animal Food Dish

Anti-Escape Mini Reptile Feeder

A few more nature-inspired options for water and food:

Tree Trunk Design

Reptile Natural Bowl

Zoo Med Reptile Ramp Bowl

Leopard Geckos do need access to water, but they don’t require a lot of it. Keep the water dish small and shallow to avoid any potential for drowning. Replace with fresh water daily.

6. Thermometer and Hygrometer

It’s important to always know the temperature and humidity levels inside your tank, so a gauge that does both is pretty handy. You’ll want at least two, one for each side of the tank. As we talked about above, you need a warm and cool side within a specific temperature range. Humidity of the tank should be kept at 20-40%.

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Recommendations

REPTI ZOO Reptile Terrarium Thermometer Hygrometer

Zoo Med Labs Digital Thermometer Humidity Gauge

7. Tank Decorations

Tank decorations are not important like hides are. But they can provide some enrichment to your gecko, and may be more aesthetically pleasing to you. After you’ve provided all the items the Leopard gecko needs, you can add in what you think looks nice or what you think your gecko might enjoy exploring.

Plants are a nice addition. Leopard Gecko’s won’t eat vegetation so you don’t have to worry about that. However you should still make sure they are non-poisonous. Real plants can be a little messy and throw off the tank humidity, so many people opt for faux plants instead.

Rocks and Logs can also add nice decor to the tank. Again you can choose real or faux. Avoid rocks with sharp edges. Any real sticks or logs you add you will need to make sure they have no parasites. A good way to do this is dry them out in the oven for a half hour.

Conclusion

Leopard Geckos are a favorite for a reason. With their docile temperaments and a wide variety of morphs coming in many different colors, they make a unique pet indeed. With the right supplies, they’ll be with you for a long time to come.


FAQ

Can I use Coconut fiber for bedding?

Due to the moisture coconut fiber retains, it is not recommended as a substrate for the whole tank. Coconut fiber, however, would be great in a Leo’s humidity hide.

Can you set up a Leopard Geckos tank by the window?

Yes, but it’s probably better not to if you can help it. Keeping your enclosure close to the window is only ok if you keep a close eye on the temperatures. Sun beaming into the tank and raising temperatures too much could cause your gecko to overheat and possibly die. In winter, it can be rather cold right next to a window. So don’t place your leopard gecko near a window if you have cold winters and won’t be able to keep the tank temperature warm enough.

How often should I clean my leopard geckos tank?

You should spot-clean your tank daily, with a more in-depth weekly cleaning of substrate and once a month deep cleaning.

Can I use a heat rock?

You should not use a heat rock with your Leopard Gecko. Heat rocks can malfunction and can be very dangerous for your gecko, even causing severe burns to their undersides.