Leopard Gecko Vivarium Set Up

Leopard Geckos originate from Asia - Afghanistan, Pakistan, Western India, Iraq and Iran. Their natural habitat is desert region and areas of dry grassland.

Table of contents:

 Leopard Gecko vivarium set up FAQS | Your Leopard Geckos vivarium size | Your Leopard Gecko’s substrate | Leopard Gecko’s and sand | Reptile carpets | Leopard Gecko's and Tiles | Leopard Gecko's and lino | Leopard Gecko's and flat stones| Leopard Gecko’s and paper towels or newspapers | Leopard Gecko's and heating | What temperature should your Leopard Gecko's tank be?| Leopard Geckos and humidity | Leopard Gecko's and lighting | How much light does my Leopard Gecko need? | Your Leopard Gecko's hide

These friendly reptilians make great pets, as they are docile and easy to care for. However, in order for your Leopard Gecko to live a long and happy life, the set-up of its vivarium must mimic the conditions of its natural habitat as closely as possible. Achieving this is not as complicated as it might sound.

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Leopard Gecko vivarium set up essentials:

Your Leopard Gecko's set up should include a vivarium that is 2.5 feet long, suitable substrate, a heat mat to maintain the ground temperature and an infra-red heat lamp to maintain the air temperature.

You should also use the correct lighting - a light bulb should be sufficient.

Alternatively you can use a basking light for both heat and light, if the heat mat doesn't maintain a suitable temperature

You should also ensure the humidity levels are correct. You can monitor this using a hygrometer.

1. Your Leopard Gecko's vivarium size

Your gecko's vivarium should be should be:

  • Around 2.5 feet long
  • Or between 10-20 gallons
  • The larger size should hold up to three geckos comfortably

Unlike many of their closest relatives, leopard geckos do not have adhesive lamella, but have tiny claws on their feet instead. This means they are ground animals and rarely climb - as such their tank needs to be long and wide.

You will find suitable tanks at Northampton Reptile Centre (they are sold as vivarium’s or terrariums). Make sure your tank has a screen lid, to keep your gecko in and any potential predators (such as cats) out, as well as to allow your gecko access to sufficient fresh air and light conditions.

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2. Your Leopard Gecko’s substrate

Substrate types for your leopard gecko

Sand Reptile carpets
Tiles Lino
Flat stones Paper towels
Newspaper  

There is much debate amongst leopard gecko owners and experts as to which material makes the best substrate for your gecko’s vivarium.

Leopard Geckos and sand

The biggest point of contention is the use of sand as substrate. Many sources warn against the use of sand, as it might cause impaction if your gecko eats it (this risk is greater for younger geckos), it can cause respiratory problems and bacteria can grow in wet sand. However, some owners say they have used this material for many years without a hitch, as the use of sand mimics their gecko’s natural landscape and encourages its natural digging instinct.

Additionally, some experts say that a reptile will eat its substrate as a result of a vitamin deficiency. Poor husbandry resulting from the incorrect heating, humidity and lighting requirements can then lead to metabolism and digestion issues - resulting in impaction.

Should you choose to use sand as a substrate, you can easily purchase it from the Northampton Reptile Centre.

Reptile carpets

This is a popular option, though it is not without its problems as well, such as your leopard gecko’s claws and teeth getting caught in the fabric, and crickets escaping under it.

If you use this substrate, make sure to thoroughly clean it on a regular basis and monitor your gecko’s stomach for signs of irritation caused by the material. You can buy reptile carpet from Northampton Reptile Centre.

Leopard Geckos and Tiles

These are easy to clean and look smart, though they can be expensive. You can buy reptile tiles from the Northampton Reptile Centre.

Leopard Geckos and lino

If there are carpet shops in your area, you might want to enquire whether they can sell you their lino off-cuts at reduced prices. This option is also easy to clean and, if fitted correctly, there is nowhere for your gecko’s food to hide. However, be aware that self-adhesive lino tiles can create harmful fumes for your gecko, so those are best avoided.

Leopard Geckos and flat stones

These are a great way to mimic your gecko's natural landscape, but avoid using heat stone, as they can over-heat and cause burns.

Leopard Geckos and paper towels or newspapers

A cheap and easy option, and particularly recommended for younger geckos. The downside here is that your gecko cannot burrow in these and they do not recreate its natural environment. While they also need changing regularly and may tear, they do not pose any health risks to your gecko.

Never use mulch, shredded wood, soil, corn cob or gravel, as these can be toxic and harmful to your gecko’s digestive system.

If you're enjoying this article you may like Advice on Reptile Vivariums, Heating and Lighting.

3. Leopard Geckos and heating

You can help maintain the ground temperature inside the vivarium by using an under tank  heat mat specifically designed for reptile tanks. These can be bought at any pet store or online. 

You can maintain the air temperature by using a red or infra-red heat lamp. 

There should be a temperature gradient inside your leopard gecko's vivarium, with one side of the tank kept warmer than the other. Your gecko needs a warm spot to properly digest its food and will adjust its body temperature by alternating between the cooler and warmer areas of the tank.

Use a thermometer (Northampton Reptile Centre sell a selection) on both sides to monitor the vivarium temperature.

Keeping your leopard gecko's vivarium at the right temperature is extremely important. Leopard geckos are cold blooded and get heat from outside sources in their environment. Failing to provide the correct temperature gradients can have serious health consequences.

What temperature should your leopard gecko's tank be?

  • The cooler side of the vivarium should be kept at around 23-27 degrees Celsius during the day.
  • The warm spot (or basking area) of the vivarium should be between 29 and 33 degrees Celsius.

You can help achieve these air temperatures by using a red or infra-red heat lamp on one side of the tank. A white-light heat lamp is not suitable for this purpose, as it will disturb your leopard gecko’s sleep cycle. Never let your vivarium temperature reach more than 34 degrees, as that will be too hot for your gecko.

At night time, the temperature in the vivarium will need to be lower, to mimic nature conditions in the gecko’s natural habitat.

The ideal vivarium temperature during the night is between 21 and 24 degrees Celsius. Your gecko will need a warm spot to lie on, as in nature it would be lying on rocks heated by the daytime sun – the under tank heat mat or infra-red lamp should be sufficient to create this.

Would you like to find out more about leopard gecko diets? Read our article What leopard geckos should eat - food and dietary requirements.

4. Leopard Geckos and humidity

The ideal humidity for your leopard gecko's vivarium is 20%-40%. The correct levels of humidity in your gecko's tank ensures it can shed properly and stay hydrated, and reduces the risk of infections.

You can use a hygrometer to monitor the humidity in the tank – if you find it is too high, try using a smaller water dish and increasing airflow through the tank; if it is too low, use a bigger water dish or increase the level of moist moss in the tank.

Some gecko owners report issues with their vivarium steaming up. If this happens, it may be a sign that your vivarium is too humid. As leopard geckos are desert dwellers, too much humidity can cause them health issues, such as respiratory problems. Monitor the humidity levels in the vivarium and use the steps listed above to increase and lower the levels, if required.

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5. Leopard Geckos and lighting

It's essential that your leopard gecko receives the correct amount and type of light. It needs to mimic your gecko's natural habitat.

How much light does my Leopard Gecko need?

  • In the summer you should aim for 14 hours of light, followed by 10 hours of darkness.
  • In the winter you should aim for 12 hours of light followed by 12 hours of darkness.

You should make the transition gradually over several weeks. It is recommended to use automatic timers, to avoid having to alter your schedule or forgetting to tend to the lights.

Make sure not to use bright white lights or UV lights as your light source, as these will upset your nocturnal gecko.

You may think that natural light coming in to the room would be sufficient for your Leopard Gecko, but that is not the case. As it is likely that where you are located has a different light cycle to your gecko’s natural habitat, an artificial light source that keeps to your gecko's own schedule is best.

If you're able to keep the vivarium warm, then you can use light bulbs as your light source. Alternatively, if your under tank heat mat isn't sufficient, you can use a basking light as this will provide both heat and light.

At night time, infra-red lights can be used to help keep the vivarium warm. These are especially designed to use with nocturnal animals and do not affect their sleep cycles

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6. Your Leopard Gecko's vivarium decoration

Your leopard geckos hide needs to be in keeping with his natural habitat.  You should provide a moist substrate inside your Leopard Gecko's hide.  

Some owners fashion their gecko's hide out of plastic boxes cushioned with moist paper towels, while some prefer to purchase ready-made hides from the Northampton Reptile Centre. These normally come in the shape of rocks, to be in keeping with the desert landscape gecko’s hail from.

A moist hide substrate is essential, as your leopard gecko needs a humid environment in order to shed its skin properly. This hide should be placed on the cool side of the vivarium, and will need to be kept humid at all times (by using paper towels or moist moss). If you have more than one gecko, make sure the moist hide in the tank is big enough for all of them to fit.

Your leopard gecko will also need a warm hide on the hot side of the vivarium, where it will go to digest its food or warm itself up if it isn’t feeling chilly, but wants to stay hidden. You can have a cool hide for your gecko to disappear to if it is feeling too warm, though this is not an essential requirement.

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Other bits of tank décor are not crucial to your gecko’s well-being, but will make a nice environment for it to live in and for you to look at every day.

Plants are an easy way to decorate your vivarium and give your leopard gecko extra security when it is out of its hides.

You may use either artificial or live plants, as gecko’s do not eat vegetables, but make sure to get plants that are not poisonous to geckos and be aware that they may increase the humidity levels in the tank.

Rocks are a great way to imitate the landscape of your leopard gecko’s natural habitat. You can buy them from the Northampton Reptile centre, or take them from outside. If you do this, make sure you clean them thoroughly before placing them in the vivarium.

Sticks are another popular choice for vivarium décor, though you must ensure there are no parasites present in the wood, no sharp edges and that you gecko cannot accidentally digest any part of it (like bark).

Lastly, your gecko’s food and water bowl can also be a fun way to add character to your vivarium. You can get pretty bowls to go with your vivarium décor from the Northampton Reptile Centre, or you can use small dishes you have in your home.

The important thing to remember is that your leopard gecko will need fresh water every day and the bowl must be changed if it is contaminated in any way. It is also important that the bowl is not too deep, to avoid a drowning hazard.

7.  Location

You should keep your leopard gecko's vivarium in a place where it's out of direct sunlight.  This is because direct sunlight can heat up the inside of the vivarium, and affect the temperature inside.  

And finally, which ever way you choose to decorate your vivarium, we have no doubt your leopard gecko will provide you with many years of great company and many entertaining hours spent together.

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