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Sand is not a good choice for cage bedding, as it is indigestible and can lead to gastrointestinal (GI) impaction. Gravel, walnut shells and wood shavings also are all poor choices for geckos since these materials can also lead to GI obstruction if ingested. Paper-based bedding, such as recycled paper pellets, shredded paper or plain newspaper are better choices, as paper is usually digestible if consumed.
Leopard geckos commonly have yellow skin and dark spots, but they also come in various colors (“morphs”) with various pattern variations. Tangerine morphs have dark spots with mostly orange rather than yellow skin, while snow morphs have white skin with dark spots. Albino morphs have white skin without spots. Patternless, blizzard or hypomelanistic (defined as having fewer than 10 spots) morphs have few to no dark spots. Whatever the color morph, once a gecko owner has one morph, it’s tempting to collect a whole variety of others. Females may be housed together, but adult males may be territorial and fight, so they shouldn’t live in the same tank. It’s not a good idea to house male and female geckos together, as they will likely breed.
Most reptile lovers know that leopard geckos regularly shed their skin as they grow, with juvenile geckos shedding more frequently than adults. However, many people don’t know that geckos actually eat the skin they shed. When they’re about to shed, their skin turns white, and as soon as it comes off, they consume it all. No one is quite sure why they do this. Theories include the need to replenish the large number of calories expended from the act of shedding, plus the desire to prevent predators from knowing they’ve been there by leaving no trace behind.
One cool feature of leopard geckos is that their tails, typically very thick from fat they store in them, can regrow if broken off. Geckos have evolved this ability for tail release and regrowth — a process known as autotomy — as a defense mechanism in case a predator catches them by the tail. Once released, the piece of tail can twitch for half an hour, distracting the predator, while the gecko runs away. For this reason, never hold or restrain a gecko by the tail or it could snap off in your hand! If this occurs, the lizard should be seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible to ensure that veterinary care isn’t warranted.
Leopard geckos not only are longer than other gecko species, with adults reaching 8 to 11 inches in length, nose to tail tip, but also, unlike other species of geckos, they have eyelids. While eyelids can help keep foreign objects, like bedding, from getting stuck in geckos’ eyes, without adequate humidity in the tank, eyelids sometimes interfere with shedding, trapping small bits of the shed skin directly over the eyes. This trapped skin can inhibit vision and may need to be removed by the owner or a veterinarian if it doesn’t fall off with increased humidification of the tank.
Leopard geckos actually have 100 teeth that fall out and are replaced every 3 to 4 months. A smaller replacement tooth develops right next to each full-grown tooth so that a new tooth is right there when the old tooth falls out.
Leopard geckos live an average of 6 to 10 years but some have been reported to live as long as 20 or more years. So if you aren’t prepared to have a long-lived pet, a leopard gecko may not be right for you.
As you can see from these cool facts, leopard geckos are fascinating lizards. They can make great pets for people willing to meet their needs, but they aren’t right for everyone. If you’re considering one as a pet, be sure to consult a reptile-savvy veterinarian first. Get to know this gecko and decide whether this unique lizard, with its distinct requirements, is right for you.
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