A Home for Leo

I’m going to be a leopard gecko mommy!

I’ve wanted to care for a reptile for a long time, but it wasn’t until recently that all of the pieces came together, and now I’m in the position to care for one. My first desire was a chameleon, but the tiniest bit of research helped me realize that a Chameleon was going to be waaaaay too much work. I decided to go with the classic My First Reptile: a leopard gecko! I don’t have the gecko yet, but here is a photo that gives you a general idea of it will probably look like:

Leopard Gecko resting on a gray cloth. Gecko is white and yellow with black dots all over the dorsal/anterior surfaces. Has the traditionally fat tail and flat, broad head.

We’re going to name it Adler after Irene Adler because why the hell not? I like the way Adler sounds.

Last week I did some research about care, cost, feeding, local reptile vets, etc. and on Sunday I went over to Twin Cities Reptiles in St. Paul to buy all of the things that I would need to prepare a habitat for my little guy or gal. And while I was there I put my name on a list to reserve a leopard gecko when one became available. They do a lot of their own breeding at Twin Cities Reptiles, and the three leopard geckos that were in-house were two hatchlings and a sub-adult. One of those three might be mine! They keep the new animals at the store for a period of time to make sure that they’re developing well, eating enough, etc. So I should get mine in the next week or so.

Last night I finalized my set-up! I’ve been working on it for a couple of days, so some of these pictures were taken earlier than others.

sunning rock and overhead light

Overhead light and a basking rock on top of “reptile carpet”.

There is a lot of debate online about whether to include a heat lamp in a leopard gecko’s habitat. They’re nocturnal creatures, so they don’t need the light. Most people seem to use an under the cage heating pad. However, after 24 hours of the pad alone, my cage near the floor was only 82°F and the air temperature by the basking rock was hovering around 79°F. I decided to go with a 60 watt bulb to get the daytime temperature into the high 80s where it belongs.

The next three photos are my “splurge”. I bought a magnetic rock hide, which is a “rock” that has been split in two. One side contains a tunnel, in which the reptile can hide. The other side is a “lid”, which is attached via magnets to the outside of the cage, the idea being that the nosy human can peek in on their sleeping reptile.

Rock hide showing one half inside the cage, the other outside
Side view of Rock Hide with outer shell pulled away
Cut-away view shows a small tunnel that the gecko might hide in.

And finally, the second thermometer and a decorative background so that the humans can have a bit more fun:

Complete terrarium showing plants, bowls, desert background glass cling and rocks
Now I just hafta wait for the phone call letting me know that I can go pick him or her up and bring them to this beeyoutiful home!

Aaaaaaany day now. *checks messages again*


A Home for Leo
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153 thoughts on “A Home for Leo

  1. 1

    Never saw a leopard gecko before, but it’s adorable! Not sure how well Adler will enjoy being named after a high level predator known to eat reptiles, but perhaps s/he won’t notice. I don’t think their German is very good. Congratulations in advance!

    1. 1.1

      I know! I saw that it that it means “eagle” in German, and I said almost the same thing “Meh. He’s Iranian or Pakistani.* He probably doesn’t know German.”

      *Well, bred in captivity and born in the US, so American.

  2. 2

    So…just have to say…I’m disappointed. And confused. You named it Adler? So why did you title the post as you did? ‘Cuz I was going to say, “Leo is a really cool name!” but now it seems I can’t! 🙂

    1. 2.1

      Leo is a fabulous name, of course! 🙂 When I started writing the post I hadn’t picked out a name and Leo was sort of a generic place holder for Leopard Gecko. In the course of writing I settled on Adler, but I still liked Leo as a shorthand for the type of gecko.

  3. 3

    Coming from the Pakistani/Iranian border you have to pry the tiny AK-47 out of their hands, and check for explosives. -jk-

    Leopard geckos are pretty easy. They are more fun if you handle them regularly. But remember that until they get used to a regular schedule everything you do is going to be seen as a threat by an animal that is both essentially defenseless and surrounded by foxes and hawks that are programed to eat it. Until they get used to you they will be very tense. Leave him alone for a day of three after putting him in his new enclosure. You can further lower the stress by covering the enclosure so that noise and motion are muted.

    79-82F is about right. They seem to do well anywhere between mid-60s to low 90s but I would force them to put up with those extremes. Don’t be surprised if they chose to spend some time on the cool end of the enclosure. The key to the temperature range is to make sure there is at least one hide is on the high end of ideal and there is somewhere the lizard can get to that is a bit lower than the low end of the ideal range. The lizard will move to the temperature it likes. Make sure it has a range of temperatures and it will pretty much take care of the rest on its own.

    If the lizard spends all of its time on the high or low end double check your temperatures. Refusing to leave the hottest hide is a sign that the enclosure is too cold.

    The most common food is crickets. Dust the crickets with calcium dust several times a week. A pinch of vitamin powder added to the calcium powder once a week should not be out of the question. In the wild there might be more variety in insects.

    The only other thing is humidity, When the lizard starts to look milky it may seek a slightly cooler and moister environment. Most trouble shedding comes from the lack of a moist hide. Inspect the lizard after every shed to make sure the skin isn’t constricted around the toes or feet. Skin that fails to shed can constrict the limb, stop circulation, and cause amputations. Lizards missing toes are a sign of poor management. A moistened Q-tip rubbed gently across the stuck skin will usually remove tiny bits around eyes and toes. You can also place the lizard in a tub it can’t climb out of with an inch of warm water and let it sit for a few minutes. Gently rubbing the skin, like you are removing a rubber glove, will peel it right off. Keep the depth low enough that the lizard doesn’t need to struggle to keep nose above water. Leopard geckos can swim and some seem to enjoy the water.

    Of course leopard geckos will act like you are murdering them with every new experience. They can sometimes be heard to hiss when alarmed. Once they calm down a bit a handy trick is to gently tap the lizard and then pick them up in one smooth motion. The tap causes them to raise up on their legs and makes grabbing them without a struggle easier. Less struggling means a more relaxed lizard.

    The other thing I need to mention is that many leopard geckos have a kamikaze spirit. Just when you think they are calm and unlikely to move sitting on your hand they leap out into space, fall in a scary belly flop, and then make a lightning run for the nearest narrow space. They seem to have no fear of falling. Even as broken limbs, life threatening internal damage, and lost tails are all possible. The good news is that, with a bit of luck, they can be remarkably tough surviving six foot drops onto concrete.

    Leopard geckos are not pets that do well with a lot of handling but they are not the prim-donas that chameleons are. Too much handling, too much stress, food that is slightly wrong, to much time outside a narrow temperature range, and chameleons die.

    The major cause of death is other pets, primarily, but not limited to, cats. The biggest source of stress is people checking and messing with them.

    I see you went with a “normal”, not overly genetically manipulated, lizard. Good call. IMHO normals are somewhat healthier than fancy types. ie: Albinos can be prone to eye problems and blindness.

    You are also leaning toward a naturalistic environment. Nothing wrong with that. Most leopard gecko breeders tend toward easier to clean and less expensive, but less attractive, items like plastic containers for hides, and paper towels as substrate. Low-nap carpet is hygienic and easy too keep clean and looks, to my eye, nearly natural in brown or grey. The lizards don’t seem to care.

    Leopard geckos don’t need a lot of pampering. Given enough food and water, and a range of temperatures and humidity they will take care of themselves. They have lived for millions of years without human intervention the default for care when you don’t know what to do should be to maintain a low stress environment and let them chose.

    Sorry, I don’t mean to lecture, but there are things I wish were all in one place, things I wish someone had told me early on. Perhaps

    1. 3.1

      Wowza – thanks for all of the advice, Lorn!

      I’m working on the routine schedule. The “sun” (an IR heat light) comes up at about 6:30-7am and sets about 6-7pm. 2-3 crickets on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and about 2-4 meal worms in her bowl – although she seems to be ignoring the meal worms (the crickets are eating them more than she is). She appears to sleep in a hide on the cool side of her cage for most of the day. I’ve picked her up once a night for about 1-3 minutes at a time. The cage is high on top of the entertainment center, and has so far proven inaccessible to the cat.

      All in all – so far, so good!

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