Are Leopard Geckos Aggressive? (And 9 Potential Causes for Their Aggression)

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Since leopard geckos are easy to tame, they are great beginner pets. But are they always friendly, or can they be aggressive? Well, this is the question we are going to answer today. 

While leopard geckos are usually calm, friendly, and gentle, they can be aggressive sometimes. There’s always a reason for this, though. For instance, they could feel threatened or be struggling to adapt to the temperature. 

Is your leopard gecko aggressive?

Some of the ways that leopard geckos show aggression include hissing, screaming, and running toward you with an open mouth. Another sign of aggression in leopard geckos is when they crouch low and place their tails vertically in an S shape. They can even move their tail from side to side while doing this.

When you see your leopard gecko doing this, don’t make any sudden movements. It could take this as a sign of aggression from you and attack. You’re better off leaving your leopard gecko alone for a while so that they can calm down. If you insist on handling them during this time, they may even decide to go into hiding. 

Reasons why your leopard gecko is behaving aggressively

Your leopard gecko is struggling to adapt to a new environment

If there’s one thing you should know about leopard geckos, they take a while to adapt to new environments and people. So if you just brought a baby gecko home for the first time, it’s natural for them to be aggressive or moody. This is the best way these creatures know how to defend themselves from the unknown.

So if your leopard gecko recently experienced a change in its environment, be patient with them. Don’t try to quicken their process. Instead, give them space and do what you would ordinarily do with a pet – feed them and clean their surroundings. In the beginning, this is enough interaction for them. It will help them get used to your presence and be calm around you. 

With time though, you can slowly introduce handling – this will help build trust. Don’t interrupt their sleep or pursue them when they hide, though – this can make them more aggressive. Instead, follow the following steps:

  • After cleaning your gecko’s tank, place your hand on its bottom. This will help your leopard gecko adjust to your proximity, show them you’re not a threat, and give them the upper hand.
  • Wait for a while. This allows them to initiate contact. While they may respond by running away, they could come over and lick your hand. Leave them alone for a while if they run away and try again later.
  • If they settle well in your hand, play with them.
  • Slowly introduce holding and stroking. 

The temperature in your leopard gecko’s tank isn’t right

Since leopard geckos are originally from deserts, they are used to varying temperatures. And since they are ectothermic, they will particularly need to soak up some heat to perk up. Their tanks should always have a cold side and a warm side with a basking spot. 

The former needs to maintain a 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit temperature while the latter needs to be at 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. On the other hand, the basking area should be maintained at 90 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Fortunately, this delicate balance doesn’t need to be maintained at night – they prefer all-around colder temperatures

Generally, any changes in the range of temperatures your leopard gecko is used to can make them aggressive and lethargic. It can even lead to stunted growth and escape attempts. A thermostat must always be a part of your tank setup – it will help you monitor temperature changes and flag anything out of the ordinary. 

One of your leopard geckos is trying to dominate the other

If you’re housing more than one leopard gecko in a tank, one can get aggressive toward the other to show dominance. Although many associate this behavior with male leopard geckos, it’s common among females as well, especially when they are young. Since leopard geckos are usually loners, they tend to be territorial and prone to dominance displays.

This usually happens right after another gecko is introduced to the tank or during mating season. Eventually, this aggression could lead to fights that involve slapping and tail biting. Since this could lead to serious injuries for all the leopard geckos involved, it is best to separate them as soon as you notice things worsen.

It’s breeding season

When housing both male and female leopard geckos together, you will notice that they get extra aggressive during their breeding season. This is because they are competing for mating partners during this time. So you will notice that they will get very territorial, chasing after one another, and keep wagging their tails. They may even start fighting each other – the males may attempt to take down other males while the females fight other females. 

Eventually, you may have to separate them and only reintroduce them when they’ve all calmed down. 

Your leopard gecko is a hot female

Also known as an alpha female, a hot female is a female leopard gecko that is more aggressive than usual. While it’s still unclear why these geckos are this way, some believe that they are a product of high incubation temperatures. These leopard geckos can be problematic, especially when housed with other geckos.

If you must house them with other female leopard geckos, wait until they are mature – around 40 grams in weight.

Your leopard gecko is shedding

Because of the effort it requires, shedding can stress your leopard gecko out. As a result, this can make them moody and aggressive. They may even move slowly, hide all the time, refuse to eat, or attack you if you try to handle them. As such, it’s best to give them space during this time.

The only time when handling a shedding leopard gecko is warranted is when they’re experiencing shedding problems like the skin getting stuck on different body parts. As harmless as it may seem, this can cause your leopard gecko pain and even constrict its blood flow. Fortunately, if things go well, the shedding process lasts only a few days. 

Your leopard is going through puberty

The hormonal changes during puberty can make leopard geckos snappy and aggressive. They may also become more playful and active during this time. Like teenage humans, leopard geckos going through puberty may seem more rebellious and adventurous. 

However, once they grow out of this phase, they are bound to calm down and become less aggressive. Generally, both female and male leopard geckos hit puberty around one year after their birth, just when they’re about to enter adulthood. 

Your female leopard gecko is about to lay eggs

Just before a female leopard gecko lays eggs, their behavior changes a lot, and they can become aggressive. Other behavior changes include:

  • Lack of appetite
  • Irritability
  • Problems sleeping
  • Firm abdomen
  • Increased digging
  • Leaking of a clear liquid
  • Muscle tension, particularly in the legs
  • Visibility of eggs in the belly

During this time, it’s best to leave your leopard gecko alone until they’re ready to receive attention. 

Your leopard gecko has outgrown its tank

Believe it or not, leopard geckos can get aggressive when their tank is too small. This is because of the discomfort that this situation causes. That’s why it’s important to ensure that your leopard gecko always has the right tank size. 

While a 10-gallon tank will be okay for a gecko aged between 0 to 2 months, it can get a bit crowded for one that is more than three months old. Such geckos do best with a tank that is 20 to 30-gallons big. 

What handling methods contribute to aggression in leopard geckos?

Whether your leopard gecko is currently friendly or aggressive, there are some things you should avoid doing when handling them. They could drastically escalate the situation and even break the trust you have built with your little friend. These include:

  • Grabbing them – this will stress out your leopard gecko and can make them feel that they’re under attack.
  • Squeezing them – since leopard geckos are fragile, this can hurt them. It’s best to handle them with an open hand instead.
  • Holding them by their tails – this is what some predators do to leopard geckos in the wild. Doing so can trigger them to detach their tail as a defense mechanism. And while they will grow a new one, it won’t be identical to the original one.

Final thoughts 

Although leopard geckos are generally calm, friendly, and docile, certain situations can make them aggressive. So always try to get to the root cause of their aggression and be patient with them. Most times, this behavior passes with certain phases in their lives. And in cases where external factors cause it, you can easily make alterations to make things better. 

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