Are Leopard Geckos Arboreal? (Your Questions Answered)

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When you first get a leopard gecko, it’s natural to wonder whether it’s a terrestrial or arboreal animal. At the very least, this information will help you design a great habitat for your pet. So to help you out, we’ve decided to address your concerns in this post. 

Leopard geckos aren’t arboreal – they are terrestrial animals. They don’t live in trees – they dwell on the ground. And unlike other gecko species such as Tokay and crested geckos, they can’t climb up many surfaces. The best they can do is get on top of some rocks and large branches. 

leopard gecko on tree branch

Why are leopard geckos terrestrial?

Leopard geckos belong to a subfamily called Eublepharidae under the Gekkonidae family. They have clawed toes and movable eyelids – things that the other members of the gecko family don’t have. Instead, they have sticky toe pads and no eyelids.

Also known as lamellae, these toe pads allow other geckos like Tokay and crested geckos to climb most surfaces, even glass ones. These toe pads are usually wide, webbed, and have tiny hairs to enhance grip. On the other hand, the toes of leopard geckos are narrow and have pronounced claws that make climbing difficult.

How does a leopard gecko’s terrestrial nature affect its vivarium setup?

Since leopard geckos are terrestrial, the length of their vivarium is more important than its height. So if you were thinking of getting your leopard gecko a mesh vivarium, don’t – these are best for arboreal reptiles. This is because they are narrow and tall, allowing for easy climbing. 

Ultimately, it’s best to go with a glass vivarium that is wide and long but not tall. Usually, a 20 to 30-gallon glass tank is enough – just ensure it has a wire mesh on top to provide ventilation. And you don’t even need to place a ton of plants inside – your leopard gecko won’t engage with them much. 

Eventually, extra plants may just crowd the tank and limit the space your leopard gecko has to roam around. 

After all, leopard geckos originate from hot deserts in countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Nepal, and Iran – they don’t need vegetation to survive. They can make do with a few branches and logs for them to hide under when the need arises. Just remember to ensure you only use plants that are safe for reptiles.

What amenities does your terrestrial leopard gecko need?

Since leopard geckos are terrestrial, they will need all their amenities on the ground or just a little above it. That’s why they need a high-quality substrate on the floor of their tank, and a bowl of water, food, and hides on top of it. Always choose a substrate that your leopard gecko isn’t sensitive to for best results. 

Its material should be non-abrasive and easy to clean and replace. Beyond that, it shouldn’t produce any dust or other particles. Such particles could lead to respiratory problems and infections. More commonly, it could lead to impaction, which can be lethal for leopards. 

Some great substrate options include newspapers, paper towels, and artificial turf. On the other hand, options to avoid include sawdust, gravel, cat litter, pine, corncob bedding, and hardwood chips. 

When it comes to creating your leopard gecko’s hide area, your best bet is to fill a box with some moist vermiculite or moss. This will provide a conducive environment for your gecko to shed their skin. You will also need to include hiding areas all over the tank’s floor. Inverted clay pots, hide boxes, and overlapping rocks can be great tools. 

Generally, a vivarium with a single leopard gecko should have at least two hiding spots – the more geckos living in the vivarium, the more hiding spots required. 

Apart from hiding spots, leopard geckos also need basking areas on their tank’s floor. These areas can be created by placing smooth flat rocks or pieces of wood under a light/heat source. Each gecko you have should have at least one basking spot. 

However, don’t use sharp and abrasive rocks no matter what you do. These can hurt your leopard gecko, especially when they’re shedding. Resinous woods like cedar should also be avoided – they are toxic to leopard geckos.

Related: Leopard geckos and their ability to climb

How does a leopard gecko’s thermoregulation differ from that of its arboreal counterparts?

Since arboreal geckos only need to move between the sun and the shade, they don’t usually have to move across diverse thermal environments. As such, their thermoregulation is precise and efficient. 

This is a stark contradiction to what leopard geckos have. They are more active and have to traverse areas that have big temperature differences.

Ultimately, this leads to erratic changes in their body temperature throughout the day, especially during intense sunlight such as midday. As a result, their ability to regulate their body temperature isn’t as precise as that of their arboreal counterparts. 

Final thoughts

If you’re looking for a gecko that can climb trees, a leopard gecko isn’t the best option for you. While these geckos are charming and have a lot of strengths and skills, they do best on the ground or near it. 

But this doesn’t mean they are less interesting or require a bare tank – you can easily spruce things up with some accessories. 

With a high-quality substrate, a few hide boxes, rocks, and logs, you can create an exciting environment for both you and your leopard gecko. 

After all, leopard geckos are among the gentlest and easy to handle gecko species, making them a great addition to any home!


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