Are Leopard Geckos Desert or Tropical Dwellers? (And How to Set up Their Tank Accordingly)

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Creating a habitat for your new leopard gecko can be tricky, especially if you don’t know where these reptiles originally come from. So, are leopard geckos desert or tropical inhabitants? Well, that’s what we’re going to talk about today.

Leopard geckos are native inhabitants of rocky deserts in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and Iran. However, they can also thrive in semi-desert areas, scrublands, and grasslands. Ultimately, leopard geckos don’t need as much water as tropical reptiles. 

Are leopard geckos desert or tropical?

Although leopard geckos originally lived in desert areas with a lot of compacted sand and rocks/pebbles, they don’t need these to survive. They are just adapted to living in areas with little vegetation and precipitation. Also, they are used to warm to hot temperatures

However, they can handle temperatures as low as 50 degrees Fahrenheit, even though they hibernate when they consistently have to live under such conditions. Ultimately, they thrive best in environments that allow them to access both high and low temperatures. 

They are ectothermic and rely on external temperatures to regulate their body temperatures. So it’s common for leopard geckos to bask in the sun during the day and go into their hiding spots afterward. 

How should your leopard gecko’s tank be set up to match its native habitat?

To ensure that your leopard gecko is comfortable, you should ensure that its tank has a good temperature variation. Ideally, it should feature several temperature gradients, each with its own hide. This allows your leopard gecko to move around to different temperature spots according to its thermoregulation needs. 

You need to remember two main things when setting up the temperature of your leopard gecko’s tank.

First of all, the daytime temperatures are best maintained at 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit, with basking spots having the leeway to operate at temperatures between 88 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

Secondly, nighttime temperatures are ideally around 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

As such, you will have to use a thermometer and a variety of heating sources to keep the tank’s temperatures at optimum levels. How you keep your tank heat can depend on the size of the tank. See our ideal tank size for a leopard gecko here.

For instance, you can use overhead heaters or under-tank heaters to maintain the overall temperature of the tank and then incorporate basking lights in hot spots.

Temperatures aside, leopard geckos also need some moisture in their tanks, particularly in the form of mist. This is particularly effective because it allows them to lick the water off surfaces such as rocks or logs, just like they do in the wild.

So it’s always a good idea to get a high-quality misting system and add a few rocks and logs to your gecko’s tank. Some leopard geckos will only take water this way, no matter how often you offer them water in a bowl. 

What’s more? The logs and rocks you add to your leopard gecko’s vivarium can also be used to create innovative hiding spots for them. To give the enclosure a more natural look, you can add a couple of plants. Just ensure that they are safe for your pet and don’t make up more than 20% of their habitat. After all, leopard geckos don’t need vegetation to stay healthy and happy. 

Should you add sand to your leopard gecko’s tank?

Since leopard geckos are desert reptiles, it is common for some pet stores to give you some sand with your initial purchase of pet supplies. However, it is not the best substrate for your pet’s tank, especially if they are a juvenile. Your pet can ingest the sand intentionally or unintentionally, leading to impaction. Also, using sand as a substrate can cause dust and promote the growth of mold/bacteria. 

So while sand looks natural, allows you to remove waste from your gecko’s habitat easily, and allows your pet to burrow in it, you’re better off with another substrate. More suitable alternatives include paper towels and newspapers. But if you want to stick with sand, wait until your leopard gecko is healthy and an adult.

Moreover, always use fine sand and feed your leopard gecko in another place outside their tank lined with paper towels instead. This will reduce the chances of your leopard gecko ingesting sand and getting impacted. Another way to prevent this is to feed your leopard gecko from a dish. 

Beyond these preventive techniques, monitoring your leopard gecko’s bowels movements is integral. Always look out for sand particles in your leopard gecko’s feces and any signs of a bowel obstruction.

If you notice that your leopard gecko has dark spots on its abdomen, has lost its appetite, is lethargic, or has a decreased bowel movement frequency, take them to the vet.

Remember, even if your sand substrate is labeled calcium-based and digestible, your leopard gecko will take a long time to digest it. As such, it can’t be considered completely safe. 

Relate: Should you use Calcium Sand in your leopard geckos tank?

How to use sand as a substrate for your leopard gecko’s tank

Truth be told, sand works best as a substrate when mixed with other materials. It particularly works well when mixed with potting soil and peat moss. 

Just ensure that the potting soil has no perlite and mix the materials in a ratio of 1:1:1. Afterward, apply the mixture to the bottom of your leopard gecko’s tank – 1.5 inches of it will be enough for the drainage of any plants in the tank.

After this first application, you can add a layer of 50:50 sand and potting soil before filling any gaps between rocks, logs, hides, and decorations with leftover sand. 

Final thoughts 

Fundamentally, leopard geckos are desert reptiles. But since different deserts have different features, you have some leeway when creating a habitat for your leopard gecko within your home. So don’t worry so much about incorporating sand into your gecko’s vivarium. Instead, ensure that they have conducive temperatures, enough food, enough water, the right humidity, and appropriate hiding spots!

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