Are Leopard Geckos Smart? (13 Interesting Facts)

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No matter which type of pet you have, it’s normal to wonder about their intelligence. This is a common concern among leopard gecko owners – one that we intend to explore in this post.

Leopard geckos are fairly smart for reptiles. But while they do have the intelligence required to survive daily life challenges and fend for themselves, they are far from the smartest creatures in the animal kingdom. Reptiles are generally considered among some of the least intelligent animals.

leopard gecko reading book

How smart are leopard geckos?

While there hasn’t been much scientific research done on the intelligence of leopard geckos, some of their behaviors and characteristics do point to a level of intelligence

These include:

Their survival instincts are strong

If there’s one thing that proves that the brains of leopard geckos are active, it is their strong survival instincts. These reptiles will run and hide when in danger, but they will also camouflage themselves when confronted by predators like snakes and foxes. What’s more? Some even burrow holes during the day to avoid predators and heat. 

Another thing leopard geckos do to avoid getting caught by predators is shedding their skin. This reduces their chances of getting tracked and detected, keeping them safe. And when they do get caught, some leopard geckos will even detach their tails willfully to escape or distract predators. 

They recognize their owners

Over the years, it has become clear that leopard geckos can recognize their owners. This is why they can become relaxed and more comfortable when their owner is around. Some can even recognize the touch of their owner and become less aggressive when petted by them. Some leopard gecko owners even claim that their pet knows their name and responds positively when they hear it.

They can determine the sex of other leopard geckos

One of the most interesting things about leopard geckos is that they can smell the sex pheromones of their peers. This information usually helps them adjust their behavior based on the sex of the other geckos surrounding them. For instance, since male leopard geckos are territorial, they will behave aggressively when surrounded by other males. 

However, when they sense that they are interacting with a female, they will immediately stop that and switch to courtship behavior. 

They can hunt and catch prey

We can all agree that hunting and catching prey isn’t an easy feat, especially when your sustenance depends on it. As such, the ability of leopard geckos to consistently do this is not only impressive but also demonstrates a certain level of intelligence. 

They can identify different colors, even at night

Since leopard geckos are more active during the night, they have adapted to identify different colors in the dark. This is a unique ability that helps them survive.

They can communicate

As anyone who has ever owned a leopard gecko can tell you, these pets produce a lot of interesting sounds – this is how they communicate. So depending on whether they are hungry, angry, or happy, they can hiss, scream, bark, squeak, or even chirp. While we still don’t fully understand what each sound means, it’s a clear sign of the intelligence of these geckos. 

Another way that leopard geckos communicate is through tail wiggling. This is how they introduce themselves to other leopard geckos and notify them of their presence. Generally, a slow wiggle is an introduction while a vigorous wiggle is offensive/defensive, indicating that the gecko is attacking/being attacked, is irritated, or feels threatened. In such cases, the leopard gecko is using their tail as a distraction since it’s disposable. Interestingly, male leopard geckos use specific wiggles to introduce themselves to females. 

How are leopard geckos less intelligent than other animals?

As we have said before, leopard geckos aren’t the smartest creatures – they’re not even close. Some signs that point to this include:

They have small brains

Generally speaking, the bigger an animal’s brain, the smarter they are. And if there’s one thing we know about leopard geckos’ brains, it’s that they are small. That’s why experts believe that larger reptiles like iguanas, monitor lizards, and tegus are more intelligent than leopard geckos.

They are inbred 

Modern-day captive leopard geckos are a product of massive inbreeding, particularly because pet owners were looking for unique color combinations. As such, they have more brain injuries and deformities than wild leopard geckos. Ultimately, this makes them more docile and have a poorer cognitive function. This can even negatively affect their survival instincts. 

Their focal lengths are short

While geckos have good night eyesight, their focal length is quite short – they can’t see more than a few feet away. This leads to poor depth perception and makes it hard for them to see the world as it is. As such, it is hard for them to quickly identify dangers and react accordingly. It even affects their hunting efficiency and ability to see holes as they walk. 

They struggle with socializing with other leopard geckos

Generally, leopard geckos don’t enjoy spending time with their peers and prefer to be alone or in small groups. In fact, keeping more than three leopard geckos together in one vivarium usually leads to fights and other territorial behavior. These geckos have even been known to slap and even bite each others’ tails. 

Are leopard geckos instinctual or logical?

A lot of leopard geckos’ intelligent traits are instinctual and not logical. For instance, their propensity to run away or camouflage when in danger is simply a fight or flight response, not something they strategically think about. Even the sounds they make are instinctual. As far as we know, leopard geckos can’t think and reason out circumstances. 

These abilities are usually associated with humans and more intelligent animals like dogs. A good example of leopard geckos’ lack of logical thinking is their propensity to engage in unreasonable and mostly preventable fights with each other. 

Can leopard geckos learn new behavior?

For the most part, leopard geckos don’t learn new behavior and can’t be trained. However, you can create an instinctive reflex in them, causing them to react to particular cues. For instance, if you want them to come to eat whenever you bring food to their tank, you can tap the tank whenever you do so. Since leopard geckos love food, they will quickly associate your taps with feeding times and run to you whenever they hear them.

This is particularly helpful in cases where they were hiding beforehand. However, such cues usually only work for things that your leopard gecko loves or finds interesting. Fortunately, leopard geckos already have useful habits around common pet problem areas. 

For instance, you don’t even have to worry about where they defecate – they are naturally potty trained. They will choose one corner of their vivarium and go there almost every time. Another typical behavior among leopard geckos is vivarium climbing. All of them will do this at some point to escape unfavorable conditions. This behavior could indicate that:

  • There are mites in the vivarium or on the leopard gecko
  • The leopard gecko is being attacked by its peers
  • The vivarium is too cold or hot 
  • The vivarium is not big enough and doesn’t have enough climbing surfaces and hiding spots 

There is even some evidence that leopard geckos can learn to respond to their own name.

Do leopard geckos have feelings?

While many pet owners think their leopard geckos have feelings, they don’t. Even though they exhibit social traits like smiling and being friendly, they aren’t social animals. In fact, unlike social mammals, their brains don’t have parts responsible for social bonding and high-level emotional processing. This means they can’t truly bond with you or even have a personality. 

Also, while they can enjoy the warmth of human touch, they neither need it nor long for it. Constantly touching them and trying to put them on your shoulder can even make them stressed and overwhelmed. Ultimately, each gecko has preferences that make it unique – it’s up to you to find out those of your pet. 

Are some leopard geckos smarter than others?

No, all leopard geckos have the same level of intelligence. They can all communicate, hunt, and identify colors in the dark. The only thing that makes them different is their behavioral quirks and preferences. For instance, some vocalize more while others hide more. Some even prefer certain foods that their counterparts don’t.

Final thoughts 

While leopard geckos have some level of intelligence, they are still considered some of the most primitive creatures. Generally, they are just smart enough to survive and procreate. It’s therefore not surprising that captive leopard geckos are usually docile – they don’t need to fight off enemies or compete for a mate. However, this shouldn’t matter in the grand scheme of things – you should love your leopard gecko regardless. And if you’re a busy person, the fact they aren’t geniuses saves you the time you would have spent entertaining them instead!

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