As crepuscular creatures, how do leopard geckos navigate in the dark? Why do they need to see so well in the dark? Is it true that they can see colors in near pitch-black situations too?
How Well Do Leopard Geckos See In The Dark?
Leopard geckos can see extremely well in the dark. In fact, Leopard Geckos see at least 350 times better than humans in the dark. They can also distinguish colors in near pitch-black darkness.
Why Do Leopard Geckos Need To See In The Dark?
Leopard geckos, as mentioned above, are crepuscular creatures. This means they are most active during dawn and dusk when light is just breaking through or is slowly fading away.
They’re not limited to those times, though. Leopard geckos are opportunistic hunters. They can extend their hours well into the night or take on an irregular pattern of resting and being active throughout the day.
With limited illumination, creatures relying on sight would fail to catch their prey. This means they’d go hungry and eventually die.
In the leopard gecko’s case, they would not survive for long in the wild without highly advanced visual capabilities.
A Brief Discussion on Rods and Cones and Why Leopard Geckos See Colors In The Dark
Leopard geckos see colors even in the dark. They can tell the difference between dark blue, brown and gray in near pitch black, as seen in experiments held in controlled environments.
To us human beings, these colors are nearly impossible to tell apart in such poor lighting conditions.
Leopard geckos can do this because, over time, their eyes have evolved to become more efficient in the dark.
To understand this better, we isolate the main component in a retina responsible for receiving light. This is what we call photoreceptors. Photoreceptors come in rods and cones.
Most vertebrates, humans included, have rods and cones present in their retinas. Rods are mainly responsible for scotopic vision or seeing in the dark. Cones, on the other hand, are responsible for color perception, discernment, and discrimination.
There are three types of cones: S-cones (short-wavelength sensitive cones), M-cones (middle-wavelength sensitive cones), and L-cones (long-wavelength sensitive cones.
These cones react to higher light settings and allow the interpretation of color as the stimuli are received.
In the case of leopard geckos, their retinas are simple and contain only rods.
But, a closer examination of their somewhat rudimentary eyes reveals that these rods have undergone a transformation known as photoreceptor transmutation.
These rods, in essence, have cone-like qualities built into them.
This simplicity also means they are more efficient at picking up light transmissions and determining color simultaneously.
This ultimately explains how leopard geckos can see better at night and see color in near pitch-black conditions.
Note: this retinal feature is found in most nocturnal geckos leading to the debate that leopard geckos are more active at night rather than only at dusk and dawn.
Why Do Leopard Geckos Need Such An Efficient Eyesight In The Dark?
The next logical question at this point is: Why?
Why does a creature as small as a leopard gecko need such efficient eyesight in the dark?
Going back to the original premise of leopard geckos operating as crepuscular creatures, this means all of their activities are done in low or dark light settings.
They hunt, feed, and interact with other leopard geckos, in low-light situations.
Let’s focus on hunting. Leopard geckos are opportunistic hunters who will eat what they can fit into their mouths and bellies. This usually means a steady diet of small insects, invertebrates, and small, helpless mammals on rare occasions.
Leopard geckos rely on their strong eyesight to spot their prey in the dark. Having the ability to magnify what little light is available and interpret colors in the dark negates their regular prey’s attempts to camouflage themselves.
To a leopard gecko, a cricket using its natural color to hide in the foliage will still stand out due to its ability to tell where the insect is exactly regardless of lighting situation.
You can also observe this behavior with your pets by observing how efficiently they hunt inside their enclosure with little to no light present.
Why Do You Need To Know This?
Good exotic pet owners try their best to replicate the natural environment of their pet to give it a good quality of life. Check our past articles for more information on making your leopard gecko more comfortable in their enclosure.
Since this topic primarily covers how leopard geckos see in the dark, it’s only natural that we also discuss how light affects them in general.
As crepuscular creatures, leopard geckos have a daily cycle that includes when to rest and when to be active. Any disruption in this process can lead to stress or other health issues.
For example, a leopard gecko constantly bothered by lights being switched on and off will end up confused about whether it has to get up and hunt or rest.
To reduce this event, you have to situate their enclosure in a room where there is little to no external light disturbance. You also have to control the natural day-night cycle present in the room to instigate your leopard gecko’s daily routine of rest and being active.
So, does this mean you can only observe your leopard geckos while they’re sleeping?
Not necessarily. There are commercially available lights that you can buy to help you simulate low-light situations at night when your leopard gecko should be active.
UV bulbs use blue or red filters to reduce the overall brightness in your leopard gecko’s enclosure. They’ll benefit from the UV rays emitted by the light bulb and not have to suffer through too much brightness during their active hours.
Note: Although generally shy, there are some cases where leopard geckos enjoy bright lights during their active hours. Each individual is unique, and it’s fun finding out which type of leopard gecko you have.
Related: Why your leopard gecko sometimes stares at you
Which Type Of Light Should I Use In My Leopard Gecko’s Enclosure?
Although leopard geckos operate well in the dark, that doesn’t mean you can do away with lights in their enclosure. It is still important to have UV bulbs installed in their enclosure for lighting and metabolic purposes.
As most reptile owners know, these exotic pets almost seem to be solar-powered with the way they interact with the sun. In the case of leopard geckos, they don’t usually go out of their way to bask under the sun to get their metabolic processes in order.
Being crepuscular creatures, they rarely interact with the sun or receive UV rays, save for what little they can get at the break of dawn or the setting of the sun at dusk. Their UV exposure may be limited, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need it.
In fact, UVA and UVB emitting bulbs are known to help leopard geckos have better-balanced health and metabolic system.
To reduce the impact of these bulbs at night, you can opt to get colored bulbs that still provide illumination, albeit in a less-harsh manner than plain UV bulbs.
You could also opt for a programmable dimmer that simulates night and day perfectly. Set it so that it is at its brightest during the day when they are supposed to be sleeping and as dim as possible at night for their nocturnal activities.
You could just pull the curtains back during the day and turn all the lights off at night if you want a more natural approach to providing a rest-active cycle for your leopard gecko.
A Brief Introduction To UV Bulbs And What They’re Used For
There are 3 UV bulbs commercially available for exotic pet owners who keep reptiles indoors: UVA, UVB, and UVC.
UVA – This ultraviolet ray has the longest wavelength and is primarily responsible for regulating behaviors in reptiles. This helps instigate the rest-active cycle they need daily. UVA also affects feeding behaviors, movement, mating, and other crucial activities.
UVB is responsible for the absorption of calcium and synthesis of Vitamin D. Although leopard geckos don’t necessarily need this, it’s still good to equip their enclosure with one just in case you need it.
Place the UVB bulb in a highly accessible corner of the enclosure, preferably above the heating mat. This will encourage your leopard gecko to “bask” under it while enjoying the warmth delivered by the heating pad/mat.
Try to get a focused beam-type so the UVB doesn’t spread unnecessarily all over the enclosure.
Note: make sure the UVB bulb is on a timer as too much exposure to it could lead to “sunburn.” In the case of leopard geckos, they don’t need to bask under UVB lamps for too long as their thin, translucent skins are highly efficient in absorbing UV rays.
UVC – this is the type of Ultraviolet ray with the shortest wavelength and also the most dangerous.
Luckily, this is not “naturally” occurring as any UVC in the atmosphere is absorbed by the ozone layer.
However, we have man-made sources of UVC in the form of UV sterilizers. This is extremely harmful to animals and should only be used for cleaning and sterilization purposes.
UV Bulbs come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and power outputs. For leopard geckos, you are looking for focused beam types of bulbs that will direct the UV rays in one direction and not scatter it all over the enclosure.
You also need to ensure that it has a low power output so as not to be bright during usage.
Last but not least, invest in a thermostat, auto-dimmer, switch, and UV monitor to ensure your leopard gecko receives only the amount of light and UV it needs at any given time during the day.
Note: Leopard geckos see color even in near pitch-black situations, the color of the bulb you choose to install matters very little to these amazing creatures.
It is also unnecessary to install any UV lighting for your leopard gecko, but it’s never a bad thing to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.
How Does All Of This Information Tie Into One Another?
This article is primarily focused on the leopard gecko’s ability to see in the dark. We have already established that it has far beyond excellent eyesight as it goes about its nocturnal activities.
You also know that leopard geckos are highly reliant on their sense of sight for hunting and going about their daily business. Any change in the lighting situation can easily derail a leopard gecko’s normal routine.
Therefore, it is also highly imperative that you equip their enclosure with the right type of light to avoid being too disruptive to their normal schedule.
Caring for your leopard gecko’s eyes and overall health and well-being is rewarding as you enjoy your pet’s companionship over the years.
Understanding how your leopard gecko’s eyes work, their natural behavior in the wild, and providing the right amount of light and UV exposure is the key to achieving that.
This is just a small, specific aspect of caring for your leopard gecko.
We have other articles that discuss different aspects of caring for your leopard gecko in an in-depth manner. Find out more about how to care for your leopard gecko by going through our articles.
Here are some of the top articles we recommend:
How Many Crickets to Feed a Leopard Gecko (Weekly Feeding Schedule)
What Temperature Should a Leopard Gecko Tank Be?
Do Leopard Geckos Need a Heat Lamp?
Leopard geckos see very well in the dark. They see almost 350 times better than human beings in the darkness. They also see in technicolor.
Therefore, a leopard gecko’s eyesight, paired with their incredible sense of hearing and sensitivity to vibrations, makes it one of the most efficient hunters at night in their natural habitat. Take extreme care of their eyes and you’ll have a happy, healthy pet who’ll live a long life.