Keeping a leopard gecko for the first time can be confusing, especially if you don’t have the necessary information.
You need to make sure you fully understand their lighting and heating needs. In this article, we will look at UVB lighting and how to use it effectively to benefit your leopard gecko.
Do leopard geckos need UVB?
Leopard Geckos don’t need UVB. However, they can benefit from it. UVB helps your leopard gecko synthesize vitamin D3 and properly absorb calcium. UVB rays can boost your leopard gecko’s immune system and improve their health.
What is UVB?
Also known as ultraviolet B, UVB is a type of invisible ultraviolet ray present in sunlight.
Sunlight also contains UVA and UVC rays. In fact, sunlight is mostly made of UVA – all UVC and most UVB is filtered out by the atmosphere. These rays are usually absorbed by the ozone, carbon dioxide, oxygen, and water vapor they encounter on their way to earth.
When UVA and UVB reach earth, they cause sunburns and skin cancer in humans. However, they can benefit reptiles. There’s one major difference between UVB and UVA rays – the latter penetrates deeper than the former.
UVA helps reptiles in a different way than UVB – it helps them regulate functions like mating and feeding. On the other hand, UVC is known to kill fungi, viruses, and bacteria.
How can UVB exposure benefit leopard geckos?
When leopard geckos are exposed to UVB, they synthesize vitamin D3. A recent study shows that low exposure to UVB for only two hours a day can increase vitamin D3 synthesis by 50% in juvenile leopard geckos.
However, these high levels may not cause significant benefits, particularly because the chosen leopard geckos got vitamin D3 in their diet.
Ultimately, this means that your leopard gecko can get all the vitamin D3 they need from a dietary supplement, especially during the first 6 months of its life.
However, more research must be done to determine if the vitamin D3 increase associated with UVB can improve immunity or bone density in a leopard gecko already taking a supplement.
Whatever the case, though, there are no adverse effects of providing your leopard gecko with vitamin D3.
What will happen to your leopard gecko if they don’t get vitamin D3?
If you neither expose your leopard gecko to UVB nor provide a vitamin D3 supplement, geckos can easily get metabolic bone disease.
Leopard geckos find it hard to synthesize vitamin D3 without external help. This makes it hard for them to absorb calcium – vitamin D3 is a regulator in this process. Ultimately, it’s the resulting calcium deficiency that causes metabolic bone disease.
As its name suggests, this disease affects your leopard gecko’s bones and weakens them. Interestingly, metabolic bone disease is common in various reptiles and has similar symptoms. These include:
- Decrease in appetite
- Bowed legs
- Softening of the lower jaw
- Flexible lower jaw
- Problems raising their body off the ground
- Lumps on the jaw, spinal cord, and parts of the leg
If things get severe, your reptile could experience depression, seizures, twitches, lethargy, and weakness in the hind legs.
So if you notice any of these symptoms, you need to take your leopard to the vet – you can’t diagnose metabolic bone disease alone. Once you’re at the vet’s, they may ask you about what your leopard gecko eats, whether they get any UVB, and even take X-rays/blood tests.
If the vet concludes that your leopard gecko does have metabolic bone disease, they can prescribe treatment options like:
- More exposure to ultraviolet light
- Vitamin D3 and calcium supplements/injections
- Fluid therapy
- Calcitonin hormone injections
How can you provide your leopard gecko with UVB?
The best way to do this is to use UVB bulbs. You need to keep some things in mind when installing these bulbs, though.
A UVB light should be kept on for between two to twelve hours daily to provide the best possible benefit to leopard geckos.
You’ll need to place it around 18 inches from where your leopard gecko usually hangs out.
Remember that your leopard gecko can develop skin and eye problems if you leave the bulb on too long or place it too close to your reptile.
Another thing to remember is that there shouldn’t be any barrier between the bulb and your leopard gecko.
Even mesh could negatively affect the effectiveness of the bulb. But do you know what will really affect the efficiency of your UVB bulb? An extended use time – you should replace your bulbs every 12 months to counteract this.
How to choose UVB bulbs for your leopard gecko
The best option for leopard geckos is 5% to 6% UVB lights – albino reptiles need even less. The highest your gecko can handle is 10%.
Most lights that emit UV rays are fluorescent ones – the rest are mercury vapor ones. You need to be careful when using mercury vapor bulbs since they emit a lot of heat. You need to strictly monitor the temperature of your gecko’s tank when using them.
An 18-watt to 25-watt UVB bulb is best for leopard geckos. Whatever you do, though, never depend on incandescent bulbs or full-spectrum lights to provide UVB to your leopard gecko.
While the former doesn’t produce any UV radiation, the latter produces very little of it.
Remember to get light fixtures for the bulbs that you buy. While dome light fixtures are the best for UVB lights, you can also use strip light fixtures as well.
Related: Using a heat lamp for your leopard gecko
Should you turn on your leopard gecko’s UVB bulbs during the day or night?
Ideally, you should turn on your leopard gecko’s UVB bulb during the day and turn it off during the night. This is a great way to mimic the conditions these reptiles usually live in in the wild.
Can you use sunlight to provide UVB to your leopard gecko?
While sunlight does have UVB rays, it mostly has UVA rays. Moreover, a lot of the UVB in sunlight is usually blocked by windows.
To make matters worse, direct sunlight can easily cause your leopard gecko’s tank to overheat.
Since your leopard gecko can still get metabolic bone disease and even get overheated while being exposed to natural light, it doesn’t make sense to do so.
While leopard geckos don’t need UVB to survive, it can benefit them, particularly if they are not getting enough vitamin D3 in their diet.
So if you can afford it and it won’t inconvenience you, go ahead and get some UVB bulbs. If you choose the right bulbs, install them properly, and use them well, your leopard gecko will be more than fine.