Leopard Gecko Death Roll (What Does it Mean?)

*This post contains affiliate links, if you buy through a link on this post we may receive a commission.

If you have kept leopard geckos for a long time, you have probably heard of the death roll. But what does this term mean?

The term death roll refers to when a leopard gecko flips over on its back and rolls. This phenomenon is neither natural nor voluntary in leopard geckos. On the contrary, it is an indicator of a severe health issue. 

What is a death roll and what does it mean?

When leopard geckos flip over on their backs and roll, it’s called a death roll. This action is a severe symptom of a neurological disease called Enigma Syndrome (ES)

This disease mainly affects your leopard gecko’s balance and awareness. While some claim that it can only develop in leopard geckos of certain types, this is false. Ultimately, Enigma Syndrome is genetic.  

Where did Enigma Syndrome come from?

Interestingly, Enigma Syndrome was widely unheard of before the mid-2000s. So even when leopard geckos eventually started death rolling in the mid-2000s, their owners were wondering what was happening. 

With a little digging, it was found that death rolling and Enigma Syndrome were caused by a genetic flaw resulting from selective inbreeding among leopard geckos. 

However, research on Enigma Syndrome is still inadequate. 

How does a leopard gecko get Enigma Syndrome?

The genetic flaw responsible for Enigma Syndrome is an autosomal disorder. This means that it’s caused by mutations in chromosomes that aren’t responsible for the sex of your leopard gecko. 

Keep in mind that leopard gecko cells contain 19 pairs of chromosomes, and each gecko has two copies of each gene. These copies are called alleles. While some alleles are dominant, others are recessive – the former type has a stronger effect than the latter. 

It’s therefore not surprising that a single dominant mutated allele can lead to Enigma Syndrome symptoms. After all, this disease is inherited in an autosomal dominant pattern. 

This means that for a leopard gecko to develop symptoms and even pass on the disease to its offspring, it needs to have at least one dominant ES-causing gene. 

So if we use A to symbolize the dominant gene and a to symbolize the recessive one, this means:

  • Leopard geckos with two dominant alleles (AA) exhibit ES symptoms and can pass them to their offspring.
  • Leopard geckos with a dominant and recessive allele (Aa) exhibit ES symptoms and can pass them to their offspring.
  • Leopard geckos with two recessive alleles (aa) don’t exhibit any symptoms of ES and can’t pass it along to their offspring.

The first group of leopard geckos is referred to as homozygous dominant (AA) while the other two are referred to as heterozygous (Aa) and homozygous recessive (aa), respectively. 

Generally, homozygous dominant animals don’t make it to birth – they are usually miscarried. 

As such, most leopard geckos that are alive and suffering from Enigma syndrome symptoms are heterozygous ones. 

Keep in mind that some of these leopard geckos have milder symptoms than others. The more stressed your gecko is, the worse its symptoms are. 

Whatever the case, know that any leopard gecko suffering from ES symptoms has at least one parent suffering the same fate. Generally, one heterozygous parent has a 50% chance of passing on ES to their offspring. 

Keep in mind that since leopard geckos don’t have sex chromosomes, female and male offspring have the same chance of inheriting this disease. 

How does the Enigma Syndrome affect your leopard gecko’s brain?

While there are many possible explanations for how the ES gene affects brain function, one of the most popular ones is that it disrupts the cells responsible for coordinated movement. 

It does this by producing misfolded protein molecules that react with normal proteins and clump them up. This causes disruption of structural organization and cell functioning, leading to cell death. 

Eventually, this can lead to the destruction of parts of the brain. However, more research needs to be done to ascertain that this is the main way that this gene works. 

What are the other symptoms of Enigma Syndrome?

Apart from death rolling, ES has symptoms like:


Since ES affects your leopard gecko’s balance, it can make it walk around in circles as if it’s running after its tail. 

This can happen occasionally or frequently. To help your leopard gecko retain some semblance of balance and recover from nausea that circling causes, dim the lights when you see them do this. 


While leopard geckos stare a lot, stargazing can be a telling sign that yours has ES. Usually, leopard geckos with ES stargaze to stabilize themselves.

Head tilting

Another sign that your leopard gecko has ES is that it walks around with its head tilted to awkward angles. However, this can also be a sign of malnutrition or an ear infection.

Inability to catch prey

One of the earliest symptoms that your leopard gecko has ES is that it struggles to catch prey. 

This is a sign that your reptile’s awareness has been compromised. 

However, you can help your reptile out during this difficult time. For one, you can chill its worms before offering them, making them slower than usual. 

Odd hiding habits

ES can negatively affect your leopard gecko’s ability to make decisions, so it can drive them to hide in the strangest places. It can even make them start frequenting parts of their habitat that they never did before. 

Tremors and seizures 

ES can make your leopard gecko lose control of their muscles, making them shake whenever they try to stand or move around. 

In more severe cases, this disease can even cause seizures. However, you can easily miss this symptom unless you know what a leopard gecko seizure looks like. 

It can manifest as limpness in limbs, inability to move, and sometimes screaming

What can be done to help leopard geckos with Enigma Syndrome?

Once your vet ascertains that your leopard gecko has ES, they can prescribe some new treatment options, like clinical trials of anti-epileptics. 

However, this disease is still incurable at this time. Your vet can just help you manage it by using medication and lifestyle changes. 

Ultimately, the best way you can help a leopard gecko with ES is to remove any environmental stressors from its life. 

Should you breed a leopard gecko with Enigma Syndrome?

Because of how severe ES can get, it’s not advisable to breed any leopard gecko carrying it. 

It’s even tricky breeding a leopard gecko you suspect is homozygous recessive. Such a leopard gecko can suddenly start exhibiting symptoms after breeding/hatching and even pass on ES to their offspring. 

Ultimately, the only way to ensure that the leopard gecko you’re planning to breed is free of the ES-causing gene is by taking them for whole genome sequencing. 

Final thoughts 

If you catch your leopard gecko death rolling, take them to the vet immediately. This is a major symptom of Enigma Syndrome that warrants immediate medical intervention. 

With some luck, your vet can guide you on how to eliminate the chances of this happening again. If you stick to what your vet tells you, your leopard gecko can live a longer and richer life. 

Leave a Comment