Is digging a normal behavior for Leopard Geckos, or should gecko owners be concerned? Leo may dig for several reasons, and some may demand your attention. Find all the explanations and advice here.
Leopard Geckos dig for various reasons, such as during times of stress, hiding from the heat or predators, searching for food, out of boredom, or looking to lay their eggs. What’s more, they sometimes dig purely instinctually or out of curiosity.
Seven reasons your Leopard Gecko is digging
A digging Leopard Geckos may look cute, but it commonly sets off anxiety in new exotic pet owners.
Digging is a completely natural behavior and usually does not call for alarm. Despite this, if your leopard gecko digs due to stress, boredom, or defensiveness, you may need to assist or make changes to prevent associated health conditions.
Heat and temperature regulation
Leopard Geckos originate from arid desert-like regions and are used to sheltering from the heat during the day and coming out when it’s cooler to hunt for food.
Leopard Geckos will dig in the substrate to find a cooler place to hide from the heat and sunlight. If the heat in your enclosure is too high and Leos do not have sufficient areas for hiding, they will resort to digging to find relief.
Leopard Geckos should have a hot and a cool zone in their enclosures. The hot zone should be at an average temperature of approximately 87 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit (30 to 32 degrees Celsius), and the cool zone should be about 74 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (23 to 26 degrees Celsius).
Great care should be taken to provide the optimal temperatures for your Leopard Gecko. Adding three thermometers in your enclosure in different zones and positions and installing a thermostat will help Leo maintain perfect hot, cold, and moist conditions.
If Leo is digging, it is essential to check your enclosure temperature first. In addition to this, monitor external factors such as sunlight or room heating that may be causing the tank’s temperatures to rise.
If Leopard geckoes are hot and no hides or accessories are available for them to hide in, they will get stressed and possibly even ill. Leopard Geckos need hides to stay cool, sleep in, and hide in when stressed.
Provide your Leopard Geckos with at least three hides. One hot, cold, and moist hide. This will prevent your Leo from digging out of frustration and stress.
Leo is shedding
If your enclosure does not have hides or appropriately moist hides for Leo, they may stress and battle when shedding.
Your Leopard Gecko may dig in the substrate out of stress and frustration if they are uncomfortable and unable to shed correctly due to the wrong temperature conditions. This type of stress can make them lose their appetite and become ill.
If Leo’s coloration has become duller or a greyish-white and they are digging, shedding may be the likely cause.
Leo is stressed
As already pointed out, stress can affect Leo’s health if not corrected and allowed to continue long term. Leo will usually appear greyer or duller in color when stressed or about to shed, making it easier to identify.
Leopard geckoes can become stressed for several reasons but the most common reason for digging when stressed would have to be irritation. Irritation is typically caused by the wrong enclosure substrate hurting or bothering their delicate bodies or if they are suffering from impaction due to ingested loose substrate.
Be mindful when selecting an appropriate substrate for Leo’s enclosure. Paper towels, newspaper, reptile carpets, and smooth stones are better options than loose substrates such as sand which can be abrasive on Leo’s skin.
Your female Leos are ready to lay eggs
If you do not have an appropriate moist hide for your female Leopard Geckos, they will dig around to find a suitable spot to lay their eggs. This can be stressful for your Leopard Gecko.
It is essential to provide the correct substrate for your Leopard Gecko to ensure the best chance of egg survival and prevent Leo from becoming egg-bound or stressed. Female Leopard geckos can still lay unfertilized eggs and will lay eggs even if no males are present in their enclosure.
Adding vermiculite, coconut soil bedding, or sphagnum moss to your hides or in your enclosure and misting the moss, when necessary, will help provide an appropriate egg-laying area for your Leo. The moss should be moist but not wet, mimicking the feeling of fresh earth.
Digging in preparation for egg-laying is a natural female Leo behavior. If it is around the January to September mating season or your Female Leo has reached the nine or 10-month-old age, monitor their behavior when digging. If egg laying is suspected, ensure to maintain suitable enclosure conditions.
Leo is hiding
If your Leopard Gecko feels threatened, it will dig to hide and protect itself. A perceived threat may be inside or outside the enclosure and can cause your Leo unnecessary stress.
Provide your Leopard Gecko with hides to hide in, and make sure that any visitors or children are educated on how to handle Leo before attempting to do so. Keep the enclosure away from any pets or loud noises that may startle Leo and ensure that the threat is not, in fact, larger Leopard Gecko bullies.
Monitor Leos’s behavior to pinpoint the cause of the threat and try to make changes to the enclosure environment as soon as possible. If your Leopard Gecko’s tail is waving, they are eating less and digging to hide excessively; then they are most likely feeling threatened.
Instinct, fun, and curiosity
Digging can be a very regular activity for Leo. Sometimes they dig out of curiosity or boredom, and occasionally, they dig for no reason.
If Leo is digging out of boredom, you may like to try adding some additional accessories, plants, or hides to your enclosure for them to explore and stay engaged. Don’t overfill your enclosure with accessories, as Leo also needs space to move around freely.
Leopard geckos love to dig and are naturally curious creatures. Sometimes digging can be a fun pastime or naturally instinctive behavior. If Leo is digging on the odd occasion, this is most likely out of curiosity. If the digging is more frequent, boredom may need to be considered.
Searching for food
Leopard Geckos naturally forage and dig around for their food in the wild. Since Leopard Geckos originate from arid desert-like regions; they usually need to dig deep to find insects to eat. It is much harder to find food in an arid environment.
You can provide your Leopard Gecko with a challenge or additional stimulation by hiding food in their enclosures for them to find or hunt. Alternatively, add a shallow dish with insects covered in the substrate for your Leopard Gecko to dig out and find.
Just a reminder to remove any ‘hidden’ food in your enclosure if Leo does not find it and eat it to avoid your enclosure becoming unsanitary.
Make sure that Leo is also not digging for food due to a lack of food supply and hunger. Juvenile Leopard Geckos require more food than adult Leopard Geckos. If your adult Leopard Gecko has a plump, healthy-looking tail, you don’t need to worry.
If Leo is digging and burrowing repetitively, they may be stressed due to a lack of space to move around. Leopard Geckos need sufficient space to run around to exercise sufficiently and stay healthy.
According to PETMD, the minimum size terrarium you want for a single Leopard Gecko is 10 gallons (45 Liters), and for a pair, you would need at least a 15 gallon (68 Litre) tank. For any more geckos, you are looking at a 20-gallon (90 Litre) tank or larger.
In general, one would increase the enclosure size by approximately 5 gallons (38 Litres) for every new gecko you add. As Leopard Geckos spend most of their time on the ground, a long and relatively shallow tank is usually best.
Be careful also not to add too much substrate or accessories to your Leopard Gecko’s enclosure, as this can overcrowd the area and leave Leo with limited space to move around.
While digging can be natural instinctive Leopard Gecko behavior, it can also result from egg binding, boredom, overheating, or excessive stress from a perceived threat.
Keep an eye on your Leopard Gecko when it digs, and if none of the commented-on reasons seem likely, it may be best to visit a local exotic vet for a check-up. It is always best to eliminate any concerns early on to avoid future health issues.