Are Leopard Geckos happy or angry when wagging their tails? Is it normal for Leo to wag its tail, and should gecko owners be concerned? Here is all you need to know.
Leopard Geckos wag their tails to help reveal how they feel and as a form of communication. The main reasons leopard geckos will wag their tails are aggression, courtship, excitement, defensiveness, and competitiveness.
Why your Leopard Gecko is wagging its tail
First-time gecko owners are regularly surprised when first noticing their Leopard Geckos wagging their tails. Examining Leo’s behavior and studying how Leo wags its tail can provide helpful information on Leo’s feelings.
The majority of Leopard Geckos’ body language is expressed through the tail. How fast or slow the tail wags and Leo’s stance when wagging can provide reliable clues to their feelings and what they are trying to communicate.
Key tail wagging explanations
Tail wagging in Leopard Geckos is usually a sign of aggression or excitement. It is also commonplace for Leo’s to wag their tails as a defense mechanism or as a warning sign to others.
Here are some of the Leopard Gecko’s main tail wagging behaviors described and explained.
Fast tail wagging
If you spot Leo wagging or vibrating their tail rapidly, look around and see whether they are in the presence of any female Leopard Geckos.
Although both female and male Leo’s can wag their tails fast and energetically, the male will only behave this way during courtship with a female to display their interest. Tail wagging signals to the females that a male Leo is about, and tail wagging can continue throughout courtship and mating.
It is common for newbie gecko owners to get confused when seemingly spotting females wagging their tails during mating – only to realize later that the females were males battling for female attention.
Female Leopard Geckos can also be seen wagging their tails at males. This is usually defensive behavior used to communicate their uncertainty about the approaching male.
Several Leopard Gecko owners have described the male mating tail wagging as similar to that of a rattlesnake, where the tip of the tail rattles and shakes. This will usually be observed in males during the mating season between January and September.
Slow tail wagging
Slow tail wagging can be a sign of excitement in younger Leos or, alternatively, can be a means of revealing their presence to other Leopard Geckos.
Making themselves noticed
Leopard Geckos wanting to flaunt their presence may position their bellies lower to the ground while slowly wagging their tails. This is a deliberate wag and is also usually prevalent when introducing a new Leopard Gecko to a group of geckos. The wag is usually their way of determining what they think about their new inhabitants.
Juvenile Leopard Geckos tend to get excited more quickly, especially when eating or hunting prey. These younger Leo’s will wag their tails slowly in excitement. The tail wag will start slow and increase speed before launching at their prey when hunting.
Even though this excitable tail-wagging behavior is more common in younger Leo’s, it has still been observed in some adult Leopard Geckos from time to time. This is usually more prevalent when hunting for their favorite food.
Slow tail wagging is merely a sign of excitement and indicates a healthy, alert Leopard Gecko.
Defensive tail wagging
As the name suggests, defensive tail wagging is tail-wagging performed to distract attackers, bullies, or competition. This tail wagging is stressful for Leo, and if this defensiveness is prolonged, it can lead to tail dropping, affecting Leo’s fat stores and health.
The Leopard Geckos’ tactic to distract their enemies is wagging their tails defensively. The wagging is usually slow, a back-and-forth movement, and is generally accompanied by walking or standing on tiptoes. This forces the attacker to focus on Leo’s tail instead of their body and provides Leo with time to escape safely.
Typically, when wagging defensively, Leopard Geckos’ will lower their bellies to the ground and raise their heads higher. Leo will be able to stare and intimidate their attackers more in this heightened position.
Can Leo direct their defensive wag at me?
Yes, even your beloved Leo can wag defensively at you if they are not yet accustomed to you or their environment. This is observed more frequently in new Leo pets, where even a tiny movement near their enclosure can cause them to become defensive.
It is essential to stay patient with Leo and approach the enclosure slowly. Refrain from holding Leopard Geckos when their tails are wagging defensively, as this means they are in an agitated threatened state. A scared Leo can easily bite, especially if they feel the presence of someone they are not accustomed to.
Standing near the enclosure until Leo calms and lowering your hand in the enclosure, allowing Leo to inspect it in his own time, will help him grow more accustomed to you. Always handle Leo gently and never hold or pick up Leo by their tail.
Additionally, keep stress from their environment minimal by keeping pets and loud noise away from the enclosure.
Other defensive tail wagging explanations
Leopard Geckos that other geckos bully are also likely to act more defensively. This is particularly true when more than one male is housed in the same enclosure, leading to competition and fighting. Larger or older Leopard Geckos may also bully more undersized or juvenile geckos.
Constant bullying or fighting can lead to unhealthy stress levels, and Leopard Geckos can drop their tails in defense. Valuable fat stores are saved in Leo’s tail, and losing the tail can result in further stress, rapid weight loss, and other health issues.
Tail loss or tail injury from fighting can also lead to infection, leading to death if not treated. If you notice a swelling red tail that may be oozing, it is better to have it looked at by a vet and consider different housing options.
As touched on already, Leopard Geckos will drop their tails in times of severe stress or threat. This can be a lifesaving tactic, whereby the wriggling detached tail serves as a distraction for Leo’s escape.
Dropping the tail comes at a cost as the tail provides important energy fat stores for Leo. It takes approximately several months for the tail to regenerate, and with regular feeding and decreasing stress levels, Leo’s tail and health will return to normal.
Leopard Geckos have been known to eat their dropped tails to regain some of the lost fat stores.
Suppose you happen to notice a Leopard Gecko waving their tail slowly at another gecko, and you have established that the tail wagging is defensive. In that case, it is best to separate them immediately. Identifying the behavior early can help prevent severe injuries to your Leopard Geckos.
Helping your Leo after tail loss
Tail dropping is entirely natural and not something to panic about. Leo will be stressed after their tail detaches and will need time to relax undisturbed for up to an hour after.
If Leo shares an enclosure with other geckos, it would be best to remove or isolate them from the rest for a period. Remove any substrate that may get stuck in their wound and start an infection. You can also disinfect the tail with a cotton bud and disinfectant once Leo has calmed down.
Leopard Geckos will not drop their tails often and only do so in extreme situations. Much effort and resources are required to regrow a tail, and it is therefore kept as a last resort for Leo.
Reducing stress and avoiding tail loss
Continued defensive tail wagging should trigger alarm bells and prompt you to identify any issues causing Leo’s stress. Look at Leos’s environment inside and outside the enclosure and make changes to reduce unnecessary stress.
You do not want stress levels to worsen or become a constant, as this could trigger tail dropping, injury, or health issues. Monitor enclosure environment, house Leo with similar-sized geckos, do not house more than one male gecko in an enclosure, and control outside factors such as lighting, sounds, and pets.
Stress and tail dropping can be easily avoided if Leo’s behavior is closely monitored and action is taken immediately to correct any problems.
While entertaining to watch, tail wagging in Leopard Geckos can provide gecko owners with helpful information on Leo’s feelings and current state.
Tail wagging is usually harmless unless a result of stress or defensive behavior. Knowing the signs and what Leo is trying to communicate can help you decide whether any intervention may be needed.