The countless number of heating apparatuses and oodles of wide-ranging advice available to Leopard Gecko owners can make temperature control overwhelming. Find all you need to know about setting up an ideal habitat temperature.
Leopard Geckos require heat for their essential body functions and overall health. Thermometers, thermostats, heating pads, and occasionally overhead heating are required to maintain and monitor enclosure temperatures. Cool and warm zones are equally essential due to the Leopard Geckos’ necessity to self-regulate.
Leopard Geckos Natural Temperature in the Wild
Before explaining ideal tank temperatures and available heat sources, it makes sense to understand the Leopard Geckos’ natural habitat and how this may affect their basic needs in captivity.
Leopard Geckos originate from dry semi-desert areas where the climate remains hot for much of the year. Despite their origin, they do not have a high tolerance for heat, and sudden temperature fluctuations can affect their well-being.
Leopard Geckos are crepuscular, implying that they are more active at night when the sun goes down, and the light is not too bright. Cold-blooded creatures depend on their external heat source to stay warm. This heat source is acquired from basking and is absorbed from surfaces and not overhead sunlight.
Leopard Geckos need heat for proper digestion, breathing, waste removal, energy for reproduction and movement, and general health. Setting up an ideal temperature environment is a priority for Leopard Gecko owners. A leopard gecko can’t go long without heat.
Ideal enclosure temperatures
Leopard Geckos need an enclosure with a temperature gradient consisting of cool and warm zones.
Some expert gecko owners will try to simulate the winters or natural nightly drops in temperature to trigger brumation. This is best left to experts interested in gecko reproduction, as it can be tricky.
It is perfectly safe to maintain ideal temperatures throughout winter to avoid Leo entering brumation.
The cool side of your Leopard Gecko’s tank should be close to 75 degrees Fahrenheit (24 degrees Celsius) but can range between 74 and 80 degrees F (23 to 26 degrees C).
The warmer side of the enclosure should vary between 80 and 85 degrees F (26 to 29 degrees C). A temperature above 95 degrees F (35 degrees C) or below 60 degrees F (15 degrees C) is dangerously too hot or cold.
The Leopard Gecko’s basking area’s surface area should be the warmest part of the tank. The temperature of their humid hide should be around 83 to 90 degrees F (28 to 32 degrees C) with a humidity level of approximately 70 to 80% to allow for optimal shedding.
The basking surface temperature can sometimes be warmer at around 90 to 95 degrees F (32 to 35 degrees C) and is usually the warmest part of the enclosure. At night, you may like to reduce the temperatures from anywhere between 67 to 74 degrees F (19 to 23 degrees C) to simulate nature better.
Some expert Leopard Gecko owners may even reduce the nightly temperature to 61 degrees F (16 degrees C). Still, I would not recommend attempting this unless you have the knowledge to do so.
Nevertheless, you need to keep a delicate balance in your nightly temperatures; if temperatures are too high, your Leopard Geckos may have disrupted sleep, and if the tank is too cold, it may interfere with their digestion or lead to respiratory issues.
How best to monitor your tank temperature
The only way to monitor your enclosure temperature accurately and effectively would be with some handy gadgets. This is one time that temperature guesswork can lead to Leopard Gecko trouble.
A reminder that your tank should have a warm and cool side to allow Leopard Gecko self-regulation. For this reason, you need to be able to measure the tank surface and air temperature.
Ideally, you would like to have three thermometers. Digital thermometers trump analogs in accuracy, and an additional infrared thermometer is excellent for periodically checking hide temperatures or various tank spots.
Position a thermometer four to six inches above the ground in the cool tank zone and another in the warm area. Add an additional thermometer slightly above the floor on the warm zone side.
Even if you have a thermostat and heat mat, it is always best to have backup thermometers to ensure that your thermostat temperature does not need adjustment and is set correctly. External factors such as heaters, aircon, sunlight, or wind can cause temperature fluctuation.
A slight fluctuation of a couple of degrees should not be a concern, but if you notice a change of more than 2 degrees above or below the ideal temperature, you will need to make adjustments.
Thermostats are essential and a safe option when using a heat mat. Great for maintaining an ideal temperature and can last a long time if properly cared for.
When installing, remember to never place the thermostat probe between the heat pad and your tank, resulting in an incorrect reading. Alternatively, place the probe on top of the substrate in the warm area of your tank. Always purchase your heat mat first to ensure you utilize a compatible thermostat.
There are several thermostat options available. When purchasing, it is best to consider the probe cord length, water resistance, and replaceability. Safety features should be carefully checked, and add-on features such as day-night cycling or built-in timers can also be helpful considerations for more experienced owners.
If you are a techie, you may be interested in knowing that some thermostat models can be connected to your WiFi, allowing you to monitor your Leopard Geckos environment from a phone anywhere.
Under tank heating options
Numerous options are available for heating your Leopard Geckos enclosure, but some work better than others. How you heat your tank will also depend greatly on the tank size.
It is usually best to heat your tank with an under-tank heater rather than an overhead heater unless your tank is on the larger side. Ensure to cover at least one-third of the tank’s floor space with the heating pad and only add ceramic overhead lighting where a heat mat may not be sufficient.
A heating pad is the most popular, economical, and reliable way to heat your Leopard Gecko’s enclosure. Available in several sizes and brands, it is best to shop around and purchase a better-quality pad.
Heating pads are ideal for Leopard Geckos as they produce the surface heat that geckos need for heating when basking. Heat pads are perfect for heating a 20 to 30-gallon tank and should be controlled with a thermostat to prevent excess heating or burns.
A heating pad can be left on 24 hours a day to ensure a constant temperature as long as a thermostat is utilized and the temperature is correctly monitored.
Heat pads are attached to the bottom of enclosures. If you have a glass enclosure, remember to remove the wax paper and stick the pad to the underside of the tank.
If your tank is not already raised, use pegs on all four corners of the tank to allow it to fit the heat mat under it and to reduce any risk of overheating.
When utilizing a wooden enclosure, you must place the heat mat inside the habitat. Use heat tape and a barrier and cover with an appropriate substrate to protect Leo from the heat.
Never place the thermostat directly on the heat mat, but rather on the substrate of an area where your Leopard Gecko likes to hang out.
Recommended heat pad size and wattage
- 10-gallon tank requires four watts and a 4X5 inch (10X13 cm) heat pad.
- 10 to 20-gallon tank requires eight watts and a 6X8 inch (15X20 cm) heat pad.
- 30 to 40-gallon tank requires 16 watts and an 8X12 inch (20X30 cm) heat pad.
- 50 to 60-gallon tank requires 24 watts and an 8X18 inch (20X45 cm) heat pad.
Always test the output of your heat pad before installing it in your enclosure, and try not to move the heat pad once in place as it can easily damage the heating element.
Some newbie Leopard Gecko owners love heat rocks as they look great in an enclosure. I would stay clear of heat rocks as a heat source as they can get very hot and burn or injure your geckos.
Heat rocks can also malfunction, and if they are not warm enough, your Leopard Gecko may not remain warm enough and suffer from associated health conditions.
Overhead heating options
Various sized heat pads are available, but if your tank is larger than 20 gallons and your heat pad is not sufficiently heating your tank, you may need to supplement with some overhead heating.
Never rely on natural sunlight as Leopard Geckos do not naturally absorb their heat from above. They can easily overheat in direct sunlight or from an incorrectly managed overhead light source. Fluorescent bulbs can damage Leo’s delicate eyes, and infrared lights can be absorbed and cause dangerous tissue damage.
If you use a UVB light source, always choose a bulb with low wattage and a 5% UVB rating to avoid skin and eyes problems. Always check or replace bulbs every six months, as they degrade over time.
Red bulbs or UVB lighting are not usually recommended as the light can affect your Leopard Geckos circadian rhythm if left on at night. Your gecko’s eyes can also get damaged, especially in albino strains. If using a regular heat lamp, stick to a 50 to 70-watt option.
A ceramic bulb is an ideal alternate option if you need an additional heat source as it produces heat without emitting light. Remember to place the bulb high up in the enclosure where Leo cannot reach it and get burnt. Usually, a wattage of approximately 100 to 150 watts would be best, but this depends on your tank size and environment.
Temperature control should be one of a Leopard Gecko owner’s primary concerns. Leopard Geckos can develop severe health conditions if left too hot or cold. Using heat mats, thermostats, and thermometers and considering seasonal changes and changing environmental conditions will make Leo’s habitat comfortable and safe.