Native Habitat of the Leopard Gecko & Setting up a Natural Enclosure

Leopard Gecko

The leopard gecko is the most common pet reptile in homes today. They're small and easy to care for. They come in a variety of colors and have a very docile temperament.

Leopard geckos are just overall one of the best beginner reptiles.

The biggest misconception about leopard geckos is that their native habitat is on sand. They're desert animals so it must be sand... Right? .... Wrong...

What is a Desert?

Leopard geckos are from the rocky deserts of Pakistan, India, and Afghanistan. This is a given.

But, what most people don't quite understand is that desert land is technically land of sparse vegetation and minimal rainfall and precipitation.

Desert does not mean dirt and sand. In reality only 20% of the Earth's deserts are composed of sand. Nearly all deserts are composed of rock and pebbles. There are of course several different types of deserts, each with slightly different environments and characteristics, but that of the leopard gecko is that composed of rock and compacted sand.

Setting up a Leopard Gecko Enclosure

Maybe you're asking why pet store employees throw that bag of sand in your buggy when you're making all your initial purchases. If it's not any good or natural for them, why do they promote it as such.

Simple. people tend to buy what they think is natural, and well whatever the guy at the pet store tells them they're going to need. Sand, either a play sand, vita- sand, or calci- sand, is the ideal of what a desert is, so it's sold for desert animals.

Don't buy it. Not even if you want to set up a naturalistic enclosure for your leopard gecko.

If you want to set up a naturalistic leopard gecko enclosure, you can and it's simple. The best way to go about it, is to go to Lowes or another home department store and purchase a box or two of slate tiles. Tiles come in a variety of colors and patterns. Use these in your tank to create a natural feel for the substrate. You may, also, want to consider adding a fake rock design to the enclosure.

If you want to go even more naturalistic, you can will want to make sure that about 40% of the enclosure is covered with rock and 10- 20% covered with live plants.

Mix fine- grained play sand, potting soil (without perlite- the white balls), and peat moss mix together at a 1:1:1 ratio, and place about 1- 1/2" of the mix at the bottom of the tank to serve as drainage for the plants. Go ahead and add the plants now. Cover the drainage material with sand/ soil mix (50:50 ratio), and then put the rocks and wood decorations in the tank. Fill any gaps with fine play sand.

Because about 60% of your tank will be of plants, tile, and wood, most of the sand will be covered, reducing the risk of sand ingestion.

Plant Safe for Reptiles

Because you want to make sure to include live plants, you want to make sure to know which plants are safe for reptiles and leopard geckos.

  • Aansevierias: snake plants such as Sansevieria trifasciata, S. t. hahnii, S horwoodii, S. kirkii pulchra, S. patens, and S. singularis
  • Zamioculcas zamiifolia
  • Cucurbits: such as Xerosicyos danguyi and Momordica rostrata
  • Yemen grape: Cissus rotundifolia
  • Euphobias: E. geroldii and the hybrid E. milli x E. lophogona
  • "Bonsai" plectranthus: such as Swedish ivy (Plectranthus ernstii)
  • Other plants can include: climbing aloe (Alo cilias), elephant bush (Portulacaria afra), and the Mexican caudexed fig (Ficus petiolaria)

For More Information

If you really want to set up a natural enclosure for your leopard gecko, you should really purchase The Herpetoculture of Leopard Geckos by Ron Tremper, Philippe de Vosjoli, and Roger Klingenberg.

The trio goes into great detail about setting up and properly caring for a natural enclosure for leopard geckos.

They discuss feeding techniques to further reduce risk of ingesting the loose sand that is visible, heating methods, and more.

NOTE: If you choose to go the all natural route, you cannot use a 10 gallon aquarium. You must get something at least a 20 gallon long (even a 29 has the same surface as a 20 long, so that's not going to matter). Because at least 20% of the surface will be covered with plants and such, you will take away from the start 20% or more of the surface for your leopard gecko. It's best to create a natural enclosure in a 40 gallon breeder.

NOTE: Just because you're creating a natural setting, it doesn't mean that you can house males together, adults and babies, etc. Yes, in The Herpetoculture of Leopard Geckos, the trio discuss an experiment that was successful as such, but remember that they have years and years of experience behind them. SO, it's best not to do it on your own, and no 3 years isn't enough experience to simulate the experiment at your home.

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Comments 156 comments

Nathan 7 weeks ago

all Euphorbia produce POISONOUS latex!

Ted. 11 months ago

How is sand/topsoil/Peat natural for southwestern Asia desert tank, but playsand isn't?

If one is truly going natural, a mix of sand/silt/clay (mixed so it dries hard) would be far more realistic

da beast 4 years ago

i just got a 5 month old lepoard gekoo from the store he will eat unil i don't have any crikcets left how many crickets and mealworms should i be feeding him a day.

simply4smiles 4 years ago

I am getting ready to purchase a gecko, according to the pet store it is a leopard gecko. I have a 70 gallon take that I want to set up for this new family member, but i want it to be as natural as possible. my concern is live plants, what would be the best to get? I don't want to put something in there that will hurt him or her

Whitney05 profile image

Whitney05 5 years ago from Georgia Author

I would recommend bringing the gecko inside, removing the light as it's doing nothing except providing light, and adding an under tank heater for heat.

Grandma and the Gecko 5 years ago

I am babysitting my grandson's gecko. My daughter put a lightbulb at the top of one side of the cage but I decided to put him on my screened-in porch which has a ceiling fan. The gecko is in his cage in the corner with no direct sunlight and with the lamp off. It may get to be about 93 degrees with humidity. If I put a tile on one side of the bottom of the tank, will that keep him cool?

Louise 5 years ago

Hey, I'm just getting a leopard Gecko from people I know who have had him for a while and honestly they have not taken very good care of him. He is currently in a ten gallon tank, with sand as the substrate, and just a stick and a little log and hideout.. He is skinnier than he should be and his colors are dull. I Said that I would take him off their hands for them and give him a good home and they agreed. So now here I am doing research to figure out what I can do for this little guy. I have a larger tank for him but I have to get it all set up before I can take him and I want to go natural but obviously get rid of the sand so I really like your idea of live plants with soil under slate. My question is, I have access to a heat lamp for him to put over one side of the enclosure but do you think it's a better idea to have a heating pad underneath? Also, I was looking at him yesterday and I noticed that the tips of his front fingers are... well it looks like they are falling off... or burned off or something?? not burned like too much heat... but more like, some of the skin from his shedding is kinda suck on there but the tips are definitely not right... I don't know how to explain it... perhaps I can try to get a picture. I guess my question is, I've heard that some reptiles can grow their tails back, and I know that amphibians can grow limbs back... do you think if I can manage to get him more healthy that his fingers will grow back? Have you ever heard of anything like this before?

Sorry for the long post... Any info you have would be appreciated!


Whitney05 profile image

Whitney05 5 years ago from Georgia Author

It's not the age, but the weight. The female should be at least 55 grams. Remember that they lay 2 eggs at least once every 4-6 weeks for several months. Make sure to have housing for the hatchlings.

You cannot tell the age unless you know the day it was hatched, which you wouldn't know unless you purchased from a breeder, which is actually the safest means to getting a healthy reptile.

Autumn  5 years ago

And another thing how do u tell the age of a L.gecko?

Autumn  5 years ago

i ment does sry

Autumn 5 years ago

i have two lepord geckos a male and a female i was wondering what age do a lepord gecko have to be to lay eggs?

Garrett 5 years ago

I love the Leopard Geckos I have. There just so hugable!

Whitney05 profile image

Whitney05 6 years ago from Georgia Author

First off, wood is a no-no with these guys. You want to start them off with paper towels, tile, or reptile carpet. The wood will make feeding hard, as crickets will hide under the chips.

They don't need lighting. Make sure to provide an under tank heater, as this will be the main source of heat.

If they are 7 months old, they are both sexable. I would recommend two tanks.

I also do not recommend taking all your advice from pet store employees, especially since the one you spoke with could not sex your two geckos.

caroline 6 years ago

i have just bought 2 geckos from the pet shop also tank with lights heated mat wood chippings what can i get to put in the vivarium plants/ toys /and were from also i don't know wat sex they are the lady told me they were 7 month old and on reading ure site i am a bit worried if they might start fighting in the future wat is the beast book site ect to learn from for begginers

Whitney05 profile image

Whitney05 6 years ago from Georgia Author

I think all if fine except for the sand. Hard to say about the temps, unless you're monitoring them with a digital thermometer with a probe, if that the case, then they will do. 95 is a tad high though.

Anthony 6 years ago

Hello, I am just wondering if you think my setup is adequate. I have had my gecko for 3 1/2 years and she is about 8-9years old. I got her in somewhat bad condition but she is much better now with a nice fat tail.

I have a 10 gallon tank with a ramp that goes halfway up the tank and provides a 1x1' second level where I keep a moist hide water dish and some fake vegetation. It is in fact a floor tile and it's on the cool side, the second level itself makes yet another hide underneath it. That's conveniently the spot my gecko likes to I have to remove it to clean the remains lol. The rest of the tank is just standard 10 gallon with sand, under the tank heater on the warm side(opposite of the two leveled side). I have papertowel under the sand by the UTH which makes the temperature about 95f, he usually only lays there after hes eaten. Obviously to help with digestion, the ambient air temperature usually stays around 78f in the day and 74f at night.

Whitney05 profile image

Whitney05 6 years ago from Georgia Author

If you don't know what the sexes are and they have been living together for 5 years, then they are more than likely both females.

Typically, you DO NOT want to house geckos together especially if you do not know their gender. It's ignorant to house them together without the proper information and sex determination.

100F is too hot. Are you using a digital thermometer with a probe to measure the surface temperatures? If not then the temperature degree that you're reading may not even be accurate.

Dan 6 years ago

Hi great site so many questions.I have two L.geckos about 5years old never checked sex bought at a reptile show one grew much bigger than the other does that mean anything?they never fight they seem to be very social to each other. I use a heat pad to one side and have always had one spot that seems to hot about 100 degrees and one of them always seems to hang out in that spot is that very bad?one last what temp. should the cool side be?Thanks

Whitney05 profile image

Whitney05 6 years ago from Georgia Author

Lowes or a home department store. I wouldn't put a lot of playsand, as sand isn't their natural habitat.

Ariel 6 years ago

hey there i have had a leopard gecko for over a year now. and i work at a pet store actually but they don't have much there for her habitat, i was wondering where i could find everything cause right now she has reptile carpet. and i want something to make her feel at home. i am upgrading her tank as soon as i can find all the items she needs. like live plants and some play sand. cause all i have been able to find is calci-sand i have always avoided it.

thank you:)

Whitney05 profile image

Whitney05 6 years ago from Georgia Author

Not if you're a beginner. I suggest just starting with learning basic care before trying to set up a natural enclosure.

j doug 6 years ago

im gonna get a leopard gecko . is it ok i us sand , rock , moss , and fake plants

Whitney05 profile image

Whitney05 6 years ago from Georgia Author

You want an all natural soil that has no perlite or fertilizer. Robin hood topsoil is a good brand. There are different types, but they do have a soil-only that I use with my tortoises, and would be safe for a gecko.

Samma 6 years ago

When purchasing potting soil, do I need to avoid any and all soils with added fertilizer? Most bagged dirt has additives for improved growth, and goodness knows if it's chemical or nutrient based. Would it be better to use a certified organic soil, or to dig dirt out of my compost pile?

Whitney05 profile image

Whitney05 6 years ago from Georgia Author

You would just pick out the poo. When cleaning a natural enclosure, it's a little more complicated, but since they tend to go in one spot, the most you could really do is spot clean. If you opted to completely clean out the tank, you would have to remove the plants.

jockobono profile image

jockobono 6 years ago

I'm sorry if I missed it but how do you clean a naturalistic gecko enclosure that is covered with live plants and tiles and sand? How do you pick up the feces and dirt? Right now I have paper towels on the bottom and I can clean every day. I cannot figure out how I would clean a naturalistic setup.

Whitney05 profile image

Whitney05 6 years ago from Georgia Author

There isn't any need for a day or night light. The undertank heater really should be on one side, not in the middle. If you opt to use a light during the day, keep it on the same side as the under tank heater, in order to provide a proper hot/cool side. You want to trash the stick-on thermometer, as it is just measuring your glass temperatures and air temperatures. The gecko isn't sticking to the mid-height of the tank, so the temperatures that it's reading aren't important. You want a digital thermometer with a prob to measure that surface temperatures where the gecko is.

The kits are typically nothing but crap, having sand and whatnot that you can't use. It's cheaper to buy the products individually, so that you know you're getting the right stuff.

Leave the gecko alone for up to a week, letting it adjust.

Watch out for illness, as pet store reptiles, especially babies are prone to being sick. They don't see vets unless the show signs of illness at the store, but in a lot of cases, they aren't at the store long enough before being purchased to show any definite signs.

Steven 6 years ago

Hi! I first must say that the time you are putting into your site is amazing. I am so glad I found this place!

So, I just got a baby gecko from the pet store, and after reading things, I am curious if I am doing things right with my habitat...

Well, I think my gecko is mad at me because I just switched his environment on him/her today...New décor and new room to put in cage. I do not anticipate any changes now for a long time.

Any way, for the temperature, my petstore said to use a lamp on one side to get good air temperature and put the heating pad in the middle of the cage... however, what i read says to have put that on one side of the cage. is putting it in the middle ok? i have the two shelters on either end of the cage, and he seems to go in the one that is further from the light.... i hope it's not too hot in there.

Also, I like to see what he does at night. Is it ok to use a night "moonlight" bulb for this time period?

then for temperature, my thermometers are on the middle of the glass in the side with the lamp. it tends to be around 90F it looks like ... is this ok? using the lowest wattage bulbs i think. not sure how accurate these are.

the petstore had a starter 'deal' but not a pre-packaged kit. everything they gave me was sold individually, but i'm not sure how good all of that was...

lastly, how often can I handle my new gecko? My girlfriend really wants to take it out but I just want to keep it alone... I know you need to socialize, but when is good to start that?

Thanks for any help!

Whitney05 profile image

Whitney05 6 years ago from Georgia Author

What are the temperatures? You may need to seek a vet, as geckos shouldn't chirp. It could be respiratory.

tristan  6 years ago

its me agin and its about my gecko chip she used to rest in her hut and wander around her aquariam but now she just lays in front of her house ive ckecked her out a couple of times thinking she was dead but as soon as i put my hand in her cage she puts her head up im begining to worry about her do u no wats wrong

Whitney05 profile image

Whitney05 6 years ago from Georgia Author

Younger geckos should be fed daily, as they age about every other day, although some still eat daily. Heat mat is necessary to provide belly heat for optimal for digestion. Most heat bulbs and basking bulbs don't do anything but heat the air, which isn't beneficial for terrestrial reptiles. If you have a ceramic coil heat lamp that doesn't provide heat, that is better, but it's still best for under tank heat pads. You want the hot side to be between 88-92F.

Bronco 6 years ago

I was also wondering if i have to use a heat mat because i have a heat lamp. What is the temerature the cage should be at?

Bronco 6 years ago

Hello i am looking to buy a leopard gecko. I was just wondering how many times a week i should feed it nd how many crickets i should put in.

Whitney05 profile image

Whitney05 6 years ago from Georgia Author

You would need to quarantine each female by themselves for at least 30-90 days to ensure they are healthy. You may encounter fighting and bullying among the two females or among the male and either of the females. There is always a risk, which is why it's best that they are housed individually.

Also, keep in mind that one female will lay up to 16 eggs breeding just one time, times that by 2. Do you have space for the geckos, money to feed, and homes to give them to? Way too many people are breeding, so the supply is high and the demand is low, even big breeders have having trouble selling their babies, people in the business for a few years are having 4 times as much trouble, and new-comers have to basically give them away. It's hard finding people to take leopard geckos for free because the demand is so low because everyone wants to breed.

Timbo5360 6 years ago

Hi, I've a lone male gecko in a 24" by 15" viv and I am thinking about getting two females, in the hope of one day breeding. I will be getting a bigger viv, but my main concern is the geckos fighting, how would be best to introduce them?

Whitney05 profile image

Whitney05 6 years ago from Georgia Author

Yes, they lay the eggs. Sand can cause impaction, and if the eggs are laid in sand they will dehydrate quickly.Remove the sand and offer a laybox with a moist sphagnum moss or coconut coir.

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lizardboy 6 years ago

is it normal for geckos to try to bury their eggs?

because mine keeps flinging sand into her laying box and i don't want the eggs to get dehydrated.

Whitney05 profile image

Whitney05 6 years ago from Georgia Author

Leopard geckos are NOT good swimmers.

cool 6 years ago

do geckos need enough water in their tank so they can swim?

Whitney05 profile image

Whitney05 6 years ago from Georgia Author

You can use a glad container with a hole cut out, or a commercial humid hide. You can use moist paper towels, or a little bit of coconut coir, moss, etc. Keep it moist right before and during the shed. You can let it dry out in-between sheds.

tristan  6 years ago

no i don't have a humid hide but waat do i need to put in it

Whitney05 profile image

Whitney05 6 years ago from Georgia Author

John, that's about it. Proper lay box, proper heat, etc.

Tristan, I would try to gently pull it off. Do you have a humid hide? That should aid in shedding

tristan 6 years ago

my gecko chip sheded and has skin left over on his head this has hapend a couple of times and im scared it mite bug him wut should i do

john 6 years ago

i have put the two of my leo's together and they seem fine also i got tuppaware and am going to put in a breeding substrate is there anything im missing? i don't want to do anything wrong.

Whitney05 profile image

Whitney05 6 years ago from Georgia Author

No. Laying in the sand, will dehydrate the eggs while in captivity. In the wild, leopard geckos are very specific about where they lay and how deep they lay the eggs.

Please reconsider using sand as your substrate, especially if you plan on housing hatchlings in sand.

john  6 years ago

do you think that it is possible for leopard gecko eggs to survive in sand. because mine laid egs under the sand and they were all shriveled up and dry

Whitney05 profile image

Whitney05 6 years ago from Georgia Author

I asked around, and it seems the consensus says that the gecko is a mediterranean gecko.

Whitney05 profile image

Whitney05 6 years ago from Georgia Author

That is definitely NOT a leopard gecko. It's more of a house gecko, if I had to take a guess, which is far from a leopard gecko. I'm not sure the exact species, but I can find out for you; it's definitely not a leopard gecko. The gecko you have found isn't even one of the eyelid species (Eublepharis). It reminds me a lot of my P. Bastardi that I used to have, but they're not native to Florida, and they're much smaller.

Just release it back into the wild. As for the gecko's tail, it's supposed to be that way, being that it's not a leopard gecko or any gecko species that's supposed meant to have a fat tail.

Below is a link of a patternless albino leopard gecko, which is far from what you have:

leo lover #1 6 years ago

2nd try to post link to pic. [IMG][/IMG]

leo lover #1 6 years ago

Here is a link to the pic of the gecko I found. What do you think?

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