Do Leopard Geckos Need Live Food?
Leopard Geckos are one of the most popular lizard pets, and possibly the first domesticated lizard. Because they’re small, active, have a long lifespan, and are easy to care for, they are a great introduction into reptiles and are good beginner-level reptile pets.
Leopard Geckos are easy to care for if you feed them the right kind of food. They are carnivores, so they require live food, whether in the wild or in captivity. Their diet primarily consists of crickets, roaches, and worms. Read on to find out more about the diet and care of this wonderful little reptile.
Leopard Gecko Diet
Whether in the wild or in captivity, the leopard gecko’s diet is virtually the same. In the wild, there is a much larger variety of food available. In order to remain healthy in captivity, however, their food must be “dusted” with a supplement for the gecko to remain healthy.
In The Wild
In the wild, leopard geckos are typically found in the rocky, dry scrublands and desert regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as parts of India and Iran. The leopard gecko will eat anything that is small enough for them to consume.
They can feed on a variety of insects, including crickets, beetles, flies, scorpions, and several species of spider. In rare occasions, they will also eat infant rodents, small lizards, and snakes. They most commonly feed on live crickets, roaches, and mealworms, superworms, and other insects. Live insects are the best; don’t ever feed them dead bugs, fruit, or vegetables.
In order to maintain proper nutrition, leopard geckos need a diet that also contains calcium and vitamin D3. While not a lot is known about how they obtain the two in the wild, the common thinking is that they probably get the calcium and vitamin D3 from moths, spiders, ants, and other insects.
In captivity, it’s nearly impossible to duplicate the diet that they enjoy in the wild. Leopard geckos require variation in their diet to maintain their nutrition and stay healthy. The best food for leopard geckos is crickets and mealworms. You can also feed them butterworms, beetles, sow bugs, waxworms, silkworms, cockroaches, and tomato hornworms. Be careful to only feed them butterworms, superworms, and waxworms as a treat (maybe once/week), as these are high in fat.
In general, insects have a higher nutritional content than mealworms, so crickets should be the primary food source. It’s best to buy your crickets from a reputable reptile center or pet store. If you catch wild crickets, those crickets might have been in contact with a pesticide which can be harmful to your gecko, so it’s best to avoid catching your own crickets unless you really know what you’re doing.
You can feed baby geckos fruit flies; in order to simulate their diet in the wild, you can feed adult geckos day-old rodents about once a week. The crickets that leopard geckos eat in the wild are more nutritious than those you can buy at the pet store. When you buy crickets, you can’t be sure how long they’ve been there.
Gutloading & Supplements
As a result, about 12 hours before you feed store-bought crickets to your gecko, you need to do what’s called “gutloading” the crickets. Gutloading is when you feed the crickets a nutritious, powdered diet 12 hours before feeding them to your leopard gecko.
To make sure that your leopard gecko gets the maximum nutritional value from their food, you should also dust the crickets with a supplement powder before feeding them to your gecko. These supplements are a mixture of vitamins, like D3, and minerals, like calcium, both of which are important to gecko health.
Feeding Your Leopard Gecko
After you dust the crickets with a supplement powder, place them as close to the gecko as you can, making sure to not let any of the powder get in their eyes. Try to only offer your gecko what they can reasonably eat in 10-15 minutes. After that time, you should remove any remaining crickets from the enclosure, as they can be biting pests to geckos.
Before you buy food, it’s a good idea to know the size of your gecko’s head. In general, use crickets that are no bigger than the width of the gecko’s head. Otherwise, the cricket can become lodged, causing a blockage. See below to get an idea of what size cricket a baby, juvenile, and adult leopard gecko should eat:
- Baby Gecko: Feed them crickets that are about 3/8 inches in size.
- Juvenile Gecko: You can feed juveniles crickets that are about ¼ inch in size.
- Adult Gecko: You can feed geckos small adult to adult-sized crickets.
You can offer your leopard gecko two appropriately sized crickets per inch of gecko body length at each feeding. In general, adult geckos can eat between two and ten crickets, whereas the babies can eat up to 20 crickets, especially when they’re in a growth spurt.
Leopard geckos that are younger than a year old or that are sickly adults need to be fed once a day. Healthy adults can be fed every other day. Even though you’re feeding them in captivity, it’s important to try to mimic as much of their natural habitat, diets, and habits as possible. A good time to feed your gecko is late afternoon to early evening, because these are the times the leopard gecko would be actively hunting food if they were in the wild.
When feeding your leopard gecko, pay attention to how much it eats, as you may have to increase or decrease the food based on need, size, or activity level. One of the reasons crickets are good food for leopard geckos is they have a high energy level. They’re always jumping around, which forces the gecko to also move around and hunt like it would in the wild. Leopard geckos store fat in their tails and near their limbs. If you notice that your gecko’s tail is getting wider than its body, it’s time to cut back on either the number of crickets or the number of high-fat treats being given each week.
There are two important supplements for your leopard gecko: calcium and multivitamin/mineral complex supplements. Calcium is the most important mineral in the leopard gecko diet. Crickets and other invertebrates lack calcium, so you need to give your leopard gecko calcium supplements. Calcium helps them build strong bones, form eggshells, and send nerve signals to control muscle movement.
When you buy calcium supplements, you’ll notice that they usually come with vitamin D3 because D3 is important in the gecko’s ability to absorb the calcium. If your gecko doesn’t get enough calcium, their body starts drawing calcium from their bones, leading to something called Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD). MBD can cause soft bones and a hanging jaw, and sometimes these effects are irreversible.
When buying a multivitamin supplement, be sure to choose one that has beta carotene, as opposed to vitamin A. It’s easy to overdose your leopard gecko on vitamin A. Beta carotene is an inactive form of vitamin A, which allows for your gecko to use it when needed. Also pay attention to the calcium to phosphorous ratio in the supplement. The calcium:phosphorous ratio should be 2:1 or 2.5:1. If the multivitamin contains too much phosphorous, it makes it harder for the leopard gecko to absorb the calcium. Multivitamin supplements with amino acids can also have a good benefit for your gecko; it helps with their cells and how those cells function.
Dusting the crickets with supplement powder is easy. Just put some powder in a bag, drop the crickets in, and gently shake it to make sure that the entire cricket is dusted. It’s very similar to how you make “shake and bake” chicken. Then, remove your powdered crickets and immediately feed them to your leopard gecko. If you don’t, that gives the crickets time to clean themselves and remove the supplement powder. After 10-15 minutes, remove any uneaten crickets. Also remember to make sure you have a shallow dish of fresh water for your gecko. Then pay attention to their body and behavior to see if you need to adjust the size, amount, or variety of what you’re feeding them.
Leopard geckos can be great pets, especially for people just starting out as a reptile owner. They’re small, cute, and non-aggressive, so you can feel comfortable handling them. Even if they do bite you, they don’t pack much punch. It’s more like a pinch.
Once you get the hang of it, caring for and feeding your gecko is easy. You may have to try different insects or different supplements, but if you pay attention to your gecko and do your research, you will figure it out in no time. With a proper varied diet of insects and the right calcium and multivitamin supplements, the leopard gecko can live for 20-30 years. It just takes time, patience, and a little trial and error to figure out the diet that is best for your leopard gecko.