Reptile keepers are always looking for new and interesting ways to keep their herps happy and entertained. And if you have a leopard gecko, then you know how hard this can be sometimes.
Leopard geckos aren’t known for their brains so it can be difficult to find something for these little lizards to engage with. But what about something simple like water and swimming?
Can leopard geckos swim and would they want to?
Leopard geckos should never be placed in water and can’t safely swim. Leopard geckos have no physical adaptations that you’d expect to see in an animal that’s built for swimming. When placed in water, you can expect a leopard gecko to become stressed and frantically try to reach dry land.
In other words, swimming and water are not appropriate sources of enrichment for leopard geckos and will lead to dangerous stress for your little leo. If you do have to bath your leopard gecko, the process should never include completely submerging your leopard gecko.
That’s the main takeaway here but let’s look a little closer at what you need to know and leopard geckos and swimming.
4 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Let Your Leopard Gecko Swim
Not being able to swim should be reason enough but let’s look a little closer at the reasons why water and leopard geckos don’t mix.
1. Leopard Geckos Wouldn’t Swim In The Wild
While not always true, if an animal would never swim in their wild or natural life it’s usually not a good idea to have them swim in their captive life.
The Conservation Society of California explains that leopard geckos are found in arid, rocky, and dry areas throughout the Middle East. They go on to say that these little lizards are found primarily in mountainous deserts and prefer “prefer a rocky substrate to a sandy substrate and are almost always found on rocky outcroppings.”
There’s nothing about that which suggests swimming and frolicking in the water! If you know anything about deserts you know that they’re dry so jumping into a bathtub is completely unnatural for leopard geckos.
As you’d expect from a creature that lives in the dry desert, leopard geckos don’t have any adaptions for the water. They have skinny legs that have little chance of propelling their big bodies, no webbing, and a very limited ability to keep their head above water. Compare that to frog species that excel in the water and you can see the major difference.
2. Swimming Causes Stress
What happens when you’re forced to do something you’re terrible at?
You probably feel at least a little stressed.
What if that something could potentially end your life? Okay, that sounds really stressful.
While anthropomorphizing isn’t a good habit to get into it, it does illustrate the point here. But simply put, can you imagine how stressful it could be to try and swim when you actually can’t swim? And even though leopard geckos can sort of get around in the water, it’s pretty different from swimming and instead, it’s just a frantic search for the nearest dry land.
Stress can be hard to see in leopard geckos and other reptiles but it’s safe to say that the feeling of drowning is stressful for leopard geckos. Prolonged stress can lead to additional problems like an increased chance of respiratory disease or other illnesses.
If you know anything about reptiles you know that maintaining a stable body temperature is critical for their health and that they depend heavily on their environment to regulate their body temperature.
So what happens when you drench a leopard gecko in water?
In most cases, they’ll experience a rapid loss in body temperature, even if the water isn’t that much colder than the air around them. While some reptiles can figure out ways to maintain or balance body temperatures in water, the leopard gecko isn’t one of them. Their small size also means that leopard geckos will lose body temperature more quickly making water even worse for them.
4. Water Inhalation
As we’ve already mentioned, your leopard gecko didn’t evolve to swim. That means they lack the reflexes and adaptations to safely submerge themselves in water and while I wouldn’t want anyone to test it, there’s a good chance that a submerged leopard gecko could inhale water.
Inhaling water, or just about anything else, can lead to aspiration pneumonia which could even be fatal for a little leopard gecko. Inhaling water into the lungs is a high price to pay for a bath and just not worth the risk!
Not All Water Is Bad…But Use Caution
But just because leopard geckos can’t swim doesn’t mean that all water is bad and leos still need to have regular access to a water bowl to drink from. They can even benefit from having their toes submerged from time to time in order to get that last bit of shed off.
And there’s a big difference between a toe bath to help with a shed and full-on swimming. Whenever you use water with your leopard gecko, always do it sparingly to help reduce rapid loss of body heat and never put them in a situation where they could be submerged.
“But I’ve Seen Leopard Geckos Swim”
If you do search on YouTube you’ll find some leopard geckos “swimming” in bathtubs. I’m not interested in promoting those videos so I haven’t linked to them but they’re out there.
But I can promise you that those leopard geckos aren’t exactly swimming. Instead, they’re doing their best to find dry land, and unfortunately, they aren’t able to find any in the tub.
Leopard geckos do float which is about all they have going for them in the water. So it can sort of look like leopard geckos are swimming as they wiggle their tail and flap their arms while staying above water. But I wouldn’t exactly call that swimming and any creature that’s put in a life or death situation will figure out how to move around in the water.
If you put a leopard gecko in water, then their only goal is to figure out how to get out. That’s not exactly swimming. Especially when you compare that to animals like dogs or humans that willingly swim for fun. Instead, leopard geckos find themselves swimming out of necessity which is very different from enjoying the water.
Frequently Asked Questions
We’ve covered the big reasons why leopard geckos need to avoid swimming but let’s look at some more specific questions that have come since this article was written.
Can Leopard Geckos Sit In Water?
Yes, leopard geckos can sit in water to help with their shed but most won’t be happy about it. Leopard geckos aren’t naturally attracted to water and they can’t swim so they should never be in water that’s much higher than their toes.
Can Leopard Geckos Get Wet?
Leopard geckos can get wet but it should only be done carefully. Leopard geckos can’t swim and water can rapidly reduce their body temperature so their entire body should never get wet. Instead, only small areas should be exposed to water at a time.
How Long Can A Leopard Gecko Stay Underwater?
It’s likely that a leopard gecko can stay underwater for more than a few seconds. As a non-aquatic species, leopard geckos are likely to breathe in water (instead of holding their breath) which could quickly lead to aspiration pneumonia. As a result, leopard geckos should never be in deep water.
Can A Leopard Gecko Drown?
Even though leopard geckos can float and wiggle in the water, it’s not the same as swimming and they can easily get tired and drown. That’s why it’s best to never put a leopard gecko in any water that’s too deep for them to walk around in.
Are Waterfalls Good For Leopard Geckos?
Waterfalls may look nice in an enclosure but they aren’t needed for leopard geckos. Not only can leos not swim very well (nor do they want to) but a water feature can end up adding too much humidity which could be harmful to leopard geckos.
I know it might look like leopard geckos can swim but floating and flailing just isn’t the same as enjoying the water. Water deeper than their toes is just too deep for the desert-dwelling leopard gecko and not something they ever need.