Do Leopard Geckos Get Bored? (And How To Prevent It)

Do Leopard Geckos Get Bored

Owning a leopard gecko is a rewarding experience. They’re charming, stout little lizards with wide ‘grins’ on their faces and a seemingly inquisitive nature.

While most reptile owners will agree that there is something going on behind the eyes of their scaly companions, there has been a long-standing debate in the reptile community about whether or not reptiles can feel emotions.

Taking it a step further, can your leopard gecko experience boredom or is providing for its basic needs enough?

Leopard geckos can experience boredom and need enrichment to thrive in captivity. Although research on reptile sentience is limited, scientists are now finding that lizards benefit from socialization, and mental stimulation and experience a range of emotions. It is important to rule out stress and health problems before assuming your pet gecko is bored.

Before hashing out how leopard gecko owners can enrich the lives of their geckos, it’s important to decide on a definition for boredom. What is it and what causes it?

What Is Boredom For Animals?

Before we can tackle the question of whether or not leopard geckos experience boredom, we need to define what boredom actually is. We’ve all felt boredom; we know it when we are experiencing it, but defining it is a challenge.

Maybe the reason a definition is so elusive is because boredom itself represents a lack of something. People refer to boredom as a lack of stimulation, socialization, or a lack of fun.

According to Dr. Charlotte Burn, “three key aspects of boredom can be measured scientifically: avoidance of monotony, inability to maintain wakefulness, and trained behaviour indicating that time is perceived as ‘dragging’.”

Dr. Burn also adds that many animals will do almost anything to avoid monotony.

When it comes to recognizing boredom in other species, it’s easier for us to identify it in other social animals.

However, our lack of understanding of boredom in reptiles, and how asocial species like leopard geckos are, can lead to us labeling a behavior as ‘boredom’ when our gecko is experiencing something else entirely.

At best, our gecko could just be relaxing. At worst, we dismiss a time-sensitive problem as boredom.

Determining what else it could be, allows you as a gecko owner to confidently rule out injury, illness, and stress before concluding your reptile is bored.

So, Can Leopard Geckos Get Bored?

Not many scientific studies have been done on animal boredom, especially reptile boredom. This is part of a bigger overall issue of reptiles being left out of legislation and research in favor of mammals.

However, the studies that are being conducted about reptile sentience are reshaping what we thought we knew about them. For example, this 2019 study discovered 37 studies that”

“Assumed reptiles to be capable of the following emotions and states; anxiety, stress, distress, excitement, fear, frustration, pain, and suffering.”

The same study also “four articles that explored and found evidence for the capacity of reptiles to feel pleasure, emotion, and anxiety.”

While the research done doesn’t shed much light on boredom it paints a very different picture when it comes to a lizard’s emotions.

Basically, it’s quite possible that leopard geckos, or any lizard species for that matter get bored.

Why Do Leopard Geckos Get Bored?

Many lizards spend the first few months of their lives with siblings or within a family group. This socialization, similar to many young birds and mammals, might offer them an important opportunity to learn important survival skills.

Some lizards can distinguish kin from strangers, including recognizing specific individuals. Taking this idea of sentience further, some reptiles for example, American crocodiles and five-lined skinks are devoted parents, fiercely protecting their nests and offspring.

We know that social isolation in the early lives of mammals (including humans) and birds has been proven to result in negative physiological effects including a decreased lifespan, poor performance on cognitive testing, increased anxiety, and abnormal social behaviors.

Now, we are finding similar trends in lizards. For example, a study done by the University of Sydney found that veiled chameleons, an asocial reptile, raised in isolation were more submissive in conflict, less vibrant in color, and slower with foraging behaviors than their socialized counterparts.

Just like veiled chameleons, leopard geckos are not social reptiles. They prefer to spend their time alone, with the exception of mating season. However, this doesn’t negate the fact that they still need stimulation in order to develop and lead fulfilling lives.

Lack of stimulation in your gecko’s environment can definitely lead to your pet lizard feeling less excited, a feeling we know lizards can feel. So, if they can experience excitement when eating, they might have some capacity to feel bored when nothing in their enclosure is stimulating.

If It’s Not Boredom What Is It?

Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human needs or characteristics to an animal. The internet is peppered with well-meaning reptile owners misinterpreting their gecko’s behavior through the lens of anthropomorphism.

“My gecko is screaming because it is lonely,” or “I gave my gecko snuggles because he looked sad” or “She isn’t stressed! She’s smiling!”

As social animals, human beings are quick to reference body language and assign meaning to what we observe. The problem with this is that body language is not universal across species.

Instead of filtering a leopard gecko’s behaviors through human norms, it is vital that reptile owners apply these observations to the norms for the species.

Incorrect Temperature or Humidity

We might see a still, listless gecko and decide that the reptile is “bored”, when the reality is much more uncertain. Before determining that your leopard gecko is bored, make sure to rule out health issues and stress responses.

Is the temperature and humidity in your gecko’s tank within normal ranges?

A cold reptile is sluggish because it is conserving energy. This is where knowing the natural history of the species comes in handy. Leopard geckos are native to desert regions and rocky, dry grasslands in Southeast Asia (Nepal, India) and the Middle East (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran).

The cool side of their tank should be between 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit and the warm side should be between 80-85 degrees. As semi-desert reptiles, they do not like their environments too humid (between 30-40% is ideal).

Even though they do not need as much humidity as tropical species, leopard geckos can still become dehydrated. Similar to a cold gecko, dehydrated reptiles will also become more lethargic.

Illness or Injury

In determining what your gecko needs, start with the basics and the most urgent before jumping immediately to the explanation of boredom.

Is your gecko ill or injured? Is there something going on with your gecko that needs your immediate attention?

As a leopard gecko owner, it is important to keep regular veterinary appointments for your pet.

If it ever appears that your gecko is unwell, having an existing file and rapport with a local exotic veterinarian will save you valuable time in assuring your leopard gecko receives the care it needs.

Stress or Fear Response

Once you rule out illness and injury, make sure you research leopard gecko stress responses.

Remember the well-meaning reptile owner from earlier in this article who believed their gecko was screaming out of loneliness?

Leopard geckos are not typically very vocal animals, but there are times when they chirp or make other sounds.

When they do make a sound, it is usually from being frightened, threatened, or mishandled. So, the owner in this example was more than likely the cause of the vocalization, not loneliness.

On a similar note of caution, just because your gecko’s facial structure makes it appear as though it is smiling doesn’t mean your gecko is happy!

Geckos cannot smile. Their perpetual ‘smile’ is the product of having a broad, flat head, wide mouth, and eyes, mouth, and nose all very close together on their face.

Yes, the resulting expression will melt any gecko owner’s heart. But remember, our feelings should never be prioritized over science and empirical data in animal husbandry, especially reptile husbandry.

The reality of our gecko’s needs come before our wants

Once you have ruled out the other possibilities, consider that yes, your leopard gecko might be bored! A bored gecko might claw at the glass of its terrarium, attempting to get out, or seem disinterested in its environment.

How To Keep Your Leopard Gecko From Being Bored

When we talk about enrichment, we’re talking about enriching a captive animal’s quality of life by providing behavioral and environmental stimuli.

This behavioral enrichment is offered to captive animals in the hopes of improving both their psychological and physiological well-being.

Enrichment allows animals to perform their natural behaviors in creative ways with the use of activities, toys, etc.

Because it is based on the natural behaviors of an animal, enrichment should be as species-specific as possible. What is enriching for one reptile could be dangerous for another.

Invest Into Their Enclosure

Examples of natural leopard gecko behaviors that can be creatively engaged through enrichment include foraging for insects, digging, exploring, and climbing obstacles (not too tall!).

For leopard geckos, providing them with an enclosure with adequate hides and climbs is great enrichment.

To take this to the next level, look up how you can create a bioactive enclosure with safe plants and an insect ‘cleanup crew’ for your gecko.

Exercise Is Key

Allow your gecko to exercise by giving them time to free roam in a safe area of your home under your direct supervision.

This supervised active time outside of their enclosure also provides a sensory source of enrichment, as they encounter new sights and smells while exploring the room.

Every 10-15 minutes, check to see if your gecko’s belly is getting cold. If it is, you should put your leopard gecko back in its enclosure to warm back up so it does not become sluggish.

Also, make sure not to put your leopard gecko somewhere too high up off the ground. It could result in them falling and hurting themselves. They are a ground-dwelling species and not as acrobatic as their tree-dwelling relatives.

Here is a video further detailing five ways to provide easy enrichment for your reptile:

Offer A Diverse Diet

Offering a diverse diet, including live insects, gives your leopard gecko a chance to perform foraging behaviors it would display in the wild.

Food-based enrichment can be an easy, yet rewarding, way to entertain your gecko (and yourself).

Many leopard gecko owners get immense enjoyment out of watching them chomp on a mealworm or unsuspecting cricket.

An important rule to follow when devising enrichment activities involving your gecko’s diet is to never incorporate more than 50% of your gecko’s diet in the activity.

For example, if you are hiding their food as a foraging activity, account for the possibility that your gecko may not find this portion of their diet or maybe disinterested in it.

After any food-based enrichment activity, note whether or not your gecko found and ate their food. Enrichment should never be at the expense of meeting your leopard gecko’s basic husbandry needs.

An Example of Bad Enrichment

Swimming is an example of enrichment you should never offer your leopard gecko! Since leopard geckos cannot swim, your gecko could become extremely stressed from this enrichment or drown.

This is why it is always so important to double-check what enrichment is safe for your leopard gecko.

When in doubt, speaking with your exotic vet or well-known reptile care professionals can give you some direction.

Conclusion

Modern-day reptile owners are watching animal husbandry standards change right before their eyes, as research uncovers more and more about the complexities of reptile personalities.

Even a decade ago, the insinuation that reptiles could feel boredom would have raised experts’ eyebrows. Now, newer research continues to trend in favor of reptile sentience, not only in how they experience boredom, but other emotions as well!

In the face of ever-progressing behavioral discoveries, reptile owners can take comfort in knowing that enrichment for other non-reptilian species has laid the groundwork for reptile enrichment.

Complex does not always equal better when it comes to leopard gecko enrichment.

Knowing that leopard geckos are asocial and having basic knowledge about their natural habitat will go a long way in making sure the enrichment you give them is appropriate.