Caring for reptiles of any kind can be complicated and leopard geckos are no exception.
From specific lighting and temperatures to substrate and diet requirements, there’s a lot to consider. But one of the best ways to better understand what a reptile needs is to research their natural habit and try to apply it to your captive care.
So where do leopard geckos come from and where do they live naturally?
Wild leopard geckos (Eublepharis macularius) can be found in the rocky and dry desert across parts of Asia and the Middle East but they’re primarily found in the regions of Iraq, Iran, India, Afghanistan, Nepal, and Pakistan. However, the leopard geckos you see in pet stores likely came from a breeder and not the wild.
Even though your leopard gecko probably didn’t grow up in the wild, there’s still a lot we can learn by understanding their natural habit so let’s cover everything you need to know about wild leopard geckos.
Leopard Geckos In The Wild
We’ll start by looking at 5 key considerations about wild leopard geckos then figure out how we can apply this to their care to be better keepers.
Where Do Leopard Geckos Live And What Is Their Natural Distribution?
A leopard gecko’s natural distribution ranges across Asia and the Middle East and you can typically find them in both rocky deserts and dry grasslands.
Check out this map that shows exactly where wild leopard geckos come from:
What Is The Leopard Gecko’s Habitat Like?
Leopard geckos are a terrestrial species but they regularly climb and crawl along the rocky terrain looking for insects. It’s important to note that there are a lot of different desert types and while breaking down each one is way beyond the scope of this article, you should remember that leopard geckos are found in rocky deserts. That means their natural habitat is more rocks and hard-packed clay than massive dunes of loose sand.
There’s very little vegetation in these areas but some regions have more dry grass than others. You can see a great video of the natural leopard gecko habitat, along with some cute wild leos, in the video from the BBC below. Pay close attention to the intro where you can see some landscape shots of the rocky desert that leopard geckos call home.
Wild Leopard Gecko Temperatures and Terrain
As is the case with most deserts, temperatures can range greatly between night and day. It’s not uncommon for some deserts to have a temperature drop of 75 degrees Fahrenheit (42 degrees Celcius) between day and night. That’s pretty darn cold for a little leopard gecko!
On the other hand, daytime temperatures can be too hot for leopard geckos.
That’s one of many reasons why leopard geckos are crepuscular creatures, which means they’re most active during the twilight hours of early morning and late evening. These are when temperatures are usually most ideal for the leopard gecko.
When it comes to terrain in their natural habitat, wild leopard geckos use the many rocks and crevices for shelter. Whether that’s shelter from predators or just to help regulate their body temperatures during hot days and cool nights, leopard geckos naturally look for safety in rocky hideaways. If the ground is soft enough, some leopard geckos may dig in order to create a comfortable and safe burrow when they’re inactive.
Leopard geckos have adapted to their rocky terrain with small claws built for attaching themselves to rocks instead of sticky pads that you see you commonly see arboreal geckos species. These claws are great for climbing the rocky terrain but not much else.
Leopard geckos may also use their rocky hiding spots during their brumation cycle, which is a state that’s very similar to the hibernation process that mammals go through. Brumation is how leopard geckos get through the colder winter months and they survive on the fat stores in their large tails.
What Do Wild Leopard Geckos Eat?
Leopard geckos aren’t known for their hunting skills in captivity but these lizards are considered opportunists more than apex predators. In other words, leopard geckos use a mix of hunting and waiting for prey instead of tracking down insects across the rocky desert terrain.
In the wild, leopard geckos would mostly eat beetles, crickets, spiders, ants, moths, centipedes, and similar insects. As opportunistic predators, leopard geckos have been reported to eat species of young mice, snakes, and even other smaller geckos but insects make up the majority of the wild leopard gecko’s diet.
Do Wild Leopard Geckos Have Predators?
As smaller lizards, leopard geckos have several predators that they need to avoid. Predators include reptiles like snakes and bigger lizards but also mammals like foxes and coyotes. Leopard geckos will use burrows and more often rocky crevices to stay safe from these predators.
In a rocky desert, there are plenty of spaces that are just big enough for a leopard gecko to squeeze into but too large for a foxes nose!
How Can We Use This Information To Create Better Leopard Gecko Enclosures?
This might seem like “nice to know” information but learning about a wild leopard gecko’s life can make us much better keepers. While it’s hard to say whether or not this will make our leopard geckos feel happier, it’s likely to make them feel safer which is good enough for me.
So let’s break down 3 big takeaways!
Leo’s Need Rocky Terrain
Wild leopard geckos have several adaptations for living in a rocky desert from specialized eyes to their sharp little claws designed for scaling rocks. These help wild leopard geckos stay safe but they’re just as important for their captive cousins who still need to climb, crawl and hide!
Rocks and hideaways provide leopard geckos a chance for enrichment and tap into their wild instincts all while providing valuable exercise.
Dry Is Best
Deserts, by definition, are dry with very little rainfall. That means we should keep humidity low. It also means that our leopard geckos aren’t fans of hanging out in the water and aren’t good swimmers since it’s not something they’d ever need to do in the wild.
It’s also a good reason to keep bathtime to an absolute minimum and only when leopard geckos really need it.
Keep It Crepuscular
Remember that leopard geckos are naturally crepuscular which means they’re most active during the evening and morning hours. Even though your little leo isn’t in the wild, their instincts will still drive them to seek out food during these times.
Lean into this by feeding, interacting, and bonding with your leopard gecko during these hours when they’re most active.
Where Do Captive Breed Leopard Geckos Come From?
Even though wild leopard geckos originate from arid deserts across the world, it’s much more likely that your pet leopard gecko came from a breeder. Leopard geckos have been part of the pet trade for over 30 years and their popularity only seems to be increasing in large part thanks to the internet where people can learn more about these amazing lizards.
Unfortunately, more interest hasn’t always been a good thing for leopard geckos, or reptiles in general, and many of these reptiles come from poorly run reptile mills. These mills are often focused on producing as many leopard geckos and other reptiles as quickly as possible with quality husbandry coming second to profit. Even worse, many of these large reptile mills supply leopard geckos to the major pet stores.
So what can you do?
Focus on finding reputable breeders and in many cases, smaller operations will be able to share much more information about their practices. While they don’t always have leopard geckos available, I’m a big of Emerald Scales and you can learn more about them here.
From the deserts of Asia and the Middle East to homes around the world, leopard geckos have come a long way from their desert origins!
Wild leopard geckos have had to adapt to tough desert conditions with a wide range of temperatures, limited food, and tough terrain. Adapting to these challenging conditions has also made leopard geckos one of the hardier and easy-to-handle reptile pets.
But their rocky desert instincts are still alive and understanding where wild leopard geckos come from can help us become better keepers!
What do you think? Did anything about the leopard gecko’s origins surprise you?