Licking things is a funny behavior that so many animals have. Dogs love to lick their owners and reptiles seem to like to lick everything. There’s a reason why when you picture a snake or a lizard, you picture their tongue darting out of their mouth and moving around in the air. Reptiles are always licking. The same is true for leopard geckos. Interestingly enough, some leos will lick their tank mates.
So, why do leopard geckos lick each other?
Leopard geckos lick each other because their tongues help them to smell, taste, and in a way, see. They lick each other to establish familiarity, to get an overview of the environment, and to help clean each other. Even though it’s cute when leos lick one another it’s not really their way of showing affection.
In this article, we’ll discuss exactly how and why leopard geckos seem to use their tongues so much. Hopefully, by the end, you’ll understand why your pets lick each other!
Why Do Leopard Geckos Lick So Many Things?
Leopard geckos are licky animals in general. They don’t just go around licking things randomly either, there’s a good reason for it!
Leopard gecko tongues are actually a very important sensory extension for them. Like many other reptiles, leopard geckos use their tongues not only to taste but also to smell. Many reptiles have a specialized organ called the vomeronasal organ or Jacobson’s organ. This organ is located in the roof of the mouth and collects olfactory (smell) data to send to the brain for interpretation.
The tongue is a key part of how Jacobson’s organ functions. Essentially, the tongue gathers information. When reptiles put their tongue on something, they pick up molecules which are then transferred to Jacobson’s organ as they pull their tongue back into their mouth. So, when you see a reptile licking the air, they’re actually getting a lot of information for the molecules in the air alone.
This is the main reason why you’ll see leopard geckos explore with their tongues so often.
Why Do Leopard Geckos Lick Each Other?
So, if that’s why geckos lick in the first place, then why do they lick each other?
There are a few reasons why geckos might lick one another and we’ll discuss those below. Although it’s a controversial topic, leopard geckos can live together. But, cohabitating leos aren’t always peaceful, even though they are one of the friendly herps, and you’ll always want to keep an eye on them and make sure they’re getting along. Observing how much and why they lick each other can be a great way to assess the overall feeling in the enclosure.
Here’s what it can mean when your geckos lick each other.
1. They’re Cleaning
One of the easiest explanations for one gecko licking another is cleaning.
Even though leopard geckos use their tongues to smell, they also use them to clean themselves. Occasionally, these reptiles will also use their tongues to keep their tankmates clean and mess-free. It sounds strange, but I’m sure you’ve wiped food off of a family member’s face before. Think of it like that, except geckos can’t just grab paper towels to keep their loved ones clean. This video shows a great example of a leopard gecko grooming itself.
2. To Find Familiarity
Another reason that leopard geckos might lick each other is to establish familiarity.
As far as we know, leopard geckos don’t have names for each other. In fact, they can’t really even recognize their own names. What they can do however is recognize others through smell and touch. Leopard geckos will often lick other animals or humans to figure out if they already know you and to create a more comfortable relationship.
It sounds a little weird but licking each other is a way of making sure that they already know each other. It’s a quick way to gather smell data and to become even more familiar with each other each time they do it.
3. They’re Assessing Their Surroundings
The last reason a leopard gecko might lick another gecko is to get a reading on its surroundings.
As we discussed, geckos can learn a lot from licking something. When your geckos lick each other, they’re not only establishing familiarity but also getting a read on the room. They can tell where the other has been, if they’ve eaten, and if they’ve seen anyone of anything else. Licking is better than seeing for many reptiles and geckos use their tongues to their advantage. It’s also something that many other reptiles do including snakes and beardies.
Overall, it’s not the most exciting thing when your geckos lick each other.
What It Doesn’t Mean When Your Geckos Lick Each Other
There are a few things that you can rule out when you see your pets lick one another. Although we’re not shutting the next things down 100%, it’s likely that your geckos aren’t expressing these things when they lick.
1. They’re Not Hungry
If your gecko licks another gecko, it’s probably not an indication that they’re hungry.
Geckos do smell and to an extent also taste with their tongues. However, geckos aren’t anywhere near being cannibalistic and one gecko will not see another one as food. When geckos lick their food, they’ll often lick it up right away. When they lick each other, they don’t have the same intentions at all.
Plus, if you think your gecko is hungry, you can always give them an extra snack and see if the licking continues or not. If they just keep licking their friend, you can rule hunger licking out.
2. They’re Not Being Affectionate
We all see it as a sign of affection when dogs lick us. But what about leopard geckos, does it work in the same way?
Unfortunately, geckos don’t associate licking with any affection feelings. Licking isn’t something they’ll do just to be sweet or cute to another gecko. As much as we would love to assign human emotions to leopard gecko behaviors, it just doesn’t work that way most of the time!
What Else Do Leopard Geckos Lick?
There are a few others things that leopard geckos will like besides each other. To get a good understanding of your gecko and its licking behavior, you’ll want to take note of when they do these things as well!
1. Their Owners
Many gecko owners report being licked by their pets. It seems to be pretty common. In a way, you can think of yourself as another tankmate they’re getting to know. While licking you isn’t a sign of affection, it’s still a good thing. Geckos will lick their owners to establish familiarity and explore their environments.
To read more about why your gecko licks you, click here!
2. Their Food
Of course, leopard geckos will lick their food. Not only do leopard geckos eat by licking food up with their spiky tongues, but they can also taste a bit of their meal beforehand with an exploratory lick. Even geckos like to know what they’re eating and if they’ve ever had it before.
The most common thing that a leopard gecko will probably like is itself.
Leopard geckos are extremely clean reptiles and will constantly groom themselves. They’re known to lick all over their bodies after a shed and will even eat their own shed skin, just to keep everything clean!
Geckos are also known to lick their bums a lot. To an extent, licking their own butt is natural. But, if you notice your pet doing this excessively, it might point to a problem like impaction, parasites, or prolapse. We always recommend checking in with your veterinarian if you notice excessive licking.
Licking is such an important behavior for a leopard gecko. It helps them “see” the world around them by collecting data on different smells, sensations, and tastes. When geckos lick each other, there’s no need to be worried. They’re probably just grooming one another or catching up on events that they might have missed.
If your geckos are licking excessively, you can always consult your veterinarian. But keep in mind, these lizards love to lick and won’t hesitate to lick just about anything!