Leopard geckos are popular pets for new reptile owners and enthusiasts alike. Their friendly disposition, ease of care, and adorable little faces make them beloved by reptile keepers of all ages and experience levels.
Leos have a lot of interesting behaviors, and they are incredibly fun to watch!
Whether your gecko is stealthily hunting crickets, exploring their enclosure, or even just sitting there, staring at these cute critters provides hours of entertainment!
But what does it mean when your leopard gecko stares back?
Leopard geckos stare at their owners because they might just be curious about you, trying to figure out if you’re a predator, or they could be expecting food. In addition, movement naturally gets leopard geckos’ attention. It’s also entirely possible that they aren’t really staring at you at all, they’re just staring at their reflection.
Staring is a normal behavior of leopard geckos, but every individual is different, and some don’t stare at their owners nearly as much – or even at all. As a leo keeper, you need to understand what is normal for your individual gecko.
With that being said, let’s delve into the reasons why your leopard gecko is staring at you, hopefully helping you understand your scaly companion a little bit more!
Reason 1: Your Leopard Gecko Is Curious About You
If you’ve just gotten your leopard gecko and notice that your new little friend is staring you down, don’t fret! They’re just trying to get a sense of who – and what – you are.
Leos are naturally curious reptiles. They are very observant of their surroundings and can identify changes to their environment! In a study published in Behavioral Processes, researchers placed three objects into the enclosures of leopard geckos. After they got used to the objects, a familiar object was replaced by a new one, or one of the original objects was moved to a different spot in the enclosure. In each situation, the geckos spent more time near the new or displaced object, investigating the change.
In another study, researchers showed leopard geckos different images to see if they could differentiate between new images and old ones. The researchers found that geckos stared significantly longer at the new images than at those they had already seen.
So, your new gecko probably isn’t silently judging you, after all! You’re new to them, too, and they’re just trying to understand you.
Reason 2: Your Leopard Gecko Is Scared Of You
Your gecko might be staring at you because it thinks you want to eat it!
While leopard geckos themselves are ferocious predators of crickets, mealworms, and other insects, there are a lot of critters out in the wild that have leos on the menu!
Wild geckos have to keep a sharp eye out for snakes, mammals, and even birds. This has caused them to be very wary of their surroundings and of creatures larger than themselves – even in the safety of their enclosure.
Leos have pretty good eyesight. They can see in color and also have excellent night vision! Their sharp eyes enable them to assess the dangers in their environment with a surprising amount of detail.
Research has shown that leopard geckos can even distinguish between different species of snakes. Adult geckos in the study stared more at snake species that they would encounter in the wild, while juvenile leopard geckos, in their inexperience, reacted the same regardless of the snake species they encountered.
In short, the less experience a gecko has with a potential predator, the more likely they are to stare at it.
If your leopard gecko hasn’t spent much time around humans, they might think you are a predator and they’re staring to keep an eye on you! Even if your gecko has been around you for a while, they may see you as a threat if you approach too quickly.
Other signs that your leopard gecko is feeling apprehensive or fearful include hiding, waving their tail, or making small noises. If your gecko exhibits these behaviors, it can indicate that they don’t feel safe with you yet.
You can help your gecko feel more comfortable with you by approaching them slowly, offering treats, gently handling them when they allow it, and spending more time near their enclosure.
Reason 3: Your Leopard Gecko Is Hungry
Another reason your leopard gecko is staring at you when you approach their enclosure is that they are hungry, and they associate you with food. Through a process called classical conditioning, the gecko has learned that your presence often means that there are juicy bugs incoming!
This may cause your leo to preemptively lick their lips while staring at you, as in the video below:
This doesn’t mean you should feed your gecko every time you notice them staring at you. Your leo may be expecting to be fed, but this does not mean they are starving.
Too much food can cause your leopard gecko to become overweight or even obese! While the extra weight may make your leo an adorable chonk, it is extremely unhealthy and can cause heart, liver, and joint problems. If you think your gecko may be a little too hefty, consult your veterinarian to discuss changes to their diet.
Reason 4: Leopard Geckos Are Attracted To Movement
You walk into the room, and your leopard gecko whips their little head around to stare at you.
You move around the room, but that tiny, piercing gaze follows your every step.
While you may feel like you are being stalked, don’t worry! In addition to geckos being curious critters, movement naturally grabs their attention.
How often have you seen movement out of the corner of your eye and turned to see what it was? Leos are the same way! Your leopard gecko may be staring at you simply because you are moving around.
Being attracted to movement is an important adaptation that helps leopard geckos keep from consuming dead, bacteria-ridden prey. When dumping your leo’s meal of crickets into their vivarium, there may be a couple of deceased insects. Most leopard geckos will usually bypass the unmoving bugs, locking their stare on a living cricket before going in for the kill!
Leopard geckos’ instincts tell them not to consume dead prey, which can contain disease-causing bacteria. Dead crickets also have lower nutritional value and moisture content. Because of the lack of nutrition and the possibility of disease, you shouldn’t feed your gecko dead insects.
Reason 5: Your Leopard Gecko Is Actually Staring At Their Reflection.
Sometimes, while it looks like your leopard gecko is staring at you, they’re actually staring at their own reflection!
While research suggests that some gecko species can recognize their own scent, it is not likely that they can recognize themselves in a mirror. Unfortunately, recognition of their own reflection is a little too cognitively advanced for leopard geckos.
If your leopard gecko is staring at their reflection, they likely think they’re looking at an entirely different gecko and are trying to determine if this new lizard is a potential mate or a rival that needs to be taught a lesson!
Your Gecko Probably Isn’t Staring At You Because They Are Angry
In some other animals, like cats, a prolonged, unblinking stare is a sign of agitation or aggression.
However, leopard geckos express their wrath a bit differently.
An aggressive leo may wag their tail, rush at you with their mouth open, or make a wide variety of vocalizations including hissing, chirping, or even a noise that resembles a bark!
As a last resort, your leopard gecko may even bite – but don’t worry, their tiny jaws don’t do any damage to humans, nor do they hurt us very much.
If you notice your leopard gecko is displaying signs of aggression, give them some time to cool off before attempting to handle them. Handling your gecko when they’re upset will cause them unnecessary stress and could even lead to them dropping their tail!
Should You Be Worried If Your Leopard Gecko Is Staring At You?
Staring is a perfectly normal behavior in leopard geckos. Sometimes they appear to do it for no reason at all!
Responding to their environment, even outside of their enclosure, is a sign of a normal, healthy, and alert leopard gecko.
It is also important to note that, like members of other species, every leo is an individual. Some stare more than others. Some may not stare much at all, and that’s okay too!
As long as your gecko exhibits signs of health – good appetite, active at appropriate times of day, good coloration, clear eyes, and regulating their temperature by moving to different parts of their enclosure – your gecko staring at you (or never staring at you) is no cause for alarm.
What If My Leopard Gecko Is Staring At The Ceiling?
While your gecko staring at you or other things in their environment is no reason to worry, prolonged “stargazing” is.
Constantly staring at the ceiling is a symptom of a neurological disorder called enigma syndrome, most commonly seen in leopard geckos of the enigma morph. Other signs of enigma syndrome in leos include rolling onto their backs, seizures, circling, balance problems, and being unable to catch prey.
If you notice your leopard gecko showing any of these symptoms, contact your veterinarian immediately.
While enigma syndrome is a genetic disorder and there is no cure, your vet can help you determine the best course of action for managing your gecko’s health and maintaining their quality of life.
Your leopard gecko may stare at you for a variety of different reasons, and each of them is totally normal, and no need for you to worry.
Leopard geckos are naturally curious, and their behaviors show it! If you find your pet staring at you, it is likely just trying to figure out who you are, what you’re doing, or if you have food.
Staring is your gecko’s way of taking in their surroundings, but some geckos stare more than others. It is important to understand the behavior of your individual leopard gecko, so you know when they are healthy or when something is off.
If you find yourself staring deep into the eyes of your leo, just take a moment to enjoy the connection with your reptile – maybe take some cute pictures, too!