Leopard geckos are a favorite amongst the reptile community, thanks to their generally docile temperament, expressive behaviors, vibrant and unique patterns, and that irresistible “smile”. And while it’s almost always a pleasure to own and care for these critters, some instances interacting with our leos aren’t so pleasant.
Maybe your leo has just started acting out like a rebellious teenager, lunging for your fingers for seemingly no apparent reason. Or maybe your leo has always been a bit testy, and you’re realizing that it’s not something she’s growing out of like you had hoped.
Either way, you may be getting frustrated, asking yourself: why is my leopard gecko aggressive?
Leopard geckos can be aggressive if they are unfamiliar with you or their enclosure, their enclosure isn’t properly set up, they’re being handled excessively, it’s breeding season, they have tankmates, or they’re shedding. Or, you could just have a naturally aggressive gecko, which isn’t common but not impossible either!
In this article, we are going to chat in greater detail about the different reasons why you may be witnessing your leo being aggressive. More often than not, it stems from an underlying fear or stress that causes leos to defend themselves in the way they know best: aggression.
Luckily, each reason is fixable with some dedication and patience! This is something we will talk about towards the end of our journey, so stick around!
Why Is My Leopard Gecko Aggressive?
But before starting your read, give this video a watch; it is important to discern what different behaviors can look like and how to spot the aggression in your specific situation so we can work towards resolving this anger!
Reason 1: New To The Enclosure & You
Have you ever moved into a new place and had trouble sleeping those first few nights, struggling to feel comfortable? It can be difficult to adjust to a foreign home, and leopard geckos are included!
If you’ve adopted a new leopard gecko and are introducing it into your home for the first time, you should expect to give it some time alone to get acquainted with its new enclosure. She will likely be stressed out for the first few weeks upon arrival, which is normal!
Naturally prey animals, leopard geckos can use aggression as a way to protect themselves. They likely see you as a predator looking to eat or harm them each time you visit their enclosure and attempt to interact, so they will become defensive as a result.
This defense mechanism is most commonly one of two things: evasion (running away and hiding) and aggression (hissing, tail whipping, biting).
Even if you’ve had your leo for a few years and have recently upgraded her enclosure, it is still possible that this change could startle her and cause her to become worried for her safety.
She may have recognized you previously, but with such a drastic environmental change, it could mean that she needs a week or two to get settled and feel safe around you again. When this occurs, you can see her acting in more aggressive ways, though it is likely to go away with time and increased comfort!
Reason 2: Improper Enclosure Setup
Having an improper enclosure setup and/or size is very common in the reptile world, among others. Regardless of where you get your initial husbandry information from, compare it with other resources to ensure that you are giving your leo the best chance at a happy life, starting with her home!
Another easily fixable reason as to why your leopard gecko is being aggressive is that you have the incorrect tank setup for her.
Typically, front-opening enclosures are preferred over ones that are top-opening. Could you imagine if a giant came reaching to grab you from over your head? You’d justifiably feel terrified and worried for your own life!
It is suggested that leopard geckos think and feel the same way, so approaching them from the front on an even level to them is less intimidating and can reduce the occurrences of aggression.
Something else to keep in mind is the way that you have the enclosure decorated, particularly when it comes to places of shelter. How many hides do you offer your leo?
It is recommended to provide at least 3 hides for your lovely leo, with one on the warm side, one on the cool side, and one in the middle (to act as a humid hide). Without enough options, your leopard gecko may be turning to aggressive behaviors because she feels too exposed in her enclosure.
This ongoing, daily stress of feeling vulnerable to potential threats can wear down your leo just like it would us! We all want a place to hide away that makes us feel safe and sheltered, so never sleeping soundly because of that continuous exposure is bound to create some irritability and tension, ultimately leading to aggression.
Reason 3: Breeding Season
In the wild, leopard geckos experience their breeding season run from January through early August, even occasionally lasting until September. That is a long time! Now, even though our leos were bred in and live in captivity, they still can experience their own breeding seasons too.
For the most part, your leo should experience slight behavioral changes that come with ovulation and searching for a partner to mate with.
Both sexes can get territorial and aggressive, so don’t count one or the other out!
Females can show aggression while they lay eggs as they are protective over their little ones and will do whatever is necessary to keep them safe (whether laying infertile eggs or not). Look for signs of ovulation in your leo to tell if this is the reasoning behind her erratic behavior.
Males, on the other hand, may not be protective over a clutch of eggs, but their hormones are changing during this period, causing them to be placed in overdrive to find a female! They will become significantly more territorial and aggressive to assert themselves as the best candidate for a female to mate with.
You’re more likely to see this occurring if you have several leopard geckos at home, but it can still be a possibility even if you have just one.
Reason 4: Your Leo Has A Tankmate
A common misconception for most species is that they’d prefer having a roommate, another family member if you will, just because humans think this way. This couldn’t be further from the truth for leopard geckos!
Highly solitary and territorial lizards, leopard geckos do much better alone, just like their wild counterparts. They’ll find a hide that is just for them, hunt on their own, and shed in solace. You’ll see leos interact with other leos come breeding season, but otherwise, it’s safe to say you’ll find them living solo and prefer it that way!
Now with this said, it is possible to keep two or more female leopard geckos in one enclosure and not have violence. However, instances where peace is kept are rare and only found true for some pairs of females. This is given their enclosure is large enough, that each individual can retreat into their private hide, and they have more easygoing temperaments than others.
The majority of the time, you’re likely going to see territorial aggression amongst the pair or group, whether it be all females, all males, or a mix of females and males. And if left unchecked, it can lead to serious injury or death from the habitual fighting.
This may be misleading considering you could go to a chain pet store and see leopard geckos housed together, but remember, those are babies. As leopard geckos mature, their territoriality also grows with them. So, by the time they are adults, they want no part of another leo standing on their turf and aren’t afraid to make it known using any means possible!
The easiest way to fix this aggressive behavior is to separate your leopard geckos. Purchase another enclosure, set it up, and let one of your leos claim it as her own! Once you eliminate the underlying stress of protecting their territory, you should start to see the aggression dissipate as well.
Reason 5: They’re Shedding
If you notice your juvenile leopard gecko only acting aggressively once per week or your adult leopard gecko acting aggressively only once monthly (give or take), it could be due to their shedding process.
It’s no secret that reptiles shed when they start turning pale white on us, so we must try to understand how it likely makes them feel. One thing we can expect from this process is that it makes these reptiles more vulnerable and therefore more wary of their surroundings.
Their vision is lessened, their new skin is more sensitive, their old skin is itchy and bothersome, and they are using up a good portion of their energy and nutrient reserves to develop new skin in place of that old, dying skin!
Undoubtedly, the shedding regime must be stressful, to say the least. With it being such a vital routine for their overall health, we must maintain a hands-off approach and solely ensure that the enclosure maintains the proper humidity and temperature requirements.
Don’t take it personally if your leo is acting mean during this time, as they just want a safe, calm place to go through this without fear of being handled, bothered, or injured. They may even hide and not be interested in food, which is OK!
Even my crested gecko will act in these ways, verbally letting me know that he’s clearly going through something and not hungry, to get my repashy-filled spoon away from him!
Give your leo some time, and once she is done shedding, she should return to her normal, easygoing self!
Reason 6: Improper Or Too Much Handling
Every reptile has its own unique personality, and while not as cuddly as bearded dragons, I have met some leopard geckos who do love quality time with their owner!
If this is your leo, then handling her shouldn’t cause aggression as an outcome. However, if you have a leo who prefers being left alone to do her own thing, you’ve probably experienced some rather rude behaviors from her as you attempt to remove her from her tank.
And even with the friendliest of leos, they are still reptiles, not dogs! Too much handling is a real thing that can stress out your leo and cause them to stand up for themselves in ways that aren’t always nice to our fingers.
The same goes for if you handle your leo improperly. That is, holding them too tightly, not supporting their full body, grabbing them by their tail, and reaching to grab them from the top rather than from the side. These actions can quickly spook them and stress them out, and your leo’s first instinct would be to escape by any means possible, even if that means biting is in order!
Reason 7: It’s Their Personality
I left this possibility last so you could try to exhaust all the reasons, but let’s face it, some leopard geckos are just jerks!
Plenty of animals (including humans) have individual personalities. Some are kind, selfless, and caring, whereas others are cold, rude, and selfish. And of course, you have in between.
Just because the general trend for leopard geckos is that they have an easygoing temperament, this doesn’t mean that this trend will hold true for every single leo out there in the world.
You may get the expected calm, friendly leopard gecko who has her aggressive moments here and there, but on the other side of the coin, you may end up with a leo that is naturally more defensive and angry. They’d prefer it if you left them alone unless it’s feeding time, and they will let you know if you try crossing those boundaries!
It’s ultimately just the luck of the draw when adopting your leo especially if she’s a baby. So if she’s aggressive for seemingly no reason at all and nothing you change solves the issue, then it may just be something you come to accept and appreciate about your little critter- just from a safe viewing distance.
How Do I Deal With An Aggressive Leopard Gecko?
If your leopard gecko is acting in aggressive ways, don’t give up and run back to the pet store! There are steps you can take to mitigate this behavior and try to improve the bond you have with your little leo.
1. Take Interactions Slowly
Firstly, take all interactions with your pet lizard slow. Restart the handling process. But what does this mean exactly?
Well, leave your leo alone for a few days. Don’t try to engage with her at all, and just do your regular maintenance on the enclosure. After the first few days of this, you can start patiently working your way back into handling her. You want to start in very short increments of time to avoid overstimulating her and scaring her, which is the opposite of our goal of friendliness!
In between interaction sessions and even before starting them, you are encouraged to spend some time hanging out beside your leo’s enclosure. Your presence alone should not be seen as a threat, so the more times you are present without causing some form of stress on your leo, the more she will start to understand this.
Alongside these pointers, check this video out for more detailed tips on handling your leo safely and properly. And over time, you should see that aggression dissipate and trust form!
2. Fix The Enclosure
Now, if you believe the aggression is being caused by improper enclosure requirements, do some more research and go shopping!
Halting aggressive behavior ultimately starts with providing a sufficient, enriching, and safe home for your gecko. The less vulnerable they feel in their home, the more confident and comfortable they will feel interacting with you!
3. Less Is More
Oftentimes, leopard geckos will naturally grow out of their mean streak with age. However, this isn’t always the case, and you could be left with an angry leo years down the line. If your leo is solely just a jerk no matter how well you care for her, there are ways to deal with this as well.
It may not be as appealing to some, but in cases like these, it is best to just leave your leo alone. Minimal interaction is the safest option for both you and your lizard acquaintance. Less is more, and sometimes not dealing with your aggressive leo is the best way to deal with her. Keep her calm, healthy, and happy, which is our ultimate goal as pet parents after all!
While leopard geckos aren’t prone to showing aggression towards their owners, it is still very much possible throughout their lives. And just because your leo is trying to beat you up with its mouth doesn’t mean you should beat yourself up too!
There are a wide variety of reasons why your gecko may be acting out, and more often than not, it is a reason that we can fix. To minimize this behavior, ensure you are consistently providing a safe, clean, and enriching environment for your leo to live in. Practice safe and appropriate handling, and when your leo expresses that she is stressed, leave her be!
Occasionally you’ll find a “sour” apple in the bunch, and maybe that’s the leo you unknowingly adopted. But if you’re comfortable with keeping space between you and your leo and accepting that your efforts may still fall on deaf ears, then you can both still live happy, fulfilling lives. Just maybe not being best buddies…
In general, aggressive behavior from your leopard gecko isn’t a serious concern. Remember that your leo is still a reptile at the end of the day, so it will never be afraid to use force to defend itself when necessary!