Leopard gecko

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Leopard gecko
Eublepharis macularius1.jpg
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Family: Eublepharidae
Genus: Eublepharis
E. macularius
Binomial name
Eublepharis macularius
(Blyth, 1854)
Eublepharis macularius distribution.png
  • Cyrtodactylus macularius
  • Cyrtodactylus madarensis
  • Eublepharis fasciolatus
  • Eublepharis gracilis

The leopard gecko or common leopard gecko (Eublepharis macularius) is a ground-dwelling lizard native to the rocky dry grassland and desert regions of Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, India, and Nepal. The leopard gecko has become a popular pet, and due to extensive captive breeding it is sometimes referred to as the first domesticated species of lizard.


Leopard geckos were first described as a species by zoologist Edward Blyth in 1854 as Eublepharis macularius.[1] The generic name Eublepharis is a combination of the Greek words eu (good) and blepharos (eyelid), as having eyelids is the primary characteristic that distinguishes members of this subfamily from other geckos, along with a lack of lamellae. The specific name macularius derives from the Latin word macula meaning "spot" or "blemish", referring to the animal's natural spotted markings.[2]

There are five subspecies of E. macularius:[3]

  • Eublepharis macularius afghanicus
  • Eublepharis macularius fasciolatus
  • Eublepharis macularius macularius
  • Eublepharis macularius montanus
  • Eublepharis macularius smithi

Distribution and habitat[edit]

The native habitat of the leopard gecko includes the rocky, dry grassland, and desert regions of south-Asian Afghanistan, Pakistan, north-west India, western Nepal, and some parts of Iran.[4][5][6][7] Leopard geckos inhabit arid and semi-arid areas with sparse vegetation and clay or sandy soils, as well as rocky habitat where crevices can be used as shelter.[4][8] They reportedly avoid areas where the primary substrate is sand.[9] Leopard geckos may also be found in arid forests of Nepal and Pakistan, and are reported to shelter under loose bark of trees in these environments.[6][5] Winter temperatures within the range of the leopard gecko can be quite low, below 10 °C (50 °F), forcing the animals underground into semi-hibernation, called brumation, living on fat reserves.

The Aravalli Biodiversity Park in Delhi, India, is a habitat populated by E. macularius[10]

Behaviour and ecology[edit]

Wild leopard geckos are generally considered to be nocturnal by field biology sources, academic herpetology sources, and some animal husbandry guides.[11][4][12][5][9][13] During the day they retreat to burrows and sheltered hiding spots, becoming active at dusk when the temperature is favorable.[6][9][14] Naturalist David Attenborough asserts in the wildlife documentary series Life in Cold Blood: “a leopard gecko - like most geckos - is nocturnal, and it manages to get all the heat it needs from rocks, which retain something of their warmth for several hours after the sun has set.”[15] Similarly, Nepalese biologist Yam Rawat writes “Leopard Geckos remained undetected in Nepal until [2016]. This could be attributable to the secretive nocturnal nature of the species.”[6] In contrast, some sources focused on husbandry of captive leopard geckos have asserted leopard geckos are crepuscular or even cathemeral reptiles.[16][17][18] This assertion has been used to explain the ability of leopard geckos to use UVB exposure to synthesize vitamin D3 in captivity, and as a rationale for providing captive leopard geckos with access to UVB lighting.[16] John Courtney Smith, the brand manager for UVB light manufacturing company Arcadia Reptile, asserts in Bio-activity and the Theory of Wild Re-Creation: “The leopard gecko is quite crepuscular in its home range … there are many reports of them being seen even in full daytime desert sunlight openly basking."[18]

There is also debate as to the degree that leopard geckos interact with conspecifics in the wild. Academic sources have asserted that leopard geckos live in loose colonies in the wild.[5][9] Pet keeping guides often claim these geckos are solitary and do not usually live with other animals.[14][4] Acknowledging the latter as a myth propagated by pet keepers, Philippe de Vosjoli - a prominent leopard gecko breeder and author of dozens of books on reptile husbandry - has asserted that "The claims of some internet 'experts' that leopard geckos in the wild live singly... is not supported by facts."[4]


A leopard gecko consumes a small insect

Leopard geckos are opportunistic predators that eat a variety of prey items.[12] Invertebrates are presumed to make up the majority of wild geckos' diets, but in captivity they will also eat small vertebrate prey if given the opportunity, including baby "pink" mice and even hatchling leopard geckos.[5][4][19] Interestingly, breeders of captive leopard geckos report that sufficiently fed leopard geckos will not cannibalize young, and that the cannibalistic behavior appears to take place only in poorly fed animals.[4]


E. macularius with regenerated tail.

Leopard geckos are small lizards that derive their name from their spotted coloration. Hatchlings are on average 7 to 10 cm (2.8 to 3.9 in) in length and weigh about 2 to 5 grams. Adult females are about 18 to 20 cm (7.1 to 7.9 in) in length and weigh about 50 to 70 grams, while adult male geckos are about 20 to 28 cm (7.9 to 11.0 in) in length and weigh about 60 to 80 grams.[20]

Unlike many other geckos, but like other Eublepharids, their toes do not have adhesive lamellae, so they cannot climb smooth vertical walls.


Leopard geckos are polyphyodonts and able to replace each of their 100 teeth every 3 to 4 months.[21] Next to the full grown tooth there is a small replacement tooth developing from the odontogenic stem cell in the dental lamina.[22]


Like most geckos, leopard geckos have ability called autotomy: their thick tails can regenerate when lost; however, the regenerated tails appear stumpy and never have the same appearance as the original tail.[14]

Defense mechanisms[edit]

Tail Regeneration in E. macularius.[23] (A) Three days post‐autotomy: Initially the site of tail loss is capped by a temporary clot. Note the earliest evidence of the blastema (hatched area). (B) Eight days post autonomy: loss of the clot reveals a complete wound epithelium. The blastema continues to expand both distally and laterally. (C) With continued growth, the blastema begins to dominate the site of tail loss.

Leopard geckos have predators such as snakes, foxes, and other large reptiles. Their keen sense of hearing and sight help them escape from them during the night. Along with their exceptional sight and hearing abilities, their skin helps camouflage themselves from their predators. Their sense of taste and smell also helps them with survival. They also stay in underground holes and burrows during the daytime, avoid the risk of getting eaten.[14]

Leopard geckos also have the ability to voluntarily detach their tails if it is attacked, grabbed by the tail, bitten during copulation, or nipped by another during feeding. This is called caudal autotomy. After detachment the tail can continue to twitch for as long as 30 minutes, allowing the gecko to escape from its predator.[24][25] The tail is large and at least in one related species (Christinus marmoratus) it has been reported that the tail-less fleeing gecko makes for a quicker getaway.[26] Fractures in the tailbone allow the tail to separate easily and rapid vasoconstriction allows the gecko to suffer minimal blood loss. This detaching of the tail causes a high level of stress on the gecko due to the loss of the valuable storage of fat it once had.[27] It will start to regenerate its tail immediately because it is needed for survival. A lost tail may increase the chance of sickness in the gecko and in some cases kill it, but this is very rare.[14] Regenerated tails often retain similar colors to the original tail [though there will most likely be a wide variance from the vibrancy and patterns of the original], however, they are often smooth and lack the rigid qualities and length of a normal tail. The tail will also be shorter and often fatter than the previous tail.

Chromatophores and color pigmentation[edit]

An example of a group of chromatophores.

Leopard geckos range in color from a yellow to brownish-orange base with spots covering all or mostly half of the dorsal region of the body. Their color is derived from pigment-containing cells known as chromatophores.[28] These cells are responsible for an array of coloration seen in all reptiles, amphibians, birds and some species of insects. Chromatophores come in a variety of types based on the color they correspond to. Chromatophore types include xanthophores (responsible for yellow coloration), erythrophores (responsible for red coloration), iridophores (responsible for iridescence), leucophores (responsible for white coloration), melanophores (responsible for black coloration), and cyanophores (responsible for blue coloration). The skin of wild leopard geckos contains xanthophores (yellow) and melanophores (black spots). Designer leopard geckos may possess erythrophores and leucophores since commercial breeding and artificial selection have allowed novel coloration to arise.[29]

Sexual dimorphism[edit]

Captive male (top) and female (below) leopard geckos

Sexual dimorphism is defined as a phenotypic difference between males and females of a species. It can be commonly found in animals, such as the leopard gecko and other reptiles.[30] It exists in adult males and females, but can be difficult to determine in young geckos. The underside of a gecko truly determines the sex of the gecko. Males have pre-anal pores and hemipenal bulges while females have smaller pores and do not have external bulges.[14]

Males can determine the sex of other leopard geckos by smelling pheromones on their skin. Males respond to males with aggressive behavior while they demonstrate courtship behavior towards females. Towards other males, the male would raise itself up from the ground, extend his limbs, and arch his back with the swelling of the tongue in aggression. He will then make short dashes and quick, vigorous bites, which frequently lacerate the skin and sometimes severely injure his opponent. Males behave the same way towards females while they are shedding their skin. Before and after the shedding of the skin, the males still express courtship behavior towards the females.[31]


A hatchling leopard gecko displays the characteristic banded coloration of juveniles.

Leopard geckos typically breed in the summer. Females can store sperm over the course of their breeding season, and produce up to three clutches from one or two copulations.[32] Females can lay about six to eight clutches of two eggs; eggs are laid approximately 21 to 28 days after mating. The average amount of time it takes for a newborn to hatch is anywhere between 35 and 89 days, although it is usually closer to the latter.[33] Baby leopard geckos will have an "egg tooth", a calcareous tip at the end of its snout to help break their egg shell. Their "egg tooth" will fall off within one to two days. In addition to this, their skin will usually shed within 24 hours of hatching. The leopard gecko hatchling will not be able to eat until after the first shedding.[14]

Leopard geckos are also known to have temperature-dependent sex determination. Embryos incubated in predominantly cool temperatures (about 26–29 °C [79–84 °F]) or very warm temperatures (about 34–35 °C [93–95 °F]) will develop as females, while embryos incubated at intermediate temperatures (about 31–33 °C [88–91 °F]) will develop as male. Determination of sex is believed to be set during the first two weeks of incubation. Females born in the higher temperatures differed from those who were born in the lower temperatures hormonally and behaviorally. Those born in the warmer temperatures expressed more aggressive behavior.[34] These are known as "hot females" and are often determined to be infertile.

Leopard geckos as pets[edit]

A pet leopard gecko. Note the coloration has diverged from the drab spotted wild type due to selective breeding.

Leopard geckos are one of the most popular lizard pets, second only to the bearded dragon.[35] They are possibly the first domesticated lizard species.[36][37] [38] They breed easily in captivity, so most sold are captive-bred rather than wild-caught.[39]: 68–69 [40][41] Due to extensive captive breeding and artificial selection, captive animals display a range of colors and patterns. Those found in the wild typically have more dull colorations than those kept in captivity as pets.[4]

A leopard gecko shedding its skin. The gecko eats its skin after shedding. Click the file link in the upper right of this description for the full resolution video.

See also[edit]


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