Leopard geckos are durable reptiles that make great pets, even for beginners, as it doesn’t take all that much to care for them. But one thing that is essential is to get their habitat right, starting with temperature and humidity levels.
Set their terrarium up properly with these conditions and your leopard gecko will thrive with very little help from you. Get them wrong, and your reptile will soon start struggling.
How hot exactly should the temperature in the tank be, and how should temperature be distributed across the tank? Also, how humid should the tank be, and how do you monitor and change humidity levels?
Read on for our complete guide on leopard gecko temperature and humidity and how to get it right.
Leopard Gecko Natural Habitat
Leopard geckos come from semi-desert areas in the Middle East, specifically Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, and India. They live in sandy areas with some rocks and plant cover for them to hide from predators such as birds, snakes, and other lizards.
They manage to live in these hot and dry conditions thanks to their thick tails, which store both fat and moisture and keep them nourished when food is scarce. They also live on a crepuscular cycle, which means they are most active at the cooler hours of dawn and dusk and will also hunt at night.
In the summer, it can get as hot as 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius) in these deserts. Winters are short and temperatures remain hot, rarely falling below 62 degrees Fahrenheit (17 degrees Celsius).
Read our guide to how long leopard geckos live in captivity and in the wild.
Ideal Temperatures For Leopard Geckos
When creating your leopard gecko’s habitat, you’ll want to try and simulate the temperatures of their natural habitat as much as possible.
This is essential because lizards are ectothermic. As cold blooded animals they can’t regulate their body temperature on their own and need to use their environment to do this. When they need to heat up, they will bask in the warm sun. When they need to cool down, they will find a cool and sheltered place to rest.
This tells you that their tank can’t be just one consistent temperature. They need basking and cooling areas. To achieve this, you should establish a thermal gradient in their tank with a hot end and a cool end.
During the day, the hot area of the tank, which will be used for basking, should be between 90 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit (32-35 degrees Celius). The cool end of their tank should be between 75-80 degrees Fahrenheit (24-27 degrees Celsius). There will be a space in the middle that is around 80-85 degrees Fahrenheit (26-29 degrees Celsius).
To achieve this gradient, you should place your heat pads and heat lamps at the basking end of the terrarium. There should be no need to put anything at the cool end, as the heat within the tank will naturally warm this area.
You should have thermometers at both ends of the tank to ensure the quality of the space. These digital thermometers and hygrometers, which measure humidity, work well in most tanks.
You can also get something like this Inkbird infrared thermometer to spot check the temperature in different areas of the terrarium as needed.
Let the temperature in the terrarium drop at night, but never to lower than 65 degrees Fahrenheit (18 degrees Celsius). Usually, if you turn off the heating at the end of the day, the temperature will drop naturally, but the glass of the tank should maintain enough heat to keep temperatures up.
If you live somewhere cold and the temperature drops too much in your home, you can adjust the temperature of the tank’s heating pads that sit under the enclosure at night. The pads should sit under one-half to one-third of the tank starting at the basking end.
Don’t use heat lamps at night, as you need to simulate day and night conditions for your leopard gecko.
Ideal Light Conditions For Leopard Geckos
You want to establish a pattern of day and night for your leopard gecko to maintain their circadian rhythm. If possible, also try and mimic the seasons for them, giving them a little more sunlight in the summer and less in the winter, and graduating between the two in the spring and autumn months.
In summer, try and give your leopard gecko 14 hours of sunlight each day, and in the winter 10-12 hours daily. This means that at night, you should try and protect the tank from light and noise pollution coming from other parts of the house.
This is one of the reasons that their tank should be a secluded corner of the home rather than a main thoroughfare. A secluded location also helps with stress, as potential predators walking around and making noise all day can cause anxiety.
There is some debate over whether leopard geckos also need UVB light since they are crepuscular. But recent research suggests that basking in UVB light is essential for leopard geckos. It is the main source of vitamin D, which they need in order to utilize dietary calcium, one of the most important nutrients in the diet of a leo.
Experts now suggest using a UVB light with a UV index of between 0.5 and 1.5. It is important to change UVB lights every six months for them to remain effective. These Zoo Med ReptiSun Lamps and these Mercury Vapor Bulbs are among the best on the market.
Ideal Humidity Conditions For Leopard Geckos
Leopard geckos have evolved to live in a dry environment, so their tank needs to have relatively dry conditions of between 30-40% humidity. The general humidity conditions can be measured using a hygrometer, which usually comes integrated in a thermometer for reptile enclosures.
Humidity will naturally be lower on the hot side and higher on the cool side. Leopard geckos aren’t overly sensitive to humidity, so a range is acceptable. However, if their space is consistently too humid, they can become susceptible to respiratory infections.
You will need to raise the humidity levels in their tank when they’re ready to shed, as this provides essential lubrication for the skin renewing process.
Adult leopard geckos shed about once a month, and younger geckos shed more often to accommodate their rapid growth. During this time, you will want to push humidity levels up to between 70-80% for the 48 hours before shedding, and then drop them back down as soon as you realize that the shedding has occurred.
Keep humidity levels low by ensuring good tank ventilation that allows evaporating water to escape. You never want to see condensation on your leo’s terrarium. If humidity levels are high and you need to reduce them, you can also reduce the size of their water tray, though this does mean refilling more frequently.
You can also swap out soil based substrates for reptile carpet, which retains less moisture. If you still have high humidity, you may need to deal with excessive humidity in the room where the terrarium is located with a dehumidifier.
If you need to increase humidity levels, you can give your leo a larger water tray, and you can also mist. You shouldn’t mist the tank directly, but you can directly mist your lizard or their moist hide spaces.
Leopard geckos should have two moist hide spaces in their habitat, one in the basking end and one in the cool end. These are covered moist areas where your gecko can retreat if they need to cool down or absorb water.
These hides should look like miniature artificial caves, and inside they should have a water-absorbing substrate such as peat moss, coco coir, or a damp paper towel.
You can increase the moisture levels in these hides to increase the overall humidity of the tank. It doesn’t matter if the humidity in these hides is higher than the rest of the tank, but clean them regularly to avoid the growth of bacteria or fungus.
Ideal Habitat Size For Leopard Geckos
While we’re talking about terrarium conditions, let’s briefly address the ideal size tank for leopard geckos.
A single adult leopard gecko should ideally be housed in a 30- to 40-gallon tank. The tank dimensions should prioritize footprint rather than height, as leopard geckos like to cover territory but aren’t big climbers. Twenty gallons should be considered the minimum appropriate size for a leopard gecko tank.
Some people say that smaller leopard geckos, such as growing juveniles, need smaller tanks because they can find large tanks overwhelming. While you can get away with a smaller tank with young leos, this isn’t necessary. They also don’t necessarily represent a cost savings since you’ll still need to upgrade as the gecko grows.
The reasoning behind this advice is that leopard geckos can become stressed if their tank is too large, but there is no good evidence for this. Rather, they don’t like a large, bare tank. But if you fill the tank with things for them to climb on and interact with, they will be happier in a larger tank.
You should only have one leopard gecko in a tank, as they can become very territorial and violence can break out between them when two or more are housed together.
Read our full guide to the ideal tank size for leopard geckos here.
Leopard Gecko Temperature FAQs
Is 40 degrees too hot for a leopard gecko?
Leopard geckos are accustomed to hot desert conditions, so if they are exposed to 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40-degrees Celsius) heat for a limited period of time, they will probably cope. But being constantly exposed to extreme temperatures can compromise their health.
Ideally, the hot basking area of their tank should be 90-95 degrees Fahrenheit (32-35 degrees Celsius) during the day.
Do leopard geckos need heat 24/7?
While the natural desert habitat of the leopard gecko is hot during the day, it can get cool in the evenings. To recreate this, you should switch off heat lamps and pads at night and let the heat slowly escape and cool the tank, before heating again when you switch on in the morning.
But tank conditions should never drop below 65 degrees Fahrenheit. So, if you live somewhere cold, you may need to maintain heat pads at a lower temperature during the night.
Is 60% humidity OK for leopard geckos?
Leopard geckos are accustomed to dry conditions, so ideally their tank should have humidity levels of 30-40%. However, leos aren’t overly sensitive to humidity, so they can adapt to slightly higher humidity levels, even as high as 60%.
When they are shedding, the humidity in their tank should temporarily increase to 70-80%. However, to maintain the best possible environment for them, you should keep humidity levels between 30-40% as much as possible.
Creating Your Leopard Gecko Habitat
Half the challenge when it comes to caring for a leopard gecko is creating the ideal habitat for them in your home, one that mimics the Middle Eastern desert conditions they evolved for. This means a large tank, preferably 30-40 gallons with hot and dry conditions. There should also be a thermal gradient with a hotter and cooler end of the tank.
Once you have your terrarium perfected, the next big challenge with your leopard gecko is getting them a good diet, since, like you, they are what they eat. They should have variety in their diet to ensure they get all the vitamins and minerals they need, and they will certainly benefit from a calcium supplement. Learn more about how to feed your leopard gecko here.