Curious about what Leopard geckos eat? We got you covered!
In this guide, you’ll learn:
- What can Leopard geckos eat?
- Recommended feeding schedule
- Foods to avoid
Leopard geckos are primarily insectivorous, with a staple diet of invertebrates in the wild. They can become opportunistic carnivores as they mature and feed on smaller lizards, snakes, and newborn rodents if they stumble upon their nests.
Based on their natural habitat and some observations, they probably eat crickets, spiders, beetles, caterpillars, grasshoppers, flies, and even small scorpions.
In captivity, Leopard geckos usually won’t be interested in food that doesn’t move because of their hunting instincts so they should be given a staple diet of live dusted or live gut-loaded insects.
What Do Leopard Geckos Eat? (Recommended Foods)
Feeder insects such as crickets and mealworms should make up the staple diet of your Leopard gecko.
Other insects that can be included in your gecko’s diet:
- Small locusts
- Silkworms, mealworms, waxworms, hornworms, superworms
- Beetles, cockroaches, grasshoppers
- Pinkie or nestling mice
Certain worms such as waxworms and superworms tend to be high in fat so these should only be fed once a week to ward off obesity. Butterworms are also fatty but can be quite nutritious and have high moisture content. Though they are still best fed once every 1-2 week treats.
An interesting study on Leopard Gecko diet revealed that geckos on a pure beetle mealworm diet had a significantly greater body mass and larger body traits (head width, head length, basal tail width, and snout-vent length) as compared to geckos fed with crickets only or a mixed diet. Read more about the study here.
Leopard geckos get most of their hydration from the food they eat (up to 60%) which is part of the reason why live insect feeders are best instead of pellets or processed feeds.
Geckos will not usually drink much from a water dish but providing one in their enclosure is still quite beneficial to increase their hydration and prevent shedding issues. Place a shallow dish with fresh water at the cool end of their tank and replace it daily to prevent fungal or bacterial build-up.
You can use feeding tongs to feed your gecko with insect feeders or hand feed them which makes for some good bonding as well. Make sure you clear out any insects that are uneaten because they can bother your gecko while they sleep.
House crickets are the most common and readily available insect feeder for Leopard geckos. They are relatively inexpensive and can be found in bulk in most pet stores. However, crickets tend to smell and can be quite noisy.
Crickets are a fairly balanced feeder with high moisture content and moderate amounts of protein, fat, and fiber. However, they have low calcium to phosphorus ratio so they should be dusted or gut-loaded with a calcium supplement before feeding.
Reptile Supply offers crickets and other insect feeders and has a care guide in case you are interested in rearing them for your live feeder.
Mealworms are the larvae of the darkling beetle, similar to superworms. Superworms are larger and have a softer shell. The hard shell of mealworms may make it hard for other reptiles to digest but be beneficial by preventing plaque buildup.
Mealworms are nutritious when gut-loaded properly since it has moderate amounts of protein and fat. However, they do not have balanced calcium to phosphorus ratio so they should also be dusted with calcium powder before feeding.
Superworms are also the larvae of darkling beetles but are softer. They have a bit more nutrition but are quite high in fat and phosphorus and so should be reserved as an occasional treat. Phosphorus can hinder calcium absorption in lizards.
Dubia roaches are a popular choice of insect feeder with high protein content and moderate amounts of fat and fiber. However, Dubia roaches will need to be dusted with high-quality calcium powder to make it a nutritionally balanced feeder insect for your Leopard gecko. They have a variety of sizes and have a long life span.
Hornworms are bright green in color which actually helps stimulate picky eaters. They have moderate amounts of protein and are low in fat. They can be a low-calorie food item for your gecko’s diet. Hornworms are mostly offered as treats since they can cause your reptile to have loose or runny stools. Hornworms should be dusted with calcium powder before feeding.
Pinky mice can be offered as treats to male geckos once a month but more often to breeding females to help them build fat after laying eggs.
📚 Read More >> Leopard Gecko Not Eating? Here’s What To Do
What Is The Recommended Feeding Schedule?
Feeding Baby/Hatchling and Juvenile Leopard Geckos
Hatchling Leopard geckos eat pinhead crickets soon after their first shed in about a week or so. They first eat the yoke from their eggs and then take nutrition from their old skin after their first shed.
Hatchlings and juveniles are known to be quite voracious feeders and will go through as much as 20 pinhead crickets in one sitting. They need all the energy and protein to support their growth and should be fed every day. As they grow to about 6 months, they can be fed about 10 small crickets or Dubia roaches per day.
Feeding Adult Geckos
Adult geckos will start to eat less as they reach their full size after about 1-2 years and can be fed every other day. They should have about 5 big crickets or a couple of worms every other day.
Feeding during recovery or illness
If you have a gecko in recovery especially after its tail has been dropped, then you should feed it every day or as often as it will eat. High-fat content worms are a good recovery food during this time. Breeding females can be fed pinky mice to replenish fat reserves.
How much and When should Leopard geckos be fed?
Leopard geckos should be fed two crickets or cricket-sized insects for every inch of body length. Hatchlings and juveniles can somewhat be fed until they have the appetite to eat but you should observe for any bloating.
It’s usually best to stick to a set number of crickets/insects per meal to avoid overfeeding and observe your gecko’s response in terms of growth.
Since Leopard geckos are semi-nocturnal, they should be fed in the late afternoon or early evening which would be the time they’d usually hunt in the wild.
Leopard geckos will allocate most of their energy resources (e.g. from their diet) to tail regeneration versus growth or other bodily functions when they lose their tails. This study concludes that tail regrowth is a priority associated with long-term survival and reproductive success.
You Should Never Feed Your Leopard Gecko These Foods
Stay away from insects that glow such as fireflies and lightning bugs which are toxic to reptiles such as Leopard geckos.
Insects you catch yourself from your backyard may have trace amounts of insecticides, pesticides, harmful chemicals, or parasites that can affect your Leopard gecko. Though wild-caught insects seem cost-effective, the uncertainty may cost you more in the long run. It’s better to breed your own insect feeders if you want to cut costs.
Make sure your feeder insects are sourced responsibly from a reputable breeder. This ensures that these insects are free of harmful substances and parasites that can affect the health of your Leopard gecko.
Fruits and Vegetables
A Leopard gecko’s stomach is not designed to eat or digest fruits and vegetables. They are primarily insectivores and should be on a staple diet that mimics their natural diet as much as possible.
Some research has shown that Leopard geckos can eat fruit and vegetables and they do just because it was available to them in captivity but since they cannot digest it, it poses no benefits. It may even be harmful as the sugars in fruits and a soft diet can lead to plaque buildup. In an insectivorous diet, the hard exoskeleton will help prevent plaque build-up on the gecko’s teeth.
📚 Read More >> Can Leopard Geckos Have Fruit?
Common Feeding Mistakes To Avoid
Feeding big insects
As a general rule, you should make sure your feeder insects are only as big as the space between your gecko’s eyes to make sure that your gecko will not run into any digestion issues.
This means baby or hatchlings should be fed pinhead crickets about ⅜ inches or smaller in size. Juveniles can be fed ¼ inch crickets and adults can be fed crickets ½ to 1 inch in size (small full-grown crickets).
It’s natural instinct for most exotic animals to eat as much as they can since, in their natural habitats, food can be pretty scarce. Leopard geckos, in particular, can process and store food effectively to help them survive the harsh deserts of Pakistan or Iran.
So in captivity, pet owners should be careful about overfeeding and stick to a strict feeding schedule and amount. Obesity and a poor diet lead to a lot of health issues in reptiles.
Adult geckos should eat about 1-2 crickets per inch of body length or about 6-8 crickets in total per feeding. At the end of a meal, their stomachs should look fuller but not bloated and hard to the touch.
Geckos in good shape have a relatively flat stomach and a wide tail. The tail is wider than its body. A regrown tail can be much wider or thicker.
Geckos in captivity should be fed with a bit of variety with high-fat food reserved as once-a-week treats. Certain worms such as waxworms and superworms tend to be high in fat so these should only be fed once a week to ward off obesity. Butterworms are also fatty but can be quite nutritious and have high moisture content. Though they are still best fed once every 1-2 week treats.
Incorrect temperature and lighting
A reptile’s metabolism and ability to absorb the nutrients from its food depends a lot on its environment’s correct temperature and lighting. Colder temperatures will slow down their digestion and metabolism, so providing enough heat for proper digestion will help in the gecko’s ability to absorb nutrition from their food.
It’s also recommended that low-level UVB lighting be provided in the enclosure for proper vitamin D3 synthesis, which is essential to calcium absorption. These precautions help ward of metabolic bone disease.
Some reptile sites suggest Leopard geckos do not necessarily need UVB lighting but benefit in terms of health when provided.
However, the health benefits of UVB lighting for Leopard geckos were confirmed in a recent 2020 study on vitamin D3 synthesis in Leopard geckos. They found that a Leopard gecko synthesizes vitamin D3 when exposed to UVB light. Low UVB level (UVI ≤ 1.6) exposure for 2 hours daily increased the vitamin D3 levels in their blood by 50%.
Tips On Preventing Mouth Rot
Insects with hard exoskeletons will help clean out your gecko’s teeth and help prevent the build-up of plaque that can lead to leopard gecko mouth rot. However, the sharp legs and limbs of certain insects can lead to some cuts and injuries in your gecko’s mouth.
You must check your gecko’s mouth from time to time for any scrapes or plaque buildup that might lead to mouth rot. If there are small cuts, stuck food, any abscess or pus, or signs of irritation, then you should check for other signs of mouth rot.
To force open your gecko’s mouth, you can repeatedly but softly stroke the top of their mouth which will cause them to open it.
What About Vitamins And Supplements?
Calcium, vitamin D3, and a multivitamin supplement should be given to juveniles daily and every other day for adults. Dusting onto live insects or gut loading the day before you feed your gecko is the best way to provide them these nutrients.
Sometimes Leopard geckos are observed to eat calcium carbonate powder from a dish left in their enclosures.
Vitamin A deficiency in geckos can lead to hemipene infections and shedding issues. Vitamin A can be provided in long-term, low-dose oral supplements.
It’s easy to overdose small animals minerals such as Vitamin A so make sure you consult with your vet on the dosage or follow the instructions on the packet.
Alternatively, highly nutritious food such as vegetables, some fruits, and leafy greens can be used to gut load crickets and other feeder insects so that your Leopard gecko can benefit from these nutritious foods.
Leopard geckos are insectivores that should be kept on a diet similar to what they eat in the wild. In captivity, they can be fed a variety of insects such as crickets and roaches but worms should be reserved as treats. Geckos cannot digest fruits and vegetables. Supplements, proper heat, and low-level UVB lighting complete and maximizes a Leopard gecko’s diet.
How Long Can A Leopard Gecko Go Without Food?
Four days to a week. Feeding problems usually accompany shedding season.
If your gecko refuses to eat after four days, then you should observe it for health issues and take it to the vet.
Adult geckos can go without food for a week especially when shedding but if they still don’t eat a week after completing shedding then you should visit the vet.
Why Is My Leopard Gecko Not Eating?
Different reasons can cause loss of appetite. The best way to prevent this would be to ensure that proper conditions, especially with regards to heating and lighting, are met.
Heating plays a big part in your gecko’s digestion and metabolism so make sure their tank is not too cold. However, loss of appetite can be a symptom of other health conditions so be sure to check for these, especially if it’s accompanied by rapid weight loss.
During shedding, your gecko may refuse to eat for a few days.
Overview on Leopard geckos:
ADW: Eublepharis macularius: INFORMATION
Management and care of Leopard geckos:
Management, care, and common conditions of Leopard Geckos
Short article on care:
Leopard Gecko Husbandry and Nutrition
A study on diet variation and its effect on a gecko’s growth rate:
Growth Rate Variation in Captive Species: The case of Leopard Geckos
A study on UVB radiation and vitamin D3 synthesis:
The nocturnal leopard gecko (Eublepharis macularius) uses UVB radiation for vitamin D3 synthesis