Animal Fact Sheets

RANGE MAP

leopard gecko range map

LEOPARD GECKO

(Eublepharis macularius)


 

Classification and Range

Leopard geckos belong in the class Reptilia, Order Squamata, and suborder Sauria (lizards). Their genus name, Eublepharis, means "good eyelids." Unlike some other geckos, leopard geckos and their close kin (eublepharine geckos) can close their eyes. Another difference is that they don't have expanded toes or clinging toe pads. Most of them have fat tails and all live in dry habitats.

Because of anatomical and genetic similarities with wall-climbing geckos, leopard geckos have been placed in the family Gekkonidae. However, some taxonomists now believe they should be placed in their own family, Eublepharidae. Leopard geckos are native to western India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Habitat

Leopard geckos are found in dry areas. They prefer rocky desert and semi-arid grassland over open stretches of sand. They're crepuscular and nocturnal, spending the daytime in rock crevices or burrows.

Physical Characteristics

These lizards are 7-9 inches (17.8-22.9 cm) long, with large heads, big eyes with elliptical pupils and thin toes. They have thick tails that narrow to a point and, like their bodies and heads, are slightly flattened from top to bottom. Most of their scales are small and granular. Spaced rows of larger, bumpy scales give them a knobby look, but they are soft to the touch. Wild leopard geckos' markings show many black spots and wide blackish bands on a dark tan background.

Life Span

They can live more than 30 years in captivity. Their life span in the wild is unknown.

Diet

In the wild: Primarily insects and fruit, but also spiders, snails, small lizards, birds and bird eggs.

At the zoo: They eat mealworms, crickets, and occasionally baby mice.

Reproduction

Leopard geckos can reach sexual maturity in one to three years. Males can be distinguished from females by the presence of a chevron-shaped row of pores just ahead of the cloaca. Male leopard geckos are aggressive towards male intruders to their territory but tolerant of female arrivals. During courtship the male sidles alongside the female, licking and lightly biting her side. He then grasps her neck in his mouth. If she1s receptive to mating, she lifts her tail allowing the male to insert one of his paired copulatory organs, called hemipenes. Mating usually occurs during the rainy season. Female leopard geckos can store sperm in their reproductive tracts for 15 months or more. They can lay up to five clutches of one or (usually) two eggs during the five month breeding season, and may use some of the stored sperm to fertilize each clutch. Incubation lasts about 55 days, with some variation due to temperature and humidity.

Life Cycle

While adult males strongly defend their territories from other males, females often tolerate each other in captivity. Sometimes, however, one becomes aggressive towards another, and low ranking animals may suffer significant stress if kept with dominants.

Your Tail or Your Life

Like many small lizards, a leopard gecko can autotomize, or shed, its tail to distract a predator or escape its grasp. A muscular spasm separates the tail at a specialized fracture point found in some of the tail vertebrae while a related adaptation clamps off blood vessels to prevent hemorrhaging. A new tail will begin to grow in a few weeks, but instead of a column of distinct bony vertebrae, it will have a less flexible rod of calcified cartilage. If the remaining original part still has a fracture point, the lizard can autotomize its tail again. A newly lost tail twitches violently until the nerve impulses run down, and is very likely to hold the predator's attention while the lizard escapes

Location at the Zoo

Leopard geckos can be seen, along with many other reptiles and amphibians from different habitats, in the zoo's Day Exhibit.

Humans need lizards and other reptiles.

Here are only a few of the benefits they provide: Reptiles help keep prey populations in balance. Reptiles consume many animals that humans consider as pests, including mice, rats and destructive species of insects. This helps to control disease and damage to crops. Reptile venom and poison are used in medical research and provide effective medicines to fight certain human diseases.

How You Can Help!

We do not recommend reptiles as pets for most people as they require very specialized diets and environments. We also receive hundreds of requests each year to take former pet iguanas, boas and other reptiles but we cannot accept these due to space, health and unknown backgrounds. If you need to find a reptile or amphibian a new home, we suggest you contact a local herpetological group in your area.

How You Can Help!
The effort to save endangered species requires cooperation and support at the regional, national and international levels. You can help in this cause. Join and become active in a conservation organization of your choice. Don't buy products made from wild animal parts.

To learn other ways you can help, contact Woodland Park Zoo at webkeeper@zoo.org about supporting conservation programs at the zoo. Discover more about geckos by contacting the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles at 303 W. 39th St., PO Box 626, Hays, KS 67601, www.ukans.edu/~ssar/, or the American Federation of Herpetoculture: AFH, PO Box 300067, Escondido, CA 92030-0067. Find other groups and information online at www.parcplace.org, the Web site of Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, or by searching the keyword "herpetology." You may also visit our How You Can Help page for more actions you can take.

Reptiles as Pets

We do not recommend reptiles as pets for most people as they require very specialized diets and environments. We also receive hundreds of requests each year to take former pet iguanas, boas and other reptiles but we cannot accept these due to space, health and unknown backgrounds. If you need to find a reptile or amphibian a new home, we suggest you contact a local herpetological group in your area.

In the Puget Sound region, contact the Pacific Northwest Herpetological Society as a resource. The pet trade is lowering numbers of certain reptile populations to the point where they may become extinct in the wild. Fortunately, leopard geckos are bred in captivity in such numbers that it is uncommon for them to be imported. Anyone interested in owning a reptile should learn about its needs and be sure it was captive bred. Many more wild-caught animals die than ever reach pet stores, and those that do are often stressed, malnourished and untamable. Read more about keeping a pet reptile by visiting http://www.kingsnake.com/ballpythonguide/pets.htm.

Geckos, as all reptiles, play an important role in nature's web of life. Currently, there's little human encroachment on the leopard gecko's arid home, though this could change. Habitat destruction and hunting for skins to make tourist products or souvenirs contribute to the decline of reptiles worldwide. Each of us needs to take action to protect wild habitats so lizards and all animals can continue to perform the vital roles they play in maintaining the delicate balance of nature.

Sources and Suggested Reading

Bartlett, R. D. and Bartlett, Patricia. 1999. Leopard and Fat-Tailed Geckos. Barron's Educational Series, Reptile Keeper1s Guides, Hauppauge, NY.

Huey, Raymond B., et. al, eds. 1983. Lizard Ecology. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA. pg. 245.

For Kids!

Matero, Robert. 1993. Reptiles (Eyes on Nature Series). Kidsbooks, Inc., Chicago, IL. 29 p.

Leopard Gecko Taxonomy

Phylum: Chordata
Class:Reptilia
Order:Squamata
Family:Geckoida
Genus:Eublepharis
Species:E. macularius

Leopard Gecko Fascinating Facts

  • With eyesight comparable to a cat's, geckos can see better than any other lizard!
  • Leopard geckos store fat in their tails and use this energy reserve during lean times or aestivation
  • The gecko family, as traditionally defined, includes more than 700 species-20% of the world's living lizards!
 
 
 
 

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