Leopard gecko lighting is one of the most challenging topics when it comes to keeping these beautiful lizards.
Much disagreement exists, even among experienced hobbyists.
In this article we’ll examine the subject of leopard gecko lighting in depth, discussing what (if anything) they need, why they need it and the best ways to provide it. By the end you’ll know exactly how to provide the perfect lighting for your gecko…
Why Do Lizards Need Artificial Lighting?
There are two main reasons why most pet lizards benefit from artificial lighting. Firstly, it has been shown to affect their behavior in positive ways. Lizards that have access to light during the day tend to be more active, to eat better and to be more willing to reproduce in captivity.
Lizards also require artificial lighting to build a strong skeleton. When ultraviolet light hits the skin, it starts a chemical reaction that results in the production of vitamin D. Vitamin D, in turn, is necessary to properly utilize calcium from the diet. In other words, a lack of ultraviolet light can lead to calcium deficiencies, even if it is provided in sufficient levels in the diet.
Calcium has a huge number of uses in the body. For example, it is important for muscle contraction. It allows blood to clot properly after injury. Equally importantly, calcium is the key building block of the skeleton.
This means that lizards kept without a suitable light source can suffer from weak bones, skeletal deformities and/or they may lose the use of their limbs. This group of symptoms are often referred to as “metabolic bone disease” by vets, sometimes shortened to MBD.
The important lesson here is that it’s not just visible light that lizards need; it’s also the invisible ultraviolet waves that are just as important. There are different types of ultraviolet light, and it is UVB which has been shown to be of greatest importance for reptile keepers.
Do Leopard Geckos Need UV Lighting?
Reptile keepers can’t agree on whether leopard geckos need a UV light. There are two schools of thought:
Leopard Geckos are Nocturnal
Some reptile keepers claim that leopard geckos are nocturnal. If they’re only awake during the night, and spend their days hidden away in burrows, then they wouldn’t naturally come into contact with UV light in the wild. As a result, UV light is unnecessary for them to stay healthy in captivity.
Leopard Geckos are Crepuscular
Other keepers point out that leopard geckos tend to be active early in the morning and later on in the day – a lifestyle known as “crepuscular”. These keepers therefore contend that leopard geckos in the wild would have access to UV light on occasion, so it should be provided to pet geckos.
Who is right?
Well, sad to say, but this is all a matter of opinion.
Under these circumstances I tend to favour the option that seems to have the least risk for my animals, even if I end up providing something they don’t actually need. Better to do too much than not enough in my book.
While UV light may not be absolutely essential for leopard geckos I think it is good practise to provide it (just in case).
Can I Turn My Leopard Gecko Light Off at Night?
Whether you believe that leopard geckos are nocturnal or crepuscular, one thing we can all agree on is that an obvious day/night cycle is beneficial for most animals. Whatever the lifestyle of leopard geckos, a total lack of darkness can lead to stress.
It is a good idea to turn off your leopard gecko light at night, to allow your pet to move around at night as it naturally would in the wild.
What are the Best UV Lights for Leopard Geckos?
Ultraviolet lights for reptiles come in a range of strengths, with some producing a higher intensity of UV light than others. This is often defined as a percentage. So, a 5% bulb gives off more UVB than a 2% bulb for example.
It is common to match the light intensity of a reptile’s natural habitat to the UV output of a bulb. Desert species might benefit from the higher intensity of a 5% bulb, while those residing in forests, where the light is more diffused, would normally be given a lower strength bulb.
While leopard geckos are desert lizards, they spend most of the daylight hours hidden away from direct sunlight, emerging only as the sun dips low in the sky. The general recommendation, therefore, is a 2% UVB bulb.
Tips for Lighting Your Gecko Cage
The following tips can be useful for properly installing and using lighting in your leopard gecko tank…
Provide Suitable Hides
Leopard geckos can have sensitive eyes and skin, which doesn’t benefit from too much light. Think of it like you getting stuck on a sunny beach all day without any shade or sunscreen. It might be nice for a short while, but by the end of the day you might be in quite such a good mood!
If you opt to provide lighting in your gecko cage then ensure your pet can safely escape from it whenever they desire. The use of reptile hides can be handy, as can artificial plants and other decor items that create shady areas. In this way your leopard gecko can choose the area that suits them best.
Replace Bulbs Regularly
UV bulbs stop producing beneficial wavelengths over time. Even though the light may look fine to the human eye, the UVB being produced declines. Most bulb manufacturers recommend changing the light every 6-12 months, so consider making a note of when you installed the light.
Minimise Distance from the Bulb
UV light doesn’t travel too far. The further your lizard is from the bulb the less they will benefit. If you’re going to install lighting for your leopard gecko then try to minimize the space between the bulb and the cage floor. If necessary, cage decor can be used to build up an area under the bulb as a basking spot.
Turn Lights Off at Night
Even sun-loving animals need a natural cycle of light and darkness. Turn off all lights at night to facilitate this. That even includes “night lights” that are sometimes sold to reptile keepers who want to watch their nocturnal pets moving around.
Supplement with Calcium
Lastly, all the UV light in the world won’t prevent skeletal problems if your pet lizard isn’t getting enough calcium in their diet. It can be a good idea to supplement your leopard gecko’s food with a good quality calcium powder to ensure a sufficient intake.
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