Leopard Gecko Feeding
We are often asked ‘how much do I feed my gecko?’ – and the answer isn’t quite as simple as it first appears!
The information that can be found on the internet is often contradictory and sometimes infuriatingly vague; the problem is that the answer depends on the age of the gecko, the size of the enclosure, how it is lit and heated, the size of the gecko, the size of the food… in other words, it depends!
It’s important to know where a species originates from in the wild, as this will tell you what sort of food it eats. Consider whether it is diurnal (day active), nocturnal (out at night), crepuscular (active at dawn and dusk), arboreal (lives up a tree), terrestrial (lives on the ground), or fossorial (lives underground or burrows a lot). Those facts will give you a great deal of information, not just about diet. Check whether the animal is insectivorous (eats bugs), herbivorous (eats plants) or omnivorous (eats both); we will try to replicate the wild diet in captivity, so it is very important to know exactly what it is we are trying to mimic.
In the case of your new leopard gecko, in the wild they are found in arid, dry rocky areas with some tough, shrubby growth, and eat any insects they can find. They will also eat spiders, millipedes, centipedes, moths – if they can catch it, they’ll eat it. We can’t exactly replicate this extremely varied diet within our vivariums, so we need to vary the diet in other ways.
The base diet should be made up of locusts, crickets, mealworms, calci worms and cockroaches with an occasional treat of waxworms. All of these (apart from the waxworms) should be gut loaded before feeding them to your lizard – this is a fancy way of saying that you need to feed your feeders! The old saying ‘you are what you eat’ is very true of your leopard gecko, and in order to keep him or her in tip top condition you need to make sure that they are being given top quality food. (You can find our livefood care guide here.)
Leopard geckos are like us in that they definitely have favourite foods. They’re also pretty smart, and are very capable of training their owners to only give them the food they like best! Their instincts tell them to eat the fattiest, most calorie dense food that they can – so beware of letting your gecko get picky with their food. Waxworms especially are a treat food; they are so fatty that your gecko may not be hungry for a few days after having some, so they ignore their locusts or crickets, which makes the owner offer them more waxworms as it seems to be the only thing they will eat. If that happens, stop offering food altogether for a few days, and take the opportunity to check your temperatures, UV light, and anything else that might need to be changed or improved. Once you’re sure that everything is ok, then introduce a little food such as crickets or locusts. Don’t offer waxworms again until your gecko is back to regularly eating the foods that you want them to eat.
Feeder insects can be fed on commercially available insect food or can be maintained on fresh vegetables and leafy greens; the advantage of giving them fresh food is that they will receive all the water they need from it. It’s worth having a separate container to keep your livefoods in, as they will survive longer than in the box, and you are able to give them a larger variety of foods. The more different things you give them, the more micronutrients you will be giving to your gecko.
Size is another sticking point. There is a generally accepted theory that a lizard should only ever be fed live insects that are no longer than the space between their eyes, and as a guide for baby lizards this isn’t bad. Adult leopard geckos in good health are quite able to manage larger food items, such as extra large locusts, morio worms or adult roaches, but will usually prefer food items that are of a more reasonable size. Don’t worry too much if a feeder insect is a little too large; if your gecko is hungry, they’ll eat it! However, if you are unsure, it’s worth offering slightly smaller food items until you are absolutely sure that your gecko is large enough to handle larger ones.
For reference, here in store our adult breeders get mostly large locusts, large crickets, medium roaches with the occasional treat of waxworms and morio worms. From hatching they receive hatchling locusts, small crickets and a few small calci worms. The prey sizes increase as the geckos grow, but if you are unsure then stick with mid size prey until you are feeling more confident – medium locusts and crickets are a good general size to use.
Our babies are accustomed to having to chase and catch their food, so it’s absolutely fine to just drop a few feeder insects into the vivarium and let them catch them themselves. You can offer food on tongs, but only once your gecko has begun to trust you and will emerge to see what you are doing when you open their vivarium; it’s a good way of showing your gecko that you are harmless and the source of good things, but don’t let them become dependent on you bringing their food right up to them – they need both the exercise and the enrichment of catching it themselves. Mealworms can be offered in bowls, just don’t forget to dust them and if they are not eaten all at once then put a bit of food for the mealworms in the bowl.
How often should I feed? Until your gecko is at least a year old, then feeds should be daily. You will likely find that between a year and eighteen months your gecko will start to be less interested in food; this is normal, and nothing to be worried about. Reduce feeding frequency and they should get keen to eat their food again.
Of course, the big question – how much should I feed my gecko? There are no hard and fast rules for this. When we have babies in groups we need to make sure that they have enough food to prevent squabbles breaking out; with a single gecko, this isn’t a problem. Begin with two or three insects a night for the first week. If your gecko is still hungry and you are allowing them to settle in, then they will come out and be actively looking for food. If they are doing this every night, then increase the feed. If you are concerned that you are under feeding your gecko, then once a week you can try offering more food than usual – if your gecko eats it all, then increase the amount given daily.
Adult geckos do not need to eat every day. Offering them a few insects every two or three days is usually sufficient, although some will eat everything that’s put in front of them, whether they’re hungry or not! Keep an eye on your gecko’s weight, and adjust the amount of food accordingly. Some geckos would rather eat more but less frequently, some much prefer one or two bugs most nights. Experience will tell you what your gecko likes, and if you buy an adult from us (we sometimes have them available) then we will be able to tell you what that particular gecko likes to do.
Don’t forget to dust your feeder insects with a good quality calcium or multivitamin/multimineral powder at every feed. Your gecko needs to learn that food always has a little bit of dust on it, which is the best way to prevent them becoming picky about their food. The easiest way to dust your bugs is to shake a few gently out of the box into a tall cup, such as a takeaway coffee cup – as they can’t climb the walls and the cup is too tall for them to jump out – then add a pinch of either calcium or multivitamin/multimineral powder. Not too much! If your bugs are leaving a white trail everywhere they walk, you’ve used too much. Just a sprinkle is all it takes!
It’s incredibly important to use these powders all through the life of your gecko. Their bodies, like those of all animals, need complex nutrition in order to stay healthy. We can best provide that with a varied diet, well gutloaded and sprinkled with extra vitamins, minerals and calcium.
Always keep an eye on the weight of your gecko. If you weigh them regularly (once a week is good, or once every two weeks) then you will have a good idea of how quickly they are growing. They should grow steadily for about the first year, and then the growth rate should slacken off as they approach maturity. You are looking for a nice plump tail, rounded body, bright eyes and a clean bottom. If you have all that and your gecko is coming out and looking for food, then you are getting it right!
Bear in mind that just because some is good, it doesn’t mean that more is better. Over supplementing can cause problems with joints, skin and eyesight. Overfeeding can lead to obesity, which can be deadly for our pet geckos. Make sure that your gecko is plump, but not so fat that it can barely walk – large fat deposits under the front legs are an early warning sign. Underfeeding will lead to slow growth and a skinny gecko that can’t metabolise enough vitamins and minerals to stay healthy. Being hungry as well as mineral deficient can lead to substrate eating, impaction and death.
Don’t forget we are always on the end of the phone, or just an email away if you’re not sure of anything. We’re here to help you enjoy your reptile pet, not be stressed by them!