Brumation in Leopard Geckos: What you need to know
If you are new to raising Leopard Geckos, you may have heard the term “brumation” bandied about in different message boards and forums across the internet. While there is a ton of misinformation on brumation in these internet archives, we have broken down everything you need to know about brumation. This article will summarize brumation with leopard geckos. If leopard geckos aren't the cut of your jib, then you can read about bearded dragons and brumation in our other article.
What is Brumation?
Brumation is a “slow-down” seen in ectothermic animals that experience a cold season in nature. Unlike hibernation, brumation is a much less drastic process. During hibernation, animals shut down almost completely, and mammals that hibernate actually lower their body temperature considerably. But, since reptiles are ectothermic, their body temperature is regulated by the surrounding environment. They can raise their temperature by sitting in the sun, and they can lower it by crawling into a dark burrow.
Leopard geckos are native to areas of southern Asia and the Middle East. In these areas, winter is not very severe. At most, temperatures drop to around 50° Fahrenheit during the coldest times. However, in the daytime temperatures can still reach highs of 80° or more. During this period of slightly colder weather, wild leopard geckos brumate by hiding in burrows and lowering their overall activity levels. When spring and higher temperatures roll around, the lizards become active once again and resume their normal nocturnal hunting routine.
Why do Leopard Geckos brumate?
While it is understood that the lizards need to conserve energy during periods of lowered temperatures, other aspects of why geckos brumate are not well understood. In the wild, brumation is a natural part of the life cycle. But, this cycle only occurs in areas where the temperature drops. In places that do not experience a significant winter, lizards and other reptiles do not brumate.
Breeders have found that some lizards that brumate tend to produce larger and more successful clutches of offspring. In the wild, leopard geckos reproduce in the summer and brumation plays a role in the hormones and reproductive cycles of the animals. However, enthusiasts across the internet recognize that brumation is not a necessary cycle for leopard geckos to go through.
If you simply have a pet leopard gecko that you are not trying to breed, don’t worry about brumation. The risks greatly outweigh the rewards. Conducting a brumation cycle is not an easy task, and you could risk harming your leopard gecko. For instance, if food is left in their gut it may rot during brumation. Further, if the temperature drops below your gecko’s threshold, they may die.
So, it is only recommended to subject your gecko to brumation if you are trying to get them to reproduce successfully. Even then, you will want to stick to the following instructions closely to ensure that you don’t harm or kill your gecko in the process!
Prepare your Gecko for Brumation
Before you even consider brumation, you need to have a vet assess the health of your animal. They will look for things like fat reserves, parasite loads, and other aspects of their health that may affect their ability to survive the brumation period.
They will need fat reserves to survive, which are usually measured by the plumpness of their tail and other signs. If you need to plump up your leopard gecko, superworms are a great feeder to consider. Black soldier fly larvae are another good feeder to consider as well.
If they have any parasites, the parasites may sap their energy significantly enough to kill them in lower temperatures. If your gecko has parasites, do not let it brumate until you have treated the parasite load and the animal is back in perfect health.
Approximately 10 days before you start decreasing the temperature or lighting in your leopard gecko’s habitat, you should stop feeding them. Provide them ample water, but do not give them any more insects to eat. This is a necessary step in preparing your gecko for brumation. The reason is simple. During brumation, your animal’s metabolism is going to slow considerably, nearly to a stop.
This means that any food left in your animal’s digestive tract will be left there to rot. Rotting food grows massive amounts of bacteria, which can cause inflammation and damage to your animal’s digestive system. So, be sure to give them plenty of time to empty their gut before you begin. Once you are sure that your leopard gecko is ready, you can follow the steps below to set your lizard on the path to brumation.
One extra warning: Lizards less than a year old usually do not have enough fat reserves to survive brumation. It is definitely NOT recommended to brumate young lizards until they reach reproductive maturity.
To initiate brumation in your leopard gecko, the heat and light cycles must be changed. Typically, leopard geckos are housed in the following conditions:
- Temperature (Day) - 86°-90°F with a 95°F basking spot
- Temperature (Night) - above 70°F
- Light Cycle - 12 hours day / 12 hours night
Brumation is induced by slowly changing these temperatures and times to the following:
- Temperature (Day) - 74°-78°F
- Temperature (Night) - above 60°F
- Light Cycle - 10 hours day / 14 hours night
Do not simply switch from one cycle to the other, as this may stress your lizard and cause them to waste valuable energy as they enter brumation. The temperatures above are rough, so you should also be monitoring your gecko for signs of stress as they enter brumation.
Specifically, you should monitor the weight and hydration of your gecko as it brumates. Using a simple letter scale, you can weigh your lizard at regular intervals. If they start to lose more than 10% of their pre-brumation weight, stop the brumation cycle. This could mean that they have a parasite load or that the temperatures are too low. If you notice that your animal’s tail is becoming less plump, this could also be a sign that they are getting dehydrated.
Breeders recommend that you keep females in brumation for 6-8 weeks prior to trying to get them to reproduce. But, others have noted that they have had successful broods without brumation. At this point, there doesn’t seem to be any good scientific literature on the topic, so it is mostly a judgment call on your part whether or not you want to brumate.
Behavior Changes after Brumation
After 6-8 weeks of brumation, you can start to reverse the light and heat cycles in your habitat. After a few days of warm weather, your gecko will start to become active again. Once they are fully active, drinking water, and searching for food, you can begin to feed them again.
The brumation cycle will have depleted their fat reserves. So, roaches, grubs, and larvae are all good sources of fat for your gecko to restock their stores. You gecko might seem to have a voracious appetite after brumation, so you may need to feed them a little extra. Do not overfeed, but make sure that their appetite is being satiated. This should mellow out after a few months at full heat and light.
The Bottom Line
Brumation is a behavior seen in many reptiles that live in temperate environments, so it is not out of the question that brumation may influence a gecko’s health and well-being. However, unlike some reptiles, leopard geckos do not NEED to brumate. They can be perfectly happy and healthy without every brumating.
Before you decide to put them through this stressful endeavor, make sure you understand exactly why you are doing it. Non-breeding pets likely never need to be brumated, and some breeders have been successful with a very mild brumation period.
Learn More about Leopard Gecko Breeding
If you are interested in using brumation techniques in your gecko breeding program, check out this article from Reptiles Magazine, which details how to prepare and breed your Leopard Geckos!