Leopard Gecko or Gargoyle Gecko - which is the better beginner pet?

Posted by Critter Depot on

Table of Contents

Which is the better pet - Leopard Geckos vs. Gargoyle Geckos for Beginners

This article will compare two species of geckos popular in the pet trade and assess which one might be best for beginners. Both species are very affordable and plentiful. There are some differences, however, that make one or the other more suited to certain types of beginners. 

Leopard Geckos

leopard gecko

Leopard geckos are always a good choice for reptile keeping beginners. They are easy to find at your local pet store or reptile show and come in an array of patterns and colors, referred to as morphs. One or two leopard geckos can be kept in a 20-gallon tank from infancy to maturity, unlike some geckos that require a small tank to begin with, and then upgrading the size as they approach maturity.

Leopard Gecko Age

These geckos live a fairly long time though (10 to 20 years in captivity), so if your young child is wanting one, be prepared to care for them yourself or rehome them eventually.

Leopard geckos can be easily handled, don't often bite (but if they do it doesn't hurt), and are a good size for children to hold: not too small and not too heavy. 

Sanitation

Unlike gargoyle geckos, who don’t care too much about their cleanliness, leopard geckos seem to take pride in keeping and staying clean at all times.  You will find that most of them poop in one spot every time, therefore, making it a lot easier to spot clean and keeping the cage floor cleaner overall. Some new owners who are finicky will find this a very nice feature of this pet. When spot cleaned daily, this pet and its housing will not emit unpleasant odors. 

Handling

When first acquired, leos can be a little feisty but are quite easy to tame. In approximately 30 days of consistent, gentle handling, they will settle into a bond with their humans and seem to enjoy being held, although this can vary a little from individual to individual. Some can become quite affectionate although it is wise to remember that they are fairly fragile and have to be handled with care, and should not be handled by very young children.  They are great for older kids, though.  As with most lizard pets, they should never be grabbed by the tail.

Leopard Gecko Maintenance

This pet is fairly convenient for owners with a busy lifestyle once they have progressed beyond early childhood. Leopard geckos that are under 6 months in age have to eat every day, so leaving them home alone untended for longer periods of time is not possible when they are young. But, once they’re over 6 months and they start eating less, then you can leave them home alone comfortably for as long as three days. For people who travel for extended periods, pet sitting will be needed.

The prices of their food will vary, so it’s impossible to let you know how much that will be a month, but all of their food options are usually pretty cheap, so you don’t have to worry about that being too much if that was ever a concern.  For example, you can get crickets or dubia roaches delivered for less than $30.  

Because their poos and pees are so little and are usually in one spot within the tank, cleaning out their tank isn’t something that has to be done very often at all.  If you have multiple leopard geckos living together then you’ll maybe have to clean your tank twice a month, but for just one, once a month should do just fine.

Habitat Set up for Nocturnal Living

Leopard geckos are mostly nocturnal (they’re actually cathemeral, meaning that they can be active day or night). They strongly prefer nighttime activity, but may need occasional exposure to UVB rays in order to produce Vitamin D3. Many keepers do provide supplemental light in addition to a properly balanced diet in order to prevent metabolic bone disease. Unlike gargoyle geckos, this arid land species definitely requires higher temperatures within its habitat, including a basking spot that reaches around 92 degrees F. Supplemental heating and a temperature gradient within the habitat make management of this species a little trickier in this regard than gargoyles

Certain leopard gecko morphs are susceptible to a neurological disordered named Enigma Syndrome (ES), after the Enigma color variation.  Enigma Syndrome (ES) is a neurological disorder that affects the balance and cognition of leopard geckos.  The severity of this genetic mutation ranges from relatively mild symptoms, such as ‘star gazing’, head tilting, and occasional circling to debilitating effects such as seizures, ‘death rolls’, and incessant circling in place.   Affected individuals with the same mutation will manifest different degrees of severity of this disorder, because of environmental factors and their individual genotype. Environmental stressors such as bunking with an aggressive cage-mate or shipping stress can be enough trauma to activate this syndrome.  Enigma Syndrome is a misnomer, as all morphs are susceptible to this disorder; however, it is more prevalent in the Enigma morph.  Balance disorders seen in non-enigma morphs may, in fact, be one and the same disorder. This condition is not something that is seen in gargoyle or other species of pet geckos. Beginners may want to avoid this morph, also be aware this can be a problem for non-wild type colorations.

Gargoyle Geckos

gargoyle gecko

Gargoyle geckos are originally from New Caledonia (a group of islands between Fiji and Australia). They were once considered among the rarest lizards in captivity. Today, they are bred in large numbers and have become standard fare in the pet trade.

Gargoyle Gecko Size and Age

These are good-sized geckos that tend to get just a bit larger than leos, and with proper care and housing can reach 9 inches in total snout to vent length. Gargoyle geckos are sexually mature when 15 to 18 months of age, and have a life span up to 20 years.

More expensive than Leopard Gecko

Although a reasonably affordable pet, this species will cost an average of three times the cost of a leopard gecko. Female geckos are generally considered more valuable and are therefore more expensive than males as a rule.  Plan on spending at least $100 for this pet depending on colors, and knob or horn size. 

Handling and Biting

The juveniles are much shyer than leopard geckos.  Well tamed and properly handled adults are quite friendly, however. For this reason, new owners should wait until their new pet is at least 3 inches SVL (snout to vent) before handling at all. Unlike leopard geckos, gargoyle geckos readily bite when they are young to subadult, but seldom when adult. They have long sharp teeth, and their bites may draw blood. Fortunately, they bite only as a warning and quickly let go.  The young ones will require patience in the taming process. 

Habitat

Baby gargoyle geckos are best housed in a standard (20 inch) 10-gallon reptile tank with a screen top. Adult gargoyle geckos should be housed in 20-gallon tanks with screen tops. Larger tanks will allow for better display. In areas with moderate to high relative humidity, gargoyle geckos will fare well in screen cages.  In arid environments, a glass tank is advised. The more vertical the tank, the happier these geckos will be. You can keep one male and several female gargoyle geckos together if you don’t mind taillessness. Like leos, male gargoyle geckos will almost certainly fight, particularly when in the company of females, and should not be kept together.

Temperature

Gargoyles like temperatures that are approximately that of human comfort, that is between 72- and 78-degrees F during the day. That is a convenient temperature to provide, but the humidity of around 50% to 70% can require the keeper to invest in extra equipment and less convenient maintenance than with a leo. 

Humidity

If you live in an arid part of the country, you may need to mist your gecko once or twice a day and allow the enclosure to dry out between mistings.  This regime mimics their native island climate but can be difficult for certain keeper’s lifestyles. For those busy keepers on a budget, a Zoo Med Reptifogger may be a good choice, although many keepers have complained that the parts wear out quickly.  Keepers who have to be away from home 8 hours a day or more for the foreseeable future more than 2 days a week may want to consider investing in a programmable Mistking or Repti Zoo misting system. The Reptifogger will cost around $50 or so, while the other two will run about $140 or so.  Doing research on the features and dimensions of these products will help new keepers determine which system is best for them and their gargoyle.

Nocturnal or Crepuscular

Both gargoyles and leos are crepuscular to nocturnal, leading to controversy among experienced keepers as to their needs for UVB lighting. If you have live plants you are going to need something anyway, and many gargoyle keepers that do recommend lighting are happy with such products as 18″ Zoo Med T8 Reptisun 5.0 + Zoo Med T8 Terrarium Hood. This same logic and products hold for leos as well, although as more of a desert species, keepers tend not to provide them with the same amount of foliage in their habitats. 

Gargoyle Geckos feed primarily on both fruit and insects in the wild. There is no need to worry about feeding them pinkies. Most gargoyle geckos in captivity do great eating the Pangea Complete Gecko Diet. The product offered by Repashy also garners good reviews. You can also offer dusted and gutloaded insects once or twice a week or for adults an occasional frozen thawed pinky mouse as a treat. Gargoyle geckos tend to prefer larger prey items and may turn their nose up at smaller items. They can tackle a cricket that is about the size of their head with no problem. Dust any insects with a good calcium powder with vitamin D3 and make sure to feed the crickets a good gut-load diet prior to offering them to your gecko.

Appropriately sized feeder insects such as crickets, dubia roaches, superworms, and black soldier fly larvae are all good choices for live treats for gargoyles. All feeder insects should be dusted with a vitamin/mineral supplement and provided to the gecko in an escape proof bowl. That said, some gargoyle keepers have given up on live insects and feed only a reputable CGD.  

Similarities between Leopard Geckos & Gargoyle Geckos

Size

Both species tend to reach about 8-9 inches in total length or 4.5 inches snout to vent length. Leos tend to be slightly smaller than Gargoyles.

Tank size

both species do well in 20 gallon tanks as adults.

Longevity

Up to 20 years with proper care.

Active hours

Both are crepuscular, being most active at early dawn and dusk, and sometimes at night as well.

Activity level

Similar for both. Gargoyle geckos may appear to be more active because they are more easily observed, since they are arboreal and do not burrow when inactive.

Sociability

Both the leopard gecko and the gargoyle gecko prefer solitude. Both species can tolerate two females together, but not multiple males.

Minimum Temperature Tolerance

both species can withstand temperatures in the 50s F for a short period of time. Neither should be fed if this happens, as the low temperatures will result in impaction in both species. Both will suffer stress if the temperatures remain low for more than 24 hours.  Leopard geckos may begin brumation, but gargoyle geckos are not capable of this and may die.

Habitat sanitation

Similar for both. Daily spot cleaning and monthly sanitation, unless using a bioactive habitat. In both cases, the habitat will need yearly sterilization and re-assembly.

Differences between Leopard Geckos & Gargoyle Geckos

Tank orientation

Leos need a horizontal tank with a substrate they can bury themselves in. Gargoyles are arboreal and require a vertical tank.

Handleability

Leos do slightly better with tolerating handling. They are less likely to drop their tail. Both species are autotomous with tail regrowth, unlike crested geckos. Leopard geckos tolerate frequent handling much better.  Also, Gargoyle geckos will jump when being handled, leopard geckos do not jump. Well-socialized Gargoyle adults will tolerate handling about the same as leos, but juveniles will be very jumpy, while juvenile leos tend to be calmer at an earlier age.

Maintenance, habitat

Leopard geckos will need more supplemental heat than gargoyles. Gargoyles will need more humidity. Gargoyles are comfortable at human temperatures, leos need desert style temperatures.

Maintenance, diet

Leopard geckos have a less convenient and slightly more expensive diet. However, for owner’s who need to travel, they do not need to be misted daily and will drink from a water bowl.  Gargoyle geckos, like all New Caledonian gecko species, need to be misted twice daily.

Convenience

Gargoyles are easier to feed.  A good powdered Crested Gecko Diet with only occasional insects is perfect. Leopard geckos need live feeder insects several times a week. However, for busy people who are away from home frequently, well-nourished leopard geckos can be left for 2-3 days unattended, while gargoyles will need to be managed daily. Feeding leopard geckos can be seen as less convenient and a tiny bit more costly, but more convenient for necessary owner absences.

Purchase Expenses

it depends. A common morph leopard gecko from a reputable breeder will be around $50. A rare morph of the leopard gecko, such as a Black Night, can cost upward to $3000.  A common gargoyle gecko morph will average between $60 and $140. In general, gargoyle geckos are always the more expensive purchase. Red Base Red Stripe female gargoyles will run $6,000-$7,000.

Child proof

leopard geckos are more tolerant of handling and less likely to drop a tail. Both species have delicate skin. Gargoyle geckos are not recommended for handling by children under 10 because of their tendency to jump. However, an escaped gargoyle is easier to catch than a leo, although it may climb out of reach, something that a leo cannot do.

Environmental needs

this is one of the biggest differences. Humidity for gargoyle geckos needs to hover around 75% plus or minus 10%. A leopard gecko thrives in the same humidity that is comfortable for humans.

Scorecard

To help sort through these differences at a glance and possibly make a future purchase decision based on the attributes of the pets and attributes of the owners and their lifestyles, a scorecard has been provided.

Scorecard of attributes for the two species where 1 indicates a less desirable situation and 5 being maximally desirable.

Expense at purchase:

Leopard Geckos:  1  2  3  4  5  

Gargoyle Geckos: 1  2  4  5  

Monthly Expense: 

Leopard Geckos:  1  3  4  5  

Gargoyle Geckos: 1  2  4  5  

Set Up Expense

Leopard Geckos:  1  2  4  5  

Gargoyle Geckos: 1  3  4  5  

Cleanliness

Leopard Geckos:  1  2  3  5  

Gargoyle Geckos: 1  2  3  5  


Temperament

Leopard Geckos:  1  2  3  5  

Gargoyle Geckos: 1  2  4  5  

Longevity

Leopard Geckos:  1  2  3  4  5  

Gargoyle Geckos: 1  2  3  4  5  

Hardiness

Leopard Geckos:  1  2  3  4  5  

Gargoyle Geckos: 1  2  3  4  5  

Safety

Leopard Geckos:  1  2  3  4  5  

Gargoyle Geckos: 1  2  3  4  5  

Appearance

Leopard Geckos:  1  2  3  4  5  

Gargoyle Geckos: 1  2  3  4  5  

Suitability for young Children

Leopard Geckos:  1  2  3  5  

Gargoyle Geckos: 1  3  4  5  

Ease of Maintenance:

Leopard Geckos:  1  2  3  4  5  

Gargoyle Geckos: 1  2  3  5  

Convenience:

Leopard Geckos:  1  2  3  5  

Gargoyle Geckos: 1  2  4  5  

Ability to leave alone for travel:

Leopard Geckos:  1  2  3  4  5  

Gargoyle Geckos: 2  3  4  5 

Friendliness:

Leopard Geckos:  1  2  3  5  

Gargoyle Geckos: 1  2  4  5 

Availability:

Leopard Geckos:  1  2  3  4  5  

Gargoyle Geckos: 1  2  4  5  

Scoring Rationale

While both species are lovely in appearance and exhibit fascinating behaviors, they do have some differences that may influence the new keeper’s decision making. For value, temperament, and sociability, the leopard gecko is the best choice.  It is also the best choice for households with children, being slightly less nervous than gargoyle geckos. Gargoyle geckos are more difficult to maintain for people who are gone a lot, mainly because of their humidity and moisture needs.  Their habitat will need more constant monitoring, something that may be difficult to get pet sitters to do properly.  However, for the stay at home crowd that has a little more money to spend on the initial purchase, and who do not have easy access to feeder insects, gargoyle geckos have much to offer in the way of convenience of diet and watchability. As adults, they do tolerate moderate and gentle handling quite well.  Both species are extremely gentle, and can be trusted not to injure children or other pets. They are both considered to be very hardy, although they will both suffer from environmental insults and different illnesses when stressed. With proper care, both species will live to the ripe old age of nearly 20 years, which is more than enough for most pet owners. Habitat set-up will differ in kind, but not expense, at least not greatly. Leopard geckos will need a UVB light and supplemental heat, whereas Gargoyles will need supplemental humidity and consistent monitoring of that environmental aspect.  Animals requiring high humidity are always more of a challenge for new owners than animals such as the desert adapted leopard gecko. Proper humidity along with proper ventilation to prevent respiratory disease and pathogen build up in the substrate can be very challenging for the inexperienced keeper. So even though their very inexpensive and convenient dietary needs are a plus in their favor, their environmental needs are greater than leopard geckos.

In the end, a frank assessment of the best fit for both pet and owner will determine which lizard is the best choice.  Most rank beginners end up with a leopard gecko, but with adequate research and planning, there is no reason that a gargoyle gecko would not be a great choice for a thoughtful and home bound beginner in a calm household. Both species have a tremendous amount to offer in the way of companionship, beauty and interest, and with a deep understanding of the species’ physical and emotional needs, there is no way to go wrong with either choice. 

0 comments

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published