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What do Leopard Geckos Eat? - The Critter Depot

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What Do Leopard Gecko's Eat?

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Leopard geckos are insectivores.  This means they consume only insects for nutrition. This diet serves wild geckos well and, and assuming they can avoid predators, they can live up to 20 years. In captivity, pet leopard geckos need their keepers to provide the variety and supplementation that they would normally get in the wild. 

Let’s look at the food items and supplements that keep a leo fit and healthy.

Fat Tails are Well Fed Leo's

Leos are usually good eaters, sometimes too much so. This desert dwelling species does not stalk prey, but pounces on whatever happens by. Sometimes nothing happens by for a bit, so this species has adapted to a feasting and then fasting lifestyle by storing fat in its tail. A gecko with a fat tail but a flat belly is a healthy animal, a round gecko is not.

A Good Keeper Monitors Food intake Patterns

So although most leos will stop eating when they're full, others will pig out, given half a chance. Consistently over-feeding your pet is not proper cargiving, and will shorten your pet’s life span. A good keeper monitors food intake patterns, and checks for signs of excessive body fat or regurgitation. For adults, feedings less than once a day are ideal, in order to maintain that feast and famine metabolic habit.

A good rule of thumb for frequency of feeding is daily for juveniles, every other day for adults 6 months to 3 years, and every 3 days for adults 3 years and older.

Document Your Feeding Schedule

If you are following those guidelines and still aren’t sure, keep a log of food items offered.  Also, document your pet's appearance, specifically looking for these characteristics: 

  • His/her stomach area is mostly flat, except right after eating
  • His/her tail is not wider than their body (but is as wide).
  • (Exceptions - If you have a sick or weak leopard gecko they should be a fed a little every day until they have grown in strength or are back to a normal healthy size. Do not feed superworms or pinkie mice during this time. Such rich foods can make matters worse)

What are Their Favorite Insects?

Let’s assume that you have a pet with a hearty appetite, yet who knows when to put on the brakes when they are full. What are the best food items to present to leos with a normal intake capacity?

Most keepers agree that some of the best items for leo dietary staples are mealworms and crickets.

Crickets

Crickets are very active insects, and their actions are a stimulant for gecko feeding behavior. Therefore, they are a good staple, but feeding them regularly to your pet needs to be monitored. Remember, crickets are omnivores, meaning they'll everything.  If a keeper puts in too many hungry crickets into the leopard gecko habitat, and they do not all get eaten, then those surviving crickets may try to eat your pet’s soft tissues, like their eyes or tail.

Gut-Load Those Crickets!

One solution is to provide crickets that have recently feasted on a good gut loading mix. These will be less likely to chow down on your pet and will also be more nutritious. Also, since geckos are strict carnivores/insectivores, gut loading said crickets on a few veggies such as shredded carrots mixed with a protein base can be a good way to add a natural supplementation to your cricket’s diet.

Portion control recommendations for adult leos tend to suggest that 2-3 large crickets or 5-6 medium sized ones per feeding should be enough.  But again observation is the best practice for knowing when to increase or decrease the portions. Some keepers recommend offering two appropriately sized insects for every inch of a leopard gecko’s total length. For example, a 4-inch-long gecko would receive eight mealworms or crickets three to four times a week.

Mealworms

Mealworms are an excellent standby, but even when gut loaded, are not sufficient as a steady and unvarying diet. However, when combined with crickets and other kinds of worms and grubs, they are a very acceptable mainstay.

For variety, 1 or 2 superworms (Morio worms) can be offered to adults every other day, and because they have a less chitinous exoskeleton, they are actually easier to digest than mealworms. However, they can often be too big for juveniles to safely ingest and are not a wise choice for geckos that are already overweight, as they are quite fattening.

Dubia Roaches

The nymphs of Dubia roaches are a great alternative over the more usual offerings. If a keeper chooses to raise them then they can be offered at every feeding along with other selections.

Dubia roach adults ordered online are expensive to feed and not recommended for leopard geckos because of their hard exoskeleton.  But they are easy to raise and very economical to produce once the original breeders are purchased. When the nymphs are ready, and it takes about 5 months of adult breeding to produce them, you have a highly palatable, nutritious, and economic food source at your fingertips.

The Importance of an Insect Variety Diet

Having a variety of food items on hand is helpful since leopard geckos are known to switch food preferences periodically as they get older, so your gecko may love crickets one week and hate them the next. Because of this many owners will vary their pet’s diet every 2 weeks with a combination of crickets, worms, and other insects to keep them interested in the menu presented to them.

Nothing Too Big!

Some insects can be too big even for an adult leopard geckos to safely digest.  So it's up to you to make sure they are the correct size before feeding. The general rule of thumb is to not feed your gecko any insects that are longer than the space (width) between the gecko’s eyes.

For example, below is an estimate of cricket size and the leopard gecko's age:

  • Hatchling geckos – 3/8" inch crickets (crickets are 2 weeks old)
  • Juvenile geckos – 1/2" inch crickets (crickets are 3 weeks old)
  • Adult geckos – smaller adult to adult sized crickets

Some keepers feed pinkie mice occasionally. Most do not. Although a good source of calcium, they are way too fattening and not a normal part of the leo’s diet in the wild. Despite this, some keepers swear by them under certain circumstances such as pregnancy or major growth spurts in older juveniles. But generally, as stated by leo expert Ron Tremper, observations of the results of regularly feeding pinkies “often caused intestinal gout and obesity.” Several breeders on their web sites have stated that they have seen fatty liver disease in their deceased geckos that seemed to be a result of eating pinkie mice too often. Generally, a steady diet of various insects is much better.

Gut Load Your Insects

All insects destined for the leo dinner table should first fed on a nutritious substrate for at least 12 hours before being fed to your leopard gecko, as mentioned above. Lay-mash for chickens is a quick means of providing proteins and a few other nutrients, as long as a few veggies are included. Simply place the feeder insects in a tub of gut-load diet with a slice of apple to serve as a source of water, and you have the basics.

Crickets should eat a variety of fruits and vegetables in order to provide your leopard gecko with extra nutritional value (but avoid acidic fruits and certain high oxalic acid veggies such as spinach and broccoli). Having done this, the keeper is nearly done, but a little more is still needed, and a professionally formulated reptile supplement with calcium and Vitamin D3 is required.

You can dust your insects with the supplemental powder by putting them in a bag containing the dust and then shaking the bag gently, ensuring their bodies are well covered. You should feed the insects to your gecko right away to avoid the powder being licked or rubbed off. A product such as Zoo Med Reptivite with D3 should do the trick, although there are other fine products to choose from.

Should They Eat Their Own Shedded Skin?

Leopard geckos will attempt to supplement their own diets by eating their own shed skin. Should you let them? Absolutely, for that skin is a great source of protein and minerals.

When feeding your leopard gecko you will want to put any worms into a feeding bowl or a shallow dish that they can easily reach. You should put crickets in their tank and place them as close to your gecko as possible so he/she will see the prey. Some owners will only place 2 crickets in the leopard gecko enclosure at a time because it can be difficult to re-catch the crickets if your leo decides they aren't hungry after all. If you have remaining crickets in the tank and your leo is done eating, you should remove the crickets.

Critical Hydration

Despite being a desert species, leos do need to drink water regularly and do not get enough from their food items. Therefore, to keep your pet healthy, a shallow water dish with fresh water must be available at all times. It should also be stable, so it cannot be spilled. Choose the appropriate shallow but heavy dish to use, as the substrate should be kept dry. Make sure that young and adult leopard geckos can climb easily out of any dish you selected.

These basic feeding practices should help to keep your leopard gecko active and healthy for his/her 2 decades of life.

 

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