What Do Leopard Geckos Eat? Food and Diet Guide

Updated: August 3, 2022 by Jennifer Munsell

what do leopard geckos eat

Whether you just got a pet leopard gecko or are planning to own one, you are probably curious about these adorable reptiles’ diets. What do leopard geckos eat, anyway? While they are lizards just like bearded dragons, geckos are special in that they will only eat live insects.

Leopard geckos are primarily insectivorous lizards. In the wild, they are skilled hunters that primarily prey on small invertebrates. In desperate circumstances, however, these hardy little reptiles can be opportunistic feeders that will devour smaller lizards, snakes, and newborn rodents if they come across their nests.

If the idea of feeding baby rodents to your pet gecko makes you queasy, you’ll be pleased to know that they will do just fine on a varied diet of feeder insects. Leopard geckos must have a nutritious and diverse diet; otherwise, they can become bored and go on a hunger strike.

To help you keep your gecko healthy and well-fed, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about the ideal leopard gecko diet, how much food these lizards need, and how often they must eat.

What to Feed Leopard Geckos

Leopard geckos are one of the best pet lizards for beginner herpers because they are among the easiest lizards to care for. With the right food and the proper tank setup, your pet gecko will stay healthy and thrive for many years to come.

While many reptiles eat different types of food including insects, commercial lizard food, fruits, and vegetables, leopard geckos are insectivorous lizards. This means your leopard gecko’s diet will consist only of live insects.

However, just because they like bugs doesn’t mean that any bug will do! Here’s everything you should know about the types of insects you should be using as leopard gecko food.

Staple Feeder Insects

In the wild, leopard geckos are opportunistic feeders that will eat whatever insects (or other small animals) they can catch. While their entire diet is still unknown, based on their habitat’s biodiversity, it’s safe to say that wild leopard geckos primarily eat grasshoppers, spiders, crickets, beetles, flies, caterpillars, and even small scorpions.

Pet leopard geckos should have access to a varied diet that closely mimics the diet they had in the wild. Luckily, there are many different species of feeder insects available on the market. Feeder insects are bred in captivity and are mainly used as food for pet reptiles.

All of these insects have different nutritional values, and some are best used as staple insects while others are best served on occasion as delicious treats.

Staple insects should make up the majority of your gecko’s diet. They should be fed daily to baby and juvenile geckos and roughly three to four times per week for adult geckos.

Here are the most common staple feeder insects for leopard geckos:

  • Mealworms
  • Crickets
  • Dubia roaches
  • Silkworms
  • Hornworms
  • Grasshoppers
  • Phoenix worms (black soldier fly larvae)

All of these live feeders are easy to find and are widely sold by breeders, pet shops, and various online distributors. When purchasing live insect feeders for your leopard gecko, make sure you are getting them from a reputable source and that the insects are free from pesticides, parasites, and toxic chemicals that are harmful to your pet gecko.

If you want to cut down the costs of buying live feeders or can’t find a reputable source, you can always breed and raise your own live feeders. While this may seem like a hassle at first, there is comfort in knowing exactly what goes inside your pet gecko.

Don’t forget that each feeder insect has its own nutritional value. Be sure to factor in the amount of protein, fat, moisture, and calcium they all have to offer to your leopard gecko.

For example, crickets contain 19% protein and 5% fat, while butterworms boast 16% protein and 17% fat. If you have an overweight leo, you’ll want to stick to mainly feeding them crickets and other low-fat insects such as hornworms and silkworms. Steer clear from all fatty insects until you get your gecko’s weight under control.

What to Feed Leopard Geckos

Treats/Occasional Insects

Leopard geckos are voracious eaters, so don’t be surprised if your pet leo gets excited at the mere mention of treats. The best insect treats for leopard geckos are those with a high amount of fat. Basically, they are the equivalent of junk food for lizards.

Waxworms, superworms, and butterworms are very high in fat and make excellent treats for leopard geckos and other insect-eating lizards. Like staple insect feeders, you can find treat insects in pet stores and online retailers, and you can also raise them at home.

Use these insects as occasional treats and feed them to your pet leopard gecko once or twice a week as a part of a varied diet. Baby geckos can also eat appropriately sized treats a few times a week, and the extra calories will support their growth and development.

Don’t forget that leopard geckos can easily become overweight just like people, so don’t dole out too many fatty insects. Carrying excess weight can put unnecessary strain on your gecko’s heart and other organs and lead to potentially life-threatening health problems.

These fatty insects are so tasty that some leopard geckos get addicted and refuse to eat any other type of food. To prevent this from happening, feed fatty worms like waxworms only as occasional treats, and never give your gecko unlimited access to them.

Gut Loading Feeder Insects

While searching for the leopard gecko food, many newbie herpers forget that they should gut load the feeder insects. Gut loading essentially means feeding the insects with nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables 24 to 48 hours before serving them to your leopard gecko.

Feeding the insects nutritious fruits and veggies makes them much more nutritious for your pet leopard gecko. Besides helping them reach their maximum nutritional value, gut loading also helps hydrate the feeder insects and make them far more tasty and filling for your gecko.

Gut loading is especially important if you purchase your feeder insects online, as they often arrive dehydrated and devoid of all essential nutrients. In these cases, you should gut load the insects and wait at least 24 hours before serving them to your leopard gecko.

Some inexpensive yet nutritious foods you can use to gut load your insects include:

  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Kale
  • Collard greens
  • Yellow squash
  • Zucchini
  • Romaine lettuce

Foods and Insects to Avoid

Unlike many other popular pet lizards, leopard geckos can’t eat fruits and vegetables. Leopard geckos are strictly insectivorous lizards, and they have shorter digestive systems that aren’t built to digest cellulose, which is found in fruits and vegetables.

Besides fruits and vegetables, leopard geckos also shouldn’t eat food that is made for other lizards. Commercial foods for bearded dragons or crested geckos typically contain plant matter, which leos can’t break down or digest.

Catching wild insects and feeding them to your leopard gecko might seem like a great way to save some money on insect feeders, but it’s actually a really bad idea. Never feed wild-caught insects to your pet gecko, as you can never really know whether they were exposed to harmful chemicals.

Wild insects also often carry parasites and diseases and may contain trace amounts of pesticides and insecticides that can be toxic to your pet lizard. Farm-raised and pre-gut-loaded feeder insects are easy to come by and are a much safer and healthier choice to feed to your gecko.

Besides the already mentioned foods, leopard geckos shouldn’t eat the following:

  • Fireflies (toxic to leopard geckos)
  • Chicken, pork, beef, or other meats
  • Spiders
  • Centipedes
  • Wild-caught insects
  • Cat and dog food

Vitamins and Supplements for Leopard Geckos

No home diet, no matter how varied, can replicate the variety that leopard geckos and other lizards enjoy in their natural habitats. For this reason, all insect feeders should be dusted with a multivitamin and calcium supplement and gut-loaded before being served to your leopard gecko.

When it comes to powdered supplements, choose a carnivorous reptile multivitamin powder from a reputable manufacturer. Remember to check whether the multivitamin you choose contains vitamin D3. Leopard geckos are crepuscular species, meaning they are most active at dawn and dusk, and since they don’t bask in the sun, it’s important to supplement their diets with lots of vitamin D3.

Leopard geckos also have high calcium requirements, which sometimes can’t be satisfied solely through their diet.

Calcium powders can be found with or without vitamin D3 and are essential for bone health. If you choose a multivitamin supplement with D3, make sure to use plain calcium to avoid an overdose. Similarly, if the calcium you’ve chosen has D3, opt for a multivitamin without D3.

Juvenile leopard geckos and breeding females have higher calcium requirements and can benefit from having a small tray with pure calcium powder inside the tank. That way, leopard geckos with calcium cravings can find the tray and lick plain calcium to satisfy their needs.

Use calcium and multivitamin supplements to dust feeder insects right before feeding your leopard gecko. Dusting the insects too early usually results in the insects removing the powder by grooming, thus depriving your leopard gecko of much-needed nutrients.

Ideally, you should dust the insect feeders five minutes before serving them to your pet lizard. One of the easiest ways to coat the insects in the powder is to put them in a plastic bag with supplement powder, gently shake the bag, and then serve them to your pet.

Tips for Feeding a Leopard Gecko

There are several things you need to remember when it comes to feeding your leopard gecko. The following tips can apply to both juvenile and adult leopard geckos, so don’t forget to keep them in mind whenever you feed your pet lizard.

Tips for Feeding a Leopard Gecko

  • Adult leopard geckos can be fed every other day, which translates to three to four times a week on average. An adult leo that is not sick can have a two-day fast period without experiencing any health problems.
  • Hatchlings and juvenile leopard geckos should be fed every day. Since they are still growing and developing, young geckos need more nutrients to stay healthy and thrive.
  • Regardless of what type of insect you decide to feed as a staple food, aim to provide a varied and nutritious diet to your pet lizard. Offer a wide variety of different feeder insects to fulfill your gecko’s dietary needs.
  • Leopard geckos have voracious appetites, and adults can eat 10 or more insect feeders in one feeding. While some people recommend allowing your gecko to eat as much as they want per feeding, four to six mealworm-sized insects per meal is ideal for adult geckos.
  • Don’t leave biting insects such as large crickets, spiders, locusts, and superworms in the tank with your leopard gecko. These feeder insects can attack and injure your gecko while it’s resting or sleeping. If an attack happens, your gecko may be reluctant to eat any type of feeder instinct for a few days and become scared of the insect that attacked it.
  • Get your pet gecko a feeding tray that is shallow enough to provide easy access to the food, but not so shallow as to allow the worms to escape. Of course, crickets and other flying insects will move around the tank, but that can be a good thing, as it will stimulate your leopard gecko’s hunting instinct.
  • While leopard geckos can take on larger insects, the ideal size of your gecko’s prey shouldn’t be larger than the width of the space between the gecko’s eyes. Feeding appropriately sized insects is the best way to support good digestion and prevent impaction.
  • Instead of leaving live insect feeders inside the tank, you can opt to feed your pet gecko with tongs or tweezers. This allows you to control how much your gecko eats, which can be useful if you have more than one gecko inside the tank. The only downside of this type of feeding is that it reduces your pet’s natural hunting instinct.
  • Leopard geckos store excess fat in their tails. Observing your gecko’s tail is the best way to tell whether your pet is eating too much or too little. The tail of a healthy gecko should never be lean and bony, nor should it be overly thick and chubby.
  • Like all other animals, leopard geckos can gain weight and become obese. Tell-tale signs that your leopard gecko is becoming overweight are stubby legs, a fat tail, and armpit bubbles. If you notice any of these signs, cut down the amount of food you’re feeding your gecko, and don’t give them fatty treats.

Help! Why Is My Leopard Gecko Not Eating?

There are many potential reasons for your leopard gecko’s lack of appetite. While in some cases there is nothing to worry about, occasionally a lack of appetite can be a sign of a serious health problem. Before you jump to any conclusions, check out the most common reasons why your leopard gecko isn’t eating!

Low Temperature

All reptiles, including leopard geckos, may stop eating when the temperature in their living environment gets too cold. Since leos are ectotherms, they can’t digest food properly when their bodies aren’t warm enough.

Make sure to monitor the temperature inside your leopard gecko’s tank regularly to prevent them from becoming too cold. When checking the temperature, it’s best to measure it near the bottom of the tank, since this is where your gecko is spending the most of its time.

During the day, the temperature in your gecko’s enclosure should range between 80 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. It should always be warmer just underneath your gecko’s heat lamp and slightly cooler at the opposite end of the tank. At night, it is safe for temperatures to dip to as low as 70 degrees.

Getting Attacked by a Feeder Insect

As mentioned above, larger feeder insects like superworms and crickets can bite and sting geckos and other lizards in order to defend themselves. If that happens, your gecko can be so traumatized by the event and stop eating as a result.

To prevent this from happening, always give your leopard gecko appropriately sized feeder insects. When smaller insects aren’t available, use tweezers to crush the skulls of larger insects immediately before feeding them to your pet.

Moving to a New Place

Leopard geckos are territorial species, which means they don’t take lightly being moved from one place to another. Getting a new gecko or moving your pet to a bigger tank can be a stressful experience that often results in a temporary lack of appetite.

To get your gecko interested in food again, try feeding them fast-moving insects like crickets, which should trigger the gecko’s hunting instinct. If that doesn’t do the trick, try to tempt your pet’s appetite with fatty and delicious waxworms, which are a favorite treat of many leopard geckos.

If after a week your gecko is still refusing to eat, you may have to try assisted feeding to stimulate the feeding response or consult with a local reptile veterinarian for further instructions.

Mating Season

The leopard gecko breeding season starts in January and lasts until September in the wild. During this period, female leopard geckos are ovulating and may stop eating for a while. However, egg production takes a lot of energy and nutrients, and a female gecko will need extra food and supplements once she starts eating again.

If your female leopard gecko wasn’t introduced to a male for breeding, she still may produce eggs. These eggs will be infertile, and some females may eat them to reabsorb nutrients. If your female was well-nourished and healthy before the breeding season, there’s not much to worry about, since she will be able to withstand fasting.

Male leopard geckos can also temporarily lose interest in food during the mating season. Some males become so focused on trying to find a female partner that they lose interest and forget about food during the mating season.

Brumation

Although pet leopard geckos are living in a controlled environment, their internal clock is still ticking. The light and temperature changes in the winter and fall can still cause your leopard gecko to enter brumation.

When this happens, your leo will become less active and have a diminished appetite. They may even stop eating for days at a time. However, you will probably see your pet lizard moving around the tank and drinking water. At this time, continue feeding your gecko the same as usual and regularly remove all the uneaten insects from the tank.

FAQs on a Leopard Gecko’s Diet

What human foods can leopard geckos eat?

Leopard geckos are insectivores, which means they can’t eat any type of human food. In fact, leopard geckos won’t eat anything except live insect feeders, such as crickets, mealworms, dubia roaches, and hornworms. Leopard geckos have shorter digestive systems that aren’t capable of digesting cellulose (which is present in plant material) or any other type of food besides insects.

Besides having no cecum, leopard geckos also have an alkaline digestive tract that isn’t equipped to digest human foods or plant matter. Feeding your leopard gecko anything besides gut-loaded feeder insects can get them ill and may even warrant a trip to your veterinarian.

What is a leopard gecko’s favorite food?

Most leopard geckos love eating fatty treat worms such as waxworms and butterworms. However, they also enjoy chasing, catching, and eating gut-loaded crickets, which are one of the most commonly used insect feeders for leopard geckos.

What fruits and vegetables can leopard geckos eat?

Leopard geckos are obligate insectivores, and they can’t eat fruits and vegetables. A leopard gecko’s body is designed to digest only insects, and they shouldn’t eat anything else. While you may come across videos of geckos eating fruits or veggies, there is no point in giving your leo plant matter, as they can’t digest it.

Do leopard geckos need live food?

Leopard geckos have a strong hunting instinct and like to chase, hunt, and kill their meals. Because they love the thrill of the chase, geckos are only interested in eating live insects and usually won’t go anywhere near a dead bug. You shouldn’t try to feed dead insects to your leopard gecko unless you had to crush the bugs’ heads with tweezers to prevent them from biting and injuring your gecko.

A Final Word on What to Feed Leopard Geckos

What do leopard geckos eat? In a word: insects! Leos are strict insectivores, and their digestive systems aren’t designed to digest anything besides live insects.

As insectivores, leopard geckos eat a wide variety of insects and require some diversity in their diets to thrive and stay healthy. To support the health and well-being of your pet lizard, you will need to feed them gut-loaded and dusted live insects. Gut-load the feeder insects 24 to 48 hours before feeding them to your pet and dust them with calcium and multivitamin supplements no more than five minutes before feeding.

Make sure to always offer live insects, and prepare for a show. Leopard geckos are avid hunters that enjoy chasing their prey before delivering the final blow!

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