If your long-term plan is to become a leopard gecko owner, you must be aware of the challenges ahead. You want to learn about the gecko’s requirements in terms of diet, parameters, housing conditions, handling, and any other point of interest.
You also want to understand the nature of those tiny bugs you keep noticing crawling in your gecko’s enclosure.
This may come as a surprise, but there are entire populations of tiny organisms lurking in your reptile’s habitat.
Some you can see with the naked eye, and some you can’t. Some are beneficial or, at best, neutral, while others are harmful and can cause serious health issues.
So, let’s talk about it!
The biggest problem here is that many people either misidentify these bugs or fail to acknowledge their existence altogether.
That’s because of their small sizes and innocuous behavior; some are diurnal and are easier to notice, while others are nocturnal, so they’re not.
The main point here is that most people aren’t even aware of these pests’ existence until the situation is already out of hand.
To prevent your gecko from experiencing bug-related health issues, you must learn how to identify these insects in time. I recommend paying closer attention to your reptile’s habitat during the day to spot anything that crawls into the enclosure. You can even use a magnifying glass if you’re not sure.
Your leopard geckos shouldn’t have anything crawling in their habitat or their skin. If you can’t identify the foreign organisms, speak to your vet.
You may have a bad case of mites, in which case urgent treatment is necessary. We’ll discuss why shortly.
Identifying the Different Types of Little Bugs
There are several potential bugs that may become visible in your gecko’s habitat.
- Fruit flies – These are generally harmless but annoying nonetheless. As the name suggests, fruit flies hunt for rotting fruits and veggies or anything that resembles those foods. Sugary treats are also on the menu. These insects and small and have red eyes, so they should be easy to identify. More importantly, they fly, so you can’t mistake them for mites. But they can still stress your gecko, so you need to dispose of them soon.
- Springtails – These are tiny hexapods that resemble ants, except they’re a lot tinier (less than 0.24 inches in length.) They shouldn’t be too difficult to observe. The problem is that these organisms can reduce their body size by up to 33% in high temperatures. This is to lower their metabolism and prolong their lifespan. So, they might be easier to spot in the tank’s colder regions.
- Silverfish – I don’t blame you if you’ve never heard of the silverfish before. Or if the name suggests a fish. Silverfish are, in fact, tiny insects (between 0.5 and 1 inch in length) that thrive in warm and humid environments. The ideal humidity level for them is between 75% and 95%. This makes them unlikely to appear in your leopard gecko’s habitat, given that these lizards only demand a 30-40% humidity level; but it’s not impossible. The insect is dark brown with an elongated body and large head and butt antennae. The head ones are longer. The insect’s name comes from its movement resembling that of a fish.
- Mites – Mites are the most dangerous tank companions for your geckos. Because they’re tiny, these pests can be more difficult to observe in the initial phases. You will begin to see them more clearly when they multiply and spread throughout the tank, which tends to happen quite fast. From a distance, mites look like black, white, or red spots that crawl on your gecko’s skin. They’re small, so you need to look closely to identify them properly. Also, keep in mind that mites hate the light, so they prefer to keep out of sight, buried in the gecko’s scales or skin, and cower in the substrate.
While not all these bugs are equally as harmful, they all tell a sad story about your gecko’s living conditions.
These invading organisms only appear in dirty habitats with lacking hygiene.
Causes of Bug Infestation
Understanding the main means of an infestation can help you prevent and address the outbreak more effectively.
Here are the main points to consider:
- Lack of hygiene – These tiny invaders require specific living conditions to thrive. Dirty environments are great because they provide them with warmth, humidity, and food. The substrate is typically the main culprit because it takes in urine, feces, and food leftovers, eventually becoming a breeding ground for various unwanted lifeforms.
- High humidity – Fortunately, leopard geckos do just fine with 20-40% humidity, given that these are desertic lizards. However, this point highlights what can happen if humidity increases past the acceptable limits. Fungi, bacteria, mold, and various bugs are always drawn toward warm, humid, and dirty habitats.
- Hitchhiking – Many people infect their leopard geckos’ habitat with various bugs and mites without even realizing it. These organisms can use your hands as transportation or hitchhike into your tank via contaminated materials. Plants, the substrate, various decorations, rocks – all these can carry contaminant organisms that can lead to a generalized outbreak soon.
Knowing the potential causes for infestation already sets you on the right track. At least you now know what to expect and how to prevent the problem. But let’s discuss this more in-depth.
Prevention and Control Measures
When it comes to addressing the bug problem in your gecko’s tank, you have two main courses of action:
You naturally want to prevent the problem from the get-go, and we’ll discuss shortly why.
To prevent your gecko’s enclosure from experiencing any bug infestation problems, you want to:
- Keep the tank clean on a regular basis
- Replace the substrate whenever necessary, typically once every 2 weeks or even weekly
- Keep humidity levels between 20-30% and up to 40% during the shedding
- Keep the temperature gradient between 77 and 90 F and get a thermometer to prevent dangerous temperature fluctuations
- Ensure proper ventilation to keep humidity levels in check
- Monitor your geckos’ habitat constantly to detect any bug outbreak in time
- Use bug-control products like diatomaceous soil or neem oil to repel the bugs
What you can’t do is seal the terrarium completely so that no bug can ever get in. If this is the first thing that comes to your head (which can happen with inexperienced gecko keepers), consider investing in a different head.
All reptiles require a properly ventilated ecosystem to control the temperature and humidity and ensure the animal’s comfort. So, this isn’t an option.
The treatment method depends on the organisms that have invaded your gecko’s enclosure.
The main treatment procedure relies on several steps, such as:
- Identification – You first identify the problem.
- Quarantine and clean – Remove the gecko from the enclosure and scrub the enclosure clean. You should replace the substrate entirely, wash the tank and all of the decorations separately, and sterilize any piece of equipment that goes into the tank.
- Insecticides – Various reptile-safe insecticides may be of use here, but you might want to ask for your vet’s opinion on them. Not all bugs react the same to the same products, so you may require a personalized product for your situation.
- Treat the gecko – Your gecko also requires treatment if the bugs in question are actually skin mites. These pests are known for causing serious and even life-threatening health problems. Your gecko may require skin ointments and oral medication to eradicate the invaders, all of which require your vet’s expertise and guidance.
Overall, there are 2 main takeaways I want you to write down:
- Having a meaningful set of prevention methods in place is vital for avoiding any bug problem altogether
- Early detection and treatment are critical for preventing complications and even death
Possible Problems Caused by Bugs
We’ll begin by addressing skin mites because these should be your main concern.
Leopard geckos can experience several health issues relating to skin mites, such as:
- Anemia – Skin mites use the gecko’s blood as sustenance. The more of them feed on your gecko’s body, the larger the blood loss. Anemia leads to weakness, lethargy, and even death in the more severe cases.
- Illness – A variety of skin parasites spread diseases to geckos, complicating the matter even further.
- Itching and stress – The physical discomfort associated with the constant itching and irritation can stress the gecko, lowering its immune system in the process. This leads to a variety of additional health issues.
- Localized infections – Skin mites can cause irritation and micro-wounds in the skin, subjecting the gecko to the risk of infection. And skin infections can get deadly in a humid and warm ecosystem.
Geckos affected by skin parasites can also exhibit signs of dehydration or appetite loss, leading to nutritional deficiencies with deadly potential.
And skin parasites aren’t your only concern. Other types of terrarium bugs can also cause health problems due to them producing feces and causing even more severe hygiene issues.
Tips on Keeping Leopard Gecko’s Habitat Clean
Nothing beats prevention and preparation in terms of keeping your leopard gecko healthy and happy over the years.
However, much of your gecko’s wellbeing depends on the enclosure’s cleanliness and the overall maintenance routine.
Here are the primary ways of keeping your gecko’s habitat clean and well-maintained:
- Regular cleaning – Remove feces, food leftovers, and uneaten insects, and replace the substrate regularly. How regularly depends on your gecko, how big it is, how often and how much it eats, etc. Some geckos are dirtier than others, especially juveniles who eat more and poop more at the same time. So, you might want to change the substrate weekly if your gecko is particularly dirty.
- Keep humidity in check – I keep coming back to this point, but that’s because it carries a lot of weight in the process. Humidity is the main drive for various parasitic lifeforms to creep into the gecko’s habitat and multiply graciously overnight. Invest in a hygrometer for accurate humidity readings and more control over your lizard’s environmental parameters. Adequate ventilation is necessary for the same reason.
- Constantly check for bugs – You should always monitor your gecko’s habitat to look for signs of bug infestations. That’s because no prevention method (or even several used together) is 100% effective. Sometimes, bugs just happen, and there’s nothing you can do to prevent them. In that case, detecting their presence in time is key for eliminating them before any meaningful damage occurs.
Lastly, keep in mind that bugs, and mites, in particular, can spread fast. And by ‘fast,’ I mean they can produce dozens of eggs daily, with the resulting hatchlings reaching sexual maturity in a matter of days.
So, it doesn’t take long for a handful of mites to trigger an actual revolution in your gecko’s tank and contaminate the entire ecosystem faster than you can react.
Unfortunately, terrarium bugs are quite common in all reptile enclosures.
But that’s mainly because poor husbandry is also common, especially among novice reptile keepers who lack the necessary knowledge and awareness for the job.
So, now it’s time to get more knowledgeable and aware of what your leopard gecko needs to stay healthy and safe over the years.
Hint: it’s not bugs or mites.