There are many things that can go wrong when it comes to setting up and maintaining a tank that is safe for your leopard gecko. Having the correct temperature levels in the tank is probably one of the most important things to have correct for their safety, well-being, and health. In this guide we will look at why temperature is so critical to leopard geckos and how to best maintain and monitor their tank temperature.
What temperature should a leopard gecko tank be?
The hot side of their tank should be set at 85°-90° F while the cool side of their tank should be at around 75° F. You will need a hide on each of these sides, a “hot hide” and a “cool hide”. However, leopard geckos are not reptiles that bask, so you will not have to worry about maintaining a basking temperature.
Why Temperature Is Important
Firstly, is just the comfort of your leopard gecko. Being trapped inside an enclosure that is either way too hot or way too cold can be very uncomfortable. That’s pretty much common sense. But, when the temperatures are off by a fair amount, it can actually cause serious health problems and possibly even be a threat to their life. So temperature plays a significant role in not only their overall comfort level, but in their health and how their body functions.
If your tanks temperatures are too high, then your leopard gecko can overheat and potentially even pass away from heat stroke. They are from the desert within various countries in the world, but that does not mean that they have an extremely high tolerance for heat. Likewise, if the temperatures are too cold, then they might have trouble doing certain things like digesting their food properly or having normal bowel movements. In fact, this is why most owners set their food dishes on the warm side of the tank.
The type of behavior that you might see a leopard gecko display when your tanks temperatures are off can vary depending on whether the tank is too hot or too cold, but in general here are some common symptoms.
Symptoms to look for
- Not Eating
- Strained Bowel Movements / Impaction
- Not Moving
- Burned skin (from overheated rock/tile)
And that’s just to name some of the more obvious ones. Every leopard gecko will behave differently, but this will at least give you an idea of what can happen when temperatures go haywire.
If you find your leopard gecko displaying any of those symptoms, check your temperatures immediately. The quicker you fix the issue, the quicker you can get your leopard gecko back to safety, so make sure to keep an eye out for any odd behavior any time you’re checking up on your gecko.
Now that you know how important leopard gecko tank temperature is, let’s get into the details of how to achieve ideal temperatures.
Leopard Gecko Tank Heat Source
The two main heat sources you can go with for your leopard gecko tank are heat lamps or heat mats. A heat mat goes on the bottom of your tank and heats the tank from below, where a heat lamp shines down into the tank and heats it from above. In my most honest opinion, I do not think there is much harm in using either one if set up properly. Many people have had success using both, just choose what fits your space better. Here’s what you should think about when making your decision.
Heat Lamp vs Heat Mat
If I had to choose one, I’d definitely go with a heat mat. The reason is that unlike other types of reptiles, leopard geckos do not like to bask. Sure, they enjoy soaking up some of that heat whenever they’re feeling a little cold or when it’s time to eat, but they don’t just lay under the light for pleasure.
Also, with heat mats, they are a lot less intrusive and just slide right under the tank. There isn’t much set-up involved. It keeps your heat source contained within the tank, which is great if you don’t have much space surrounding your tank for external lamps. One of my favorite mats is this mat by Fluker’s. I use it and it’s great for tanks that are 20-30 gallons.
Heat lamps can be a lot more difficult to set up for some and can even get in the way of other things surrounding the tank depending on where you set it up at. Does this mean that you should not go with a heat lamp? Absolutely not. But before making your decision, you should take into consideration if you have a large enough area for a heat lamp. Also think about if you have pets or children in the house that could accidentally knock it over.
A heat lamp I recommend is this one by Repti Zoo. It doesn’t come with bulbs, but for leopard geckos you want to get a bulb between 50-75 watts. Which wattage you get will be dependent on your room’s temperature.
Heat Source Placement
As we mentioned, leopard geckos need a “cold” side of the tank and a “hot” side of the tank. So when hooking up your heating source, you’ll want to make sure that it is always on one side of the tank, not in the middle. Make sure the heat source you choose covers half of the tank.
Keep in mind, though when it comes to these heat sources, it’s not as simple as just setting and forgetting. Heat sources can easily get hot enough to harm your gecko, so you need a good way to measure and regulate the temperature. Many people have tried maintaining temperatures without any sort of regulator, but to my knowledge, it’s just not possible. You can’t control how hot some of these heat sources get and unless you are home with the tank all day, making sure these temperatures stay down manually is just too difficult. So let’s dig into how to regulate your leopard geckos tank temperature.
Leopard Gecko Tank Temperature Regulation
Using a Thermostat
In order to regulate your tank’s temperature, you’ll want a thermostat. A thermostat hooks up to your heat source and allows you to set the temperature of your choice.
I use this thermostat by Jump Start for making sure the hot side of my tank stays at that 85°-90° mark. It is geared towards heat mats but people also have success using it with heat lamps.
Having a good thermostat will take away the anxiety of constantly worrying about your tank’s temperature and will allow you the freedom of not having to constantly try to cool it down. If you plan on owning your leopard gecko for a long time, then at some point, you’ll need to get one.
Setting your regulating device up is fairly simple and is something that you will not have to worry about for a long time until you have to replace it, which usually isn’t for many years if they’re well taken care of.
Make sure to read the details and instructions for each device (thermostat and heat mat/lamp) to make sure that you’re not overdoing it with the amperage. You may want to purchase your heat source first, and then look for a thermostat compatible with the amperage / wattage etc. Knowing what your thermostat can handle before hooking up your heat source will help you in avoiding any overloading that may cause the thermostat to malfunction.
Getting a Proper Temperature Reading
In addition to the thermostat, you’ll also need a thermometer to help you know exactly what temperature the inside of your tank is at. Yes, the thermostat will set the temperature of the tank to whatever you want it to be at, but with certain factors that may cause your temperatures to fluctuate throughout the day, having that thermometer will ensure that you’re getting the right readings.
If your thermometer doesn’t match up with what your thermostat is set to, then you’ll need to raise or lower your temperature on the thermostat. A simple method is getting a thermometer that just sticks onto the glass on the inside of your tank.
There are also handheld temperature guns that you can use to manually check the temperature, but I personally like being able to just look through the glass of my terrarium and checking the temperature. Whichever one you prefer is totally up to you! Just make sure you are not only relying on the reading showing on your thermostat, because there are different factors that can cause your tank’s temperature to hop around a bit.
Things that can affect your leopard geckos tank temperature
Even with a thermostat, there are other things in the environment affecting the temperatures in your tank. These things could include:
- Seasonal temperature fluctuations in your home
- The tank being in a drafty location
- Sunlight shining into the tank from a window
- Indoor space heaters
For these reasons, it’s always good to be checking your thermometer throughout the day to make sure that the temperature is staying where it should be (85 and 90 degrees F on the hot side, 75 degrees F on the cool side). If it goes over or under by 1-2 degrees, then you don’t have anything to worry about. But if it is more than 2 degrees away from the ideal range you will want to make adjustments accordingly.
What to Do When Temperatures Get Too High
If your tank’s temperature gets too high then you should probably remove the leopard gecko from the tank until you can find out what’s causing the tank to be so hot. This is especially important if you have rock or tile substrate that can become so hot as to burn your leopard gecko.
First, check your heating source. Is the thermostat reading correctly? Take a look at the wall outlet where it is plugged in and make sure it looks normal, sometimes bad wiring can cause heat sources to overheat. If you have a temperature gun, use it to double check that the temperature reading showing on the thermostat is accurate.
If your room is heating up too much from the sun, then run the AC in your home or turn on a fan to get it to cool down a bit. Look into getting UV protection blinds to keep some of the heat out if your windows are heating up the room. Make sure you move your tank out of any direct sunlight. Even if this only occurs for part of the day, it can quickly raise the temperature much too high. Plus leopard geckos can be sensitive to bright light.
What to Do When Temperatures Get Too Low
When temperatures get too low, it’s not as immediately critical as overheating so you probably don’t need to remove the leopard gecko from the tank while you investigate. But you’ll still need to do something about it so that your leopard gecko doesn’t get to the point where they won’t eat or move.
First, check your thermostat and thermometer and make sure everything is working. If it’s set too low, then adjust the temperatures to where they should be. If that’s not what the issue is, then there might be something wrong with your heat source. Again, this could be caused by a bad outlet or maybe even bad wiring with your source of heat. It’s not uncommon for something like that to happen.
Another potential culprit for why your tank is too cold is that your room is too cold as well. This is why it’s not recommended to put your tank in rooms such as basements, for example. Or if it’s winter and you have a very drafty window near your tank, that could be the culprit. Try to warm your room up by raising the house temperature, or use a space heater or a window insulation kit.
What temperature should my leopard gecko tank be at night?
Nighttime temperatures should be the same as daytime temperatures. The hot side of their tank should be set at 85°-90° F while the cool side of their tank should be at around 75° F.
Think about your room at night, do you have the air conditioning set to a lower temperature? Does your house get naturally chilly overnight? If your house does get noticeably cooler at night then adjust your tank thermostat accordingly.
It may be a little worrisome to have your heat source still running while you’re not awake, but if they’re set at the right temperatures, then you should have nothing to worry about. As long as your leopard gecko can get to a cool side, then having it on at night is not a problem at all.
In fact, turning it off will actually be bad for them because this is when they’re most active. Not having anywhere to warm up for the 8 hours you are sleeping could cause them to stop eating, and potentially even have respiratory infections. Learn more in our article about the importance of maintaining proper temperatures overnight.
How Long Can A Leopard Gecko Go Without Heat?
It really depends on how cold the air temperature is in the room the tank is stored in. If it is 60 degrees F or above they may be able to survive a few weeks. They can enter brumation (a type of hibernation) and live off of stored fat from their tails. Anything below 60 degrees will cut that survival time down significantly.
When temperatures get below their preferred range it can affect their ability to digest food. Food can become trapped (impacted) in their bowels leaving them unable to eat or defecate. Cold temperatures can also cause weight loss as they use up their fat reserves instead of eating. Respiratory infections can also happen if they are exposed to the cold for extended periods of time.
How to keep your leopard gecko warm if the power goes out
Your leopard gecko should never be without heat, but sometimes certain situations are out of your control. It’s best to have an emergency plan in place ahead of time so you’ll know exactly what to do during a power outage. These tips can also help get you through if your heating source breaks unexpectedly.
A portable generator that you can plug your heat source into is a great option. They can be a little pricey but should last you many years and can potentially even help charge phones or other electronics you need during a power outage.
Another emergency solution is to use hand warmers wrapped in a sock or T-shirt (so that it isn’t too hot) for your leopard gecko to lay on. They usually last for 8+ hours, so by that time, your power will hopefully be back up. They are definitely a great and relatively inexpensive thing to have on hand for emergencies.
Temperature is very important when it comes to the overall well-being of a leopard gecko. Without it, many issues can arise. Remember to always check your surroundings for anything that could be manipulating the temperatures within your tank and make adjustments accordingly. Invest in a good and durable source of heat, and utilize thermostats and thermometers.
After set-up, things should run smoothly from that point forward unless there are any significant changes in your room’s temperature throughout the day. Train yourself to be diligent in monitoring the tank temperature and adjusting heat as needed. Just remember to always stay prepared and make sure all your equipment is working and you should be just fine.