Leopard Gecko Tongue – Anatomy, Role, and Problems

You already know that the leopard gecko’s tongue is one of its main attractions. Nothing is cuter than the red and soft tongue that the gecko will flare out occasionally, but what purpose does the tongue serve? This may sound like a stupid question, except these are reptiles we’re talking about; their tongues function differently than those of other animals.

Today, we’ll discuss the leopard gecko tongue, its anatomy, uses, and various problems that may arise along the way. Let’s get to it!

Leopard Gecko Tongue Anatomy

The gecko’s tongue is divided into 2 anatomical areas: the foretongue (the front area) and the hindtongue (the back area.) In reality, we’re discussing the same compact organ; it’s just that the tongue is divided into different anatomical sections to separate their different functions.

The tongue of the leopard gecko is slightly bifurcated, although the separation isn’t as visible as is in snakes. The tongue’s surface is covered by papillae used to sense taste and smell to some degree. The gecko’s tongue also contains a vomeronasal organ which the reptiles use to attract particles from the air around them. They then drag the particles to the mouth palate, which allows the reptiles to smell.

So, tongue flaring signifies in geckos and most reptiles, in general, is the equivalent of sniffing. Even licking achieves the same role.

Leopard Gecko Tongue Role

leopard gecko licking nose

Aside from the smelling part, geckos also use their tongue to trap and immobilize prey. The gecko will flare its tongue muscles to trap the prey for several seconds until the reptile is ready to swallow it.

Then you have the cleaning part. Geckos can’t scratch themselves too effectively with their claws, so they use their tongues as the primary tools for the job. In short, geckos can use their tongues:

  • Instead of toilet paper – Leopard geckos often lick their vent to clean themselves after going to the metaphorical bathroom. This can lead to health hazards if you’re unaware of the risks associated with this behavior. You should avoid petting your gecko after you’ve observed it licking its vent. As a general rule, you should always wash and disinfect your hands after handling the gecko before touching anything else. Leopard geckos can transmit salmonella via their licking.
  • When shedding – Geckos use their tongues during the shedding process. Their licking can moisten the skin, allowing it to separate easier. They also use their tongues to pull and swallow the skin, which most geckos do due to the extra nutrients.
  • When sick or injured – Geckos clean their wounds or inflamed areas on the body with their tongues. If your gecko insists on a specific area, watch the reptile more closely to make sure there’s nothing to worry about.
  • Cleaning the vent – We’ve already mentioned that leopard geckos clean their vents with their tongues after pooping. But they also clean their vent with other occasions, which have nothing to do with pooping. One such occasion refers to the male gecko cleaning its vent of the hormonal substance that they use to mark its territory. They rely on the same substance to attract females during the breeding season. This substance is produced automatically, so the male must clean it up regularly to clear the pores.

Leopard Gecko Tongue Problems

Leopard geckos can develop a variety of tongue problems over time. These come with specific symptoms and vary in severity, depending on the disorder’s type and progression. Here are the primary signs of tongue issues and the disorder behind them:

  • Swollen tongue – This is a sign of infection or inflammation, but you can’t really determine the cause by mere visual inspection. The cause may be a number of things, such as tissue injuries, bacterial infections, parasites, etc. Depending on the underlying condition, the reptile’s tongue will become thicker and may also change color. If that’s the case, contact the vet for good measure.
  • Red tongue with open wounds – This is a rather uncommon problem, but it’s worth mentioning nonetheless. Geckos can injure their tongues at times, either by accident via attempting to swallow something they shouldn’t or when fighting with other geckos. The latter is only possible when housing several leopard geckos in the same habitat, which often translates to territorial fights.
  • Bloody tongue – This is a serious one that demands immediate intervention. Your gecko’s tongue can bleed for a variety of reasons, including deep wounds, advanced bacterial infections, etc. If not addressed rapidly, the tongue can turn purple and experience tissue necrosis which is deadly in advanced cases. You should never wait for your gecko’s tongue to become bloody since that may already be too late.
  • White spots – If your gecko’s tongue is red with white spots all over its surface, that’s a sign of gout. Always contact your vet if you can’t diagnose your reptile’s condition on your own. Fortunately, you can tackle gout without professional assistance, if the condition isn’t too advanced. Rehydrate your gecko and lower its protein intake since dehydration and high protein consumption are the most common triggers.

– Mouth Rot in Leopard Geckos

Finally, your leopard gecko can also experience mouth rot, but we have yet to include this one on the list because this condition affects the entire mouth. The gecko’s tongue will become inflamed and red, but the whole mouth should show signs of stomatitis, including necrotic tissue.

If struck by mouth rot, your gecko will appear lethargic, with low or no appetite, and experience pus discharge from the nose and mouth. In this case, professional intervention is critical for quick recovery.

leopard gecko licking face while shedding

Do Leopard Geckos Lick Their Eyes?

Yes, they do. Like all geckos, leopard geckos also lick their eyes, although not as often as other species, such as crested geckos. That’s because leopard geckos have developed moveable eyelids, which isn’t as common among geckos in general. Even so, they can’t produce tears, so they still rely on their tongues to keep their eyes moisturized and clean.


Your gecko’s tongue plays a more important role than you may have suspected. This is a very useful appendix that geckos use to clean themselves, treat their wounds, smell, and immobilize and swallow their food.

The tongue also speaks volumes about the gecko’s overall health, so always check your lizard’s tongue to ensure its safety.

Robert from ReptileJam

Hey, I'm Robert, and I have a true passion for reptiles that began when I was just 10 years old. My parents bought me my first pet snake as a birthday present, which sparked my interest in learning more about them. read more...