Geckos make for awesome exotic pets with numerous colors, patterns, and personalities to choose from. With so many species and morphs available, it’s no wonder that some species end up looking alike.
Such is the case of leopard and fat-tailed geckos, 2 different species that share plenty of similarities.
However, they are different, and today we will discuss their main differences. So, let’s get to it!
What is a Leopard Gecko?
Leopard geckos are currently the most popular pet lizards in the reptile trade. They are great for beginners thanks to their adaptability and resilience and are generally docile and friendly.
They don’t mind handling that much, although you shouldn’t expect too much of them. After all, they are reptiles, so they’re not known for their warm feelings.
Leopard geckos rank as ground-dwelling lizards and cannot climb as effectively as other gecko species. Part of that is due to this species lacking sticky toe pads.
Another reason is that leopard geckos aren’t interested in climbing since they spend most of their lives on the ground, close to their prey.
Leopard geckos can breed in captivity quite easily, which has led to numerous morphs with varying features. Some morphs are rarer and more expensive than others, but there’s something for everyone.
What is an African Fat-Tailed Gecko?
I know that we’ve talked about how we’ll dissect the differences between fat-tailed and leopard geckos, but for now, we’ll discuss the similarities. African fat-tailed geckos are very similar to leopard geckos in many aspects.
These include appearance, lifestyle, and physiology. African fat-tailed geckos are also ground-dwelling, which is fitting given their natural habitat, generally consisting of vast arid areas.
Interestingly enough, fat-tailed geckos are amazingly varied in coloring and patterns.
Sometimes, the morphs are so unique-looking that you may not even consider them as part of the same species. Then you look at the tail, and you understand. But we’ll get to that shortly.
Comparison: Leopard Gecko vs. African Fat-Tailed Gecko
To differentiate between the 2 species properly, consider the following points:
Leopard geckos can reach 10 inches, including their tails, and showcase a slim bodies with long and agile limbs. Common morphs have a leopard-like pattern with a yellow background color, and black spots sprinkled all over.
The leopard gecko’s tail is probably the main point of confusion responsible for people mistaking it for African fat-tailed geckos. Leopard geckos also have fat tails, but it’s the size that really matters. Their tails aren’t as fat as those of fat-tailed lizards.
African fat-tailed geckos are just as pretty, but they stay smaller, around 8 inches, when full-grown. Their bodies are slightly bulkier, with shorter and thicker limbs. So, don’t expect your African fat-tail to break any sprinting records anytime soon.
Main physical differences:
- The tail of African fat-tailed geckos is considerably thicker, starting at the case; leopard geckos have slimmer tails that only thicken in the middle
- African fat-tailed geckos have shorter and fatter heads, while leopard geckos have flatter heads with pointier snouts
- Leopard geckos have longer and more agile limbs, despite not being fast runners themselves
- African fat-tailed geckos usually showcase a white stripe following the line of the spine, although many morphs lack this characteristic
- Leopard geckos are more likely to showcase the leopard pattern, which is pretty much absent in fat-tailed geckos
- Leopard geckos have a wider and more visible smile thanks to their facial construction
Other than that, both species present a variety of similarities as well. Both have a variety of morphs and showcase mobile eyelids. They also look similar overall, especially if you’re not that proficient in differentiating the species.
Size and Growth
Leopard geckos will generally grow larger, up to 10 inches, while African fat-tailed geckos only reach 8 inches.
However, these general sizes don’t describe the general population. You should never rely on the size difference when determining the species your lizard belongs to.
That’s because geckos’ size varies based on numerous factors like diet, environmental conditions, age, health state, and even genetic makeup. It’s not uncommon to find African fat-tailed geckos larger than leopard geckos.
There are minimal differences between the 2 in this sense.
Here are some valuable metrics to consider:
- Enclosure size – Aim for 10-20 gallons of space, no matter the species you’re going for. I recommend 20 gallons for a fully grown gecko since you’ll need the extra space to craft the layout and fit the necessary equipment.
- Enclosure layout – Neither leopard geckos nor African fat-tailed geckos are climbers. You can skip branches and other tall climbing spots and, instead, organize your geckos’ habitat horizontally. Have a variety of hiding spots available to create a natural-looking habitat. I’m talking about a soft substrate for burrowing purposes, rocks, tunnels, bark, and everything that the gecko can use to keep a low profile. These are nocturnal animals, so they’ll spend their days in the shade.
- Environmental parameters – Both species demand a strict temperature gradient, with temperatures varying between 70 and 90 F. The 90 F value should describe the basking spot, which shouldn’t take more than 30% of the total enclosure area. Humidity should remain relatively lower for leopard geckos than African fat-tailed. The former needs a humidity range of 30-40%, while the latter prefers one of 40-60%. Although, there is some wiggle room in both cases.
You can’t go wrong, no matter your pick. Both species are easygoing and docile; you should have no problems taming them. The most important thing to consider is their need for space and accommodation time.
All reptiles demand some time to adjust to their new home, during which they need peace and quiet.
Their habitat should have plenty of hiding areas to help in this sense. It’s okay if your gecko spends more time in hiding upon arriving.
Some geckos also won’t eat for a while until they feel safe enough to come out and explore their habitat.
Reptiles aren’t fond of handling in general, but this isn’t exactly true with geckos. These species don’t mind handling, so long as you do it gently and preferably not too often.
It may take a while for the geckos to become accustomed to your presence and touch, but they’ll come around eventually.
They will soon learn to appreciate your body warmth and even enjoy resting on your hand for a while. Don’t hold the gecko past its comfort point. If the lizard begins to squirm or seems uncomfortable, place it back in its enclosure.
Also, don’t pick up your gecko if the animal appears distressed or uncomfortable. Geckos can showcase signs of stress or aggression if they’re not well or simply don’t know you.
African fat-tailed geckos can reach 20 years in captivity, while leopard geckos can go beyond that. Many factors will influence your gecko’s lifespan, including husbandry, quality of care, diet, overall stress levels, and even genetics.
Most geckos will live well past the 10-year mark with good care and proper medical assistance whenever necessary.
Both of these species qualify as beginner-friendly. There’s nothing outstanding in terms of overall care, and you should be able to handle them with ease.
There are 3 overarching principles to follow in terms of quality of care:
- Monitor and adjust environmental parameters – Invest in a thermometer and a hygrometer to properly monitor and adjust your lizard’s parameters. Most importantly, learn how to stabilize the temperature and humidity so that they remain consistent throughout the 24-hour period.
- Adjust the diet – Both species are insectivorous, but they require additional supplementation to prevent nutritional deficiencies. We’ll get into this topic more extensively later on.
- Ensure optimal care – Your gecko will fall sick for one reason or another. While prevention works wonders in most cases, it isn’t perfect. Geckos can experience respiratory problems, skin infections, shedding problems, digestive issues, etc. You can prevent some of these issues, but not always. In this context, keeping an eye on your gecko’s health is always advisable. This way, you can detect any potential health issues in time and speak to a vet for proper diagnosis and treatment.
Reptiles require specific living conditions to remain healthy over the years.
But they can exhibit health issues at some point, some of which include:
- Digestive problems – These are the most common health issues to consider. Geckos can experience health problems due to dehydration, eating too much, not eating enough, swallowing large insects or things not meant for swallowing, leading to impaction, etc. The environmental temperature can also impact the lizard’s digestive system. If the temperature is too low, the gecko’s digestive system won’t function properly anymore.
- Skin conditions – These can occur for a variety of reasons, including improper temperature and humidity, bacterial infections, and shedding issues. Fortunately, skin problems are easily noticeable early on, allowing you to provide immediate care.
- Nutritional deficiencies – Reptiles are prone to nutritional problems due to their predisposition to calcium deficiency. To prevent that, you should provide your geckos with gut-loaded feeder insects and adequate calcium and vitamin D3 supplementation, according to your vet’s recommendation. UVB lighting is also necessary for 8-10 hours per day to ensure proper D3 synthesis.
Geckos can also exhibit signs of stress for a variety of reasons, including sickness, unfit environmental parameters, improper tank layout, aggressive tankmates, etc.
Helping your geckos avoid stress is critical for their long-term wellbeing.
Price & Cost
The situation is fairly interesting in terms of pricing and overall costs. Leopard geckos come in a vast price range, between $15 and $3,000 or more, depending on the specimen.
The most important metric responsible for influencing the overall costs is the morph. Rarer and unique morphs can be extremely expensive.
African fat-tailed geckos won’t get as expensive, but they’re not as cheap either. You can get a standard specimen for prices between $150 and $400, depending on the morph, the lizard’s age, etc.
Part of the higher price is the lizard’s provenance since Africa isn’t exactly across the street.
When it comes to the overall costs, you should be more concerned about the long-term expenditure than the acquisition price. Fortunately, geckos are some of the most affordable pets you can get in terms of long-term costs.
It costs near to nothing to feed and care for them properly. Except for the case of medical emergencies when the bills get spicier.
Diet & Feeding
Leopard and African fat-tailed geckos have the exact type of diet, as they stick to insects as their main food source. Their diet is vastly more varied in the wild for obvious reasons.
Nature is filled with numerous types of insects and worms that geckos don’t have the luxury of choosing themselves. They simply eat whatever happens to be available for hunting at any given point.
The situation is vastly different in captivity, where the gecko’s diet depends on you. Given that geckos demand a diet much more varied than you can provide them with, I advise speaking to a reptile vet to discuss this topic.
Plain insects won’t cut it, at least not without some form of supplementation. I recommend calcium and D3 supplementation based on your vet’s recommendations for proper calcium intake.
UVB lighting and sufficient water are also critical for proper digestion.
When it comes to feeding frequency and meal size, the 2 species are fairly similar. Leopard geckos and African fat-tailed geckos only eat approximately 3-4 times per week as adults. However, this only applies to adult lizards, as babies and juveniles need more frequent meals.
Meal size is also important, although there isn’t a universal standard I can give you. Instead, you should adjust the meal size to your gecko’s appetite, appearance, age, and several other factors.
Leopard geckos are happy with 3-5 fat crickets, and the same goes for African fat-tailed geckos. But don’t let this standard divert your attention from a personalized meal plan.
Some geckos eat more than others, despite being of similar age and size. Also, it’s important to understand how much your gecko should eat.
If it eats too much or too often, it can experience weight-related problems. If it doesn’t eat enough, it will encounter the risk of nutritional deficiencies.
Consult your vet or reptile dietician if you’re uncertain how to do it.
Leopard Gecko or African Fat-Tailed Gecko – Which is Better for You?
They are both great in their own way, so I can’t recommend one over the other. Both species are easy to care for and display docile and tempered behavior.
Make sure you learn the essentials regarding feeding, housing, and overall care before deciding which to go for.
Ultimately, your choice isn’t what matters much, but how you go about it. So long as your gecko receives ideal care, the species of provenance doesn’t matter that much.
These gecko species rank as some of the most beloved in the reptile trade for their adaptability, friendliness, and ease of care.
Which of them is perfect for you is only a matter of personal preference.