The reptile trade market is filled with countless animals that make for great companions. Leopard geckos and bearded dragons definitely rank among the most popular names, but they’re significantly different from each other.
Today, we will discuss the main differences and similarities between the 2 species, so you have a better idea of which suits your expectations the best. Let’s jump straight in!
What is a Leopard Gecko?
Leopard geckos are desertic reptiles coming from areas like Afghanistan and other Asian deserts and arid regions. These reptiles have adapted to low-humidity environments better than many other species, which is what makes them so resilient and adaptable.
Leopard geckos qualify as crepuscular animals because they usually become active at dusk when temperatures cool off. The low-light conditions during dusk provide the reptile with sufficient UVB radiation to ensure proper vitamin D3 synthesis.
Leopard geckos rank among the hardiest and most durable animals, which is why they’re so popular in the pet trade.
These reptiles only require minimal maintenance, making them great for beginners with little-to-no experience in the reptile pet world.
From an appearance standpoint, leopard geckos are definitely the cutest animals you can get. These small lizards are typically yellow with leopard-like spots, but there is some color and pattern variation within the species.
Leopard geckos have fat tails because that’s where they store their fat reserves for times of need.
The most distinct feature is the involuntary smile, which earned them the name of the smiling gecko. This isn’t a genuine smile but rather a standard anatomical feature that has nothing to do with experiencing humor.
However, there’s no denying that this charming characteristic imbues the small lizard with warmth and personality.
What is a Bearded Dragon?
Bearded dragons are slightly different than leopard geckos in terms of habitat. These lizards are Australian natives and have adapted to arid living conditions, but only in part.
That’s because beardies much prefer vegetation whenever possible for hiding and eating. Bearded dragons are omnivorous lizards, so they require a diet considerably more diverse than leopard geckos.
Bearded dragons are diurnal animals, so they’re most active in bright-light conditions. They require a lot more heat than leopard geckos because of their daytime lifestyle and hunting behavior.
Bearded dragons are vastly different than leopard geckos in appearance. These lizards are longer and heavier than leopard geckos, and it shows. Most specimens are either yellow or light brown, often with earthy tones and color variations.
Some specimens may be darker, getting closer to black, while others display red or even blue hues.
The animal’s distinct feature is the spiked neck crown that’s usually more visible in males. Especially when they’re angry, in full mating process, or expressing dominance toward other males.
Comparing Leopard Geckos and Bearded Dragons as Pets
Before deciding which of the 2 reptiles best suits your expectations and capabilities, you need to assess several core areas.
Size and Growth
Leopard geckos are the smaller of the 2. These lizards cannot exceed 10-11 inches, although most specimens won’t even get close to that. The average size is around 6-8 inches, with males being the larger ones. In terms of growth rate, leopard geckos are fast.
These reptiles can reach maximum size within their first year-year and a half. Or, at the very least, that’s when they grow at the highest rate, after which they slow down dramatically.
Bearded dragons typically grow at least 2 times larger than geckos. The standard size range is between 16 and 22 inches, although some specimens can get slightly larger than that.
When it comes to growth rates, bearded dragons are completely different. These reptiles take years to reach their adult form and can grow over extended periods of time.
Knowing each animal’s maximum size and growth rate is essential for determining the right enclosure.
If the tank is too small, the reptile may become stressed, and stress is the main culprit when it comes to health disorders and shorter lifespans.
- Temperature – Daytime temperature should sit around 75-82 F with a basking area of 85-90 F. The temperature gradient should be stable to allow the gecko to regulate its body temperature properly. Nighttime temperatures can drop as low as 70 F.
- Humidity – Leopard geckos are desertic animals, so they need considerably lower humidity levels than other reptiles. Aim for values around 20-30% and boost those numbers up to 40% when your gecko is undergoing shedding.
- Lighting – The standard applies here, just as with any other lizard. Aim for 10-12-hour per day of lighting. UVB radiation isn’t absolutely necessary since leopard geckos are crepuscular and nocturnal animals. But consult your vet in this sense to get things straight.
- Temperature – Bearded dragons require higher temperatures, typically around 75-85 F on the cooler side and up to 95-105 F in the basking area. The basking area for bearded dragons is probably the hottest among all reptiles due to this animal’s impressive adaptation to Australia’s scorching desert heat. Nighttime temperatures can drop as low as 65-75 F.
- Humidity – In terms of humidity, bearded dragons and leopard geckos are fairly similar. Aim for standard humidity values of 30-40%, depending on your beardie’s comfort level and behavior. These desertic reptiles don’t have much use for excess humidity, given that they have adapted to retain more water than tropical reptile species.
- Lighting – UVB lighting is essential for bearded dragons since all they do all day is bask in the sunlight. Aim for a day-night cycle of 12 hours each with an adequate UVB lightbulb to provide the gecko with the right living conditions.
Enclosure and Equipment
Leopard geckos are ground-dwelling reptiles, so you don’t need too many hiding areas to begin with. The basking spot should be at ground level so that the lizard can access it with ease.
A hiding area is necessary for when the gecko requires some alone time or is rattled and needs a safe space to cool off. Not much is needed in terms of equipment. A lightbulb should do the trick just fine for some moderate lighting during the day.
Provide your gecko with a bowl of fresh water for drinking and bathing purposes. Leopard geckos can sometimes bathe to cool off or clean themselves of dust. Feel free to add various decorative elements like bark or rocks that your leopard gecko can explore and climb.
Bearded dragons have similar requirements, except they might require a slightly different setup. That’s because bearded dragons qualify as semi-arboreal animals. Juveniles tend to climb a lot, while adults prefer to spend their time at ground level. This is more likely to the adult lizard’s heavier body, making it more difficult for it to climb.
A water bowl is also necessary for bearded dragons for the same reasons that leopard geckos need it. Things are a tad different when it comes to the positioning of the basking spot. Leopard geckos require a horizontal temperature gradient because these are ground-dwelling reptiles.
Bearded dragons, though, spend more time in the open during the day, basking and warming up. So, you can place the lighting source above them for even heat distribution.
Make sure that your dragons have a cooler area to retreat to if things get too hot. One or more hiding areas are necessary for resting and chilling.
Diet and Feeding
Leopard geckos are insectivorous reptiles, while bearded dragons are omnivorous. This means that they have different diets for which you need to prepare differently.
Leopard geckos consume a variety of insects, with diversity being the name of the game. Crickets are among their favorites, but you can also include Dubia roaches, mealworms, and a variety of other live insects.
Keep it low on the worm part since worms are typically rich in fat but relatively low in protein. And adult geckos require high-protein and low-fat foods to stay in shape.
Bearded dragons have a non-conventional diet that changes as the animal matures. The diet of hatchlings and juveniles consists of 80% insects and 20% greens and veggies.
That’s because younger lizards have higher metabolic rates and demand more protein and fat during their growing months. Adults only eat 20% as much protein and fats, with the main focus being on veggies and greens.
Each species requires a personalized diet to accommodate its nutritional needs.
Supplementation is another key point in reptile diets. Most reptiles, including the 2 we’re discussing today, are prone to calcium deficiency and require a personalized diet to eliminate or at least reduce this risk. Severe calcium deficiency has been linked to Metabolic Bone Disease, which is deadly in its late stages.
While leopard geckos don’t necessarily require calcium supplementation, you can’t afford the chance. Speak to your reptile vet about your pets’ diets to determine the right approach.
Despite being smaller, leopard geckos can live up to 20 years in captivity, significantly longer than the larger bearded dragon. Bearded dragons only live around 10-15 years in captivity, even with good care.
When it comes to your pet’s longevity, keep in mind that the animal’s overall lifespan depends on numerous factors.
- Genetic makeup – The lizard’s potential is dictated by its genetic makeup. If your lizard doesn’t have the best gene pool, there’s little you can do about it.
- Housing conditions – Your reptile pet should feel safe, happy, and comfortable in its new home. This means adjusting the lizard’s enclosure to mimic the animal’s natural habitat.
- Environmental conditions – Lighting, temperature, humidity, and ventilation should always remain stable and within the ideal range in the long run.
- A personalized diet – What and how your lizards eat dictates the animal’s overall well-being, resistance to illness, and quality of life. Keep in mind that not all members of the same species have the exact same feeding preferences. Always adapt to your reptile’s requirements.
- The stress gradient – Keep in mind that reptiles are prone to stress far more than other animals. That’s because these are anti-social creatures that prefer solitude. You can handle and pet them for a bit, but don’t expect any reciprocation. If your lizard doesn’t have it, leave it alone until it’s in a better mood.
- Long-term husbandry – Lizards prefer to live in hygienic and clean habitats, so regular cleaning and maintenance are necessary to keep them in good health. Poor enclosure hygiene is often responsible for skin and respiratory infections, many of which can get deadly fast.
Fortunately, with good care, these lizards can live for decades, essentially becoming part of the family.
Care and Grooming
The 2 species have slightly different care and grooming needs, but not by much. To start off with leopard geckos, these animals are notoriously easy to care for thanks to their hardiness and easygoing nature.
Keep their habitat clean, trim their nails when necessary, and provide them with the opportunity to take some lukewarm baths whenever they feel like it.
Bearded dragons have similar requirements in terms of enclosure cleaning, with the additional need for adequate UVB lighting. A soaking water bowl is especially necessary during shedding, as it can moisturize the reptile’s skin and ease the process.
Regular veterinary checkups are essential for both species to monitor their health status and detect any health issues in time.
The vet may recommend personalized care routines based on your pet’s profile and preferences in terms of cleaning, dieting, and general interactions.
Handling and Behavior
Both species are equally as friendly and easygoing. Leopard geckos and bearded dragons are equally docile, but you shouldn’t abuse their friendly temperament.
You can pet and handle them on occasion, but don’t turn that into regular interactions. After all, despite their docile temperament, these are reptiles; they’re not exactly the friendliest species in the world.
Reptiles are intrinsically anti-social and prefer to live solitary lives. They don’t need your affection to live healthy and happy and will only tolerate you holding them thanks to your body’s warmth. Don’t mistake their need for heat for emotional attachment.
You should only handle your reptile with care and if it appears relaxed. If it’s skittish and shows signs of aggression, keep your distance and skip that day’s petting session.
Overall, you should keep interactions to a minimum, careful not to stress your reptile pet. Also, make sure you take precautions when interacting with your lizard. Wash and disinfect your hands before and after the handling session to avoid contamination on both ends.
Health and Vet Checkups
Reptiles can get sick for a variety of reasons. You should always monitor your lizard’s daily activity to gauge its overall behavior and health status.
Look for symptoms like lethargy, low appetite, difficulty moving, visible weakness, bloating, skin rashes, frequent scratching, etc. These are abnormal and may suggest a variety of health issues, from skin parasites to bacterial or respiratory infections, each with its own downsides and long-term complications.
Also, check your bearded dragon’s sneezing pattern. These reptiles are known to sneeze for a variety of reasons. Some of these are innocuous, like allergy to dust particles or breakable substrate (straw substrates especially), but some can be more nefarious.
Respiratory infections are particularly worrying. If you can’t diagnose your beardie’s condition on your own, speak to a vet about it.
The veterinarian will perform various tests, depending on your lizard’s symptoms, and recommend a targeted treatment for immediate results.
Price and Cost of Keeping
This is an interesting topic because leopard geckos vary wildly in terms of acquisition price and long-term care costs. When it comes to purchasing prices, leopard geckos vary dramatically from one specimen to the next.
That’s because leopard geckos have been subjected to extensive selective breeding over the years, leading to the creation of numerous morphs. These can vary in price between $15 for the cheapest one and $3,000 or more for the most expensive variations.
Fortunately, leopard geckos have been relatively easy and cheap to maintain over the years. Setting up the enclosure shouldn’t cost more than $100-$200, depending on your gecko’s size and the layout itself.
When it comes to monthly expenses, consider the following:
- Food – $5-$15
- Lighting and heating – $10-$30
- Substrate – $5-$10
- Miscellaneous – $10-$20 (vet checkups, food supplements, toys, if necessary, etc.)
This brings us to a rough monthly estimate of $30-$75, depending on the situation. These values can vary based on your lizard, the housing conditions, and other factors.
Bearded dragons have a higher acquisition price for regular morphs. The price can vary between $50 and $150, depending on the store and local availability. More expensive specimens can jump to $800-$1,000 or more.
The monthly expenses typically include the following:
- Food – $10-$30
- Lighting and heating – $20-$50
- Substrate – $10-$20
- Enclosure maintenance – $20-$200 (this refers to general housing maintenance, including acquiring custom cages, based on your reptile’s growth rate and needs over time)
- Miscellaneous – $10-$20 (vet checkups, food supplements, toys, if necessary, etc.)
Math takes us in the neighborhood of $70 to $200 monthly expenses for an adult bearded dragon.
Leopard Gecko or Bearded Dragon – Which is Better for You?
The answer depends on your goals and experience level. If you’re rather inexperienced in the reptile trade and want a low-maintenance reptile pet, go for leopard geckos.
As a reptile connoisseur with a larger monthly budget, a bearded dragon may be right up your alley.
Ultimately, it all comes down to personal preference because both reptiles are adaptable, hardy, and with charming personalities.
Leopard geckos and bearded dragons are quite different, but they’re both highly popular in the pet trade.
Whichever you decide on, make sure you have the time, patience, and resources necessary to care for the animal properly.