What pet stores don’t tell you: Reptile edition


Betty Huang

Leopard geckos make great companions and can live six to ten years or longer. Some males can live up to 20 years. Leopard geckos have a 15 year lifespan in the wild.

Betty Huang, Assistant Editor-in-Chief

It is so convenient to get yourself a pet these days; all you need to do is stroll into your local pet store and pick out a new family member. Most pet store employees, however, will not tell you the proper and adequate ways to take care of your new pet. This is because these employees are most likely not trained to know about every type of animal in the store, and probably know little to nothing about them. Stores such as Petco and PetSmart target young children and impulse buyers to purchase their animals.

It is important to do extensive research BEFORE purchasing a new pet so you can provide the proper care for them. Although there are some animals available in pet stores that require low maintenance, there is still a lot you need to know that pet store employees will not tell you.

Reptiles are great pets to have, but they require the proper care in order for them to fulfill their lifespan in a healthy way. If you’re looking for your first pet reptile, make sure to do the proper research and to choose your pet wisely.

Leopard Geckos:
Leopard geckos are great “starter” animals that are commonly found in pet stores. Although no animal is easy to take care of (they all require extensive research before purchase or adoption and take out a good chunk of your paycheck), leopard geckos are pretty low maintenance, as far as pets go.

You can house a leopard gecko by itself in a ten gallon tank as a baby and juvenile, but a 20 gallon long will be more suitable for an adult. You need to fit a variety of things in their enclosure, such as a water bowl, food bowl and artificial, decorative plants.

Leopard geckos require some sort of heat, whether that be a heat lamp or an under-tank heating pad. I personally use a heating pad because leopard geckos are not basking animals. These geckos need to be kept in 90-95 degree fahrenheit temperature. A thermostat is needed to keep the temperature regulated. Temperatures below 70 degrees and exceeding 95 degrees could be fatal to your leopard gecko. Some people choose to turn off the heat during the night, which is okay, but it is not prefered. Leopard geckos can survive in temperatures as low as 70 degrees, but not for extended periods of time since it may disrupt their digestion. Make sure you have two thermometers in the enclosure, one on the cool side and one on the heated side, to monitor both temperatures.

They also need three hiding spots (hides) in their cage; one on the heated side, one on the cool side and a humid spot. The humid hide helps leopard geckos during their monthly shed. You can use damp coconut substrate in this humid hide, but for easier cleanup and maintenance, I use damp paper towels. Be sure to mist the paper towels every other day, (more, if needed), and switch out the paper towels with new ones once a week. If you see your leopard gecko often soaking in it’s water bowl, it may indicate that your enclosure is not humid enough. Too much humidity isn’t good, either. It would be like our skin constantly being wet. Humidity between 20-40 percent is suitable for your leopard gecko. Be sure to use a hydrometer in your enclosure to keep a constant monitor on the humidity.

Do not use loose substrate in your leopard gecko enclosure, especially sand. If digested (which is common when leopard geckos eat their food), it can cause impaction and kill them. The best “substrate” to use is tile. It provides a clean, flat landscape for your gecko and is easy to clean. Tile can be found at any hardware store. I bought a sheet of small tiles from Home Depot for mine.

Leopard geckos are carnivores and feed primarily on insects and worms. Young leopard geckos need to be fed daily. Once the gecko grows to be at least a year old, you can change it’s feeding schedule to every other day. Leopard geckos can be left unfed for up to two weeks, but this is not suggested; this would be considered starving your pet.

I feed my leopard gecko a variety of different insects including crickets, dubia roaches, mealworms, and the occasional waxworm or superworm. Waxworms and superworms are high in fat and should not be fed to your leopard gecko (or any other reptile) as their primary diet. Crickets should not be the staple diet for your leopard gecko, either. Make sure you’re feeding your insects a variety of fruits and vegetables to provide viable nutrients to your leopard gecko. It’s also important to provide calcium powder. Dusting your feeder insects with calcium powder (most also come with vitamin D3) is very beneficial to your gecko.

Don’t forget to provide fresh, clean water for your gecko on a daily basis. Tap water is not suggested. I personally use bottled water, but you can purchase a water purifier from the pet store and use that to purify tap water.

Be careful with your leopard gecko.If spooked or threatened, it has the ability to drop its tail. Although leopard geckos can regrow their tails, they will never look the same as it naturally did.

Crested geckos:
Crested geckos are another lovely species of gecko to own as a pet, and also require low maintenance. They need 20 gallon long tanks, tilted on its side. Crested geckos are climbing animals and spend most of the lives off of the ground, so tilting your 20 gallon long enclosure on its side will give more climbing space. A smaller enclosure, such as a ten gallon tank, is preferred for a younger crested gecko. This is because they can get lost in their tank and have trouble finding their food, unintentionally starving themselves.

Crested gecko enclosures need a variety of artificial, decorative plants and things to climb on. Water dishes are recommended, but not needed. It’s vital to mist your crested gecko enclosure with reptile safe water (not tap water) twice daily – once during the morning and once during the night. Crested geckos prefer to drink these water droplets instead of water from a dish.
Crested geckos eat commercial crested gecko diet, a powder that can be purchased at most pet stores which you mix with water and serve to your leopard gecko in a dish. Feeder insects, such as crickets and dubia roaches, can be offered two to three times a week, but should not be their primary diet.

Unlike leopard geckos, crested geckos do not need an external source of heat. Keeping your gecko in 60-80 degree fahrenheit temperature is important, which is about room temperature; 70-80 degrees is preferred. Temperatures as low as the 50s are okay for your crested gecko, as long as they aren’t exposed to those temperatures for an extended period of time. If your house is particularly cold, a heat lamp may be used to keep your crested gecko warm. If you choose to use a heat lamp, buy yourself a thermostat to keep temperatures from exceeding 80 degrees. Be sure to use a thermometer in your enclosure and monitor the temperature regularly.

Like leopard geckos, crested geckos can also drop their tails when frightened. However, their tails do not grow back. Be sure to handle your crested gecko with caution because they tend to jump.