Because there is a lot of misinformation online, many new gecko owners get confused about the proper light source setup for your new pet.
Leopard Geckos do need lighting – and it’s fairly easy to get it wrong. They also can and should have UVB lighting in their enclosure, but in small amounts.
Despite being crepuscular, UVB helps them get enough vitamin D! Learn all the details of a good Leopard Gecko lighting setup in this article – for y happy and healthy little gecko!
Do Leopard Geckos need lighting?
Leopard Geckos need a structured daytime and nighttime routine, which means they need a light source on a timer. However, make sure to get a soft light source and to select the appropriate lamp strength!
Too much light can harm their eyes and irritate them. There should also be plenty of space between the light bulb and the gecko – at least 10 to 15 inches.
Additionally, since Leopard Geckos are crepuscular, not nocturnal, they can and should have a UVB source for vitamin D. In their natural environment, they are not only active during the night, but during twilight as well, where they get sun exposure. A low-intensity UVB lamp mimics this.
Don’t forget – the lamps should be chosen after you decide on a tank! The size and style of the enclosure determines the type and size of lamp. Learn why 20-gallon tanks are not recommended, and how to choose the right leopard gecko tank!
Lighting Setup Explained
If you are setting up your first reptile tank, then the proper lighting setup for leopard geckos might seem difficult to wrap your head around.
Let’s go through it step by step.
At first glance, all you need is a lamp on a timer. But it’s not quite as simple as you’ll see in a moment.
The problem is that lighting does not work in isolation – it is directly co-dependent with the temperature setup!
If you use an incandescent lamp – a lamp that gives off both light and heat – then your temperature setup needs to account for that lamp as a heat source.
As I explain in my guide to leopard gecko temperature management, you need at least two separate systems:
One heating system controlled by a thermostat: This heater – usually a heat mat – turns on and off dynamically to keep the temperature within the correct range.
Keep in mind that a high-quality reptile thermostats CAN be set up for different temperature ranges during the day versus during the night.
One lighting setup controlled by a timer: Because the sun follows/creates the day-night cycle, you must have every light source on a strict timer. Having the “daylight” go out at random times or staying on during the night can be very irritating to your gecko.
Example Lighting Setup
You decide to use a so-called Daylight Lamp to give light and life to your leopard gecko. This lamp emits both regular light and UVB, but it also gives off heat.
Step 1: You should set up this lamp in your gecko tank WITHOUT the gecko, but with an otherwise finished setup. This setup is without any other heat sources, but should include a thermometer on both the hot and cool zone of your gecko tank.
Observe the temperature when you have the lamp turned on during the day, and turned off during the night.
This baseline temperature should not exceed the temperature ranges suitable for your leopard gecko.
Lighting alone should not be enough to keep your gecko tank warm. Otherwise, this will easily lead to overheating!
Step 2: Add your main temperature setup. If you choose a heat map, install it as described in our temperature guide, and connect it to the thermostat.
Now observe the temperature again – write down the numbers on the thermometers on both sides throughout the day and night, ideally for about two days.
If the temperature stays in the appropriate range during both day and night, your setup works.
Remember that the heating system can’t cool the tank, so having too many sources of heat will lead to overheating and serious health problems in your gecko!
Step 3: If the temperature gets too high, you can adjust your thermostat to a lower target range. But if that doesn’t help, you will need to switch to a lighting setup with less heat – using “cold lamps”, for example. These often use LED for lighting, which give off minimal heat.
This is a necessary process, but unless you live in a hot climate, it will likely be an easy process! Make sure to install a lamp that is appropriate for your setup (not too large/strong), and install it as directed above the tank, not inside.
If you follow these rules, the lighting should not affect the temperature too much. As long as this is the case, the heating setup is also very straightforward!
Now let’s look at the details of getting your lighting setup done, and how to choose the right lamps for your leopard gecko!
Daytime-Nighttime cycles for Leopard Geckos
In addition to the right bulbs, your need to keep your light sources on a strict timer. There are plenty of reliable automatic timers available, such as the Zilla Heat & Light Timer. The correct day/night cycle for Leopard Geckos is 14 hours of daylight during the summer, and 12 hours during the winter. A balanced timespan would be 8 am to 10 pm during summer, and 9 am to 9 pm during winter.
This digital thermometer set includes a thermostat and a timer function, which you can use to control all heat and light sources.
Choosing the right lamps and light sources
With all the basics done, let’s get into choosing the right type of light source. This is not as simple as recommending a certain lamp or even type of lamp, since not every setup is the same.
You will need to figure out your temperature management, too. Depending on that, you’ll pick either an incandescent daylight lamp (which usually provides heat as well) or a specific cold lamp that only emits light. Usually, it’s easiest to go with a warm lamp, as these tend to have more options.
UVB – Essential or useless?
While Leopard Gecko owners and breeders didn’t use any UVB sources for years, a new 2020 study shows that the UVB light does actually boost their vitamin D levels. Since vitamin D is one of the two most important micro-nutrients to supplement (together with calcium), having a source of UVB light in the tank is beneficial.
For UVB lamps, pay close attention to the UVB output. There is usually a number on the packaging – anywhere from 2% to 10% is considered safe for Leopard Geckos. 5-6% is generally the recommended range.
Keep in mind that the intensity of the UVB light declines with distance – so follow the vendor’s installation instructions and keep the light bulb far enough away from your gecko.
This is a “cold” lamp, meaning it gives off minimal heat. If you notice that your heating system can barely keep your gecko tank warm, switch to a daylight lamp.
If you are looking for a daylight lamp – with both heat and UVB – check out the MIXJOY Reptile Heat Lamp Bulb for a strong heat source for a basking spot, or the Zilla Day White Light for a weaker heat source.
A stronger heat source means you don’t need to have more than a heat mat for temperature management, but in a smaller enclosure, this setup might quickly overheat the tank! If temperatures get too high, switch to a “cold” UVB lamp.
Strong heat source:
Weak heat source:
Of course, by installing the lamp further away or closer to your gecko, you can adjust the intensity of the heat. The only right answer (apart from following the vendor’s instructions) is to measure the result. If the temperature on the ground below the lamp is too high, increase the distance or get a weaker/cooler bulb.
Warning: Get the set-up finished FIRST!
Make sure to finish the entire setup of lighting and heating before adding a Leopard Gecko to the enclosure. Otherwise, you might have a temperature that’s too high or low, which can irritate or harm your pet. (We have an article covering the symptoms of overheating or cold Leopard Geckos)
You should both spot-measure the area beneath any light or heat source with an infrared thermometer gun (our recommendation), as well as keep track of overall air temperature with thermometers (our recommendation).
If you are still unsure about temperature management, make sure to read our full guide on the complete Leopard Gecko temperature setup!