Beyond the absolute basics – a substrate, heat, and lighting, a Leopard Gecko needs decoration in their tank, too. Some of it is functional, like caves and a water dish, while others are for environmental enrichment. Some of it is purely aesthetic, a treat for you and guests, admiring your Leopard Gecko.
In this article, we’ll first go over why terrarium decor is so important for your reptile, and then provide you with ideas of how you can decorate your gecko’s habitat.
Why your gecko tank needs decoration
There are some elements that are simply necessary for your Leopard Gecko’s survival and health. A water dish for drinking, for example. A feeding dish is also a good idea, but more for convenience. A humid hide, though, is important to help with your gecko’s shedding. Without it, they may struggle with shedding, which can ultimately lead to serious danger and even loss of limbs.
However, even “useless” accessories are important: From rocks to plants and other environmental elements, studies have shown how important these little things are to reptiles.
The concept of adding non-functional elements to an animals habitat is called “environmental enrichment”, and has been studied in a wide variety of animals. For example, a study in the Journal of Zoo and Aquatic Research has shown that such enrichment significantly increases the activity levels and space usage in reptiles.
Since Leopard Geckos in captivity tend to be much more sedentary than in the wilderness, elements to explore and play with are important to keep their lives interesting and them mentally stimulated. Providing a large enough tank is also important, not only to have more space available for decoration, but to give your gecko enough space to play with and self-regulate in. (Read more about choosing the right gecko tank here)
Additionally, a study in the Applied Animal Behaviour Science journal has shown that varied decoration leads to significantly reduced stress in turtles. In another study, the lack of natural environment (specifically related to climbing) caused chronic stress in Green Iguanas.
While not directly about Leopard Geckos, studies like these (and there are many more!) show that a high-quality, natural environment reduces the reptile’s stress response as well as the overall impact of stressful or irritating events and situations – such as cleaning of the tank or loud noises, things they will inevitably experience in your home.
As a result, reptiles that are more stressed due to a lack of environmental stimulation have reduced immune system response and are overall less healthy, suffer from an increased risk of disease, and digestion is also impacted by everyday stress, just like in humans.
Leopard Gecko tank decor ideas
When most people hear that Leopard Geckos live in desert environments, they imagine sandy ground, high heat, maybe the occasional rock. However, a more accurate picture might a “dry steppe” – rocky, gravelly ground, plenty of rocks, dry vegetation. This should be the theme of your Leopard Gecko tank when looking for decoration ideas.
Let’s go into some details and examples.
Leopard Gecko caves & hides
First, your Leopard Gecko needs two elements: A warm, dry cave for hiding, and a warm, humid cave for shedding. These caves are also called “hides”, since geckos like to hide in them. An environment without plenty of opportunities to hide and take cover is extremely stressful to a Leopard Gecko!
Natural predators of a Leopard Gecko are either larger (like foxes) or airborne (the occasional bird). That means that, unlike rabbits for example, Leopard Gecko’s can’t run away, but have to hide to avoid being eaten. Even if you don’t have predators in your home, a Leopard Gecko doesn’t feel safe unless it has places to hide in at all times.
For the warm, dry cave, simply place it on the warm side of the tank. Make sure the opening is large enough for the gecko, ideally a bit larger to allow for circulation (to keep it dry). The substrate below the cave (if it doesn’t have its own floor) should also be dry if possible.
For the warm, humid cave, you should provide some sort of humidity-supplying element inside it. Sphagnum moss is commonly used, but paper towels can provide a simple (ideally temporary) alternative. Mist these, especially if your gecko is shedding, to increase humidity in this cave. It will often retreat into it, as the humidity helps a great deal with shedding. This cave should be about the same temperature as the dry cave, and also placed on the warm side of the tank. (Around 85-90°F (29-32°C))
For a cool, dry cave, place a cave much like the warm, dry cave on the cool side of the tank. This is important to give your gecko a place to hide while they are either cooling down, or spending time on the cool side during the night. You don’t want to force them into the warm zone to hide!
With plants, you have two options: You can put both fake and real plants in your Leopard Gecko’s tank. However, keep them desert-like. Not only for the aesthetics, but also to keep your gecko’s environment natural to them. Another factor is humidity: Plants that need a lot of water will need to be watered regularly, which can create excessive humidity.
If you choose to add real plants, here are some safe options: Aansevierias, Cucurbits, Euphobias, “Bonsai” plectranthus, or plants like Yemen grape, climbing aloe, elephant bush, and the Mexican caudexed fig.
While Leopard Gecko’s are ground-dwelling reptiles, they do enjoy some light climbing. Placing different sized and styled rocks in their enclosure can provide just that. Additionally, with some nice rock formations, they can double as hiding and shading spots, too!
Rocks and rocky structures are also great as a backdrop on the tank’s back wall.
If you’re looking for a one-stop-shop kind of solution, Custom Reptile Habitats have complete sets as well as individual decoration and elements for your gecko tank. They are a little pricier than shopping on Amazon, but are a worthwhile investment.
Leopard Gecko tank accessories
Beyond environmental elements, having a water dish for drinking is important. Make sure that the water is never high enough for the gecko to drown in it. It’s also recommended to use a dish big enough for the gecko to jump in as a whole. This enables them to self-regulate more, as the water can be especially helpful during shedding (just like the humid cave).
A food bowl or dedicated feeding area makes it easy to put live feeder insects there, and see if they get away. Especially worms like Mealworms should be placed in a feeding dish that they can’t crawl out of (smooth walls). Otherwise, they might escape and burrow into the substrate.
A humidifier might be necessary, depending on the humidity in the tank. While they traditionally aren’t placed in the tank, there are decorative elements for reptile tanks that provide water or flowing water, like tiny waterfalls, that may be alternative options for in-tank humidifiers.
Do Leopard Geckos need a waterfall?
While small water elements can help if (and only if!) the humidity levels in the tank are low, make sure that the waterfall does not increase humidity by too much. About 30-40% is recommended, any more can cause health issues. Also keep in mind that waterfalls are not natural environments for Leopard Geckos. They can look nice to you and guests, but don’t provide much stimulation for your gecko.
Are fake plants good for Leopard Geckos?
While real, natural plants are the best option, they also require more maintenance. Fake plants can offer an easy, safe solution for both your and your Leopard Gecko. Keep in mind that bioactive habitat setups should prefer live plants. Plants that are used to dry climates like succulents are ideal, since you can’t water plants too much in your gecko’s enclosure. This would increase humidity too much.
Do Leopard Geckos need a hammock?
While Leopard Geckos aren’t big climbers, hammocks can provide stimulation and variety. Many Leopard Geckos do enjoy them, but some might not. Make sure to choose a sturdy hammock if you do get one, to prevent their feet to get caught up and stuck in lose fibers or fabric.