When it comes to feeding leopard geckos there can be a lot of debate and discussion. There’s what to feed leopard geckos, to the amount and even the frequency of feeding leopard geckos. Not everyone agrees either.
There are so many questions, we’ve decided to put together a guide about how we think leopard geckos should be fed. We’ll go through the types of food available, schedules for feeding and what to look out for when it comes to feeding.
What To Feed Leopard Geckos
First lets look at what you should feed your leopard gecko. This is a controversial subject within the leopard gecko keeping community and one that has an ironic back story. When I first started keeping leopard geckos there was an urban legend that mealworms were a poor food source. The reason: they could bite the stomach lining of the leopard gecko and escape.
For this reason, the main option for food was often crickets. This was nearly 20 years ago now and times have changed. Since then, crickets are often seen as the poor choice of food because of another urban myth: that crickets can give leopard geckos pinworms.
Can Crickets Give Leopard Geckos Pinworms?
In short, no. The urban myth has been created by leopard gecko owners who have found pinworms in their leopard geckos and have laid blame on the food source. There was no testing of the crickets to see if they carried pinworms and no-one has specifically suggested that is the reason why, apart from the owner.
However, because of the urban myth, there was a study conducted. In this study, 2,500 commercially bred crickets from five different breeders were tested and no pinworms were discovered within the group.
These crickets were fed to reptiles and those reptiles did not have any pinworms in their faecal matter. In addition, authors of the paper suspect that pinworms can’t survive the digestive tract of the crickets. This is partly because there are many different species of pinworms, each one is species-generic. In other words, pinworms that infect reptiles can’t infect or survive in mammals, amphibians or invertebrates.
Evidence of this was further made within other studies that have found rodent pinworms within the faeces of rodent eating reptiles. Yet those same reptiles had no infections of diseases from the pinworms passing through them.
Where the pinworms originate from is not exactly known. However, research has found that a small amount of pinworms do naturally live inside the digestive tract of most reptiles. This could be beneficial, but that is not proven and should not be a reason to accept pinworm infections within your collection.
If you’re looking to stop pinworms, then regular cleaning of your captive collection should be maintained. Pinworms are known to spread through faeces and water. Daily changes of the enclosure should be done. Another source that could potentially be problematic is scrapings.
What Are Scrapings?
Scrapings is the process where leopard geckos are fed prey items that are collected from the wild. People go to a local field or location and collect the wild prey items they want to feed their leopard gecko on a regular basis. Food items could include grasshoppers, spiders, crickets, beetles and more.
Scrapings is something that we don’t recommend feeding leopard geckos. There are several reasons for this:
1. Poisonous/Venomous Prey Items
Some of the wild caught prey items that you catch could be poisonous or venomous. Classic examples could be spiders (which could bite your leopard gecko) and even the Devil’s coach horse beetle. Poisonous and venomous prey items could hurt or kill your leopard gecko instantly.
Wild prey items might have parasites within them that can infect your leopard geckos.
Farmers, gardeners and others use chemicals within the wild that can get within the prey items. Too many prey items with weedkiller or insect killer within them can cause harm to your captive collection.
So, What Food Should You Be Feeding Leopard Geckos?
Feeding leopard geckos is easy. There are several foods that are acceptable to leopard geckos, but they must all be live. The main prey items are as follows:
- Crickets (Black and Brown Silent)
- Dubia Roaches
There are two things to consider when you’re looking at these animals. The first is nutritional content of the prey item. And second, the size of prey item. Locust is on the menu, because smaller locust can be eaten by adult leopard geckos. But some larger locust will be too much.
Nutritional Information You Need To Know For Feeding Leopard Geckos
There are five main nutritional components when you’re feeding leopard geckos that you’re looking out for: protein, fat, fibre, ash and Ca:P (calcium to Phosphorous ratio). This is a quick breakdown of those important levels.
Protein – This is essential for growth, proper organ function and energy. Protein is really important if you have a sick or injured animal, like a gecko that has lost its tail.
Fat – Fats in feeder insects are generally unsaturated, which makes them more healthy generally. However, too much fat can still cause issues with health. Yet, no fat is not an option. Fat is very important for numerous functions including helping with brumation, absorbing nutrients, providing protection around vital organs and maintaining body temperatures.
Fibre – In insects this is the amount of chitin there is in the insect. This is found in the exoskeleton of the feeder insect. Too much chitin can cause digestive problems.
Ash – This is everything that is left over from the above three. Therefore, it contains all the vitamins and minerals a reptile needs to live. It also contains the salt and mineral levels, which are also important. The more ash there is in a feeder insect, the more minerals/vitamins that can be assumed to be in the animal.
Calcium to Phosphorous Levels (Ca:P) – This is a measurement of the amount of calcium there is to phosphorous. In reptiles, this needs to be kept to a level of roughly 2:1. If it falls to a more even level or there is more phosphorous in the diet than calcium, then the reptile may take calcium out of the bones of the body, and this can cause Metabolic Bone Disease. Calcium is needed for most reptiles to be a supplement as feeder insects often have more phosphorous than calcium.
Moisture – This is something that is often listed, but isn’t that important. It basically says how much of the animal is made up of water. In humans, it is about 70% and feeder insects have similarly high amounts.
So, what are the nutritional values of the feeder insects we recommend? Here is a quick rundown.
- Moisture: 72%
- Protein: 19%
- Fat: 5%
- Fibre: 2%
- Ash: 2%
- Ca:P: 1:9
Crickets are a great source of protein and fat levels are about right. However the Ca:P levels are high. Crickets are also very high in moisture, this can mean that you might need to feed more crickets per feeding session than you would other prey items.
- Moisture: 65%
- Protein: 21%
- Fat: 9%
- Fibre: 5%
- Ash: 1%
- Ca:P: 1:3
Dubia roaches are considered a better feeder insect than most on the list. And this is because they have the right levels of most of the nutrients. Their Ca:P ratio is also much better. The biggest problem with them is the ash is a little low, but this can be corrected with good gut loading and other methods we’ll mention later.
- Moisture: 62%
- Protein: 22%
- Fat: 9%
- Fibre: 4%
- Ash: n/a
- Ca:P: 1:6
Locusts are a good source of protein, fat and fibre, but make very little use for those looking for a high nutritious diet. They don’t pass on much vitamins or minerals.
- Moisture: 65%
- Protein: 19%
- Fat: 9%
- Fibre: 3%
- Ash: 2%
- Ca:P: 1:7
There isn’t much different between mealworms and crickets other than the fat and fibre is slightly higher. They also have a better Ca:P level. However, there are other benefits to consider here.
- Moisture: 61%
- Protein: 15%
- Fat: 22%
- Fibre: 4%
- Ash: 1%
- Ca:P: 1:7
Waxworms are very high in fat, which makes them very unhealthy for leopard geckos (and most other reptiles) as a staple diet item.
Why Do We Include Waxworms On Our Feeding Leopard Geckos List?
The above data shows that waxworms are bad when fed regularly to leopard geckos. However, that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be excluded.
Waxworms are on our list for a particular reason, they’re loved by leopard geckos because they’re a treat. It would be like you not being able to have any chocolate, cake or other treats in your life. Food would get very boring. So, we do include waxworms, but we recommend that they’re kept for the occasional treat. Ours have one or two waxworms every week on a Saturday.
So, What Should You Feed Leopard Geckos?
The simple answer to this is a mixture of prey items. This prevents the geckos from being disadvantaged by specific deficiencies in the nutrition of another prey item. At the same time, a varied diet will help you keep your leopard gecko happy and engaged with eating.
How Should You Feed Your Leopard Gecko?
There are several methods for feeding leopard geckos. The first is to let the prey items loose into the enclosure. Another is to let the prey items rest in a feeding bowl, like this mealworm bowl, or you could tong feed your leopard geckos. There are advantages and disadvantages of each of these.
Loose In The Enclosure
- Minimises feeding time when you’re rushed.
- The easiest option available.
- Leopard gecko can choose when it would like to eat.
- Creates enrichment for leopard geckos as they can ‘hunt’ prey items.
- Uneaten prey items have been reported to hurt leopard geckos (namely crickets).
- Prey items can hide and not get eaten, leaving the leopard gecko hungry.
- Hard to monitor consumption levels if you co-habitat your leopard geckos.
- Boring, part of the fun is watching your leopard gecko eat.
- Prey items can pick up substrate which can then be ingested, raising the risk of impaction.
- Calcium supplements can fall off when the prey item moves around the enclosure.
- Allows the gecko to choose when to eat.
- Prey items can be kept cleaner.
- Easy to monitor what the leopard gecko is eating.
- Allows you to fill food bowl when you have time, so more flexible for busy lifestyles.
- Few prey items remain in the bowl, mostly mealworms and waxworms.
- Doesn’t offer any stimulus for the leopard geckos.
- Hard to monitor what your leopard gecko is eating is co-habitation if being practised.
- Calcium supplements can rub off as the prey items move around the bowl.
- A great way to bond with your leopard gecko.
- Can easily monitor consumption of feeding even if co-habitated with other leopard geckos.
- Prey items can be kept very clean.
- Prevents prey items from being left inside the enclosure for long periods of time.
- No enrichment for the leopard gecko, they can’t hunt.
- If the leopard gecko isn’t ready to eat, they won’t. Therefore, they might not get enough food over the long term.
- Some leopard geckos don’t trust this feeding method.
- Takes a long time to feed the leopard gecko.
- Some leopard geckos become dependent on the owner to eat and will refuse other styles of feeding.
What Method Of Leopard Gecko Feeding Do We Use?
Over many years of keeping leopard geckos, we’ve come up with a specific style of feeding leopard geckos that has proven to help with health, adding weight, maintaining weight and breeding. It has also been a good source of enrichment for our collection.
Our focus is two fold: offering food that is constantly available as well as a varied diet. We offer mealworms, crickets, dubia roaches and waxworms. We maintain a small amount of mealworms within the enclosure, kept in a mealworm dish, at all times. This allows the leopard gecko to get food when they’re hungry. We currently feed 10 per gecko per day.
We then provide them with a mixture of crickets and dubia roaches once or twice a week. Finally, once a week we offer one or two waxworms.
This method of feeding encourages self regulation and stimulates activity.
We never offer the food item via tongs. This is not something that we feel leopard geckos should be offered. We’ve done this before and we’ve found that some leopard geckos become too dependent on this style and will not eat without it. This is not desirable. We want the leopard geckos to be able to hunt and feed on their own.
Other Feeding Tips
It is important to always maintain good gut loading of your feeder insects. Any kitchen scraps will do as nutrition for your feeder insects. You don’t need to get any special food, in fact I discourage this. Some top items that the feeder insects should be fed include carrots, potatoes, cucumber, apple and pear. Use a mixture if possible to improve the nutritional value of your feeder insects.
Do not feed your feeder insects any wild leaves. I’ve seen this done but there are problems. Some wild leaves, like ivy and oak, are poisonous to reptiles, mammals and birds but not to insects. What your insects eat, so do your reptiles, so always be sure that your feeder insects are fed only safe products.
Also, be sure to try and feed at dusk. This is the natural hunting time for the leopard gecko and you should get better feeding results. Also, ensure prey items are no bigger than the distance between the eyes of the leopard gecko.
Keep a small dish of calcium supplement within the enclosure of your leopard geckos. Geckos will eat this as they need to. Some people warn of geckos ingesting too much calcium, but I’ve never seen a leopard gecko have more than a lick or two over a prolonged period of time.
Shake And Bake Feeding
Most leopard geckos keepers will ensure prey items are dusted with a calcium supplement before feeding to their leopard gecko. This should be done with all young leopard geckos, but adult leopard geckos might not benefit from this and a small bowl of supplement inside the enclosure might be better. But this depends on your preference, leopard gecko and the general care you give.
To add supplement to your feeder insects, the preferred method is to shake and bake. This is where you add your feeder insects to a small food bag along with some supplement. Then you shake the bag before releasing the prey items.
The prey items will be covered in the supplement. But there are two problems here, the prey items must be eaten quickly and if you add too much supplement, you could cause calcium problems.
The first is a particular problem because I’ve seen prey items run through water to wash off the calcium supplement or clean it off themselves. That is why I always have a small calcium pot within the enclosure, to ensure there is some available.
It is important to note that the wild source of calcium for leopard geckos is not known.
Final Word: Feeding Leopard Geckos
Feeding leopard geckos is fun and interesting. However, there is a lot of information within this subject. We hope this guide to leopard gecko feeding has been helpful. If you have any questions, let us know in the comments below.