Leopard Gecko Care Part One. Looking at the Leopard Gecko and its correct housing
What Exactly is Infrared?
Part One. Looking at the Leopard Gecko and its correct housing We as reptile keepers very rarely stick with one animal from one species for the whole of their journey into our wonderful hobby. Rather, we tend to progress and collect as our interest and abilities develop. Having access to these varied species and the equipment needed to provide well for them enables us to stay within the hobby for years and for the hobby to evolve somewhat around our interests. However, there are and always will be a select few species that have been proven to be rewarding and achievable to keep. Leopard geckos have proven to be easy to reproduce and therefore readily available. It is within this species that many of us find our first pet reptile. The Leopard Gecko Eublepharis macularius in the natural state is a well coloured, quite robust and fairly territorial (within a patriarchal and hierarchical group), terrestrial species originating around and within emergent forest; emergent and prime scrubland and also rather arid rocky terrain. This in of itself denotes the adaptability and dependability of the species, it is one of life’s true survivors and survive it has in both the wild and within captivity. The closer we look at the wild animal and its synergy to the wild habitat, the greater our understanding of the species will become. In this way, we are then able to build and maintain enclosures that factor in the systems of care that not only provide accurately for the animal, but then also allow the keeper to see that animal behave naturally, just as the wild ancestor would. The Leopard Gecko is found within the rocky mountainous regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, when we include the subspecies and localities thereof, it has a noticeably wider range. We still have much to learn, but it is likely that a range of subspecies exist above and beyond those that are already known to us. Within these sometimes quite remote groups we see differences to size, behaviour and colouration. We of course now have a wide variety of captive bred colour morphs available in the hobby too. This is a highly adapted species of gecko that has changed and adapted over vast periods of time in order to thrive within the varied wild habitats in which it is found. The home range is an area in which many of the animals are at particular risk from local predation, be that from hawks, reptiles, mammals and of course humans. Within this we find an animal that has developed very well to function at the times of the day in which the predation and heat risk is lower, those periods being early in the morning and from the late afternoon into the evening. At these times the searing heat of the day has not yet peaked or is waning and subsequently the predation risk is lower. These are also the times of the day in which the usual food sources are more plentiful – before they secret themselves away from the larger predators, desiccating heat or the biting cold of the night. It is clear that many of the areas in which this species is found could be classed as being uninhabitable during the drying heat of the day. This also poses a dehydration risk. However, wild adaptation within this branch of the gecko family enables the species to remain optimally hydrated via its active cycles. High levels of humidity are found as night draws in because the heat dissipates and water vapour is released into the air from the ground or carried in the wind. The ground itself, even in harsh, arid environments, remains almost wet even a few inches under the surface. This also applies to the burrows and tunnels that are used within the peaks of the day. The adequate provision of water is therefore no real problem to the wild animal. It will be able to obtain water via the foods it consumes and through ‘capture’ via the collection of water on the skin when settled in areas of high humidity, such as a burrow. Water can also be found where rains occur. The Leopard Gecko has also developed a colouration that enables it to blend in with the local terrain. It has adaptations to the feet, showing small nails that enable them to clamber and climb easily over the rocky soils, rocks, low-growing bushes and into and around old stone walls where they are also commonly found. Unlike many gecko species they have functioning eyelids. They are able to store fats and nutrients within the tail to see them through the harsh winter seasons in which brumation can occur and allow the animal to survive to the next season of plenty. The tail can also be dropped during predation attempts and territorial fighting. However, the tail can regenerate and the stores rebuilt. We see an animal that has a series of quite intricate adaptations which enable them to venture out in periods of time with a greater quantity of solar energy (higher temps, higher UV index) than previously thought. This is an incredible natural development that allows the species to interact with the sun in a safe and effective way, even if that interaction is via partial basking. Partial basking is the ability of an animal to expose part of the body – be that while seeking partial shade or being secreted within in a rock crevice or burrow – to the sun. This may be a whole flank or head or in some cases even just a foot. The fact is the body is being partly exposed to the sun’s energy. The interactions that occur with normal exposure to daylight still occur, just in a modified way. The Leopard Gecko is such a species that it is able to allow full exposure to daylight over its whole body in low light levels or use partial basking if it chooses to. Both methods of exposure are as valid as the next and ensure the natural D3 cycle is being maintained. It is clear Leopard Geckos do not spend the whole of the illuminated times of the day underground. They are documented as being found active and exposed in these times, albeit for short periods. Further to the behavioural adaptations, we find a high level of adaptation to the skin and eyes. These developments allow the animal to make good use of the energy that the sun provides during the times of day in which the animal is most active. Use of Sunlight As we know, reptiles are classified as being ectothermic. This means that they obtain the energy that they need to heat the body not from food as we mammals do, but rather from the energy that surrounds them. This energy is found in energy-rich full-spectrum terrestrial daylight. Within the wavelengths that the sun provides to us on earth we find pure and usable energy. Each group of wavelengths is a core provider working alongside and with all of the other terrestrial wavelengths to sustain life. Infrared is the provider of energy that allows the body to function, move and feed. Those wavelengths within the UV spectrum allow for colour vision and the constant provision of, storage, use and self-regulation of the Vitamin D3 cycle. We classify the Leopard Gecko as being crepuscular (more frequently found as being active at dawn and dusk), this means they are exposed to sunlight at a lower quantity than those harder skinned species found active during the day (diurnal). The thinner skin allows the energy contained within the photons (packages of energy contained within light) that the sun provides us with over the whole terrestrial spectrum to enter the body effectively and quickly. This means the animal can be exposed to a low level of terrestrial daylight light for a shorter period of time and to still experience the same biological changes and cycles as the full exposure basking species. Exposure to daylight, no matter the level, is a provider for them and one that enables the whole internal system to function as it has developed to. We need to understand the need and the animal’s ability to use its natural development to ensure that this need is fulfilled in the safest and most effective way. Light is a core provider and one we still have very limited understanding of. We know that full spectrum terrestrial daylight contains all of the wavelengths of the sun that the enter our atmosphere, and you cannot be exposed to heat for example, without being exposed to UV. All of the terrestrial wavelengths are there, in the mix, therefore there will be a use for, and a level of protection against them. We have another indicator of use here in the black spots that cover the skin of the adult animal and provide the common name. We also know that light does not simply come down to us in straight lines and then disappear, no – it is everywhere and getting into everything. Bouncing around and pushing into burrows and crevices, reflecting off of light surfaces, water and leaves and also being stored as heat within the terrain. This stored energy is then re-emitted back into the air to heat us as long wavelength infrared (IR-C). Here we find the theory of rock and leaf scatter illumination. This describes the nature of light and how it is redistributed around the environment and how plants and animals make use of it. For example, the Leopard Gecko can quite easily sit safely within the burrow with its head or tail remaining at the mouth. The animal is safe in the burrow and able to crawl down further should the risk of harm increase, however, while it rests here it is partially exposed to the energy that is constantly streaming down into our world from our sun. There is an important truth here that will help us to both categorise and supply for the animals that we seek to keep. If the level or quantity of light surrounding you is bright enough for you to see your hand in front of your face, then there is a measurable quantity of energy pouring down from the whole terrestrial spectrum. It is there, and it will be used, even in a seemingly shaded jungle. Yes, the levels are low, but they are there and as per the theory of natural selection, it will be used. Diet The wild animal’s interaction with daylight is one of the most important component parts of the three parameters of overall nutrition, but what about ingestible nutrition? The Leopard Gecko can be classed as being an ‘opportunistic omnivore with highly insectivorous tendencies’. This simply means that the wild animal will most frequently consume a vast array of live invertebrates from every class and will, when opportunity presents itself, capture and ingest items from other food groups. Those documented include small local reptiles and amphibians, small hatchling birds, hatchling Leopard Geckos and sometimes even flowers. This alludes to the animal’s ability to feed as opportunity arises and that within this overall mix, we have whole animal prey items. Unlike obligate insectivores and some herbivores, we see an ability to obtain and use preformed vitamin A and D3 via the diet. As these food items are obtained rarely, we must think if them as being ‘top ups’ rather than the core provider-being insects, which then points us back towards the interaction with solar energy for D3 and then ingested carotenoids within the guts of the insects that are consumed for onward conversion for vitamin A. The Leopard Gecko is by nature a friendly animal, disinclined to bite a human. However, they have a high level of sentience and will rigorously maintain a social hierarchy. They are found in small groups maintaining certain areas within the territory held by an alpha male. They construct their lives it seems, within a sense of order and duty. As example, the alpha male will fight off other male intruders, remove growing males from his own harem, defend the females, set up communal and solitary hides and designate and area of which will become a latrine slightly away from the main burrow network. They are able to defend themselves from each other and there are reports of losing males having to lose the tail and this being consumed by the victor. As mentioned, they are well able to climb and to maintain their network of burrows. This of course is yet another one of the ‘Three Parameters of Overall Nutrition’, being physical and mental enrichment in action. The Leopard Gecko is a surprising animal and one so frequently kept that we are in danger of overlooking many of its complex developed abilities and developed needs. It is by studying and accepting these developments and then building our caging around them that we will truly see the humble Leopard Gecko come into its own. In the next post, we take a look at how to keep these animals optimally, and think about which lighting and heating equipment you can utilise to help them thrive.
This diagram shows the breakdown of the groups of terrestrial wavelengths.
Infrared-A is also known as ‘near infrared’ or NIR for short. It is the shortest wavelengths within the group: 750-1400 nanometers. That is because it is the closest to visible light – that which humans can see. It has a high energy and as such is beneficial for animals. This is because the photons penetrate into the dermis of the skin as shown in the diagram below.
Living things also emit radiation in the FIR part of the spectrum. The heat sensing organs in snakes detect infrared energy being emitted by prey and the environment and so help them with both hunting and thermoregulatory behaviours2.
We do of course need to properly protect our animals in all cases; guard our lamps with a cage and check temperatures regularly using an infrared thermometer.
How Should a Deep Heat Projector be Set Up?
This of course depends on the animal kept. For small animals, one DHP grouped closely with your T5 lighting will provide a good balance of wavelengths for them to bask.
Glossary of terms used:
Infrared: forms of heat that are beyond the visible light spectrum
Terrestrial wavelengths: light (ultraviolet light, visible light & heat)
Non-terrestrial wavelengths: light or heat that do not reach our environment from the sun. (UVC and IRC).
Basking: the way in which a reptile obtains energy from sunlight. It is the way in which they elevate their temperatute to be able to carry out biological processes and to allow them to convert the hormone D3 in their skin to the active form.
Featured Image: Eublepharis macularius, A. Jones