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How to Care for Your Leopard Lizard
Long-nosed leopard lizards (Gambelia wislizenii) are small to medium-sized diurnal, terrestrial lizards that can be found throughout most of the western US, as well as parts of northern Mexico. They can be found in desert plains with significant amounts of cover from bunch grasses and shrubs. They prefer to avoid areas with dense plant cover, however.
Long-nosed leopard lizards generally have a slim and athletic build, with a teardrop-shaped head, long legs, and a long, slender tail. Pattern varies by locality, as the lizard’s appearance varies somewhat based on its specific habitat. However, they generally have a tan to brown base color with darker spots and a pale belly. Gravid females develop bold orange blotches on their body and the underside of their tail. Adults have a snout-to-vent length of about 4-5”, with males being smaller than females.
Long-nosed leopard lizards are not common in the pet trade, and most specimens available for sale are wild-caught. Due to their feisty nature and quick movements, they are not the best pet for someone looking for a lizard that will tolerate regular handling, and they require plenty of equipment to keep healthy. However, with good care, they can live up to 7 years.
How much space do leopard lizards need?
A single leopard lizard should be housed in no smaller than a 36” x 24” x 24” enclosure. This may seem excessive for such a small lizard, but it’s important to keep in mind that leopard lizards are extremely active. If you can provide a larger enclosure, do it!
Cohabitation is optional. They do just fine when housed singly, and do not live in groups in the wild. However, this species is not territorial, so if you want to house multiple leopard lizards together, you can certainly do so. Leopard lizards are also known to eat lizards that are smaller than they are, so make sure all of the lizards are the same size. You will also need to at least double the minimum enclosure size in order to make sure each lizard has enough space.
Do leopard lizards need UVB?
Yes! Leopard lizards are diurnal, which means that they are most active during the day, and naturally exposed to lots of sunlight on a day-to-day basis. This means that they need UVB light as part of their enclosure. The best UVB bulbs for a leopard lizard housed in a 36” long enclosure are:
Th UVB should be mounted over mesh, 11-13” above the basking surface. The basking surface should be the closest object to the UVB bulb. The UVB bulb should be housed in a reflective fixture like Arcadia or Vivarium Electronics, and placed on the basking side along with the heat lamp. Also note that UVB is blocked by glass and plastic. UVB bulbs decay over time, so you will need to replace yours every 12 months to maintain performance.
In addition to UVB, since leopard lizards are day-active lizards, it’s beneficial to provide an additional daylight-spectrum lamp to make sure the enclosure is brightly illuminated. Use a strong 6500K LED or T5 HO fluorescent plant grow light for best results.
Leopard lizards should get 10 hours of light per day during winter and 14 hours of light per day during summer. This simulates natural seasonal changes in day length and encourages healthier hormonal rhythms.
What basking temperatures do leopard lizards need?
Leopard lizards like it hot! They should have a basking air temperature between 90-105°F, with cool side temperatures between 75-80°F. Average ambient air temperature should be around 85°F. Nighttime temperatures can drop as low as 65°F, which can usually be accomplished by turning off the heat source. Measure your temperatures with a digital probe thermometer with the probe placed on the desired surface.
Provide heat for your leopard lizard by imitating the sun with a halogen heat lamp placed on one side of the enclosure. Do not use ceramic heat emitters (CHEs), heat mats, red bulbs, or blue bulbs, as these are not as effective. For best results, the basking surface itself should be a large, flat piece of rock.
What humidity levels do leopard lizards need?
As an arid species, leopard lizards don’t need much in the way of humidity. Aim for an average of 30-40% humidity, with access to a humid hideout or burrow. Occasional misting with a spray bottle or pressure sprayer is a good way to help keep your lizard well-hydrated and is unlikely to be harmful as long as the enclosure is allowed to dry out afterward.
What substrate is good for leopard lizards?
Substrate covers the floor of your lizard’s terrarium and helps make the enclosure more attractive, but it also helps maintain desired humidity levels and provides something for your lizard to dig around in.
It’s ideal to use a substrate that imitates the “substrate” that the reptile naturally lives on in the wild. For leopard lizards, that means sand or very sandy soil. We recommend the following substrates for leopard lizards:
- Zoo Med ReptiSand
- Exo Terra Desert Sand
- Play sand
Substrate should be at least 8” deep and completely replaced every 3-4 months. Remove poop and urates daily, along with contaminated substrate.
For best results, keep the sand slightly moistened to facilitate burrowing and tunneling behavior.
What décor can you use in a leopard lizard terrarium?
Leopard lizards are active animals and fierce predators, so they get bored easily. Using a large enough enclosure is the first step toward preventing this, but it’s also important to provide enrichment to help keep them busy and entertained. It doesn’t matter how big the enclosure is if you don’t put things in it for your pet to use and interact with.
At bare minimum, you will need at least one “cave” for the lizard to hide in, a bushy plant for shade, and a flat stone for basking on. However, it’s best to include other items, such as:
- secure stacks of flagstone or aquarium slate
- more hiding places
- hollow logs
- live or artificial plants
- small dried shrubs
Leopard lizards do like open space, though, so don't clutter things up too much.
What do leopard lizards eat?
Leopard lizards are carnivores, and they need a diet of both vertebrate and invertebrate prey (preferably live) in order to get the nutrition that their bodies need. Offer food every morning, as much as they can eat in one day. Juveniles will generally eat more than adults do.
Variety is the key to balanced nutrition, so make sure to offer as many different kinds of foods as possible! To avoid obesity, offer insects more often than vertebrate prey. Feeders should be no wider than the lizard’s head.
Invertebrates for leopard lizards: dubia roaches, discoid roaches, red runner roaches, crickets, black soldier fly larvae, hornworms, silkworms, mealworms, superworms, darkling beetles, grasshoppers, scorpions
Vertebrates for leopard lizards: young mice, young rats, anoles, house geckos
You will also need calcium and vitamin supplements to prevent your leopard lizard from developing a deficiency. We recommend Repashy Calcium Plus LoD, lightly dusted on all feeder insects.
Although leopard lizards are desert reptiles, they still need access to fresh water. Provide a small water bowl where your lizard can always get a drink when needed. Change the water daily and scrub the bowl with a reptile-safe disinfectant weekly, or whenever it becomes soiled.
Do leopard lizards like to be handled?
Few reptiles actually “like” to be held, and leopard lizards are better kept as a display animal rather than a pet that you hold regularly. They tend to be quite defensive, and can deliver a painful bite. Instead of interacting with your lizard by holding it, try hand-feeding it with a pair of feeding tweezers.