Because Leopard geckos are often shy and secretive, hiding areas are essential to make them feel at home. A humidifying enclosure also needs to be supplied.
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Leopard geckos will need a place to hide or retreat when they are shy or scared, and a place to sleep. During fragile periods (e.g. when they are shedding their skins), Leopard geckos might also prefer to be less visible. Additionally, breeding female Leopard geckos will need a place to deposit their eggs.
In the wild, Leopard geckos will spend a great deal of time avoiding bright light and to stay out of sight of predators(31). These times are spent under rocks, under trees and in burrows, tunnels and holes under the soil. These are also the areas where Leopard geckos will sleep and deposit their eggs.
To simulate this behaviour and create a similar environment, it is important that hiding areas (or hiding spots) are supplied(50). At least one humidifying shelter also needs to be supplied to Leopard geckos.
Hide areas also act as environmental enrichment and decorative items for Leopard geckos. Without proper places to hide, Leopard geckos will feel vulnerable and exposed.
Under these circumstances, some Leopard geckos will show signs of aggression, exhibit glass climbing behaviour and might refuse to eat. Without a humidifying shelter, Leopard geckos will start to show problems while they shed their skins.
Hiding areas for Leopard geckos
Hiding and sleep areas for Leopard geckos (also called shelters, hides or retreats) can be supplied in various ways. Popular ways include in the form of hide boxes, cave-like structures and custom decorations.
As long as a humidifying shelter is supplied (see later), one or two additional dry hides are usually enough for most Leopard gecko enclosures.
Hiding areas can be placed in various locations in larger keeping enclosures. When heating equipment is used, hiding should be supplied in the cooler and in the warmer areas of the enclosure. When ultraviolet (UVB) lighting is supplied, hide areas need to be secure/enclosed enough not to let any light inside(50).
Many Leopard gecko keepers will make their own hiding areas, but various commercial hiding products are available from places like Amazon.com, pet shops, reptile retailers and other online shops.
Things to consider when it comes to choosing hiding areas for Leopard geckos are:
- its size
- the size of the keeping enclosure
- ability to clean
- their ability to keep light out
- the bottom
- its purpose
Each hiding area should be large enough to simultaneously fit all the Leopard geckos comfortably, but the size will also be dependant on the size of the keeping enclosure. Larger keeping enclosures can house larger and more hiding areas.
As with the rest of the keeping enclosure, hide areas also needs to be cleaned from time to time. Materials such as resin and plastic are easier to clean than for example wood and rock.
In enclosures where UVB is supplied, hiding areas should be able to block out light completely. In these cases, deep home-made hide areas will be preferred.
Depending on the enclosure type, certain keepers might want to stick to natural-looking hides whereas others might not. Other than aesthetics, the focus of hides can be cleanliness, size, availability and/or functionality.
Hides can either have a bottom or not. Bottomless hides, e.g. cave-like structures, are easy to lift from the enclosure without having to drag its contents with but are not great to keep its own substrate.
Hides which has a bottom can either be in one piece, have a lid (e.g. boxes) or be in two pieces where the top can be removed from the bottom. ‘Bottomed’ hides are more difficult to work with, but they can be used to keep their own substrate in.
Safe hides are those that do not pose a threat to Leopard geckos. Unsafe hides include structures that can fall over and cause crushing injuries in Leopard geckos. Leight weight hides with a broad base are safer than heavy, unstable ones.
When it comes to purpose, hiding can either be dry or moist. A humidifying shelter is a moist hide that also needs to be supplied to Leopard geckos (see later).
Types of hiding areas for Leopard geckos
Hiding areas for Leopard geckos can be supplied by using hide boxes, caves and custom decorations.
The most commonly used hiding spot for Leopard geckos is probably in the form of boxes. By simply being a box-like container with an opening, a hide box can be as simple as a small plastic(30) or wooden container with a lid.
Having a lid is advantageous for easy access and cleaning. A waterproof hide box can also easily converted into a humidifying shelter. The opening of the hide box can either be high up on the side or on the top (in the lid) of the container. The opening needs to be large enough to allow access to the inside, but not too large.
Small to medium plastic lunch boxes are popularly used to make hide boxes. Although plastic lunch boxes are not natural-looking and good at keeping light out, they are inexpensive and easy to obtain. To allow for even more privacy, solid-coloured boxes are preferred over see-through ones. Enclosed commercial items in the form of natural-looking rocks and dried wood are also available.
Cave-like hiding areas for Leopard geckos are structures that are placed on top of the enclosure substrate. In addition to shelter, they also add environment enrichment and decorative value.
Cave-like structures come in various shapes and sizes and are popularly available from places like Amazon.com. Non-decorative structures such as paper boxes and upside-down plastic containers can also be used for their sheltering abilities.
Apart from aesthetics, desired properties include their weight, size and ability to clean. For this reason materials such as resin, plastic and concrete are often used to produce them.
Hiding spots for Leopard geckos can also be created by using self-made, custom decorations. Instead of using commercial items, many Leopard gecko keepers simply use items such as rocks, pieces of bark, card box, flagstone, etc. Zoo Med also has a product called Excavator Clay that can be used to mould hides, burrows and tunnels(50).
A good example includes stacking or placing rocks, slate rocks or flagstone to create caves and canopies. Custom decorations can be made to be open on one side so that the inside of the hidden area is more visible for viewing.
Even though custom decorations can look more natural and add a lot of entertainment for Leopard geckos, they must be used with caution. Loosely decorated items can fall over and/or allow for areas where a leg or tail can get stuck in.
Natural items are also more difficult to clean/disinfect and can offer hiding areas for insects, bacteria and parasites. Silicone glue can be used to anchor pieces together(31).
In the case of enclosures made from glass, the floor can easily crack when heavy objects are placed or dropped onto it. The same goes for unstable furniture that can fall over.
To make the floor a little less fragile, layers of newspaper can be used to separate the substrate layer. Deep layered substrates will act as some degree of shock absorber and can be used to hide cables in.
Humidifying shelters for Leopard geckos
In nature, the tunnels and holes under the soil where Leopard geckos sleep will often be cool, moist and humid. In addition to dry hiding areas, Leopard geckos also need at least one humid area to simulate this environment. This will aid in healthy skin shedding, help increase the humidity and reduce dehydration.
A humidifying shelter (also called a ‘moist hide’) is a moist hide area with a moist substrate. A waterproof hide box (mentioned earlier) with a layer of peat/sphagnum moss(34) is commonly used. Paper towel, fresh vermiculite(30) and various other forms of commercial substrate/bedding can also be used.
In the case of vermiculite and moss mixtures, it needs to be mixed with an equal volume of clean water. Paper towel can be sprayed. The substrate should not be soggy wet but feel moist by touching it. Routine/regular misting (once or twice a week, or as needed) will aid in keeping the substrate moist.
Because moist hiding areas are also the perfect place for environmental bacteria to grow, the container to should be washed and disinfected routinely/regularly (at least once a month). Old and/or mouldy substrates should be discarded and replaced regularly.
Humidifying shelters are also used by gravid females to deposit their eggs (see Breeding boxes below).
Breeding boxes for Leopard geckos
During the breeding season, gravid females will need a moist, secure area to deposit their eggs. A breeding box (or nesting box) for Leopard geckos is basically a hide box converted into a humidifying shelter.
To keep the eggs from getting infected, commercial substrates for the purpose of egg deposition should be preferred. Vermiculite is commonly used.
Hide areas and humidifying shelters are vital to natural behaviour, health and happiness of pet Leopard geckos. Leopard gecko hide areas and hide boxes can be supplied in various ways. The type of hiding will depend on various factors and each has its own advantages and disadvantages.