As with other reptiles, Leopard geckos shed the outer parts of their skin as they grow. Skin shedding (also called ecdysis or moulting) happens from time to time and is more frequently seen in baby and juvenile Leopard geckos.
For reptiles, shedding the outer parts of their skins are normal. Initially, the skin will turn white to grey after which pieces will start to become loose and peel off. Fluid is secreted between the old and new skin to encourage separation of the old skin. The old skin often comes off as one complete piece.
Skin shedding in Leopard geckos
Skin shedding is a physiological process where the old skin is removed to give way for a newer, usually larger one. Leopard geckos will usually shed their skin in one complete piece or a couple of large pieces. The active skin shedding process will take place over a short period of time (one to two hours). Often, old skin is eaten by the Leopard gecko and shedding will take place at night – thus the process is often not seen.
Frequency and growth rate
Baby and juvenile Leopard geckos grow faster meaning they will shed their skins more frequently than adults – typically every 10 to 14 days. Other than the growth rate, there is no exact cycle in which Leopard geckos shed their skins. The growth rate will depend on factors such as the amount of food given, the environmental temperature, health status and the genes of the Leopard gecko. Adult Leopard geckos will shed approximately every 4 to 8 weeks. Skin shedding is often an indication that a Leopard gecko is healthy and growing.
Owners can keep records of the patterns, frequencies and durations of a Leopard gecko’s skin sheddings. Records will help to predict the frequency of sheddings and can be used to monitor for abnormalities.
Leopard gecko behaviour during skin shedding
While shedding, Leopard geckos will often be seen rubbing their face and body against the sides of the enclosure, enclosure furniture and the floor. They will also often be seen biting at their legs and at loose pieces of skin. This is to start the shedding process by creating ‘peeling areas’. To, what is believed to aid in the shedding process, Leopard geckos will likely eat their own shedding and shedded skin.
During the shedding process, Leopard geckos might spend more time in their humidifying shelters hiding away. It is not uncommon for Leopard geckos to refuse to eat or eat less during the shedding process. Anorexia (unwillingness to eat) might even start days before the old skin is to be shed. This is likely due to the sensitivity of the new/fresh skin and the restricting nature of the old skin – making it more difficult to move around. Leopard geckos might also be seen soaking in their water dishes during the shedding process. By keeping the old skin moist, it will separate more easily from the body.
Helping Leopard geckos during skin shedding
For Leopard geckos, skin shedding comes with a lot of potential problems and challenges. Skin shedding problems in Leopard geckos (dysecdysis) are frequently seen, mainly when the environmental humidity is too low. The most important thing that will aid in normal skin shedding in Leopard geckos is the supply of a humidifying shelter (hide box containing a moist substrate).
A correctly set up hide box will most often be enough to supply all the required humidity and will also double as a place to hide during this fragile period. Popular hide box substrates include peat/sphagnum moss and vermiculite that is wetted with an equal amount of water. Sprayed paper towel can also be used. The substrate should not be soggy wet, but feel moist by touching it.
Other than supplying a humidifying shelter, other quick ways to increase the environmental humidity is by increasing the size of the water bowl and by misting the enclosure. Some Leopard geckos might soak more frequently in their water containers during the skin shedding process. Twice a day misting (i.e. spraying) with lukewarm water will aid in increasing the overall environmental humidity during this period. The temperature of the spraying water needs to be similar to that of the enclosure (i.e. 25 – 30 ºC / 77 – 86 ºF(23), use a thermometer).
The supply of rough surfaces to rub against will also help with the shedding process in Leopard geckos. Items such as rocks and pieces of dry wood can be used.
Skin shedding problems in Leopard geckos
Leopard gecko hide areas and hide boxes
Ensuring the correct humidity for pet Leopard geckos
Suitable substrates for Leopard geckos
Handling Leopard geckos during skin shedding
Fresh skin is still fragile and more sensitive than the old one. It is therefore encouraged to keep handling to an as-needed basis while a Leopard gecko is in the process of shedding. Handling should be restricted up to a couple of days after the shedding process has finished.
Handling a Leopard gecko
Owners often see their Leopard geckos shed its skin. It is a normal process in all reptiles. This article also pointed out what owners can do to help Leopard geckos with the shedding process.