Pet of the week: The leopard gecko

Who's this wriggly customer? The leopard gecko is one of the most popular reptiles in captivity. As its name suggests, it is decorated with black spots similar to those of a leopard, and it is mainly creamy or yellowy in colour. All this, of course, provides vital camouflage in the wild, but due to selective breeding in captivity the leopard gecko is now available in all sorts of colours, or morphs.

What's his natural environment? The mountainous deserts and scrubland of Afghanistan, Pakistan and northern Iran. He's a real desert warrior, hunting by night for crickets and suchlike (even mice, so long as they're not too big), then sensibly hiding out under rocks to escape the midday heat. He eats when he can and stores excess food in his tail which can be digested in lean times. His tail is detachable, too.

Sounds like a tall tale? It's true. If the leopard gecko needs to take flight from predators, it will vibrate muscles in its vertebrae that will disengage the tail, leaving just a wriggly stump to distract its would-be assassin while it makes good its escape. A new tail takes about 40 days to grow back. If you are planning on keeping a leopard gecko, please remember: this is not a party trick.

So how does he get on in suburban Britain? By and large very well, as he is relatively easy to keep. He feeds on dried insects, such as crickets and fat, juicy wax worms. You need a 20-gallon vivarium with plenty of heat and moisture at one end of the tank (30C), and places to keep cool at the other end (room temperature). And he needs coarse matter to rub against when he is shedding skin. Males should not be kept together as they do not get along. It is best to install the vivarium first, get the temperature right and put in the right substrate, then introduce the reptile.

What's substrate? It is what leopard geckos use as bedding and shelter, but they also like to nibble at it. A common problem with leopard geckos is that they cannot digest this compound, so it's best to obtain some professional advice on what best to put in the tank. Paper towels or broken bits of slate seem to be least harmful. With reptiles it is best to be clued up on their correct environment before starting out, rather than learning as you go along. Thankfully there are plenty of reputable reptile retailers. Try getting Jonathan Ross to say that.

What's the difference between a gecko and a lizard? Geckos are part of the lizard family, but what marks the leopard out from other geckos is that it has eyelids. Other lizards lick their eyeballs to remove dust, not so the leopard. It blinks.

How do I get hold of a leopard gecko? As always, you should go through an accredited animal breeder. has an excellent reputation and extensive knowledge, as well as a wide range of reptiles for sale. A juvenile leopard gecko will cost upwards of £35, plus about £100 in start-up costs for the vivarium. And Exotic Pets takes great care in delivering the creature, too.

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