Your leopard gecko comes to the glass as you walk into the room. They stare at you for a good long while in some cases. They don’t fear your hands. Are they attached to you?
Do leopard geckos get attached to their owners? We do not know for sure if the leopard gecko, or other reptiles, get attached to their owners. However, bonds can be formed between a leopard gecko and their owner by way of handling the animal, taking them out for enrichment activities outside their cage, and setting up a healthy habitat.
There are stories around the Internet about leopard geckos showing love to their owners, however thanks to these creatures having a literal “reptile brain,” they cannot understand what love is like some pets (dogs, cats, etc.) can.
They can, however, associate you with good things, and thus become interested in seeing you.
Keep reading to discover more about the reptilian brain and ways you can bond with your leopard gecko.
Table of Contents
What Is the Reptilian Brain?
Most of the time when we hear the phrase “reptilian brain,” it is being used to reference ways in which human beings respond to their primitive needs such as hunger, sexuality, thirst, and habits- such as riding your bike or turning on a light when you walk into a room.
These are all things you can do without really having to put much thought into it. Some of them are instinctual- e.g., you feel hungry, so you go look for some food. This was a theory put forth by Paul Maclean, a physician, and neuroscientist.
The theory was published in 1990, and nearly 30 years later, we now know that some of the fine details were incorrect.
However, the phrase “reptilian brain” came about because it was rooted in a long-held belief that the forebrains of reptiles were dominated by structures known as the basal ganglia, globus pallidus, thalamus, substantia nigra, and cerebellum.
In English, Please?
Okay, now for the English translation: A reptile’s brain is focused mostly on survival. A reptile cares mostly about self-defense, eating and drinking, and reproducing.
Their brains are not equipped to handle things beyond that. Thus, we don’t get the same bond with our lizards as we do with our dogs or cats.
Essentially, reptiles are a bit primitive when it comes to their brains.
But this by no means should make you believe these creatures are unintelligent or capable of enjoying your presence! At this time, let’s talk about a few ways you can bond with your leopard gecko, and help them begin to associate you with positive experiences.
Method 1: Handle the Gecko
The power of touch is real! Even though your gecko cannot connect the dots between touch and love, they likely enjoy your hands for one reason or another. For starters, us humans are warm, and geckos need warmth to feel comfortable.
Second, it’s a nice change of scenery outside of the tank. Third, they get to climb, which geckos really love to do. You might sit on the floor and allow your gecko to climb on your arm, for example.
Don’t handle your gecko when he or she doesn’t feel like it. Geckos can feel stressed out, too, and sometimes they don’t want to be handled. If your gecko displays signs of aggression, know you are doing him a favor by letting him cool off and trying again later on.
Be sure you also wash hands thoroughly after handling any reptile, to avoid salmonella risk. Never eat or drink while playing with your gecko.
Method 2: Take Them Outdoors
If it’s a nice, warm day, consider taking your gecko outside to the sunlight. While they cannot be outside of their habitat for a long time, you can still take them outdoors to see the scenery, get some air, and feel real sunlight on their skin.
Bear in mind you should only do this when the conditions are right. What feels comfortable to a human- say, a mild 75-degree day, is still much too cold for a leopard gecko. Leos need temperatures of 87°F to 90°F to feel their best.
Provided you have safe, pesticide-free/clean grass, let your leo take a stroll for a little while on the soft grass. Make sure to supervise him or her very closely and keep other pets like dogs and cats away.
This is enrichment at its finest, and your leo will appreciate the small change of scenery.
Method 3: Keep the Habitat Interesting
A habitat for your leo is like your home. Imagine if your home was just a plate for eating, a cup for water, a bed, and a chair. How boring and uninviting would that be?
Unfortunately, some leo owners do the bare minimum needed to keep their geckos. It is not fun for either party.
As a leopard gecko owner, create a habitat that is full of places to hide, humid, full of climbable things, and clean. Doing this will make your leopard gecko happy, and you will enjoy watching them have fun in their habitat when you cannot handle them.
And, you can rest easy knowing you worked hard to create a beautiful living space for your precious reptile.
A Note on Unscented Soap, Perfumes, and Colognes
Leopard geckos have good eyesight, but their main method of identifying you is by way of smell. As a result, we urge leo owners to avoid wearing perfumes, colognes, and using scented soaps when handling their geckos.
You will wash your hands before and after you handle your gecko. Opt for an unscented soap to do this- you can find these soaps at any major retailer. Failing to do this could leave you open to being attacked, as the leo cannot identify what the foreign smell is.
What’s the Big Deal?
A leopard gecko might know you for months or even years, but a hand that is coated in an unfamiliar scent can leave them feeling scared and confused.
The result is that they attack or act out as they would if a predator was coming near them. Leopard gecko owners have reported bites to fingers as a result.
A small bite may not seem like a big deal, but if you keep coming near them with that unfamiliar smell, they may lose their trust and act out against you.
This could lead to even more nips and bites, and a harder time cleaning the habitat, bonding and having fun together, and feeding.
Doing this once won’t result in a breakage of your bond, but it’s best to just play it safe. Wash off all unfamiliar scents before handling your gecko.
Save perfumes and colognes for when you are with human friends and keep a bar or jug of unscented soap for those moments when you interact with your leopard gecko.
Leopard geckos do have something of a primitive brain. However, this doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy the fun moments life has to offer with you, their owner.
A leopard gecko may not kiss you like a dog or rub on you like a cat, but their scrambling to see you through the glass and their cute “smiling” faces are reassurance they care for us. Enjoy your gecko!