Creating the right vivarium setup is crucial for your leopard gecko’s health. When installing the lights, you must consider the reptile’s natural habitat.
Leopard geckos are from the Middle East and need about 14 hours of light, followed by 10 hours of darkness per day in summer. In winter, divide the circadian cycle into 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness.
Assuming you’re turning on the lights at 8 am, the right time to turn off your leopard gecko’s lights is 10 pm during summer and 8 pm in winter. When transitioning from summer to winter, reduce the amount of daylight gradually over the course of four to eight weeks.
Wondering how to set up the best vivarium lighting for your leopard gecko? Read on to find it out.
When Is the Best Time to Turn Off Your Leopard Gecko’s Lights?
Knowing how to set up your leopard gecko’s lights can help you figure out when is the right time to turn them off.
Set up your pet’s vivarium thinking about its natural habitat. Leopard geckos are found in the wild in the Middle East (Afghanistan and Iran) and parts of Asia, including Pakistan, Northern India, and Nepal.
All these countries benefit from long hours of daylight in summer and slightly shorter days in winter. Thus, your leopard gecko’s light setup should follow the same pattern.
The easiest way to do that is with a 2% to 5% UVB vivarium light with an automatic on/off timer.
It doesn’t really matter what hour you set the light to turn on and off as long as you follow the gecko’s natural circadian cycle, which is about 14 hours of daylight in summer and 12 hours of daylight in winter.
You could even reduce the day length to about 10 hours from December to February if you want to, but this isn’t necessary.
If you want to set precise on and off times, you could consult the sunrise and sunset times in the Middle East and set the light timer accordingly.
However, considering that your gecko will bask in artificial light, you could also opt for a generic schedule. For instance, you can set the lights to turn on at 8 am and turn off at 10 pm in summer and 8 pm in winter.
No matter your choice, remember to be consistent – the purpose is to mimic a natural sunrise and sunset.
Leopard Gecko Lighting Schedule
|Daytime (8 am – 10 pm)||Nighttime (10 pm – 8 am)|
|Heat Source||Off (only if the basking light is on)||On|
|Daytime (8 am – 8 pm)||Nighttime (8 pm – 8 am)|
|Heat Source||Off (only if the basking light is on)||On|
Should The Lights Be Completely Off?
Aside from the right time to turn off a leopard gecko’s lights, reptile enthusiasts also wonder whether it’s fine to turn the lights completely off.
In short, yes. Again, think about geckos living in the wild. Does someone leave the lights on for them during the night? Of course not. Thus, your leopard gecko won’t mind the lack of light. Actually, the contrary is true.
In the wild, leopard geckos are generally considered nocturnal animals. Their behavior can change in captivity, with most leopard gecko pets displaying a crepuscular behavior – they sleep throughout the day but come out to eat at dusk and dawn.
Some pet leopard geckos remain active during the night, while others prefer to rest.
That said, you should consider the natural, nocturnal tendency of your leopard gecko when setting up the lights and account for 10 to 12 hours of complete darkness.
Should I Leave a Blue Light On During the Night?
Since most leopard geckos sleep throughout the day, you may want to leave a blue light on at night to watch or interact with your pet. You can install a blue light if you want, but you shouldn’t leave it on for more than two hours after dusk.
Leaving a blue light on at all times can interfere with the day and night patterns your pet is accustomed to.
Baby leopard geckos are extremely sensitive to light changes, and a blue light left on could confuse them. Your pet could interpret it as a signal to stay hidden, and it might avoid feeding as long as the light is on.
Thermoregulation could also become an issue if your pet struggles to determine when the night approaches.
Although your vivarium should have a heat mat to regulate the temperature, geckos tend to regulate their body temperature based on the circadian cycle – after all, they don’t get access to any artificial heat in the wild.
This restriction doesn’t apply to blue light only. Unlike other animals, leopard geckos can see a wide range of colors and are also disturbed by red, green, and UVB lights you might leave on at night.
If you want to leave on the light to help your gecko navigate the vivarium, know that you shouldn’t bother.
Leopard geckos have incredibly accurate night vision and can see the food, water, and obstacles when all lights are off. Thus, you should turn all lights off during the night.
Wouldn’t My Leopard Gecko Get Too Cold If the Light Is Off?
Another concern regards temperature regulation, especially if you’re using a light and heat lamp combination bulb. The solution is simple: you should use a light-only bulb and a separate heat source, such as a ceramic heat lamp or a heat mat.
Regardless of the heat source, remember that you should regulate the amount of heat according to the day-night cycle created by the light.
When setting up the vivarium, create a basking area that maintains a temperature between 82.4°F (28°C) and 86°F (30°C) during the day and 75.2°F (24°C) and 78.8°F (26°C) during the night.
You can maintain a slightly lower temperature in the rest of the tank, but make sure that it never goes below 64.4°F (18°C) when the lights are off.
What Kind of Light Do Leopard Geckos Need?
Choosing the right light for your leopard gecko is another challenge. Some sources claim that using a UV bulb is unnecessary; however, a study published in the Elsevier Journal demonstrates that leopard geckos use UVB radiations to synthesize vitamin D3.
Vitamin D deficiency can lead to metabolic bone disease, and dietary supplements alone may not always be sufficient for your gecko.
In fact, the study showed that leopard geckos exposed to UVB light had a higher plasma concentration of vitamin D compared to geckos that only got the nutrient from dietary supplements. For this reason, you should use a UVB light for your gecko.
Alternatively, use a regular light but make sure to provide your pet with sufficient dietary calcium and vitamin D to prevent deficiencies.
Popular Lighting Options
As we mentioned above, using a UVB light for your gecko is recommended but not mandatory. That said, what are the most popular lighting options you can use? Here are a few choices:
Light-only UVB bulbs
Designed to use with a separate heat source (such as a heat lamp or heat mat), the light-only UVB bulbs are your best bet. Pick one that isn’t very bright to prevent skin or eye lesions due to UV light. A bulb with a UVB intensity between 2% and 5% is your best option.
These bulbs emit both light and heat and are an excellent choice for the basking area if you intend to create one.
Although leopard geckos usually sleep throughout the day, you may want to create a basking area to recreate the gecko’s natural conditions in the vivarium (or, at least, get as close to them as possible).
The bulb’s power should be at least 100 to 150 watts – don’t forget to turn off the independent heat source when the basking light is on.
Ambient room light
If the vivarium is located in a room that gets plenty of light throughout the day, you can skip lighting altogether and let your pet regulate its circadian rhythm according to the day/night cycle in your area.
Place the vivarium in partial shade. Ideally, it should get some direct sunlight at dawn or dusk, when the gecko may come out to get some of the last heat from the sun, but it should be in the shade the rest of the day.
If you opt for ambient room light, avoid turning on the light in the room after dusk. (We don’t recommend this method)
Ways To Observe Your Leopard Gecko at Night
All leopard gecko keepers know that their pets spend the day sleeping and only become active at twilight.
For most people, this is hardly enough time to observe or interact with their pet, so you might be looking for ways to do that. There are three possible options:
Red or blue light
Vivarium night lights are generally blue or red in color, and you can pick either one to observe your pet after sunset. However, remember that night lights actually disturb leopard geckos, and you shouldn’t keep them on for more than a couple of hours each evening.
What we refer to as black light is essentially UVA light. These bulbs emit a soft light that isn’t as disturbing as daylight but that will still disturb your pet.
Moreover, the effects of UVA exposure in leopard geckos have not been studied yet. Thus, you should only use a black light sporadically and for no more than an hour at a time.
A camera with night vision
The best way to observe your leopard gecko during the night is with a camera with night vision – the kind some baby monitors use.
This gadget not only allows you to see the gecko in complete darkness, but you can also record its movements and create precious video keepsakes. There are lots of cameras you can choose from, but we recommend one with infrared HD capabilities.
Leopard Gecko Lighting Tips
When setting up your vivarium’s lighting, you must consider much more than the right time to turn the lights off. Here are a few tips for creating the perfect lighting for your leopard gecko.
- Place the light bulb directly above the vivarium. Light coming from the sides may disturb your gecko and damage its sensitive eyes.
- Match the light bulb power to the size of your tank. Too much light, especially if you opt for a UVB light bulb, can be detrimental for your gecko.
- Set the light at a proper distance. Ideally, you should place the light above the tank and not inside it, at least six inches above the pet. If your vivarium has a 3D setup with branches and rocks, place the light at least six inches above the tank’s highest point.
Down to You
Creating and maintaining a day/night cycle that matches the natural circadian rhythm of your leopard gecko is crucial for its health.
Depending on the season, you should turn off your leopard gecko’s lights between 8 and 10 in the evening and turn them on the next day at 8 am. In this way, you can create a healthy environment for your gecko to thrive.