Are Leopard Geckos Good Hunters?

helping a leopard gecko that doesn't hunt well improve their hunting skills

If you’ve had your leopard gecko for any length of time then you’ve probably seen their hunting “skills” on full display.

And you may not have been impressed.

It’s not uncommon for leopard geckos to miss an almost stationary mealworm multiple times or to just give up after a few tries.

So what’s going here? Are leopard geckos good hunters or not?

Leopard geckos can be good hunters but as opportunistic hunters, it seems that some captive leopard geckos aren’t quite as motivated to put in the work required to eat their food. This can make them look like terrible hunters as they miss several times or completely quit after a few tries.  

There are a few ways that you can help your leo level up their hunting skills but before we dive into those techniques let’s learn a bit more about a leopard gecko’s natural hunting routine.

How Do Leopard Geckos Hunt In The Wild?

In the wild, leopard geckos are considered opportunistic hunters which means they’ll spend a lot of time waiting for their prey to come to them. That’s very different from a more active predator like a lion that will actively seek out and select prey. Sure, lions will capitalize on an opportunity for an easy meal but it’s not their only or even primary means of hunting.

Leopard geckos, on the other hand, are more likely to take things easy, conserve energy, and wait for one of their favorite small insects to come to them.

This difference in hunting styles can certainly make the leopard gecko appear to be less effective but these little guys are still quite efficient hunters.

One study looked at the related Western banded gecko to analyze how the loss of a tail impacted their hunting ability and found that with or without their tail these geckos successfully captured crickets 77% of the time. While that’s not a study on leopard geckos it does look at a leopard gecko relative and is one of the few studies we have to work with. It also illustrates just how effective the gecko family can be at hunting.

Do Leopard Geckos Hunt At Night?

Leopard geckos will primarily hunt in the dark but aren’t nocturnal. Instead, they’re considered crepuscular which means they’re most active during the twilight hours of the evening and early morning. As a result, some leopard geckos may hunt better with lower light.

In the desert, which is a leopard gecko’s natural habitat, the days are very hot and the nights are extremely cold. That makes the evening hours the ideal temperature for a reptile to stay active and the perfect time to stay vigilant for potential prey.

Not only are the low light hours of the evening and early morning the times that a wild leopard gecko would likely be most active but it’s also the time of day that’s best suited for their eyes. As you’d expect, the eyes of animals are adapted to their environment and different reptiles have different amounts of rod or cone cells to match to their natural environment.

The leopard gecko eye is built for low light and while it doesn’t completely excuse their sometimes embarrassingly bad aim, it could be a possible explanation for their poor depth perception and proclivity for falling in brighter lights.

Hunting Differences Between Captive and Wild Leopard Geckos

I’ve searched the internet for footage of wild leopard geckos actually hunting but I came up empty-handed.

Still, we know that the leopard gecko hunting technique, whether wild or not, involves a lot of sitting, staring, and waiting.

But the big difference is that the captive leo doesn’t have to work as hard for their next meal or at least isn’t as hungry as some wild leos can be. When you consider just demanding active hunting can be, it should be no surprise that the opportunistic leopard gecko decides to wait for the next mealworm to come along- even better if it’s attached to a mysterious set of tongs and put in front of their face!

That’s not to say that leopard geckos are running the numbers and figuring out that it’s better to put less effort into capturing their newest cricket roommate (they definitely aren’t that smart). Instead, it’s their natural instinct as opportunistic hunters that may be telling them to wait for easier opportunities.

6 Ways To Improve Your Leopard Gecko’s Hunting Skills

We know that leopard geckos can hunt…but most of us still have leopard geckos that look like they couldn’t possibly survive for even a day in the wild.

So let’s look at 6 techniques that we can use to help our leos hunt their best.

1. Rule Out Any Medical Issues

The first thing we should do is rule out any medical concerns. This is extra important if your leopard gecko only recently became a terrible hunter.

There is a wide range of medical conditions that could be at play but the big ones are injury from trauma, poor eyesight, or metabolic bone disease.

Trauma-related injury is usually obvious and you should look for any injury to any limbs or a change in how your leo moves- especially if your leopard gecko recently fell. An injury could not only make it hard for leopard geckos to successfully hunt but could also decrease their eagerness to track down a cricket if it causes them pain, anxiety, or stress to do so.

Eye problems can be a bit harder to identify but double-check your lighting set up as too much UVA light can damage sensitive reptile eyes. This could come from trying to repurpose a black light or similar commercial light to reptile habitat and make sure you’re sticking with reptile appropriate lighting. Obviously, if your leo can’t see or their eyes hurt they aren’t going to be as effective during the hunt.

Lastly, metabolic bone disease is another big one that could cause leopard geckos to look like terrible hunters. Unfortunately, this condition is far too common but completely avoidable. Caused by an imbalance of vitamin D3 and calcium the disease can lead to everything from muscle weakness to simply refusing to eat– both of which would make a leopard gecko appear to be a poor hunter.

Those aren’t the only medical problems to watch out for but before focusing too much on the other techniques on this list make sure your leopard gecko is healthy enough to be a good hunter!

2. Feed Them On A Flat Surface

There are many reasons to feed your leopard on a flat surface.

For starters, even if your leopard gecko has a safe substrate, you still want to limit the chance that they ingest it. It’s just not really a good idea for leopard geckos to eat substrate and if you’re using something like sand (which you absolutely should not be) then it can lead to impaction and serious health problems as leopard geckos accidentally eat their substrate during the hunt.

But when it comes to hunting, something flat can help your leopard gecko’s aim by reducing texture and decreasing the chance that they accidentally dig into the substrate. Leopard geckos already have poor depth perception and a heavily textured surface will only make things worse for your leo and complicate their hunting technique!

Additionally, leopard geckos would naturally spend some time hanging out on rocks (where available) so a flat surface like a rock is a more natural hunting habitat too.

3. Use A Backdrop

This tip comes from Rebbeca from the YouTube channel simply called Leopard Gecko. She uses a very small door stopper as a backdrop for her leopard geckos during mealtime. Similar to using a flat surface, this backdrop seems to help with depth perception and improve the aim of the leopard gecko. So instead of having a mealworm wiggling around in space, you can simplify things by giving them a clear stopping point.

You can see Rebecca (and her adorable leopard geckos) using this technique in the video below:

The other good thing about this technique is it helps you avoid getting your finger nipped. Many eager leo owners (including myself) have been bitten while dangling a mealworm or cricket right in front of their leo.

You’ve also probably seen folks recommend soft or rubber tongs for feeding and while these can help, they don’t help your leopard gecko’s hunting skills in the same way that a backdrop can. That’s because tongs don’t do anything to address the depth perception problem.

4. Feed Leopard Geckos In Low Light

We’ve already established that leopard geckos are crepuscular reptiles which means they’re most active in the morning and evening hours of twilight. That means they hunt best in low light.

That also means your leopard gecko may not hunt their best when they have a powerful and bright light shining down on them and their cricket. To be clear, leopard geckos can most certainly still see during the day but if you want to set them up for hunting success try decreasing the amount of visible light at mealtime.

5. Wiggle The Food

All predators have something called prey drive which is the natural instinct to hunt down their food. Even though it may be strange to think of your leopard gecko as a predator, they most certainly are one.

You may be able to better trigger your leopard gecko’s prey drive and improve their hunting skills by making sure whatever you’re feeding them is at least a little active. Of course, some leos won’t care but whether it’s a cricket or a mealworm make sure it’s wiggling or at least a little lively.

Too active and leopard gecko may give up so try to find a balance between prey that looks easy to catch but doesn’t look like it’s been dead for three days. That’s the sweet spot where leopard geckos are likely to be the most interested and show off their best hunting skills.

6. Check The Temperature

As with any reptile, leopard geckos are most active at the right temperature. For Leos, that’s usually around 75-80°F on the cool side and 80-85°F on the warm side. If the temperature in your leo’s enclosure is off or they’re feeling cold, they may not be as active which will most certainly make them look like lazy hunters.

Should You Ever Worry?

If your leopard gecko is really bad at hunting, you may start to worry that something is wrong.

But outside of a medical concern, there’s usually nothing to worry about. As opportunistic hunters, leopard geckos are looking for easy chances at food and if they already have a full belly they may not have a major drive to work very hard.

Still, you should rule out medical concerns and if your leopard gecko is completely refusing food for anything longer than a few days then it’s a good idea to consult your veterinarian.

Closing Thoughts

Even though watching your leopard gecko miss a mealworm 6 times would unsurprisingly lead you to believe that these lizards are terrible hunters that’s not entirely true.

As opportunistic hunters, leopard geckos play by different rules than we’re used to which can end up making them look a bit lazy.

There are also some key care considerations that can help make your leopard gecko more comfortable, make up for their poor depth perception, and set them up for a more successful hunt.

What do you think? Have you tried any of these techniques to help your leopard gecko become a better hunter?