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Leopard Gecko Behaviour

We are often asked questions regarding how a leo moves its tail and why it does so or why does a leo do a specific thing, I hope the following article from a personal study helps explain some aspects of a leopard geckos behaviour.

Leopard Gecko Behaviour

Leos have a wide range of behaviour ie: movements and stances which ~ if recognized ~ can help understand your leo better and, if you keep several leos together, can sometimes forewarn you of possible problems.
Usually when keeping just one leo most behaviour is not witnessed and even if keeping two or more together when certain behaviour patterns are more prevalent they are usually missed or mistaken for 'cuteness'. Leos often set up hierarchies when in groups and bullying can be quite common ~ bullying does not always involve them physically fighting.

Tail Movement

The tail can be quite expressive; for instance most leos ~ especially younger ones ~ will display an excited tail ‘rattle’ movement just before pouncing on some livefood and many breeders are familiar with the sound and sight of a rapid 'thump,thump,thump' tail rattle of a male prior to mating where he rapidly vibrates his tail against an object (usually on the floor)… however a similar tail movement is also displayed by a male when seeing another leo in its territory. It can also be a precursor to fighting especially if the other leo replies with the same movement which signals that he is also possibly a male ~ I say possibly as sometimes a female has been known to ‘reply’ with this action and again it often precedes biting/fighting.
Another tail movement displayed by both sexes young and old is the slow 'S' shaped wave ~ usually (but not always) accompanied by them standing high on stiff legs ~ this generally happens if a leo feels threatened or territorial and is a 'flight or fight' signal ~ the leo will either run away from whatever has caused this reaction or in the case of another leo present (or even yourself) it will fight; and contrary to popular belief leos, especially adults, can bite quite hard ~ hard enough to break the skin and draw blood

Bullying and Dominance

The slow tail wag already described above is also one way for a leo to intimidate or bully another leo; other examples include ~ standing high on stiff legs and/or posturing in front of another leo; raising the neck/head from a relaxed horizontal position to a more vertical position as well as walking with its tail held stiffly off of the floor.

The raised head is usually more often seen between two evenly sized leos where both will use the posture in a sort of ‘stiff neck’ competition ~ generally if both evenly matched then eventually they’ll both break at the same time and wander off as if nothing untoward had happened; if however one is smaller, younger etc then it will either break away first or not even attempt to challenge the ‘top’ female in which case it will always be the ‘under-dog’ and at the bottom of the pecking order.

Gaping – opening the mouth wide – accompanied by stiff legged stance and raised neck is also a warning/ threat display and is sometimes accompanied by hissing, although more commonly used by hatchlings or young leos it can be seen in adults during dominance issues or when threatened.

Another form of bullying/domination is ‘following’ ~ by following after another leo the dominant leo is not only enforcing their position but also trying to drive the other out ~ unfortunately, unlike in the wild, the other leo has no escape from the situation.

Other less physical signs of bullying to watch out for would be ‘blocking’ where one leo constantly lies over or partially over a food dish thereby blocking the other one from getting to it ~ this behaviour is also used effectively to block another leo from a particular hide or section in the viv.
Scent can also be used to ‘bully’ or stress another leo.

Scent and Taste

Leopard geckos have quite a developed sense of taste and smell and will often use both extensively when checking out a new home or new furnishings and especially if put with another leo either through sniffing or by tasting/licking.
Leos ~ particularly the males ~ can be territorial to one degree or another; males will often drag their vent area along the floor, over hides etc rubbing their pores along the surfaces and effectively scent marking ~ females have been witnessed exhibiting a similar behaviour and I have found that each gecko has its own unique ‘scent’ which is why ~ when introducing a new leo ~ either for mating or to form a group ~ they should be put together in a neutral and/or clean viv.
Several studies have shown that leopard geckos can ‘recognise’ not only their own territory, furnishings etc but also another gecko, which is why if bullying is suspected then I always advocate moving the stressed/bullied leo into a new home or viv not the dominant leo, as if the bullied/stressed leo is left in the original viv they will still have the scent of the other one there and will continue to be bullied/stressed by proxy.

Other important aspects on this is how it affects breeding and cohabitation, for instance two examples being ~
Why a female who seemingly failed to become gravid or mate while with one male is put fairly quickly with another; only for the second male to attack her
Why previously separated females ~ when put back together after separation exhibit the previous behaviour again ~ either bullying or fighting.

Lastly another aspect of a leos sense of smell and taste is how they can react to certain smells on their owners ~ it’s not unknown for a change in soap, deodorant etc to affect the leos reaction causing a previously ‘placid’ leo to go on the defensive or even for a male leo to become ‘enamoured’ with it’s owners hand ~ so if the leos behaviour changes and there is no obvious reason why check for any changes in the 'smell' department including yours.

Taking note of natural behaviour and what it means as opposed to 'humanising' it can help you to understand more about your leo and help avoid potential problems and to a degree un-necessary stress.

©SleepyDeeGeckos

*The information written on my website and in my various care sheets has been gathered
through my own personal experiance and research over the years ~
Please do not use or replicate any information or photographs without permission ~ thankyou *

Interesting Facts

A leopard geckos eyesight is comparable to a cats

Leo's store fat in their tails and use this as an energy reserve during hibernation and famine

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