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 Gecko Behaviour
Leos have a wide range of
behaviour ie: movements and stances which ~ if recognized ~ can help
understand your leo better and, if
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.
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
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
~ 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
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
another leo present (or even yourself) it will fight; and contrary
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
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