Leopard Gecko Food Pyramid
The pyramid is a guide to feed your leopard gecko. You do not have to follow the schedule exactly (see special considerations). It is based off of research on the macronutrient and calcium requirements of various types of reptiles outlined in the Merck Veterinary Manual as well as individual scientific studies about wild leopard gecko diets. This pyramid is also based off of what experienced leopard gecko breeders have found to work for their animals.
The leopard gecko food pyramid is designed to be a user-friendly guide. The circle diagram shows how feeder insects should be properly gut loaded for a leopard gecko. These amounts are proportioned by weight. The key on the right side describes how many times to feed each group per a week. The larger the section, the more important it is.
This guide is made to combat the incomplete knowledge of leopard gecko nutrition. Many new owners are confused about what to feed their pets while experienced owners are looking for the best diet possible.
It is conventional wisdom that variety is the key to combat an incomplete diet, but that isn’t always the case. For example, almost all the foods a leopard gecko is fed will be deficient in calcium and iodine. This is simply a product of commercial raising of insects so that they grow as cost effectively as possible.
This guide will get you as close as possible to a complete diet without expensive scientific testing. The most important thing in a leopard gecko's diet is to gut load their insects as this is the primary source of their nutrition.
Key Food Groups:
Insects are the main food source for leopard geckos. Most commercially raised insects are deficient in several nutrients, including calcium, thiamin (vitamin B1), vitamin A and vitamin E. It is necessary to feed the insects a high calcium and vitamin A diet before feeding to your leopard gecko. Gut loading is much more effective than dusting insects.
Leopard geckos eat a wide variety of insects in the wild and are highly adaptable to live off almost any feeder insect (Khan). Unlike many other reptile species, they do not seem to grow tiered of feeding the same insect over and over. That being said, it is recommended to occasionally feed different varieties of insects for enrichment.
Lean insects include crickets, dubia roaches, hornworms and soldier fly larva (reptiworms).
Check out the nutritional analysis of some common feeder insects.
These insects are important to get enough calories into the leopard gecko. They are especially crucial for breeding females and rapidly growing juveniles. However, it is important to not feed too many fatty insects as they can lead to an overweight animal. Many leopard gecko breeders raise their animals on a primarily mealworm diet, but it is unlikely that this is optimal for the species.
Fatty insects include mealworms , superworms and waxworms.
Check out the nutritional analysis of some common feeder insects.
Insects' Diet- Gut Loading:
Gut loading insects is critical for leopard geckos because all of their diet comes from insects. The food for gut loading should be 20% calcium, 50% greens, 10% vitamin/mineral supplement and 20% vegetables, by weight. This diet should be fed to the insects for at least 48 hours. This allows the body to absorb nutrients such as vitamin A. Calcium is not well consumed by insects, so in addition to feeding this gut load diet, insects should be dusted with a calcium powder.
-Calcium (20% of gut loading diet):
A calcium supplement should be purchased separately from a vitamin and mineral supplement. Almost all feeder insects are deficient in calcium and calcium is required more than any other mineral in reptiles. The calcium supplement fed to insects should include vitamin D3 to ensure that the insects can process the calcium.
The calcium recommendations for gut loading are based on the Finke (2003) study that recommends 3-9% elemental calcium in a gut loading diet, depending on the insect species. Calcium carbonate (the most common calcium supplement) is 40% elemental calcium, thus 20% calcium supplement is needed in the diet. This recommendation is also backed up by Finke et al. (2005), which showed that 15% calcium carbonate supplementation to the gut loading diet increased the calcium content of small crickets from 0.2% to 1.1% calcium. Considering that the 20% calcium supplement amount is by weight, it actually won't appear to be as much calcium as you would expect. It is highly recommended you weigh out the ingredients in your gut loading diet.
Due to palatability issues with simply adding a calcium powder to a gut load diet of fresh vegetables, insects should also be dusted with a calcium powder before feeding. It is unlikely that insects will consume enough calcium in a home-made gut load diet.
For leopard geckos be sure that you have dietary vitamin D supplementation or provide UVB lighting. Dietary vitamin D3 supplementation can be dusted directly on insects and fed in the gut load diet. Without vitamin D, leopard geckos cannot process the calcium they are eating.
-Vitamin/Mineral Supplement (10% of gut loading diet):
A vitamin and mineral supplement is essential when feeding insects to ensure no nutrients are missing, however there is quite a variety of supplements on the market. When looking for a supplement for a healthy gut loading plan, as outlined here, there are a few key nutrients one should consider. Most insects are low in magnesium, iron, iodine and vitamin E. Make sure your supplement provides these nutrients as well as ample amounts of B vitamins. Often iodide is provided using kelp as an ingredient. Vitamin A is also a nutrient commonly lacking from commercially raised insects. A vitamin and mineral supplement can be used to help increase the vitamin A content of a gut loading diet, but if fed the correct vegetables in the gut loading diet, this is not required.
-Greens (50% of gut loading diet):
Greens provide moisture, bulk and vitamins to a gut loading diet. Greens generally can be divided into three categories, staple, occasional rare and never foods. To make a green an every day green it must be rich in nutrients like calcium, low in phosphorus and low in anti-nutrients like oxalates and goitrogens. Occasional greens are rich in nutrients, but contain too high a level of oxalates or goitrogens to be feed every day. Rare greens have very high oxalates and goitrogens. They should be avoided. Never greens have high phosphorus, low calcium and sometimes have high oxalates.
Staple greens are escarole, endive, alfalfa and dandelion greens.
Occasional greens are bok choy, collard greens, mustard greens, turnip greens, watercress
Rare greens are kale, dark lettuces, parsley, swiss chard, spinach
Never greens are iceburg lettuce, cabbage
-Vegetables (20% of gut loading diet):
This is the part of a gut loading diet that will bring in a diversity of nutrients. Vegetables are also critically important for gut loading as a source of beta-carotene, which is processed by the insects into retinol, a form of vitamin A that leopard geckos can use. Good vegetables are often bright in color and not too high in oxalates and phosphorus. Sometimes the healthiest foods are also the strangest, such as prickly pear leafs and hibiscus flowers.
Some of the best vegetables include acorn squash, butternut squash, bell peppers, prickly pear leafs, hibiscus, common button mushroom, okra, and pumpkin.
Other good vegetables include asparagus, broccoli, brussel sprouts, carrot, green beans, snap peas, tomato, yellow squash and cucumber.
Check out the nutritional analysis of vegetables.
Finke, Mark D. Gut Loading to Enhance the Nutrient Content of Insets as Food for Reptiles: A Mathematical Approach. Zoo Biology. 22(2):147-162 (2003).
Finke, Mark D., Shari U, Dunham and Christabel A. Kwabi, Evaluation of Four Dry Commercial Gut Loading Products for Improving the Calcium Content of Crickets, Acheta domestics. Journal of Herpetological Medicine and Surgery. 15(1) 7-12 (2005).
Khan, Muhammad Sharif. Natural History and Biology of Hobbyist Choice Leopard Gecko Eublepharis macularius. Reptilia
These dietary guidelines are designed for an average, healthy, leopard gecko. As with anything, if your reptiles are ill you need to consult a veterinarian for advice. That being said, there are some normal dietary considerations that apply to many leopard geckos. If your leopard gecko is sick, please check out our diagnostics page.
Many captive animals of all kinds suffer from obesity. The best thing you can do for an obese leopard gecko is feed only lean insect species. Obesity is deadly. It can cause liver failure and many other issues. Supplementing with a very small amount of omega 3 fish oil is also wise to prevent liver disease in obese animals.
Juveniles and Breeding Females:
Young leopard geckos are growing fast and need more protein and calcium than older leopard geckos. It is wise to increase the amount of fatty insects offered to them. Fatty insects are a good source of energy for young animals. Make sure all insects fed are gut loaded.
Breeders have also found that feeding a pinky mouse to gravid females helps them immensely. Older leopard geckos are known to occasionally eat new born mice in the wild (Khan). Feed pinky mice that are smaller than the distance between the gecko's eyes. Do not feed pinky mice more than once a month.
Not eating is a common occurrence with many pet reptiles. Usually the issue is with the temperature of the enclosure, or another husbandry problem. Ensure that your tank is up to standards and visit a
veterinarian. In the mean time, remember that eating any food is better than eating no food. Even if all your leopard gecko will eat is wax worms, this is better than not eating anything at all. Work on getting them to eat other foods, but again, any food is better than no food. For tips and tricks to get your animal to eat see our "appetite stimulation" page.
There are many key nutrients in a leopard gecko diet. Calcium is a particularly important nutrient that many beginner keepers do not offer enough of. It is imperative to supplement your leopard gecko's crickets with calcium and vitamin D.
The key nutrients are listed in alphabetical order.
Definition-a red-orange pigment in plants that can be converted by some animals to vitamin A
Function-A vitamin A supplement for omnivores and herbivores, including crickets, that cannot be overdosed as well as an antioxidant that enhances color
Foods-carrot, pumpkin, sweet potato, spinach
Definition-an abundant chemical element that essential for life
Function-building blocks for bones and teeth and an essential element for cell physiology
Foods-calcium carbonate supplement, soldier fly larva
Definition-a biological molecule made of chemically linked sugars. Carbohydrates include, sugars, starch and fiber
Function-simple energy source for animals
Foods-almost all foods, especially plants
Definition-a chemical element that is an essential mineral
Function-Copper has many functions, including collagen formation, enzyme cofactors, incorporating iron into red blood cells and generation of energy from carbohydrates. It is usually abundant in foods for crickets and inhibits zinc uptake, so copper intake needs to be limited.
Foods-spinach, turnip greens. asparagus, beans, nuts, kale, mushroom, pumpkin
Definition-a biological molecule that is found in plants and animals
Function- a dense energy source and an energy storage method
Foods-waxworms, superworms, mealworms
Fiber - Click Here for More Information
Definition-a type of complex carbohydrate in plants that cannot be digested
Function-Fibers add bulk to the stool and give food for gut bacteria
Foods- all vegetables and fruit
Definition-substances that disrupt the production of thyroid hormones
Function-These anti-nutrients should be avoided in excess in order to maintain thyroid health of crickets. They are less harmful when proper iodine supplementation is provided.
Foods-cassava, soy, peanuts, strawberries, spinach, bok choy, broccoli, cabbage, kale, turnip
Definition-a chemical element abundant in the ocean that is an essential mineral
Function-key component of hormones made by the thyroid
Foods-kelp, ocean fish, shrimp, spirulina, scallops, standard table salt
Definition- A category of nutrients that makes up the bulk of foods. It includes protein, fat(lipids), carbohydrates and water.
Function-each macronutrient has a different function, but protein, fat(lipids) and carbohydrates can all provide energy. The ratios of these nutrients in a diet is extremely important.
Definition-a chemical element that is required by living organisms other than carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen
Function-builds bones, tissue, catalyzes biological reactions, transports oxygen and many more
Foods-all foods have some mineral content
Definition-a specific organic acid found in plants and animals
Function-binds with calcium to form kidney stones and prevent calcium from being used in the body
Foods-soy, nuts, beans, spinach, swiss chard, beets, collard greens, okra, blueberries, grapes, raspberries
Definition-chemicals naturally produced by plants that are not of conventional nutritional value
Function-functions vary but they are usually antioxidants, anti-inflammatory and promote liver health
Foods-plants, especially ones rich in color
Protein - Click Here for More Information
Definition-a biological molecule made of chemically linked amino acids
Function-maintains the structure of the body and excess can be used as an energy source
Foods-all foods have some protein, with meat, whole prey, insects, crustaceans, mollusks and mice being especially high
Definition- an abundant chemical element that essential for life
Function-enables cell function and builds bones, but is easily consumed in excess in a cricket’s diet. Excess consumption impairs calcium absorption and can cause muscle disorders.
Foods-asparagus, beans, soy, seeds, cricket, mealworms, mushroom
Definition-A vital organic compound that an organism cannot synthesize on its own. They can be divided into fat soluble and water soluble.
Function-each vitamin has its own function in the body
Definition-a group of related fat-soluble nutrients (carotenoids and retinoids) that are essential for the body.
Function- Carotenoids come from plants and cannot be overdosed, so they are the safest form of vitamin A, however leopard geckos can't convert carotenoids to retinoids. Vitamin A is needed for immune responses, night vision and many other functions in
Foods-whole prey items, egg yolk, turkey liver
Definition-a fat soluble vitamin derived from UVB light or dietary sources
Function- needed to absorb calcium and other minerals from food
Foods-UVB lighting is not necessary for leopard geckos and vitamin D should be supplemented in the diet to mimic the natural vitamin D content of wild insects.
Definition-a fat soluble vitamin that acts as a powerful antioxidant
Function-protects against free radical damage, ageing and heart disease. It is especially crucial in a high fat diet. Most foods high in vitamin E are also high in fat, so a balance is difficult to achieve.
Foods-sunflower seeds, shrimp, greens. almonds, broccoli
Science Behind the Pyramid:
The proportions of the pyramid are based on macronutrient balancing. According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, carnivorous reptiles need 30-50% protein. Leopard geckos rely entirely on insects to provide this protein. Feeder insects are typically about 34-67% protein so they easily achieve this requirement.
The Merck Veterinary Manual does not give fat and fiber recommendations for carnivorous/insectivorous reptiles but based on general research of insectivorous diets fat content should be about 20% and fiber should be about 10%.
Fat and fiber can also be calculated. Lean insects and fatty insects are typically 10% and 45% fat, respectively. Both lean and fatty insects are typically 10% fiber.
.8x10% + .2x45% = 17% fat (goal ~20%)