Cohabiting Leopard Geckos
The reptile hobby is constantly evolving. Unfortunately this means that even the most well known figures in the industry are often not innovating and changing fast enough, meaning they end up giving out outdated and often outright dangerous information.
10 years ago a recommended leopard gecko setup would have been sand, a 10 gallon tank, a heat lamp (thermostat optional), and yes, multiple females living together.
In the wild leopard geckos do hang out in groups. What little information we have about them does confirm that you generally see a small group of them in one area. However, this is simply because there is a finite amount of hiding places that are the right temperatures for the geckos, so of course they will all group together to complete for the sweet spot.
This is all well and good, but when one animal tries to assert it's dominance over another in the wild, one of them can simply walk 50 feet in any direction and never have to see the other again. In a 20, 50, 100, or even 500 gallon tank this is simply not possible.
Being in a confined space with another animal, even if both of those animals were social, is stressful. Humans are excellent at problem solving, highly social, and generally unaggressive to one another. However if you put two random humans in a medium sized room for days, weeks, and years, eventually they would snap. Hell, I think most happily married couples would struggle to be in the vicinity of their loved one 24/7 for years - and that's a human they CHOSE!
One of the biggest culprits for refusal to separate that I see is anthropomorphism. To put it simply, anthropomorphism is giving non human animals human features - think dogs who are panting being told they're 'smiling'. People see their cute Leopard geckos cuddling, playing, and wagging their tails happily at each other. How sweet, they must love each other! Unfortunately, all three of those things are signs one is asserting dominance over, and even hunting it's 'friend'.
Pros and Cons
Saves the keeper space
Saves the keeper money
Makes for cute photos when the Leo's 'cuddle'
Don't have to pay for annual checkups for as many years due to reduced lifespan
Stressed leopard geckos
Leopard geckos are likely to die younger
Leopard geckos may breed, contributing to overpopulation and endangering the females life (only applicable if pair are male and female)
Will have to pay for vets bills if/when the animals fight
What to look out for
If you have read the above and completely disregarded it, then here are some things to look out for.
Signs of stress in leopard geckos include, but are not limited to:
- Loss of appetite
- Lethargy and restlessness
- Aggression (excessive tail wagging etc)
- Weight loss
Signs of dominance and bullying include:
- Sitting on each other
- Waving / shaking tail
- Chasing / hunting each other
- Weight loss
- Cuts / scratches / bite marks
- Sharing hides
Arguments and Excuses
But *insert breeder/influencer/herpetologist here* said it's fine!
As I said, there's a whole lot of outdated information out there. Id recommend you check out the linked wiki of effective researching below to help you figure out how to judge whether or not a source is reliable.
But they've been together since they were babies
This is actually one of the worst excuses. When geckos are between 6 months and a year they're teenagers. Teenagers are grumpy, easily provoked, and much more likely to be aggressive than adults or babies. This is the most important time to separate them. If they have made it to adulthood cohabited it still makes no difference. They don't bond. It's just as risky as if you introduced them aged 3.
But they've bonded. When I separated them for 2 days neither of them are and they were sad
1. They don't bond. That's anthropomorphism. Bonding is a mechanism that social animals use so they can built trust and rely on each other. Leopard geckos don't babysit for each other or share a freshly killed roach with their injured friend. They eat their own babies if given the chance.
2. When they change environment they do tend to go off of food. One of mine goes off food if I so much as change a hide in her enclosure.
3. Anthropomorphism again. Sadness isn't something they are capable of feeling - they're reptiles.
But they're a breeding pair
Breeding pairs should be allowed to breed and then be immediately separated. They should not be left alone together and certainly shouldn't be permanently housed together.
But I can't afford a new setup
You can make a cheap and cheerful tub setup for about £50. All you need is a large enough tub, two bits of tuppware, something to serve as a water dish, a thermostat, paper towels, and a heat mat. Easy.
Cohabiting has no benefits for anybody except the keeper, and isn't the whole point of having pets to give them the best life possible?
If you currently cohabit I hope this persuades you to separate your animals, and if you choose to disregard this I hope I am incorrect and your leopard geckos do fine. Unfortunately I have seen enough evidence that it does not end well that I can and will not condone cohabiting.
Rio & Squib
I had my two females in a 22 gallon tank with about 8 hides for 3 years. Eventually they fought and both of them still have scars from the incident.
Sources / further reading
"These geckos are solitary, and do not usually live with other animals." - Common Leopard Gecko Wikipedia*
The wiki's source is a book I can't quote as I don't own it. Wikipedia is NOT a primary source - always look at the sources attributed.
"In the wild, leopard geckos (and indeed most reptiles) are solitary species. If they encounter another leopard gecko, they can become territorial and fight, and this instinct is exactly the same whether in the wild or in captivity." - LeopardGecko.Care