Handling Leopard Geckos
How To Handle Your Leopard Gecko
Handling Leopard Geckos
Leopard geckos are a great species because unlike some animals they take to being handled rather well. Hatchlings are more skittish than adults and aren't typically fond of being handled and you should limit their handling to necessity until they are at least 5-6 inches long. Hatchlings and juveniles do have the potential to bite, which doesn't hurt, but is designed to let you know that they have had enough or simply don't like it. I have several geckos that will willingly climb on my hand (adults) when it is placed in their enclosure for some "out" time. These geckos are older and have been with me for many years. I won't say they like to be held but they have been conditioned to understand that I am not a predator and can be trusted. (If they didn't trust that I wasn't going to eat them, they wouldn't climb upon my hand at their own discretion.) I typically handle my geckos 2-3 times a week, for 5-10 minutes at a time or until they become restless or flighty.
There will be occasions where you need to handle your gecko and occasions when you want to handle your gecko. Since leopard geckos are capable of caudal autonomy (dropping its' tail), handling should always be done with care and respect for the animal. It should never be forced upon them unless it is a necessity that they be moved for medical or other safety reasons.
You are much larger than your gecko is and may be seen as a potential predator. This can be very stressful on the gecko. It is always best to coax the gecko onto your hand versus reaching in and grabbing it by its torso. Never grab your gecko by its tail. This may lead to them dropping their tail and that is a defense mechanism they shouldn't need to rely upon. The dropped tail will grow back but it will never look as attractive as the original.
When holding your gecko, sit on the floor and keep your hands low. If your gecko decides to run you do not want it to fall several feet as this can result in injury or death. Allow the gecko to crawl between your fingers or from hand to hand as you switch back and forth. It isn't a good idea to allow your gecko to free roam as they can be pretty quick when they want to be and you could find yourself on the hunt for an escaped gecko.
If you must hold the gecko by its torso for whatever reason, you should do so gently. You want to have a firm grip but do not want to hold it so tight that you could injure the gecko.
I prefer to condition my geckos into climbing on my hand. This can take a few days of work but is very rewarding for me and is easier on the gecko when I need to extract them from their enclosures. I simply place my hand in the enclosure and wait for them to climb aboard. This can take some time in the beginning but after a few short sessions they seem to get the idea and many will be waiting for me at the front of their tub, awaiting their turn. (I house my geckos in a commercial rack system.) You should limit handling to no longer than 15 minutes. Excessive handling can stress the gecko, but more importantly, you have removed it from its heat source. Since geckos need to thermoregulate, they should be able to do so when they wish.
There are some geckos who will never want to be held. While this isn't extremely common, you should respect the animal and not force what you want to do onto them.
Author: Richard Brooks