How to Make a Homemade Vivarium for Leopard Geckos

Updated February 24, 2018

Leopard geckos, one of the most popular reptiles in captivity today, are both hardy and easy to maintain, making them an ideal choice for beginner reptile keepers. Like their feline namesake, leopard geckos are usually a straw-yellow colour with dark spots. A native of the deserts and scrub lands of Pakistan and India, the geckos thrive in a captive ecosystem -- a vivarium -- that replicates their natural environment.

Place heat tape or a heat pad under half of the aquarium to create both a warm spot for basking and a place for cooling down.

Fill the tank with two to three inches of clean, rinsed substrate, preferably small pebbles or cypress mulch. Sand may be an acceptable substrate for adult leopard geckos, but juveniles may be tempted to eat sand, leading to an impaction. Landscape the tank with the live, potted plants, pressing them into the substrate to fully cover the pots.

Add structure, such as flat rocks or driftwood for climbing and basking. Place a flat rock on the heated end of the tank to mimic the leopard's natural basking habitat.

Add a hide box or a cholla skeleton on the heated end of the tank. Fill the hide area with vermiculite moss to create a humid environment to enable proper shedding. Mist the vermiculite periodically.

Add a shallow water dish on the unheated portion of the tank. Change the water daily to prevent bacterial growth or stagnation.

Cover the tank with a strong top. Use tank lid clamps or latches to ensure that the leopard geckos are secure. Attach a lamp with a plant-grow bulb. Because leopard geckos are nocturnal, they do not have the same requirement for ultraviolet light as other reptiles. Keep the light on eight hours per day for the plants.

Add leopard geckos to the vivarium. A 10-gallon aquarium will adequately support one adult gecko. Additional geckos will require a larger tank. Males are extremely territorial, so if opting to keep more than one gecko, select a male and a female or multiple females.


A long aquarium is preferable to a high one, since leopard geckos cannot climb up vertical surfaces.


Do not use commercial garden soil or mulch for substrate, as these may have been treated with herbicides or insecticides. Make sure that your gecko's water dish is shallow. A deep water bowl can be a drowning hazard for your pet and for crickets -- often a staple in a leopard gecko's diet. Heat rocks are unsafe for use with leopard geckos, since they tend to become too hot and can burn the reptiles.

Things You'll Need

  • 10- or 20-gallon aquarium
  • Under-tank heat pad or heat tape
  • Pebbles or cypress mulch
  • Live plants, such as succulents, in small 1- to 2-inch pots
  • Flat stones
  • Driftwood
  • Hide box or cholla skeleton
  • Vermiculite
  • Shallow water dish
  • Light source with a plant-grow bulb
  • Screen top with clamps
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About the Author

Barbara Cozzens has been writing for more than 20 years. Her work has appeared in publications of the Nature Conservancy, the World Bank Group, National Geographic Society, Duke University and others. Cozzens holds a Bachelor of Arts in biology from Colgate University and a Master of Environmental Management from Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment.