Do Leopard Geckos Need Heat Lamps?

By Frank Miller •  Updated: 10/04/23 • 

Creating the perfect vivarium conditions for your leopard gecko can be tricky. If you are a first-time pet parent, the inventory of heating equipment available can leave you torn between arrays of options. Currently, heat lamps are among the most hyped equipment advertised to have the ability to simulate the sun’s warmth. Is this true? And do leopard geckos need heat lamps?

Leopard geckos need heat to help regulate body thermals and metabolism. Heat lamps have an edge above many heating equipment because they simulate the sun’s light and warmth, making it easier to provide naturalistic day-night cycles. Still, they have limitations and work best when combined with other equipment like heat mats or heat pads.

Keep reading to find out whether leopard geckos truly need heat lamps. Our intention is not to hype or throw shade on the equipment but to lay out credible facts to help you make informed decisions.

Let’s begin!

What Is A Heat Lamp, And Is It Safe For Leopard Geckos?

Heat lamps, also known as IR bulbs or infrared heaters, are unique incandescent bulbs designed to generate heat through infrared radiation. Although they warm up quickly, they are energy efficient, making them ideal for temperature-critical applications like maintaining ideal vivarium conditions for leopard geckos.

Arcadia 80w Deep Heat Projector Inside Vivarium

Arcadia 80w Deep Heat Projector Inside Vivarium

Here are some key qualities of heat lamps that make them ideal for leopard geckos.

1. Functionality

The heat lamps used in leopard gecko enclosures are Parabolic Aluminized Reflector (PAR) halogen bulbs. Although they are best known for their heating capacity, they also provide a broad beam of light that covers a larger area. This protects your pet’s sensitive eyes from harm caused by direct light beams. Both the heat and light of heat lamps are fully dimmable to your preferred output.

It is essential to use a digital thermometer to monitor temperatures on the tank’s warm and cool sides. On the other hand, you must switch to alternative heat sources at night to ensure the heat lamp’s light doesn’t interfere with your leopard gecko’s day-night cycles.

2. Warming Capacity

The warming capacity of heat lamps is their main selling point. They produce thermal radiation consisting of 38% infrared A, 39% infrared B, and 12% infrared C. Generally, this ensures your pet enjoys much more than mere superficial heating. Heat lamps offer sufficient belly heat even when perched and can generally heat your scaly friend to his core!

Moreover, heat lamps offer the added advantage of allowing you to focus their heat zone toward a small area like the warm side of the vivarium. They are safe for leopard geckos because they can deliver sufficient heat without making direct contact with their subject.

3. Power Rating

The standard 20-gallon leopard gecko tank requires a PAR20 heat lamp with a power wattage of 30-50. PAR30 to PAR38 heat bulbs with 50-75W or 75-100W are more appropriate for bigger enclosures.

Simply put, the higher a bulb’s power rating, the higher its heat and light output. Besides the size of an enclosure, you must also consider tank materials. After all, materials like wood and plastic offer better insulation capabilities and heat retention than glass. Unless you have a glass vivarium, which is relatively poor at heat retention, a lower wattage of 75-100W should suffice.

Do Leopard Geckos Need Heat Lamps during the Night?

Leopard geckos don’t need heat lamps at night. Halogen lights radiate high amounts of thermal radiation compared to regular incandescent lights, which can keep your pet warm and toasty during the day. However, they are too warm for night use when you must keep the vivarium temperatures at around 68°F.

Other heating equipment like heat mats or heat pads are more appropriate for night use. As aforementioned, heat lamps are only ideal when combined with other heat sources. They should only be used for 12 daylight hours during summer and 14 hours in winter to ensure your pet enjoys the most naturalistic day-night cycles.

If you prefer using lamps, ceramic heat lamps are a better option for night use because they also don’t give off light. Like most reptiles, leopard geckos have a color vision based on blue, red, green, and UV-A. Using a heat lamp at night can upset your scaly friend because he can still see single-colored lights as bright lights.

How to Use Heat Lamps in a Leopard Gecko’s Enclosure

The right heat lamp for your leopard gecko depends on the tank size and materials. Ensure you choose equipment compatible with your tank and check the power rating. Hang the light at least 12 inches from the basking platform to help maintain a good thermal gradient while ensuring your pet’s safety.

Leopard geckos are ectothermic and depend on their surroundings to maintain optimal body temperature. In captivity, using a heat lamp during daylight hours can ensure your pet enjoys heat that simulates the sun’s warmth. You must switch to other heat sources like heat mats or heat pads at night.

The following chart shows the ideal day and night temperatures for the warm and cool parts of the tank.

Warm Side90 to 92°F (32 to 33°C)No lower than 60°F (16°C)
Cool Side70 to 77°F (21 to 25°C)No lower than 60°F (16°C)


Leopard geckos don’t typically bask in the sun. They mostly remain fast asleep in their caves during daylight hours but still indirectly enjoy the sun’s goodness from rocks. Part of providing a suitable habitat for your scaly friend involves creating a naturalistic enclosure with hides and stones or slates that can absorb and hold heat to ensure your pet enjoys belly warmth.

What Happens If A Leopard Gecko Doesn’t Get Enough Heat?

Low heat causes a metabolic slowdown, and your leopard gecko could go into brumation if temperatures remain above 60°F. This is a dormant state that can last for weeks or months, depending on how long the low temperatures remain constant.

Your scaly companion may not survive brumation without proper preparation and care during the event. If brumation lasts over 90 days, your scaly companion risks starving to death because of depleted fat reserves.

>Recommended Reading: Leopard Gecko Brumation

If temperatures drop below 60°F, your scaly friend will become severely ill. Leopard geckos are sensitive to their environment, and even a slight deviation from the recommended temperature, humidity, and lighting can cause immense stress.

Some of the signs that something could be off with the tank setup include the following:

Without an external heat source to regulate their body temperature and with heat below 60°F, Leos can tolerate the cold for no more than a month. Death comes faster because the low temperatures impact the immune system and increase the risk of suffering the following concerns.

What Happens If A Leopard Gecko Gets Too Hot?

The leopard gecko enclosure must maintain a comfortable temperature gradient with a cool and warm side. If the warm side gets too hot, your scaly friend can always move to the cool side to regulate his body temperature.

In the absence of a cool side, and depending on how long it takes for you to identify and resolve the problem, your pet may also attempt to climb the vivarium walls. This is called glass surfing and is common in stressed leopard geckos. The behavior indicates that your scaly friend is so frustrated that he wants to escape the tank.

Heat lamps must be positioned at least 12 inches from the basking platform. Setting them too close to surfaces can cause them to overheat and burn or cook your scaly friend.

Here is vital equipment you must use to help regulate the enclosure’s temperature, irrespective of your preferred heat source.

Heat Lamp vs. Heat Pad: Do I Need Both?

With the array of heating equipment advertised as “reptile friendly,” it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by options, especially if you are new to leopard gecko parenting. The heat lamp vs. heat pad debate has been ongoing for a while, and it’s time we settled it once and for all.

Heat lamps and heat pads are both ideal for use in the vivarium setup. While heat lamps are best used during daylight hours, heat pads can take up the night shift. Also, heat lamps provide heat from above, while heat pads are excellent at heating below the tank to ensure your pet receives sufficient belly heat.

In a wrap, heat lamps and heat pads are both strong contenders in the ‘heating equipment for leopard gecko’ arena. However, they have different jobs, and both can be useful in ensuring your pet’s health and happiness.

Advanced reptile keepers use both heat sources to make maintaining optimal vivarium temperatures easier. It’s as simple as using both during daylight hours and setting the automatic timer to switch off the heat lamp after dusk. This will ensure the temperatures drop just enough to keep your Leo comfortable at night.

>Recommended Reading: Leopard Gecko Heating Pad Placement

Final Thoughts

Pet parents have widely varying opinions when it comes to “the best” heating equipment for leopard gecko enclosures. We can all agree that it is best to rely on a combination of equipment to simulate the most naturalistic day and night cycles in terms of heat and lighting.

So, do leopard geckos need heat lamps? Yes and No!

Heat lamps generate higher temperatures because they operate under more powerful currents than regular lamps. They can keep your pet toasty during daylight hours, and you can always dial in your preferred heat output to a specific temperature gradient. However, using other heating equipment at night is best because geckos don’t need light at night—not even infrared.

Frank Miller

Frank Miller is the Founder of Lizard Advisor and owns several pet lizards, from leopard geckos, bearded dragons, crested geckos, chameleons, and others. The mission of this website is to make owning a pet lizard very easy for everyone, but mostly beginners. And each year, he continues to help more people learn more about lizard care and much more.