Leopard Gecko Brumation: Everything You Should Know

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

Loss of appetite, inactivity, lethargy, and spending extended periods hiding are typical signs of common health issues in leopard geckos. If your otherwise healthy reptile shows these signs during the winter, he is likely preparing to brumate. If you are a beginner leopard gecko owner, stick around to learn everything you should know about brumation.

Brumation in leopard geckos and other reptiles is the equivalent of hibernation in mammalian species. It is a dormant period that triggers a natural metabolic slowdown. Brumation occurs during winter and typically starts in December and ends in February. During this period, your Leo will remain inactive and not eat or poop.

Does the topic of brumation in leopard geckos pick your interest? Buckle up as we take a deep dive into what happens to Leos when temperatures start to drop. We will also discuss when brumation is vital and how to keep your scaly friend happy and healthy before, during, and after this period.

Ready? Let’s begin!

What Is Brumation?

Before we dive into the facts, let’s pop the big question: why do leopard geckos brumate?

Brumation is a hibernation-like activity that occurs annually during periods of low temperatures. Adult leopard geckos (12 months+) undergo a metabolic slowdown and generally need small amounts of energy to survive. Unfortunately, not even scientists fully understand the purpose of this behavior.

Leopard Gecko Under a Rock

Still, brumation is believed to be an adaptation that has undergone centuries of evolutionary development. Leopard geckos still hold some of the unique traits of their ancestors and go into hiding during the coolest months of the year. They rest during this period to conserve their energy because food is scarce.

Brumation is slightly different from mammalian hibernation in that reptiles remain partially alert. After all, they are cold-blooded animals, and the low temperatures mainly affect their metabolic rate. Unlike hibernating animals that can be impossible to arouse from their deep slumber at a moment’s notice, leopard geckos sometimes wake up when brumating to drink water.

Is My Leopard Gecko Brumating, Sick, Or Dead?

Watching your leopard gecko go into brumation for the first time can be puzzling, especially for first-time reptile keepers. Even advanced keepers often remain on their toes when their Leos brumate because the period is a vulnerable time for their pets.

So, what are the signs of brumation, and how do they differ from sickness or death? A brumating leopard gecko will show the following symptoms.

The main difference between a brumating leopard gecko and a dead one is that the former remains partially dormant and alert. A live pet will sometimes change its sleeping position or move around to drink water. The reptile will also respond to heat and move toward the source. In contrast, a dead Leo will remain stiff and unresponsive to stimuli.

Health-wise, you can tell your leopard gecko wants to go into voluntary brumation if he shows the signs mentioned earlier weeks before going inactive. An infection takes a shorter duration to impair your pet’s daily activities. Be sure to consult your vet if you notice other abnormalities like difficulty breathing, increased vocalization, oral sores, mouth gaping, or a stuffy nose.

> Recommended Reading: Why is My Leopard Gecko Not Eating

How Long Do Leopard Gecko Brumate?

Bumation is a natural process that occurs when the temperatures drop in winter. It can last weeks or months, depending on how long environmental temperatures remain below a particular point. Although most Leos brumate once annually, others brumate twice or thrice per year or once in several years, depending on their habitat, health status, and environmental conditions.

The vivarium setting allows you to maintain steady temperatures throughout the year. Leopard geckos in captivity can go through their entire lives without brumating.

If you opt to induce brumation, you can manipulate the duration of the event by restoring normal temperatures and lighting when you want your pet’s activities to return to normal. Ensure your pet is at least a year old and keep the brumation period to a maximum of ninety days.

Is Brumation Necessary For Leopard Geckos in Captivity?

Leopard geckos in the wild undergo brumation to conserve energy during winter. When temperatures drop, most insects flee or burrow, meaning food is in short supply. Brumation lowers the body’s metabolism rate, allowing the reptiles to burrow and stay put for prolonged periods while relying solely on the tail’s fat reserves.

In captivity, leopard geckos don’t need to undergo brumation. Their enclosures maintain comfortable temperatures, and they don’t have to worry about food scarcity during winter. Still, brumation is an innate behavior; even domestic leopard geckos are born with an internal sense or instinct that tells them when it’s time to brumate.

Leopard Gecko Inside a Hide

Leopard geckos are expressive animals who communicate using body language when they feel the urge to brumate. One of the clear signs indicating your pet wants to brumate is spending extended periods on the cold side of the enclosure.

Brumation is not necessary for leopard geckos in captivity, but it is healthy for them. The event helps reset their bodies to increase the odds of producing more and healthier offspring. Whether solo Leos benefit from brumating is still a matter up for debate.

4 Steps to Prepare Your Leopard Gecko for Brumation

Inducing brumation is risky, especially for a novice leopard gecko keeper. We cannot emphasize enough the need to take extra precautions, involve an expert, and pack yourself with as much information about the process as possible. Again, brumation is unnecessary for leopard geckos in captivity, and your pet will not enter the cycle, provided you maintain a proper temperature gradient in the enclosure.

Sometimes, even pet Leos can show signs of wanting to enter brumation voluntarily. This may occur naturally or because of unfavorable temperatures and lighting within the vivarium.

Here are the steps to prepare your scaly friend for brumation.

Step 1—Schedule a Vet Check

You must confirm that your leopard gecko is healthy and fit for brumation. Parasite treatments may be necessary at least a month before the event. Your Leo must also have sufficient fat around the tail to survive the prolonged hunger strike. If the pet seems skinny, your vet may recommend against induced brumation.

> Recommended Reading: Guide to Feed a Leopard Gecko

The need to consistently monitor your pet’s progress before, during, and after brumation cannot be stressed enough. Because of the myriad of things that could go south during brumation, ensure you can reach an experienced reptile vet if complications arise. The expert can offer invaluable help if your scaly pet loses significant weight or shows other signs of health issues.

Step 2—Stop Feeding Your Pet

Once you receive a go-ahead from your vet, you should stop feeding your Leo 10 to 14 days before brumation. The idea is to clear the digestive tract of food and fecal matter that may otherwise rot and poison your scaly friend while he sleeps.

Once you stop feeding, offer your pet plenty of water. It helps clear the throat and digestive tract of food particles that can compromise the brumation process. You may also want to soak your gecko in warm water days before the event and gently massage the belly to help stimulate the bowels.

Step 3—Provide Good Hiding Spots

Leopard geckos love to hide when they sleep. Like brumation, hiding or burrowing is an instinctive behavior that helps them feel safe, especially when they let their guard down and doze. During brumation, several comfortable hiding spots are essential to help keep your pet calm and relaxed.

Most leopard geckos love to hide in tight, dark hides during the resting phase. Because the whole idea of the event is to take a long nap, consider moving the vivarium to a reasonably cooler and distraction-free corner of your home.

Step 4— Adjust Temperature and Lighting

Next is to create the ideal environment for brumation. First, turn off the heating equipment to leave the vivarium at room temperature between 60-72°F. The second step is reducing light intensity and switching from heat bulbs to no-heat light bulbs.

> Recommended Reading: Does Your Leopard Gecko Need a Heat Lamp?

The days are short in winter, while the nights are long and cold. You must also adjust the length of light exposure to create winter-like conditions. The ideal light cycle should provide 10 hours day and 14 hours night.

How to Care for Your Leopard Gecko During Brumation

Leopard geckos must not eat anything throughout the brumation period. However, you should provide a constant water supply in a shallow bowl to keep your pet well-hydrated. Keeping the temperatures low should help slow metabolism, meaning your pet will not be starving.

Your scaly companion doesn’t need much help from you during the resting phase. Still, it is crucial to constantly monitor the temperatures to ensure they don’t exceed 72°F. Higher temperatures can increase metabolism, and your Leo’s body will respond by using more resources from the fat stores. This can lead to rapid weight loss long before your pet is ready to wake up.

Leopard Gecko Habitat Setup

To be safe, routinely monitor your pet’s health and consult your vet if anything seems amiss. Also, weigh your gecko weekly using a digital kitchen scale. You should stop brumation and visit your vet immediately if your pet loses more than 10% of his original weight.

Your Leo should go through a smooth brumation process if you take the necessary precautions ahead of time and maintain proper conditions throughout the event. You’ll have better peace of mind if you have an emergency plan and are ready to act if things don’t go as planned.

> Recommended Reading: Guide to Care for a Leopard Gecko

How To Get Your Leopard Geckos Out Of Brumation

Leopard geckos enter the “wake-up phase” once it starts to warm up in early spring. The heat jumpstarts metabolic functions and wakes them up. You can speed up the post-brumation phase by turning on the heat lamps in the enclosure.

so, how do you know your Leo is ready to come out of brumation? It’s easy!

A leopard gecko ready to enter the wake-up phase will frequently emerge from hiding spots to drink water or enjoy basking in available heat sources, no matter how small. Generally, the reptile will show increased activity. In the wild, this naturally happens at the beginning of March.

Here is what you can do to help your scaly friend knock off the cobwebs and get out of brumation.

> Recommended Reading: How Often Should I Feed My Leopard Gecko?

Final Thoughts

Brumation is a natural behavior for leopard geckos and other reptiles native to temperate and arid environments. Although it is normal behavior, it is not vital to your pet’s survival. Unless you raise leopard geckos for breeding purposes, it is perfectly okay never to brumate your pets.

So, what if your Leo shows signs of wanting to go through voluntary brumation?

Although rarely, a leopard gecko can voluntarily want to brumate even if you maintain the recommended vivarium conditions. In this case, seek guidance from your vet and ensure you understand how to handle the process and what to do if complications arise.

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.