Over many of years, leopard geckos have evolved and adapted to life at night. For their own safety, leopard geckos have adapted to to become crepuscular. Being crepuscular means to be most active at dusk and dawn. Over many, many years leopard geckos have slowly worked out that it is most safe for them to be active at dusk and dawn, rather than during the day. So, it’s no wonder you’re wondering, can leopard geckos see in the dark.
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Being crepuscular means a leopard geckos threat of being caught by a predator is minimised massively. Many of a leopard geckos predators are active during the day, and hunt throughout daylight hours. It’s for this reason that a leopard gecko has adapted its own hunting times.
During the day, leopard geckos will stay well hidden and completely out of sight or reach for any predatory threat. The darkness gives them a sense of security when out hunting, as its much harder for a predator to notice them.
How Have Leopard Geckos Adapted To See In The Dark And Hunt At Night?
Can leopard geckos see in the dark… Yes.
Leopard geckos can indeed see in the dark, and its more impressive than you probably realise. Leo’s actually have the ability to see colour in the dark. Their eyesight has evolved so much through the years that they can actually see just as well at night as they can during the day.
Where as many other animals might not do so well in the dark, leopard geckos seem to prosper. The fact they can see in the dark put them way ahead of their predators and prey. They can both evade capture from predators and advance on prey without being seen.
The sensitivity of a leopard geckos eye is thought to be 350 times higher than a human eye, in relation to the colour vision threshold.
The Evolution To Seeing In The Dark
I’ll try to explain this more clearly, and as simply as possible, as it’s hard to get your head around.
So, during the evolution of lizards, their eyes have probably had the most change throughout their bodies. All lizards were thought to be diurnal, which means they were active during the day and slept at night. Because of this their eyes were believed to have had a typical vertebrate duplex retina, with both rods and cones.
(Side note: Rods and Cones are the two types of photoreceptors in a common eye, like a humans eye. Rods are responsible for vision at low lighting levels, where as Cones are responsible for vision at higher lighting levels.)
Due to their diurnal nature, lizards actually lost this typical vertebrate duplex retina, and were now left with different types of single and double cone photoreceptors (no rods), as this fitted their daytime lifestyle and needs.
Geckos however, over time, decided they would benefit from being crepuscular and become more active during the mornings/evening and night time, at low lighting hours. This was all due to the fact that a gecko realised it would be much safer for them to hunt at night than it would during the day, when all their main predators are also out hunting.
Because geckos eyes have previously evolved without the need of photoreceptor rods (to see in the dark), the photoreceptor cones in their eyes have become much bigger and more light sensitive.
Through more time, and evolution, geckos have retained three photopigments of the cone receptor which is highly sensitive to UV, Blue and Green light. Their eyes have become sensitive enough to retain this colour, even at the darkest hours of the night. For this reason, leopard geckos are now able to retain these three colour variants and use them effectively at night. Thus giving them the ability to see way more clearly at night, than any of their predators or prey.
Does this mean you don’t need a light in your leopard geckos enclosure?
You have to remember that a leopard gecko still needs a spectrum of natural lighting throughout the day. They need to be aware of their times to sleep and their times to hunt.
To do this effectively, all you will need is a heat lamp. You can add a UV light into the enclosure if you like, but it’s really not needed as your gecko will be asleep during the day when it is on. Commonly, a heat lamp will be enough to provide nothing lighting and heat.
What you will need though is a reliable dimming timer.
A dimming timer can be set to closely replicate the illusion of sunrise and sunsets within a leopard geckos enclosure. The heat provided through the day will be more than enough to keep your gecko warm at night also.
What a dimmer timer does, is it gradually lowers the heat and light at night time until it is completely off. For example, it will start dimming from 6pm and will be completed turn off at 10pm. Then again in the morning, it will gradually come on from 6am, and will be completely turn on at 10am.
Your leopard gecko should be sleeping for roughly 12 hours a day, so set the timer in accordance with this. Also remember that any other sources of light will have an effect on your geckos sleeping pattern. So make sure to location the enclosure well out of view from TV screens, Computer screens, etc, anything that gives off substantial light and night.
What you can do though, is located your enclosure in view of natural lighting, such as a window. This will give your gecko the exact and most natural daylight spectrum, and saves you having to worry about it.