The fact that geckos are natural slow-moving creatures makes it easy to catch them staring blankly at you or in space. But why do they stare? Could this be an underlying cause of a bigger problem?
In general, staring in leopard and crested geckos is a normal behavior. Usually, geckos stare because of the following reasons:
- Avoid the threat
- Lack of eyelid
- Lock-in prey
- Look at their reflection
- Exhibit Enigma Syndrome
- Observe the surroundings
- Plead for something
- Protect their territory
- Show trust issues
Before we dive into all of these questions, you might want to consider asking the same thing to yourself. Why do we stare? Interestingly enough, some of your reasons could also be the same for geckos!
Anything under the sun can cause leopard and crested geckos to stare at something or someone. Is this a typical behavior among geckos? Or is it an atypical behavior like burying themselves, eating their poop, and making different sounds?
Actually, this behavior can be considered a good sign when you think about it. After all, a healthy gecko must be at least a little vigilant of its surroundings. However, we have compiled below nine of the many reasons you should know why your pet gecko stares.
Generally, geckos stare to avoid any potential threat. They play either as a predator or prey in the ecosystem. So, it is only expected that they tend to be more observant when they are introduced to a new environment.
Have you been to an unfamiliar place before? What was your reaction? You must have felt anxious and cautious with your surroundings. Just like you, geckos would have also felt threatened in the wild.
In the wild, geckos stare to probe the area for potential predators (the threat). Once they figure out that the movements they are seeing are coming from the danger, they would then take action by calculating their next move–probably by fleeing the scene and hiding into a safer place.
In cases where they are taken as pets, geckos might consider you (someone who constantly moves) as a predator. So, do not worry if they also keep tabs on what you are doing. It only means that your gecko has its survival instinct on.
Although it is an isolated case for geckos who lack eyelids like crested geckos, it is safe to say that the absence of eyelids can be one of the reasons why geckos seem to be staring at you or anything around them.
You might say that it is entirely nonsense, but in reality, lacking eyelids can also be one of the causes why your gecko stares at you–or seems like it.
Why? It is because some geckos do not have eyelids by nature! Take the crested geckos, for example. Did you know that our dear cresties always have open eyes? There is no way they can close their eyes because they have no eyelids in the first place!
Unlike leopard geckos, cresties have a transparent scale to compensate for the lack of eyelids. As people may call it, that keeps their eyes moist. So, to keep their eyes clear of any debris, crested geckos use their tongue to clean up each eye.
Another thing is, your crestie may not be staring at you. It could be sleeping! To know if it is, you can examine the following physical manifestations:
- crests may droop
- pupils are a fine line
Geckos also play their role as one of the predators in the ecosystem. As much as they want to keep an eye on their surroundings to outsmart their predators, they also give their prey the “bug stare” before hunting them down.
If you are curious how the “bug stare” looks like, you may observe your gecko while feeding them their favorite insect!
In crested geckos, their eyes would generally start to widen as the crests over their eyes will raise. Consequently, this would show a white ring in some cases. Their pupils begin to dilate, which is solid proof that they are ready to hunt their target down at any moment.
Reptiles might stare at their own reflection as unable to recognize themselves, common in the animal kingdom. It would almost seem like they are petrified.
Looking at the mirror before going out seems a routine for most humans. Lucky for us, though, we are given the gift to recognize who that person is staring back at us in the mirror.
They may or may not recognize themselves in the reflection, and this curiosity will only make them seem like they are staring at anything beyond that.
In special cases, staring in geckos can be one of the symptoms of Enigma Syndrome. This needs to be verified with a professional veterinarian.
While most of the reasons seem to do no harm to your geckos, there is one that you should be more careful of. Its actual origin is still a mystery to everyone. However, one of the educated guesses points to a genetic neurological disorder. It is the Enigma Syndrome (or most commonly known as ES) in leopard geckos.
Apart from staring, a leopard gecko with ES would often display other symptoms and strange behaviors like :
- death rolling
- head tilting
- laying in strange areas
- missing their prey/food
- walking in circles
By “stargazing,” one can observe their leopard geckos staring up at the ceiling for quite some time. Eventually, they would just snap out of it and roam around their enclosure as if everything was normal.
So, suppose you start catching your gecko doing these things. In that case, you better bring your pet to your trusted exotic veterinarian to confirm its situation and take the necessary actions as early as possible.
Geckos might starer at moving objects surrounding them. Anything that is moving within their peripheral view can spark their curiosity.
On a daily basis, you might catch your gecko keeping an eye on you. If you think that is something special, do not feel flattered yet. Chances are they may just be observing their surroundings to check if there is a threat around.
Since you move around quite a lot, they may also question themselves who or what that moving thing is. As a result, their eyes would follow your every action. You can also vouch for this during their mealtime. Typically, you could see how they would not bother to stare at their food if it is a dead insect as much as if it were alive.
Geckos may stare at the owner as a way to ask for anything, such as food, treats, or attention.
Have you encountered the idea of Pavlovian conditioning?
A Russian physiologist named Ivan Petrovich Pavlov developed this type of conditioned learning for dogs to connect the ringing of the bells with foods or treats. The experiment saw success when the dogs would eventually salivate even when they brought no food every instance they rang the bell .
Well, with the time you have spent together with your gecko, it may have already associated you as its source of food! Its system has been conditioned that you will feed it every time you come closer to its enclosure.
Most likely, this happens when you have created a special bond with your gecko. Since they perceive you as their sole food provider, your geckos will generally give you a stare as you come near them. And if you do not have their food, they will stare at you for much longer as if they are pleading for you to feed them already.
Geckos are found to stare at unwelcome animals that trespass their territory as a way to protect their area. This is why it is recommended to house only one gecko in an enclosure.
Before taking in your gecko as a pet, did you know that they could be territorial? Yes, especially the male ones.
Even if you provide adequate hides or caves in a much bigger tank, you can never guarantee a peaceful communal living amongst two or more of them.
Since your gecko has already gotten used to its surroundings in its tank, it is normal for them to become protective. And in response to a guest, say a new gecko or a live insect, your gecko would give them a stare, trying to analyze the situation.
Thus, as much as possible, do not let unwanted guests go into their territory to avoid the occurrence of a clash that could end up injuring your gecko.
Geckos may stare at their owners because they do not trust them. This might typically be for a newly adopted reptile. Since they have not grown to build close relationships, there is even a high chance that they will consider their owners as a threat and not someone they could trust.
Since it is hard to fathom to what extent your gecko trusts you, you must first accept that it does not think the way we do. We treat trust as something special in our relationships with other people because we are social creatures.
However, do not feel hopeless though. You can still build a trusting relationship with your gecko by observing the following tips:
- Handle them more often as long as your gecko permits you to do so.
- Keep your calm around them, so they will not be nervous.
- Avoid too much handling by observing intervals before increasing the amount of handling time.
- Be there with them most of the time to get themselves accustomed to your scent or presence.
You have to bear in mind to always be careful when handling your gecko. By employing safe handling methods, you can avoid unnecessary stress on them. Unless you want it to go frantically over the place, do not just dive in and take them out of their enclosure just because you want to.
Leopard and crested geckos are often prey to many larger predators in the wild. As a result, captive geckos may stare to avoid a threat, observe their surroundings, or protect their territory. On another note, they can be a predator to smaller prey. Hence, they may stare at their target food to show dominance and intimidation.
Health-related factors can also cause geckos to stare. In leopard geckos infected with Enigma Syndrome, they may manifest staring as a symptom. Meanwhile, in crested geckos, the absence of eyelids forces cresties to stare indefinitely.
Owners who have established a good relationship with their leopard and crested geckos may regard the staring as a plead for something, such as food, treats, or attention. Otherwise, owners who have yet to connect with their geckos can deem this behavior as mistrust.
Captive leopard and crested geckos housed inside glass enclosures can accidentally see their reflection at particular angles on the glass walls. As a result, they may stare at it to decipher what they saw.