Gecko | Behaviour

Why is Your Leopard Geckos Lying Flat? Almost All Ok

Is it normal for them to be lying flat on the ground like that? The answer to the second question is yes—and also no. Your gecko may be lying down for a good reason. But it could also be lying down because it can no longer stand on four legs!

Leopard geckos normally lay down their arms outstretched and their bodies flush against a flat surface when they are basking, sleeping, or hiding from predators. However, a leopard gecko that is always laying flat on the ground may be sick if it displays other abnormal behaviors such as lethargy and lack of appetite.

Have you caught your leopard gecko just lazing around its tank? I have—multiple times, even. I always thought he was cute whenever I found him like that. So just imagine my surprise when other acquaintances shared their horror stories—read on to find out too!

1. Basking

When provided with a good light and heat source, leopard geckos are often found basking while lying down flat on the tile or substrate. They may bask out in the open right under their heat lamp or while they are partially covered by a hide or plants.

Several years ago, basking was almost never observed in leopard geckos that were kept as pets. In fact, many keepers—and even breeders—said that it would not be normal for leos to bask since they were nocturnal animals.

Thankfully though, more and more beginner and experienced leo owners are aware of the fact that these geckos do indeed bask [1]. It has also long been discovered that they are not strictly nocturnal. A leopard gecko’s activity throughout the day changes across seasons.

In the heat of summer, leopard geckos become more active at night. Then during cold winters, they become less active overall. But they can also be active in the daytime—in the morning and afternoon, particularly.

However, even when they are active during the day, you’ll likely still spot your leopard geckos laying flat to bask under a good halogen heat lamp!

Find out how to create the perfect basking spot in our article on the best heating set-up. 

A well-designed heating set-up allows leopard geckos to not only warm up while basking, called heliothermy. Such a provision will also let our precious geckos soak up in the residual heat of rocks and wood even after the lamps are turned off, known as thigmothermy.

So if you’ve really never seen your gecko lying down to bask, reconsider the heat source you’re providing it.

Why Do Leopard Geckos Bask?

Aside from basking to warm up their bodies, leopard geckos also bask to absorb ultraviolet-B radiation so that they can produce vitamin D3.

Having a UV lamp significantly decreases the chance of your gecko suffering from metabolic bone disease [2]. In other words, geckos should be provided with a good UV lamp alongside their heat lamp for them to bask efficiently.

Early in September 2022, a well-known reptile brand announced the release of a new and improved all-in-one lamp for gecko pet parents in the US and Canada.

It is designed to emit infrared heat, visible light, and ultraviolet. So, yes—it is a mercury vapor lamp. However, the experts behind this lamp claim that they have made it specifically safe for smaller shade-dwelling herps like leopard geckos.

Personally, I haven’t tried it out yet. So I don’t really recommend it, especially because they can’t be controlled with a thermostat.

But I do hope that this product pushes for more advancements in reptile keeping tools and equipment which can help us improve our lovely animals’ overall well-being.

2. Sleeping

Typically, leopard geckos will lie down on a flat surface to rest and sleep. Owners are likely to observe this more often during really cold winters as a result of brumation.

Endearingly called “splooting” by many reptile keepers and breeders—including myself and my friends—it’s perfectly normal for leos to just lie flat if they are relaxed.

They may even look like they’re smiling while they’re comfortably sleeping in their enclosure if you take a photo from certain angles!

Just keep in mind that a sleeping gecko won’t stay completely still [3]. Like humans and many other common house pets, leopard geckos can also change their sleeping posture

Although leopard geckos most commonly lie flat on their stomach with their arms and legs stretched and relaxed, they have been observed to adopt weird sleeping positions as well.

Leopard geckos have been spotted sleeping on top of their hides, against their enclosure walls, on hammocks, and even inside the sleeves and pockets of their owners’ clothes!

But this isn’t only true for captive leopard geckos. Wild leopard geckos have also been found sleeping while clinging to the walls of their rocky homes.

How long do leopard geckos normally sleep?

There is no exact figure for how long leopard geckos sleep on a daily basis. However, experts estimate that leopard geckos could sleep for more or less 12 hours a day. Moreover, their sleeping pattern will vary throughout the year.

3. Hiding From Predators

It is normal for a leopard gecko on high alert to flatten its entire body while laying on the ground when they sense a potential predator. They lie flat on the ground to hide by making themselves less noticeable.

Do you have other, much bigger, pets at home? Perhaps a dog? Or a cat?

Worried about your furry pets hurting your gecko? Check out our article on how to keep geckos safe from cats!

If yes, then I’m almost certain that you’ve seen your gecko do this once your bigger pet enters the room you keep your gecko in. You see, this is a common reaction that small animals like geckos do when they feel unsafe.

Aside from fight and flight, leopard geckos may also freeze when they feel threatened. They do so by completely flattening their bodies on the ground.

Leopard Gecko Hiding by Lying Flat
Leopard Gecko Hiding by Lying Flat

It doesn’t even matter where your gecko specifically is in its tank. A leopard gecko may lay down and flatten itself out in an exposed area, under the foliage of plants, or anywhere else.

Moreover, you’re likely going to see this reaction often if your gecko is new, a rescue, or still very young.

But once their source of stress is no longer in sight and they’ve gotten used to you, they are likely only going to sploot when they bask and sleep in front of you with their eyes closed.

4. Feeling Sick

A leopard gecko that is feeling weak and sick is also likely to lie down flat because they lack the strength to stand and explore its enclosure. It is also possible that they feel pain when they move around so they instead stay lying flat.

Pointing out that a leopard gecko is excessively lying flat due to weakness and/or sickness can be challenging especially during winter when it’s normal for them to be quite inactive.

However, it’s not at all impossible. You can tell that your leopard gecko is lying flat because it’s feeling unwell if it shows a myriad of other abnormal behaviors.

Sick leopard geckos may also refuse to eat, exhibit low energy besides, and move noticeably slower, among other things, besides just lying down flat.

Hence, it’s always a great idea to observe your geckos whenever you can. By doing this, you can better understand when you’re leopard gecko is not acting normally. Keep tabs on their behavior and activity with a simple journal. Better yet, observe them with a camera.

Injuries, which may or may not be bloody, may also make leopard geckos more prone to stay lying down to conserve their energy and recuperate.

Excessive Lying in Sick Leopard Geckos

Basking, sleeping, and hiding while lying flat can be a sign of illness if done excessively throughout the day, for several days.

Sick Leopard Gecko Lying Flat
Sick Leopard Gecko Lying Flat

Studies have shown that reptiles actually undergo “fevers” when they are very stressed or sick.

However, since they are cold-blooded animals who cannot effectively heat their bodies on their own, they respond by constantly trying to keep themselves warm [4].

For example, a leopard gecko that’s experiencing digestion issues might stay near or on their basking spot.

Further Questions

What does it mean when a lizard lays down?

More often than not, lizards lay down to bask and/or rest. Depending on how much they feel secure in their surroundings, they may do this out in the open or while they are partially or fully hidden among rocks and plant matter. This is true for both wild and captive specimens.

Is it normal for leopard geckos to lie on their back?

Leopard geckos don’t normally lay on their back deliberately. If they are found doing this once, it may be because they jumped and/or fell from an elevated place in their tank. But if the gecko is repeatedly found on its back, it may be a sign that it is suffering from a neurological condition like enigma syndrome.

Can geckos dream during their sleep?

Research suggests that bigger reptiles like tegus and bearded dragons may be capable of dreaming as they experience rapid eye movement, so it may be possible for geckos and other reptiles to dream in their sleep.

Why do some geckos keep lying in their water dish?

A gecko that constantly lays down in its filled water dish is likely preparing to shed its skin or it could be experiencing dehydration. To ensure the health and safety of the gecko, owners need to check on the humidity in the tank regularly and provide fresh water daily—if possible.

Summary of Why Do Leopard Geckos Lie Flat

In general, it’s normal to see leopard geckos lying flat on their substrate or any other even surface if they are 1) basking under the heat lamp, 2) sleeping to rest comfortably, and 3) trying to stay hidden from potential predators.

However, when observed markedly more often than usual, these otherwise normal behaviors could be a sign that a leopard gecko is feeling weak and/or suffering from an illness.






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