Gecko | Facts

Why Has Your Leopard Gecko’s Tongue Gone Red? (Is it Normal?)

A leopard gecko uses its tongue to do a lot of things in its daily life, so you’re bound to notice its color sooner or later. But is it normal for leos to have red-tipped pink tongues? In reality, that’s the natural color of their tongue but other symptoms could point to potential illness!

The tip of a leopard gecko’s tongue is normally redder because the skin on top of the blood vessels there is thinner than the rest of the tongue. However, geckos could also have an abnormal red tongue if it is swollen, bleeding, wounded, or has white spots.

When is a leopard gecko’s red tongue a sign that your gecko is sick? Do all geckos have pinkish-red tongues? Discover the answer to these questions by reading through this article!

What is the Normal Color of a Leopard Gecko’s Tongue?

Leopard geckos naturally have pink tongues with red tips. This is because the papillae containing blood vessels in their foretongues are less keratinized ends than those in their mid and hindtongues.

Geckos’ tongues have redder tips because of a thinner layer of skin covering the blood vessels there compared to the rest of their tongues [1].

Even then, not all leopard gecko tongues are of the same exact color.

Some leopard geckos have paler pink tongues than others. There are also leos with deep red tongue tips, while other geckos have a more subdued red-tipped tongue.

Discover more interesting tongue facts in our article on why geckos lick their lips.

There haven’t really been studies exploring the cause behind such differences so I can’t say much about it but I have come across many interesting theories that other pet parents have.

Observant gecko keepers, for instance, have noticed that their leo’s tongue tips typically turn redder after they eat and drink. This makes a lot of sense since movement allows for more blood flow.

I have also been told by some owners that a gecko’s tongue becomes bright red when they are excited. However, I don’t really understand the logic behind such a claim.

Nevertheless, concerned newbie gecko parents become worried over the littlest things such as a gecko’s normally pink-red tongue—which isn’t necessarily bad. So to make sure your gecko’s red tongue is not a cause for alarm, continue on to the next section!

4 Bad Cases of Red Tongue in Geckos

When a leopard gecko’s pink-red tongue is abnormally redder, swollen, wounded, bloody, or has visible white spots, immediately have it examined by a veterinarian. These are possible signs of infection, disease, and injury which could lead to death if not treated immediately.

As mentioned early, it’s totally okay for leopard geckos to have tongues with red ends. But this doesn’t mean that all red tongues are good tongues!

Find out what I mean by this in the following cases.

1. Swollen Red Gecko Tongue

A swollen red tongue is commonly a sign of infection or inflammation in leopard geckos. However, a proper veterinary diagnosis is required for confirmation.

Usually, gecko tongues are quite long but very thin—especially since this lizard is quite a small animal already.

So if you noticed that your leopard gecko’s tongue is starting to swell and becoming noticeably thick, pay close attention to how it behaves.

If your precious leo is starting to have difficulty eating and becoming increasingly lethargic, quickly call up your exotic vet to schedule an appointment.

2. Red Gecko Tongue With Wounds

Cuts, lesions, and scratches on red gecko tongues are rare but need immediate medical attention from an experienced veterinary doctor. At times, such wounds will be accompanied by swelling.

Though it’s not common, leopard geckos having wounded tongues is not unheard of. Of the rare cases that I’m aware of, it happens when multiple geckos are housed in a single enclosure.

As you probably already know, geckos are docile reptiles. However, they can also be aggressive since they are largely solitary animals that are quite territorial—even females.

So stressed, cohabbed geckos are made to eat from one spot or a single food bowl, it’s possible for one gecko to chomp on another gecko’s tongue, whether it’s intentional or not. They could also get their tongues scratched.

Learn about the other dangers of cohabbing in our article on housing geckos together.

Other pet parents also share worries of live prey biting on gecko tongues during feeding but this is highly unlikely. I would say that geckos are generally smart enough to know when the insect in front of them is too dangerous for them to eat.

Moreover, unlike frogs who use their sticky tongues, leopard geckos capture their prey with their strong jaws. That force of their repeated chomping is often enough to kill the bug so they pose little to no threat of wounding their soft tongues.

If the wound is only superficial, then it will likely heal with time. Nevertheless, it’s best to get a reptile veterinarian’s expert opinion and guidance on how to best handle the situation. Otherwise, the wound could get infected and worsen.

Do leopard gecko tongues turn red after eating insects because of bug blood?

The blood of insects, called hemolymph, is generally transparent with hints of green or yellow so they don’t turn leopard gecko tongues red. However, upon getting crushed or eaten insects could release dark red-brown liquids which come from their eye pigments.

3. Bloody Red Gecko Tongue

Compared to minor wounds, bloody red leopard gecko tongues can be life-threatening. A gecko with a bloody tongue must be brought to the nearest veterinary clinic or animal hospital for urgent care as it is a case of emergency.

I’m not sure if this has ever happened to anyone else but I do remember one extremely scary story from one of our readers about a gecko losing its life because of an extremely bloody tongue.

The poor gecko was still new and young so the owner wanted to give it as much space and time to help it feel less anxious in its new home. Unfortunately, the next time the owner saw the gecko, its tongue seem to have been mangled up.

How its tongue ended up in such a gory state was uncertain. Something could have dropped on it, it might have gotten stuck—the possibilities are virtually endless.

Besides being super bloody, its injured tongue tip had already started to turn purple when the gecko was found. Simply put, the tissue by the end of the leo’s tongue was almost surely dead already.

Quick on their feet, the newbie keepers immediately brought the injured gecko to their local veterinarian. The dead portion of its tongue got surgically removed and it continued to eat and drink afterward.

Just a few days after the incident though, the gecko passed away. It might have died due to the stress of the situation, the significant blood loss, or—most probably—both.

4. Red Gecko Tongue With White Spots

White spots on a leopard gecko’s red-tipped pink tongue could be a sign of gout. This condition requires the guidance of a veterinarian for successful treatment, generally focused on providing hydration and reducing protein in their diet.

Even though they might look interesting, those white spots or your gecko’s tongue are not at all normal [2]. More importantly, they are a serious sign of a severe case of gout in reptiles!

Because of gout, uric acid crystals can form in the mouth of geckos and other reptiles. This can seem like white or cream-colored spots on their tongues.

Red-Tipped Pink Gecko Tongue With Spots
Red-Tipped Pink Gecko Tongue With Spots

So, no—having swollen joints isn’t the only symptom that comes with gout.

But how do leopard geckos develop gout? There are two main reasons.

First, gout is often the result of excessive consumption of protein. Another cause of gout is dehydration due to a lack of drinking water and low overall tank humidity.

Keep your humidity levels up by exploring the ways to maintain an ideally humid tank.

Prevent your leopard gecko from getting gout by practicing up-to-date husbandry practices. This would include providing a well-balanced varied diet and ensuring that humidity and temperature levels in the enclosure are within the optimal range.

Are Red Tongues a Sign of Mouth Rot in Leopard Geckos?

Although a red tongue could be a sign of inflammation in leopard geckos, the whole mouth is typically affected by mouth rot. Furthermore, the discoloration caused by dead oral tissues is generally red-purple to black.

Infectious stomatitis, more commonly known as mouth rot, is often caused by bacterial infections in leopard geckos [3]. When a gecko does develop mouth rot, its teeth and jaws are more likely to get affected than its tongue. I’m not saying that can’t happen, though.

Aside from visible dead tissue in the mouth. other symptoms of stomatitis in leopard geckos include inactivity, loss of appetite, and discharge of pus from the mouth and nose.

Moreover, this isn’t unique to geckos. Snakes, turtles, and other lizards can also get stomatitis.

When infectious stomatitis is not addressed right away, it may lead to other complications such as respiratory and gastrointestinal issues.

So if you suspect that your leopard gecko may have mouth rot, promptly schedule a consultation with your veterinarian.

Beautiful Geckos With Unusual Tongue Colors

Not all geckos have red-tipped pink tongues. Other geckos, such as those native to New Zealand, have orange, gray, blue, and black tongues.

Several bright green geckos found across different regions of New Zealand sport uniquely colored tongues that definitely stand out!

More specifically, geckos from the Naultinus genus have vibrant mouth linings and tongues.

Here are some jewelled geckos from New Zealand along with their tongue colors:

  • Aupōuri green gecko (Naultinus flavirictus): red-orange
  • Barking gecko (Naultinus punctatus): bluish black
  • Rough gecko (Naultinus rudis): dark gray or blue with pink tips
  • Mossy gecko (Naultinus tuberculatus): dark blue or black
  • Otago jewelled gecko (Naultinus gemmeus): black
  • Canterbury jewelled gecko (Naultinus gemmeus): pink-orange with gray base
  • Elegant gecko (Naultinus elegans): bluish black or black

On average, Naultinus lizards are primarily diurnal, arboreal, omnivorous, viviparous geckos that easily camouflage into their surroundings due to their rich green coloration.

Certain species can alternatively be considered to be cathemeral, active during the night and day, and partially terrestrial.

Naultinus geckos are quite small as well, weighing more or less weighing 15 g each [4]. The biggest ones recorded only grow to about 65–95 mm, although this is only their snout-vent-length. If we include their tails, their overall length will be at least double that.

Another interesting detail to note about these geckos is their life expectancy. In the wild, they reach at least 15 years of age, whereas in captivity they can easily live over the age of 25–35 years. But the oldest jewelled geckos recorded have gone past the 50-year mark.

Further Questions

Is it normal for gecko tongues to turn white?

If a leopard gecko’s tongue turns white and it also displays other abnormal signs and behaviors such as decreased energy and refusal to eat, it is likely sick. The overall coloration of geckos can become pale due to various diseases. Leopard gecko tongue should normally be pink-red in color as a sign of good health.

Do leopard geckos have forked tongues?

Similar to snakes and other reptiles, leopard geckos also have forked tongues. However, in comparison to ball python tongues, the split tongue of geckos is much less pronounced. Nevertheless, both animals stick and flick their forked tongues out to investigate their surroundings.

Summary of Why Do Leopard Geckos Have Red Tongues

Leopard geckos normally have tongues that are predominantly light pink in color but are light to deep red at the tips. This is because the skin covering the blood vessels at the end of their tongues is not thick, making their crimson blood beneath the tissue more visible.

However, if a leopard gecko’s tongue is not only red-tipped but is also swollen, injured, bleeding, or has white and cream spots, immediate veterinary attention is needed. Otherwise, the gecko’s condition can quickly worsen and it may die.






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