Yes. Like other nocturnal and crepuscular gecko species, leopard geckos can see in the dark. In fact, leopard geckos’ eyes are up to 350 times more sensitive in the dark than human eyes and are even able to perceive color.
The night vision of nocturnal and crepuscular geckos – like the leopard geckos – is so unique that scientists are closely studying it for possible applications and improvements to night vision technology.
How Leopard Geckos See in the Dark
In order to understand how leopard geckos can see in the dark, it’s necessary to understand a little bit about how eyes function in vertebrates.
Vertebrate eyes have two types of photoreceptor cells: cone cells and rod cells.
- Cone cells help us perceive color in well-lit environments.
- Rod cells, on the other hand, play almost no role in color perception. Their main purpose is to help us see in the dark. Therefore, they are much more sensitive than cone cells.
For most nocturnal animals, rod cells make up the majority of the eyes’ photoreceptors. In order to see at night, therefore, they sacrifice their ability to perceive color. The opposite is true for diurnal animals. In diurnal animals, cone cells make up the majority of photoreceptors in the eyes, giving them the ability to see a vast array of colors when the light is bright, but at the expense of their ability to see in the dark.
As a descendant of diurnal lizards with pure cone retinae, gecko eyes – including leopard gecko eyes – only have cone cells. You would think, therefore, that leopard geckos wouldn’t be able to see in the dark.
But this isn’t the case.
In fact, the majority of geckos are either nocturnal or crepuscular. Only 15 of the 90 gecko genera are diurnal. Leopard geckos themselves are crepuscular, meaning they are most active during the dimly lit hours of dusk and dawn.
Leopard Gecko Eyes
To help them see in the dark, leopard gecko eyes, like other geckos, have a number of unique characteristics that give them excellent night vision. These include:
- Larger eyes
- Vertical pupils that become very wide at night, increasing light receptivity
- A short focal length, meaning that there is less distance from the center of the eye’s lens to the point where light converges
- Multifocal lenses that focus different light wavelengths onto the eye’s light-sensitive cells
- High density of light-perceiving cone cells
- Larger cone cells that are more sensitive to different light wavelengths
- UV-detecting cone cells
These amazing features not only make it possible for leopard geckos to see at night, but even to perceive color when other vertebrates, like humans, would be blind.
Despite this, many leopard gecko owners still wonder…
Leopard Gecko Lighting: Do They Need a Night Light?
The short answer is, no. Since leopard geckos have such excellent night vision, they don’t need a night light to help them see during the nocturnal hours when they’re awake.
However, you could use a light that simulates moonlight if you want to observe your leo’s nocturnal activities.
Blue lights are a wonderful option for simulating moonlight, and are readily available online or at many pet stores. Be warned, however, that blue lights may disrupt your leopard gecko’s ability to perceive color at night, and may interfere with its circadian rhythm.
Be sure to only keep blue, red, or black lights on for a couple hours in the evening so you don’t mess with your leo’s natural circadian rhythm. Even better if you have a light on a timer so that you can program it to simulate sunrise and sunset. To provide nighttime heat for your leo without using a heat lamp, try using a ceramic heat emitter.
Takeaway: Not only can Leopard geckos see in the dark, but they can even perceive colors. Their highly sensitive cone cells can perceive light from different wavelengths, and are even capable of UV detection.
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