Leopard geckos like most reptiles are cold blooded and cannot produce their own body heat. This is why heat pads and heat rocks are widely used to provide them with the heat underneat them which they need to process food and perform other internal functions. Being nocturnal creatures (most of the time) leopard geckos don’t bask in the sun and instead lie in a warm area for heat. The heat source should always be in one area of the vivarium so that there is a cooler side which allows them to regulate their temperature.
The debate over whether leopard geckos and other lizards should be kept in an enclosure with a heat rock or heat pad has been going on for a while. Heat pads and rocks provide a constant source of heat in the vivarium, unlike lamps which have to be turned off. Many owners and breeders use one or the other as well as a light source such as a ceramic heater or incandescent light bulbs.
Heat rocks, also called ‘hot rocks’ are one of the oldest ways to heat your leopard geckos cage. They are usually made of concrete, stone or ceramics with a heating element inside. These were once considered dangerous (some still are) as they were not adjustable and were prone to becoming too hot. This resulted in many lizards getting burned as a result. They can be used effectively if they are buried in substrate and monitored closely. However the temperature gradient they produce is not as good as heat mats and can produce a very unnatural gradient depending on where they are placed and the other heat sources used.
Heat pads have become an excellent alternative for heating your leopard gecko and can be used in a variety of ways. They spread heat evenly across the vivarium and are easy to use and attach, which means that the heat is evenly distributed in the vivarium. They can go either underneath or on the side of the vivarium.
Heat pads come in different sizes so it is important that you get the right one. Remember that you don’t want to cover the whole floor with the pad otherwise your gecko will not be able to regulate heat and could become stressed as a result, only about 30% of the floor should be covered. Heat pads are attached in a number of ways depending on whether they are sticky or not. Another benefit of using a heat pad is that they use less energy than lights which leads to a smaller electricity bill!
That’s does not mean there are no drawback to using them. You must always raise the heat pad off the ground when using them on any surface, as the heat can gradually course cracks in wood and even glass through the constant heat weakening the surface. This is why some brands are bringing out pads which stick to your vivarium to minimize this. Always raise your tank off the ground if using the pad underneath through, using cardboard or rubber (which sometimes comes with some heat pads).
I have always used heat pads because they are a cost effective and more natural way of heating a leopard gecko and provide an effective way for a natural temperature gradient. Like most people I have not used heat rocks just because of the history of them and I think heat pads are generally more effective at heat distribution. That isn’t to say you should use them of course, just make sure that they are adjustable and hidden in the substrate when you install them into your leopard gecko vivarium. They can also be used as a secondary heat source.
Leopard Gecko Guy