At first, you might compare your leopard gecko licking you to a dog giving its owner a kiss. Nevertheless, that’s farthest from the truth.
The phenomenon is more comparable to a snake slithering its tongue out to gauge its surrounding environment.
In the same way, a leopard gecko’s tongue not only controls its sense of taste, but scent as well. Studies even show that geckos use their tongues to identify other subspecies.
Subsequently, your gecko isn’t licking out of affection, more so reassurance. Stick around to learn more about why your leopard gecko is licking you.
Licking behavior in your leopard gecko is nothing to be worried about. It could be a natural response to gauging its surroundings or offering reassurance.
Leopard geckos use their tongues to become better acquainted with their surroundings. Their taste organ is similar to a snake’s since it’s slightly forked.
That said, the reptile has a Jacobson or vomeronasal organ found at the roof of its mouth. The organ elevates its senses and allows a gecko to intricately study its environment.
The vomeronasal region contains two openings. The gecko’s tongue snatches surrounding scent particles thanks to its sticky mucus-like secretion.
As your gecko’s tongue flicks back into its mouth, it connects its bi-pronged organ to the Jacobson organ’s openings.
The tongue unravels the particles caught in from the surroundings, or in this case, you, and transfers them to its brain as messages.
The Jacobson organ contains a multitude of sensory receptors that receive the outside particles carried by the tongue.
They might do this to detect changes in their environment or pheromones when trying to breed.
When it comes to you, your skin’s chemical compounds are ever-changing from your surroundings.
In turn, your gecko wants to familiarize itself with these changes on an olfactory level during each interaction.
If your gecko is dehydrated, it’ll lick its surroundings for any water source. If your hands are wet or sweaty, your thirsty pet will likely try to lick the dampness off.
Consequently, you’ll want to ensure that they have enough water in their enclosure.
Reaching for Familiarity
Geckos want to feel a sense of reassurance, especially when being handled. A lick gives your reptile the all-clear that you’re its owner.
The lick test is necessary for various reasons. For instance, you may be blocking its way. Additionally, you could have a foreign scent from handling food or petting other animals.
Alternatively, you might have used a new perfume or laundry detergent. All these scent factors matter to your gecko’s sense of familiarity.
Your leopard gecko wants to make sure whatever it’s licking and sniffing is safe or edible.
It’s easy to get caught in the idea that your cold-blooded reptile might be showcasing some love to you, but here’s the truth.
Leopard geckos aren’t seeking your attention with a couple of licks. Some owners may mistake it for their pet wanting to be carried.
Geckos don’t usually enjoy being handled, and in some cases, may drop their tail from feeling threatened.
Nonetheless, if it willingly crawls on your arm, it could be trying to gain higher ground, in search of its next meal.
That said, your leopard gecko has other interests, the scent carried in your hands.
You might not notice it, but your hands carry a plethora of scent particles as you complete your daily activities.
Whether you’re cooking, cleaning, or gardening, your hand’s smell will likely pique your pet’s interest.
Your pet reptile is likely not displaying its affection when licking you. Now, leopard geckos do present social interactions, but not in the same way humans do.
They’re unable to form emotional connections. The reptile species will likely only go as far as to experience basic emotions like pleasure, aggression, and fear.
Other complex emotions are beyond the simple gecko’s brain to wrap around. Instead, geckos are more driven by instinct.
Subsequently, it has instincts to trust you since you’re their source of food and safety. It comes with a positive association.
Since licking is a vital sensory practice for leopard geckos, it will likely flicker its tongue on other objects or even its own body. That said, you might find it licking its:
If you notice your leopard gecko licking the inside of its mouth, it might be cleaning off excess food. On the other hand, mouth licking can indicate other, more serious, issues.
Your pet may be unable to keep the food in its mouth due to a weak jaw. In turn, this could be a sign of a Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD) and calcium deficiency.
In turn, you’ll want to take a closer look at your leo’s jaw. If it feels spongy, soft, and rubbery, we recommend consulting a reptile vet.
Even though there’s no cure for the illness, you can treat it with calcium supplements. Since they come in powder form, you can rub the component on feeder insects.
Eye licking is much less a cause for concern. Since geckos don’t have tear glands, they can’t keep their eyes moist without licking them.
Additionally, they use their tongues to wipe off any dirt or debris caught in their eyes. The reptiles don’t have eyelids, so licking is the next best thing.
If your gecko’s eyes seem to be crusted or have some sort of infection or inflammation, like conjunctivitis, seek immediate medical care.
Crickets, when consumed by your gecko, can put up a fight. Consequently, you might notice a few bites around its nose.
Your gecko will likely try to lick the wounds or rub them on a hard surface, further irritating them.
A gecko’s vent houses its genital area. Your pet may feel the need to lick its vent for several reasons, including territorial marking and pain easing.
In addition, your gecko may be cleaning the area after defecating, mating, or laying eggs. Overall, it’s part of their hygiene upkeep.
In other cases, your gecko may be experiencing impaction where their stool is too hard to pass. As an attempt to ease the pain, they lick the region.
That said, you can also help your gecko by submerging the area in lukewarm water to soften the stool.
Geckos are shedders. To remove their shed skin, they lick their bodies from their tail to snout. In turn, it’s part of their natural routine.
Even though leopard geckos aren’t venomous, they can potentially shed salmonella. In turn, you’ll want to hold off on the kisses.
Leopard geckos can develop feelings of trust. You’ll know your reptile pet trusts you if you can pick it up without it squirming in your grip.
Plus, it’ll willingly crawl on your arm. Building this trust will take time and practice.
Leopard geckos don’t get attached to their owners. Despite their social disposition, they are incapable of developing deeper emotional connections.
Why does your leopard gecko lick you? In short, leos aren’t as affectionate as you might think. Instead, licking is a reptile attribute linked to exploring their surroundings.
They use their tongue to gauge their environment, including you. Your skin may smell off from your usual scent. In turn, your gecko needs to get a lick to ensure it’s you.
Apart from that, they might be licking you out of thirst if you have sweaty hands. Overall, it’s nothing to worry about.
It’s in their nature to familiarize themselves with what’s around them, even if you’ve owned them for years.
I have a bachelor’s degree in Film/Video/Media Studies, as well as an associates degree in Communications. I began producing videos and musical recordings nearly 15 years ago. I am a guitarist and bassist in Southwest MI and have been in a few different bands since 2009, and in 2012 I began building custom guitars and basses in my home workshop as well. When I’m home, I love spending time with my three pets (a dog, cat, and snake) and gardening in my backyard. I also like photographing wild birds, especially birds of prey.