If you own a leopard gecko or have ever handled one, you may have realized they’re surprisingly chatty lizards. Perhaps you’ve heard one chirp or “bark” at you upon getting too close to them. You might have even heard one scream or screech defensively if you’ve ever accidentally handled one a little too roughly! What do these sounds mean, and why do leopard geckos scream?
Read on as we unpack leopard geckos’ many unique vocalizations, why geckos can vocalize in the first place, and what your gecko is trying to say when they chirp, squeak, scream, or bark at you or another lizard.
Can Leopard Geckos Vocalize?
Leopard geckos can produce a wide range of different vocalizations. Their vocalizations have unique meanings depending on their volume, length, specific sound, and even the context in which a gecko uses them.
While most reptiles are mostly or entirely silent, lizards in the Gekkota infraorder (i.e. geckos) can communicate vocally! This is quite useful for them, as most species are nocturnal and cannot always communicate solely via visual or scent cues alone. Their vocalizations range from distress calls to warn other lizards of certain dangers, to territorial warnings, and even mating and courtship calls.
Geckos are able to vocalize in more diverse ways than other reptiles mainly thanks to their highly elastic vocal cords! This gives them a much higher degree of vocal plasticity, or a wider range of sounds they are able to produce. Rather than simply hissing like most other lizards and snakes, geckos such as leopard geckos can produce chirps, squeaks, barks, and even straight-up screams and shrieks!
Leopard geckos in particular have various unique vocalizations they can use for the following reasons and situations:
- As distress calls to warn other geckos of nearby predators
- To startle or ward off predators so the gecko can make a quick escape
- Mating and courtship purposes, i.e. expressing interest in a potential mate
- Territorial reasons, i.e. when male geckos fight over resources like food, territory, and mates
Why Do Leopard Geckos Scream?
Screaming or shrieking is a vocalization leopard geckos use when they feel threatened or afraid. It is a high-pitched screeching sound that usually lasts for a few seconds. Generally, leopard geckos scream in this way to startle or scare whatever or whoever they perceive is threatening them.
There are many reasons why a leopard gecko might shriek or scream defensively. For example, if you’ve ever accidentally squeezed your gecko too tightly or startled them, they may have let out a brief scream to voice their displeasure.
Also, depending on how well-socialized they are and their own particular personality quirks, certain geckos in captivity will be more fearful and prone to making these vocalizations than others.
While one gecko might be mellow and never scream at all, another raised in similar conditions may screech at anything that moves because they haven’t been handled enough yet to understand that humans aren’t always a threat. Geckos with a history of neglect or abuse will also be more vocal and skittish than normal.
For wild geckos, this odd defense mechanism is especially useful when escaping predators! The screech will typically catch the predator animal off-guard for long enough to allow the lizard to escape its claws or jaws.
What’s more, leopard geckos can also drop their tails and regenerate them as an additional defense mechanism! In many cases, when a predator animal like a snake or a bird threatens a gecko, the lizard will scream loudly and immediately drop its tail.
These two defense mechanisms combined create enough confusion and chaos that the gecko is able to scurry off to safety, leaving only a fat, wriggling tail and the faint ringing of their high-pitched scream behind. This also warns other nearby lizards of a potential threat!
Can Baby Leopard Geckos Scream?
Interestingly, leopard geckos can “scream” in this distinctive way essentially from birth. Both wild and captive baby geckos tend to be more fearful and skittish than adults. As a result, baby and juvenile geckos use this particular vocalization a lot more often than adult geckos. If you’ve ever seen a video of a leopard gecko screaming in this way, there’s a good chance it was just a little baby!
In particular, baby and juvenile geckos in captivity scream a lot while getting familiar with new owners and enclosures. This is normal, as after all, everything is pretty scary to begin with when you’re young, right? Add in completely new surroundings, a giant, terrifying animal you’ve never seen before gleefully hovering over and observing you, and the scary process of moving to a new location, and you’ve got one stressed-out little gecko!
Fortunately, for most leopard geckos, this “screamy stage” is only temporary. While fully-grown adult geckos can and do still shriek in this way on occasion when they are seriously upset, scared, or hurt, babies tend to vocalize fearfully in response to just about any changes or additional stimuli. As they age, they typically “tame down” gradually with the help of regular socialization and careful handling.
Other Leopard Gecko Sounds and Their Meanings
In addition to screaming, leopard geckos produce many other sounds both to communicate with one another as well as with other species like humans. Some of the most common and identifiable vocalizations and their meanings include:
- Barking: Many leopard geckos will let out a short, low-pitched bark or “creaking” sound on occasion. They mainly use this when they are afraid, uncomfortable, or simply not in the mood to tolerate direct handling. They will also use this to communicate their anger to other geckos as a warning. Beware: if your gecko holds its mouth open wide while barking at you or another lizard, they’re preparing to bite!
- Clicking: This quiet clicking noise is common amongst both male and female leopard geckos in mating and courtship displays. Males are able to call out to nearby females with this distinct vocalization. Willing females will return the call with a similar clicking sound.
- Hissing: This barely-audible hissing or sighing noise is used primarily as a mild warning, usually towards other geckos or humans. Wild leopard geckos will often vocalize in this way to settle conflicts with one another. This can also help prevent conflicts from escalating to full-on fights. Your gecko may also hiss to gently warn you they aren’t in the mood for being handled.
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