25 Apr Leopard Geckos: Their Care and Breeding in Captivity. By Rolf Dennison
The Leopard Gecko is a step above the rest when it comes to the captive care and breeding of geckos. Leopard Geckos are generally easy to care for and breed which makes them very popular for beginners. Their large variety of mutations is also responsible for their popularity amongst experienced breeders making this an all-round perfect gecko for anyone who is keen on keeping reptiles. Their calm nature, striking colours and decent size makes for an impressive reptile amongst the gecko world. One other great thing is that they cannot climb walls, which makes the possibility of escape less likely!
Leopard Geckos are found in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. A great majority of Leopard Geckos that are found in captivity originated from Pakistan. Their natural habitat is arid to semiarid with clay, sandy soils or rock habitats that provide shelters in the form of burrows and crevices. Vegetation is sparse and consists mostly of grasses and shrubs.
Leopard Geckos have an impressive life span and can live for more than 20 years. In one case a male Leopard Gecko lived up to 28 years of age! These geckos grow quickly and can reach a remarkable size of 25cm. Giant morphs are currently being bred in the United States. These morphs can grow up to 30.5cm and can weigh double that of a normal Leopard Gecko!
There are quite a few different ways in which Leopard Geckos can be housed. The most simple and effective way to house them is in large plastic containers, preferably those that are designed specifically for keeping reptiles in. Other enclosures like glass tanks and display cabinets also work fine as long the correct requirements are met. Different substrates can be used to house Leopard Geckos such as newspaper, Astroturf, paper towel and fine sand that is sold for reptiles. Be careful not to use simply any sand, especially coarse sand, as Leopard Geckos are known to ingest sand in their enclosure and can suffer from impaction and ultimately death. Some commercial breeders even choose to use no substrate within their enclosure and this proves to work perfectly fine, although it is not very attractive and will need to be cleaned on a regular basis.
Next is heating. Fortunately Leopard Geckos are nocturnal so no expensive lighting is required to keep Leopard Geckos. If you have a display cabinet it is okay to have a light on during the day but make sure that it is on a 12 hour on 12hour off cycle and that your gecko has a place to hide whilst the light is on. It is important that you have a heat source and I find that a heat pad under one end of the enclosure works the best. The temperature on the warm side of the enclosure should be maintained at anywhere between 30 ̊C and 32 ̊C with the other side being cooler. It is also important that you have a humidity box. I use an ice-cream tub with a whole cut in the lid and half filled with damp sphagnum moss. This tub will provide your gecko with added humidity which will be necessary, especially when it comes time to shed. A shallow water bowl with clean water will also need to be provided at all times.
Feeding Leopard Geckos is an important part of their successful care and breeding. Mealworms are a great source of food for Leopard Geckos and I know that many breeders feed their Leopard Geckos only on mealworms. Crickets are another great food source and can also help encourage stubborn hatchlings to eat as the movement of the crickets stimulates a greater feeding response. Other food items such as silkworms, superworms, waxworms and roaches can also be offered. For adults during breeding season pinkie mice can be used to help with egg production and can be offered once a week. Make sure to place a shallow bowl in the enclosure that has a calcium and vitD3 supplement. This bowl can be left in the enclosure at all times and when feeding mealworms, they should be placed in this bowl with the supplements. My personal point of view when it comes to feeding is that variety is key. I therefore stick to a staple diet of mealworms and then also feed crickets and pinkies from time to time. Whatever you decide to feed your Leopard Gecko, make sure that you are providing your feeder foods with a good diet. This will ‘gut load’ your feeder foods before they are fed to your gecko, ultimately maximising their nutritional value.
Sexing Leopard Geckos is a fairly straight forward process. Leopard Geckos can be sexed at about 4 weeks of age using a loupe (a small hand held magnifying glass used for seeing small details more clearly). Turn the gecko upside down, and with the loupe examine the area in front of the vent and between the hind limbs. In males you will notice a row of preanal scales dotted in their centres by preanal pores. Even with a magnifying glass you need to have good vision to identify these tiny pores! As the male gets older these pores will become clearly visible and the male will start to develop hemipenile bulges. Females lack both the preanal pores and hemipenile bulges.
First you will have to have a male Leopard Gecko that is over 5 months of age and a female that is at least 8 months or older. Make sure that your geckos are in good condition. It is recommended that adults are given a change in temperature in order to trigger a breeding season. Start by reducing the temperature to 18 ̊C – 22 ̊C. In my room this is achieved by turning off my heating tapes. During this period no food is offered; only clean water is provided. These conditions are maintained for a period of 2 months. In KZN I do this during June and July. After the two months the temperature is returned back to normal and feeding is resumed. After about three or so weeks I start introducing the male to the females. The first thing that you will witness once the male realises that there is another gecko in the enclosure is that he will start to rattle his tail. He does this to see if this other gecko will rattle its tail back at him, as the females do not rattle their tails. He will then start licking her and then biting her. This might be alarming to see the first time but it is a kind of ‘love bite’ which can look quite aggressive at times. If the female is receptive she will stand up on her legs and raise her tail allowing the male to slide his tail underneath hers to mate. A successful mating only takes 2-3 minutes from start to finish. It has been recorded that with a single mating a female gecko can produce viable eggs for up to a year, but for the best level of fertility a mating at least every 3 weeks will be necessary. I often find that from the first mating it can take a few weeks for the first clutch of eggs to be laid, but once the female starts laying she will lay a clutch about every two weeks. Make sure to have an egg laying box which can be the same as the humid box described above. The female will dig down into the moist sphagnum moss, lay her eggs and then cover them up, so be sure to check in the sphagnum moss regularly. Clutches generally consist of two eggs although young or old females may sometimes just lay one egg. Fertile eggs will be hard and white where as infertile eggs will often be soft and yellowish.
A female Leopard Gecko can only lay a certain number of eggs in her lifetime, between 80-100 eggs. Females that are 2-5 years of age are the most prolific, while you will get fewer eggs from females 5-9 years old. After 9 years the great majority of female Leopard Geckos enter menopause and egg production falls to zero. For breeders this then results in 10-14 eggs per year for the first 6 years per female. It is therefore a good idea for breeders to replace older females every 4-5 years.
Once the eggs have been laid they will need to be removed and placed in an incubation container. This can be a plastic container that is half filled with moist vermiculite. I use a 1:1 weight ratio of water : vermiculite (i.e 100g vermiculite for every 100g water). With this I also make sure to put a few small holes in the lid of the container. Be sure to watch the vermiculite as near the end of the incubation period I find that it starts to get quite dry and I add a bit more water. Ideally an egg incubation tray should be used. Egg incubation trays are an essential tool that both simplifies and improves the incubation process. You can easily keep clutches separated in the four built in compartments that house two eggs each.
It’s design features raised bumps to help increase airflow and numbered quadrants to make record keeping even easier, and they can be stacked when not in use for easy storage. These egg organizers are even dishwasher safe, but keep it on the top rack. The egg incubation trays utilises a technique known as suspended incubation, where the egg does not come directly into contact with the incubation substrate and thereby increases the airflow to the egg.
When it comes to the incubation of Leopard Geckos eggs, temperature is a very important factor if you want to select what sex you are going to breed. If eggs are incubated at 26 ̊C then 100% female Leopard Geckos will hatch. At temperatures of 29.5 ̊C-30.5 ̊C you can get close to an equal number of males and females. At temperatures of 32 ̊C-33 ̊C mostly males are produced. Eggs incubated at higher temperatures can hatch in as little as 33 days where as eggs incubated at the lower temperatures will hatch in about 70 days.
To me Leopard Geckos will always be the most popular gecko when it comes to keeping geckos in captivity. It is a great gecko for the first time enthusiast, but also offers an interesting breeding challenge for the more experienced breeder in its wide variety of different colour morphs.
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