Leopard Gecko Care sheet
in the wild originate from Pakistan, Afghanistan and northwestern India. They are nocturnal which means they should be active mostly at night but during the day our geckos tend to be inquisitive and take a wander around their homes to see what's going on.
They belong to the family Eublepharidae, which includes all geckos that have movable eyelids. Their scientific name is Eublepharis macularius, which translates to 'true eyelid spotted', personally I prefer Leopard Gecko.
Housing And Environment
There are different kinds of acceptable environments available for which to house Leopard Geckos. A basic set-up for Leopard Geckos would be:
The vivarium or box they are housed in can be as elaborate or as plain as you like, as a general guide one juvenile / small adult can be housed comfortably in a contico or other plastic type box measuring
16inch by 11inch. We quarantine our new leo's in boxes of this size. Two or three adult geckos can live comfortably in a viv or box measuring around 36inch by 18inch with a height of at least 18inch if you plan to install lighting.
Leopard Geckos need somewhere to hide. If there are no adequate places for them to hide they can become stressed. Hides can be made from anything from margarine tubs to coconut shells.
All of our Geckos have a moist box kept in their home at all times, during the day they tend to sleep in there. Moist hides are particularly important during shedding times to help remove their skin.
Heating and Temperature are very important to the health of you Leopard Geckos.Leopard Geckos need heat to thermo-regulate, as they do not produce their own body heat internally. They need an external heat source to help them digest their food as well as regulate other bodily functions. Leopard geckos obtain their heat through their underside so the best source of heat is a heat-mat placed under either the substrate or under the tank itself. The mat needs to cover between half or 1/3 of the bottom of the enclosure. The temperature of the floor of your enclosure where the geckos bask should read between 84-88 degrees Fahrenheit.
Leopard Geckos do not need artificial lighting or UV light, which some reptiles do require, but they do need to know whether it is day or night. In our vivariums we have lights to help heat their enclosure. Depending on the size of your viv determines the wattage of the bulb needed. We have our lights on a timer. In the room where our reptiles live we have a red bulb as they cannot detect it, and we can observe them during the night without disturbing them.
There are different substrates available on the market today. Some substrates can cause impaction when eaten. Hatchlings and young Geckos should be kept on kitchen roll. Once they are big enough, around 6 inch in length, they can be moved on to something else. I would recommend fine sand, as we have never experienced a problem.
Leopard Gecko Food and Water
The diet and dietary supplements of your leopard gecko are very important in order to maintain their health.
Leopard Geckos are insectivorous which means they are insect eaters.
Before you purchase your first Leopard Gecko, we would advise that you find a regular supplier of food.
Check around to find your local reptile shop or find a reliable supplier on-line.
There are different sizes and colours of crickets. Some make noises some don't. As a rule you should feed your gecko food items which are no more than the length, and less than half the width, of the lizards head. Black crickets are slower than brown crickets thus making them easier for your gecko to catch. Crickets are known to nibble on geckos, so it is not advisable to leave crickets in the enclosure overnight without something to eat like a small amount of grated apple or carrot.
Mealworms were the breeder's choice for a staple diet before crickets became widely available. Many longevity records have been set by animals that have been fed almost exclusively on mealworms. When feeding mealworms to your animals it can be an advantage to feed them newly moulted worms as this reduces the amount of chitin and increases the nutritional value ratio.
We like to vary our geckos diet and locusts of the appropriate size can offer a high protein package. It is usually only the high cost, which prevents locusts from being considered as a staple dietary item.
You should not feed waxworms as a staple diet as they have a high fat content and can prove addictive. Feeding them one or two per week as a treat is sufficient.
Silkworms are sometimes difficult to get hold of but if you can they are a very good source of proteins, vitamins and minerals. Only purchase enough to last you one to two weeks as they have a short shelf life.
Hatchlings and young geckos can be fed 4-8 food items once per day. Adults can be fed 4-10 food items of the appropriate size every 2-3 days. Geckos being nocturnal prefer to hunt their prey at night, so it is advised to place food items with your Geckos after dusk.
As well as our calcium dish we use Nutrobal once every week to powder their food. Nutrobal is a high potency calcium balancer and multivitamin supplement to help bone growth in snakes, lizards and tortoises. Leopard Geckos cannot overdose on calcium but they can on vitamins.
Fresh clean water should be available at all times. We see some of our geckos drinking regularly from our water dishes. Some Geckos have been known to use their water dish as a toilet, if this is so it will need cleaning as soon as possible. If the leo continues to spoil the water then you will have to remove the dish and only place it back in the viv until the leo has drunk its fill. Then remove the dish once more. If you keep doing this for a few days, then the gecko should pick a new location as a toilet.
Health and Disease
Leopard Geckos being quite hardy and very tolerant with their environmental requirements makes it unlikely that you will have any health related problems with them at all. They will not often suffer from the diseases and ailments list below, they are included here only to make you aware of some of the medical problems that can occur in rare situations.
Metabolic bone disease (Hypocalcemia)
MDB is caused when a leopard geckos diet does not contain enough calcium. In order for the leo to attain higher levels of usable calcium the leo's body then begins to extract calcium from its own bones. Symptoms associated with this include lethargy, painful swollen joints, unusual curvature of the legs, soft jaws and an overall weakness in the animal. With leopard geckos being somewhat more resistant to complications regarding low calcium levels and this being one of the most easily preventable diseases that can occur you should almost never see this problem. To prevent MBD all you need to be aware of is that you need to add calcium supplements to the live food you are providing to your geckos be they meal worms or crickets etc
Gecko's will drop their tails if they are threatened or grabbed by the tail. Cage mates have been known to accidentally grab the tail of another, which has caused the tail to drop. If this happens you should remove the gecko as soon as possible, keep them warm, fed and watered regularly as they use their tails as fat reserves and are more vulnerable to stress at this time. The tail will grow back but it will not look the same as the old one. It will be shorter and fatter than the original.
You should quarantine every new reptile for at least 3 months to prevent the spread of disease and parasites between your animals. Once you are completely satisfied that your reptile is healthy should you introduce it to your other animals.
With leopard gecko's respiratory infections can be caused by prolonged exposure to temperatures less than 73 Degrees Fahrenheit or humidity levels that are too high. Low temperature causes a suppressed immune system, which allows respiratory infection to take hold. Symptoms are usually not easy to identify and may just be the signs that your leo is in a distressed state and seems to be panting and leaving the mouth slightly open most of the time. Mild cases can easily be cured by making the temperature in the enclosure slightly higher, a day time temperature of around 84-90 degrees Fahrenheit with a night time temp drop to no less than 80 degrees. If symptoms persist it is recommended that you seek expert advice from your local veterinary surgeon.
Leopard geckos will shed their skin every 2 to 5 weeks although you may not notice them shed every time that they do. Leopard geckos eat their own shed skin in order to harvest some of the vitamins and minerals from it. The illustrations below show a Leopard gecko through various stages of its shedding cycle.
The frequency of the shed is determined mostly by the growth rate of the gecko. If everything goes well the leopard gecko will shed and consume its skin with a minimum of difficulties. In order for the gecko to have an easier shed it is advised to make sure that the vivarium contains a humid hide (wet box). The gecko should lie in the hide during the day and the humidity can help soften the shedding skin, also you can mist the vivarium or the gecko directly if the gecko is reluctant to use the humid hide and appears to be having some difficulties shedding.
After the gecko has shed it's skin it is important to check that the skin has been totally removed. Places that you should pay close attention to are the toes and tip of the tail. If dead skin is still located in these areas a gently misting or raising the humidity in the hide may help the skin shed. If the gecko is still struggling to shed its skin then create a bath of lukewarm water or shed-ease about ½ an inch deep and let the gecko soak in it for 5-10 minutes then attempt to remove the dead skin with a moist cotton bud.
Breeding and Incubating
The breeding of Leopard Geckos is relatively easy, before you begin to breed them however I must stress that the decision to breed your leo's or not should not be taken lightly. Ask yourself the following questions.
What do you need for breeding
The basics that you will need to think about before you start breeding are listed blow.
Once you have the Leopard geckos that are sexually mature and in good health it's time to look into the possibility of mating them. The breeding season for Leos runs from February to September, although you can mate them out of season it is advised to follow their natural breeding season as much as possible. It is also worth mentioning very young or underweight female leos can sometimes be mated successfully but may not produce viable eggs, or will only produce the odd one or two eggs. If you are attempting to mate young/underweight leos I must also point out that this can cause stress and lead to the premature death to your breeders.
Some breeders condition their animals before mating, the photoperiod is reduced down to 6-10 hours, the temperature in the vivariums is reduced by 10-15 degrees Fahrenheit and the amount of available food is reduced. Conditioning is usually done from late November to early January and usually lasts about 8 weeks. After this period of time the photoperiod, temperatures and available food is slowly returned to normal levels.
Breeding introduction technique
There are two main ways that people house their breeder geckos,
In the weeks following the introduction you will notice the female putting on weight around the abdomen, if you were to turn her over at this point you may notice the outline of her eggs through her abdominal skin. The development time for the eggs varies between females, anything from 2-5 weeks is common. When the female is about to lay she will get restless and wonder around her enclosure and occasionally dig in the substrate. Some females will also eat less, or nothing at all, as the time to lay approaches. On the day that she actually lays she will almost probably re-arrange her enclosure. Once you notice the females looking restless you should introduce a laying box to the vivarium, laying boxes can easily be made from small containers measuring about 8L x 4W x 2H inch filled with moist moss, perlite or vermiculite.
A Leopard Geckos sex is temperature determined. This means that you can determine what sex your hatchlings will be by incubating at a specific temperature. Incubating at 85 degrees Fahrenheit will give you a good balance of male to female hatchlings. Incubating at around 82 degrees Fahrenheit will give you mostly females and upping the incubation temperature to 88 degrees Fahrenheit will give you mostly males. It is thought that the temperature determined sex is only within the first 21 days of incubation, after this period of time the sex of the hatchling is locked in.
All being well your hatchlings will hatch from the egg in the next 40-60 days after being laid. I would recommend moving them into separate containers at this point so it is easy to monitor their health and feeding.
This is a picture of a hatchling on the day it hatched. It is about 1.5 inch long (3-4cm).
Leopard Gecko Genetics
Leopard Geckos morph, patterns or colouration are controlled by three main factors, Genes, Selective Breeding and incubation temperature. As an introduction to genetics I have created a table below which will attempt to identify what method is used to produce some of todays available morphs.
Although all of the morphs in the above table can be improved by modifying the incubation temperature I have only identified one in the list, as this is of special note. As a general rule the higher the incubation temp. the lighter and brighter the colours, the lower temps are used to darken hatchling colours and are used for chocolate Albinos and Melanistic morphs.
Genetic terms and words
Within the study of genetics and leopard gecko breeding several words and terms are used to describe the genetic properties of a hatchling, it is important to understand these phrases so I have listed some below with brief explanations.
Het or Heterozygous: This means that the hatchling is carrying the gene for a specific trait but only one gene out of a pair is of the special trait. For example hatchlings could have a gene for Albino, Blizzard or Patternless but would not express the trait outwardly as only one half of a set of paired genes has the mutation.
Homozygous: This is the opposite of Heterozygous (Het) and means the the hatchling is carrying two copies of a specific gene one each from it's parents. This would cause the hatchling to express the given trait in its Phenotype.
Phenotype: Is used to describe the way a hatchling looks, for example if the hatchling is a Blizzard, Patternless or an Albino, where its genetic makeup can be visibly detailed this is the Phenotype of the hatchling.
Genotype: Is used to describe the genetic make up of a hatchling whether it be seen or not, so a Blizzard Het Albino would be its Genotype, its Phenotype would be Blizzard as this is the only visible genetic trait that is outwardly displayed.
Recessive Trait: Refers to traits that are not expressed when combined with a dominant trait. All Albino, Blizzard and Patternless traits are recessive in Leopard Geckos.
Line Bred Traits: This refers to traits that were produced through selective breeding. Breeders selected the best examples of these traits in their collections and bred them together. Traits such as Tangerine, Hypo and Carrot Tail are all line-bred traits. These traits are not controlled by a pair of genes, but a selection of increase / decrease alleles. For example if you had a great specimen of a Leopard Gecko who had a 90% carrot tail and you bred it to a normal phase Leopard Gecko. What you would get is a diverse range of hatchlings showing varying amounts of Carrot Tail, some may even show no Carrot colour at all!
Genetic gene probablity calculations
Albino Example: Now that we have described some of the concepts of genetics lets try and put some of them in to practice to determine what genotypes and phenotypes can me made from albino parents. When determining what genes will be past on to a pairs offspring it is sometimes easier to define it in a chart. The chart to the right shows the results of pairing a Male Albino to a Normal female, all the offspring will be het albinos. You will notice the dominant (normal) gene is always represented by an uppercase letter and the mutated gene as a lowercase letter.
Albino Example 2: Now lets examine a grid where we breed an Albino Male to a Het Albino female. The blue letters represent the genes for albino that can be passed on by the Male, the pink letters represent the genes that could be passed on by the Female. From the diagram you can see that 50% of the offspring will have a phenotype of Albino (the ones with a pair of albino genes) and 50% will be het for albino, the offspring containing only one copy of the albino gene.
Double Het Example : Lets say we have a pair of leos which are both het for Patternless & Albino. We breed these two together and get the table which is to the right. It looks confusing as there is a lot going on so I will colour code the result for ease of viewing. Out of this double het pairing only 1 hatchling in 16 will show both traits ie have a phenotype of Patternless Albino, which is marked in red. Anything that has a phenotype of Albino is shown in green and anything having a phenotype of Patternless is shown in white. The black results have a phenotype of Normal. Below I have listed both the Phenotype and Genotype results of the pairings in a table format.
Triple Het Example : Lets say we have a pair of leos which are both het for Patternless, Albino & Blizzard. We are attempting to create some Banana Blazing Blizzards from triple hets, a long shot I know. The results are shown in the two tables below. Red denotes a Banana Blazing Blizzard hatchling, as you can see there is a 1 in 64 chance of hatching one. Patternless Albinos are shown in white, Blazing Blizzards in green & Banana Blizzards in yellow.
Creating a multi gene morph:
If we want to create a multi gene morph from scratch we have several options depending on what animals we have to start with. Lets say we would like to produce a Leopard Gecko with a Phenotype of Patternless Albino. Below in the table I have listed some of the starting points a breeder may be starting from.
It is possible to start with a breeding pair which is only het for a trait but this relies on a lot of luck and it could take a breeder years to produce a Patternless Albino. In year one the breeder would breed together the pair of Hets incubate half of the eggs for male and the other half for female. Only one in four of the offspring will carry (be heterozygous for) both of the required genes. So if the breeding pair produce 8 eggs, 4 incubated for Male and 4 incubated for female, if luck is on the breeders side then 1 of the Males and 1 of the females are carrying both the requred genes. On year two the breeder would have to select breeding pairs and examine the results of year two's breeding. The breeder could expect a couple of albino and patternless or if luck is with the breeder a Patternless Albino. The breeding pairs on subsequent years would have to be shuffled around to identify which traits the breeding pairs carry or until a pair produce a Patternless Albino. The original pair from year one would also be bred each year to produce more suspected hets. This method is long and tedius and unlikely to produce reasonable results, although the breeder may be able to jump to starting point 1 on year two and produce a patternless albino on year three.
I have chosen 3 viable starting points for a breeding project..
Starting point 1
is the one of longest methods to use as you can not produce any Patternless Albinos in year one. The advantage of starting with a homozygous pair is that you know the Genotype of every hatchling. In this example all hatchlings will be Het. Patternless Het. Albino. On year one the breeder will introduce the Homozygous pair for mating then incubate 2 eggs for male and the rest for female.
To Be Continued...