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Reptiles Guide

Leopard gecko

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Leopard Gecko
Leopard gecko, four months old
 
Leopard gecko, four months old
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
 
Phylum: Chordata
 
Class: Reptilia
 
Order: Squamata
 
Suborder: Sauria
 
Family: Gekkonidae
 
Subfamily: Eublepharinae
 
Genus: Eublepharis
 
Species: E. macularius
 
Binomial name
Eublepharis macularius
Blyth, 1854

The Leopard Gecko (Eublepharis macularius) is a nocturnal ground dwelling gecko commonly found in the desert areas of Pakistan, Northwestern India and Afghanistan. The etymology of their name is 'eu' = Good (=true) |'blephar' = Eyelid | 'macularius' = Spotted.

Contents

Characteristics

The leopard gecko gets its common name from the adult coloration of wild specimen, which is generally a cream to yellow ground color with black spots. However, artificial selection in captivity has produced a number of color morphs, distinct from this 'wild-type', possessing many varied colors and patterns. Some of these include: High yellow, orange, striped, patternless (no spots or stripes), lavender, blizzard (which are solid white or gray), and amelanistic (no black pigments in markings).

Leopard geckos are one of only a few gecko species (all of them members of the subfamily Eublepharidae, a small family of tropical/subtropical species found in the Americas, Africa, and Asia. ) that have eyelids. This helps the gecko keep its eyes clean and particle-free in its dusty environment. Most geckos clean and moisten their eyes with their tongues. Another interesting difference in leopard geckos from most other gecko species is the absence of adhesive toe pads. Instead, they have small claws. Leopard geckos cannot climb walls or glass, although their claws give extra traction on the ground and are helpful in digging; the same applies for the same group of old world geckos having eyelids. Like all geckos, they shed their tail if chased or grabbed. Although they will eventually grow a new one, the regenerated tail will differ from the original, appearing bulbous and inferior. If they are handled as a baby, they may become accustomed to handling.

In its natural environment, the leopard gecko lives under rocks or in small caves to avoid temperature extremes. Like many desert dwelling species it is most active at night, hunting insects, spiders, and small rodents as its prey.

Leopard geckos are only slightly sexually dimorphic, with the males being somewhat more heavy-bodied than females. Males possess a V-shaped row of enlarged pre-anal pores and a pair of hemipenal swellings at the base of the tail. Females have pre-anal pits and lack paired swelling at the base of the tail. Gender is differentiated during egg incubation and is dependent on the incubation temperature, but gender characteristics are not visible in young geckos. Incubation temperatures of 78-82 degrees produce males, 82-84 degrees produce both sexes, and 84-88 produce females.

As pets, leopard geckos will gradually adopt non-nocturnal behavior. The best way to ensure this is to handle them frequently, and only during day time.

Leopard Geckos in Captivity

Leopard geckos are widely considered to be a very good pet for a beginning herpetoculturist for several reasons: their small size, ease of care, cleanliness (they tend to defecate in one corner of their enclosure), long life span (up to 35 years), and wide color range. They can usually be handled well by older children with the close supervision of an adult, as their tails can fall off if stressed or frightened.

Leopard geckos are easily available commercially. They are one of the few lizard species regularly bred in captivity in large enough numbers that captive-produced specimens are easily obtained at pet stores. As with crested geckos, leopard geckos are a good choice for someone who wants a pet lizard but doesn't want to keep wild-caught animals. These geckos are very inexpensive especially in contrast to other reptiles and in the context of their beauty, tolerance of being handled, simplicity of care, simplicity to breed & other plusses.

A 'regular' leopard gecko generally consists of mostly yellow, black & green blotches & stripes. Such a gecko can be purchased at most pet stores that have a reptile department and will typically cost between $25-55.

A leucistic leopard gecko.
A leucistic leopard gecko.

In recent years, breeders have created special morphs of leopard geckos to obtain more attractive colouring patterns. These morphs range anywhere from costing $50 or so for a standard tangerine gecko, characterized by an orange body, to up to $2000 for geckos with special stripes, vivid colouring and so forth. Albino leopard geckos can cost over $100. Generally these expensive morphs will not be found in most pet stores & need to be ordered from breeders who specialize in selective bred or newly discovered morphs. Some may carry genetics for these morphs though. Most pet stores do however carry blizzard leopard geckos, characterized as the name implies by a white, often colourless skin. Many stores also carry albino leopard geckos which often have anything ranging from very pretty bands to no pattern at all.

Caring For Leopard Geckos

Choosing

When purchasing a leopard gecko, especially from a pet store, check for signs of illness. One of the best indicators of health is the tail. A healthy leopard gecko will have a fat tail. Avoid purchasing a leopard gecko with a thin tail, as this indicates poor health. Also, they should have all of their digits and these should be thick all the way through. You can also ask the one you are buying from to throw a cricket into their tank to see if they have good appetite. Also beware when purchasing from pet stores because many non-reptile specializing stores will have and sell small adult gecko's (growth stunted at a juvenile size by under feeding), although these smaller gecko's may appear to be perfectly healthy, which they just might be, it is advisable to only purchase an undersized adult with the purpose of keeping it as a pet and never attempting to breed it, as this may be dangerous (bolded is an opinion and may not be true; however, it would appear to be the best course of action), also be cautioned that because of their smaller size they may be more sensitive than an average sized gecko.

Feeding

Leopard geckos feed almost exclusively on live insects. The most commercially-available insects are crickets, which are also the most nutritional staple food source for a leopard gecko. Always remember to periodically "dust" crickets with commercially available powdered calcium for reptiles. Crickets are inexpensive and can be kept in a Rubbermaid container along with a source of moisture and food (available commercially from several companies, or you can simply use a carrot or potato), or in small plastic boxes with egg box inside.

Locusts can be slightly more expensive than crickets and are generally enjoyed more by the gecko. A good food to keep the locusts alive and healthy is to feed them dandelion leaves coated in lizard vitamin powder.

Another possible staple food for leopard geckos are mealworms. Mealworms tend to be very fatty and will thus fatten your gecko up quickly. They can therefore be used as a treat as well (paragraph below) or to fatten geckos before breeding. When fed as a staple, regular mealworms (less than a centimetre each in length) should be used. When mealworms are fed, they can be placed in a small bowl in the gecko's enclosure and left to be consumed (always ensure that the bowl is tall enough that the mealworms cannot climb out of it). Mealworms not used for feeding can be stored for months at a time in a small container in a fridge. Mealworms are quite high in phosphorus.

Mealworms are also ideal if you plan on traveling. Leaving 50-70 mealworms in a bowl will satisfy two or three geckos for up to a week, as long as fresh water is supplied a couple times over that week. This should only be done when necessary (vacation, etc.) as after several days the insects will fully digest their "gutload" and will no longer offer the gecko the same level of nutritional value.

Treats should also be given to geckos occasionally if possible for variation in diet and extra nutrients. Silkworms are semi-attractive white insects that can be fed to geckos. Butterworms are high in fat and are a good supplement to a gecko's diet. Waxworms should be treated as treats and can be offered no more than twice a month due to their high fat content. Pinkie (baby) mice can also be fed to adult female geckos who are gravid.

Food items should be dusted in a calcium powder (available at pet stores) almost every other feeding. Products containing D-3 should not be used more than weekly as this substance can be dangerous in large doses. To dust, simply place food items in a small plastic bag with a bit of the calcium dust and shake. A small dish (such as a milk bottle top) of pure calcium should also be left in the enclosure at all times.

Feeding schedules are very subjective. Up until one year of age, geckos should be fed at least five times a week up to seven times a week with appropriately sized crickets. Adult geckos can be fed anywhere from every other day to two or three times weekly as long as they appear healthy and their tail (which contains fat reserves) remains healthy.

A small dish of purified water should be kept in the enclosure at all times and changed four or more times a week as needed.

It is important to note that all insects fed to a leopard gecko need to be "gut loaded". This is a process in which the insects are fed on a healthy diet which can consist of oats, fish food, bran flakes, cereal, fruit, etc. Many companies exist that produce commercial made gut load food. Without gut loading an insect is nothing more than a "empty shell" and offers little nuitritional value to the leopard gecko.

Many people new to keeping reptiles have heard an urban legend that mealworms can eat through a lizard's stomach, and that you need to decapitate mealworms before feeding them to a leopard gecko. These rumors are false; there are no confirmed cases of this occurring.

Housing

Many people own and house multiple geckos. They can be kept separately or in groups. Female leopard geckos are able to be housed in groups, but problems with stress and dominance are likely to occur, so it is not advised. If females are to be housed together then it is important to offer enough space. A 35-gallon aquarium would be sufficient for three females (at least 10-gallons for every gecko). Males must be housed separately. They will fight over territory and some cases of fighting have lead to death of one or both of the geckos.

A male shouldn't be housed full-time with less than three females during breeding. The male's perpetual sex drive will stress out the females over time, so it is therefore advisable to house males in a separate enclosure from the females during non-breeding months. Adult leopard geckos of the opposite sex housed together will mate. Each female will deposit eggs every 4-6 weeks in increments of 1-2 eggs per laying. Female geckos are prone to calcium deficiencies with overly demanding deposition schedules. In gravid females are also prone to developing metabolic bone disease or becoming egg bound.

A 20 gallon aquarium can house a single adult gecko its entire life. Naturally, a 30 gallon would be more adequate and allow for a better thermal gradient.

For housing more than two adult geckos, a general rule to follow is to start at 20 gallons & add another 10 gallons for each additional gecko (i.e. 2 geckos = 30 gallons minimum; 4 = 50 etc).

Hides

A single Leopard gecko enclosure should contain at least 3 hides. A hide should reside on the warm end of the enclosure, one on the cool end of the enclosure, and the third should be a moist hide which is best located on the warmer side of the enclosure. Be aware that these geckos can not fly.

Hides need to be large enough to accommodate the geckos. Multiple hides of each type may be needed to avoid crowding.

Humid Hides

A humid hide (or moist hide) can aid in shedding and are good places for eggs to be laid. A humid hide can be fashioned from a plastic tub with a hole cut out of the side or top. The bottom of the humid hide can then be covered with dampened moss or paper towel. It is important that the moss or paper towel is damp at times of shedding. Without the increased humidity these shelters provide, unshed skin can not be left around the toes or tail tip. If this condition is allowed to persist, the tail tip or affected toes can be lost.

Substrate

Many leopard gecko owners still suggest the use of sand and other granular substrates, but these are known to be unsafe (especially calcium based sands such as repti-cal)to all leopard geckos, especially those under 5 inches.

Granular substrates have been known to cause impactions in leopard geckos. There are two types of impaction that could occur. The first is called an acute impaction. An acute impaction is when the leopard gecko swallows a large amount of substrate and it blocks the vital organs used to process food. (Stomach, intestinal tract, etc.) This type of impaction will lead to lethargy, lack of appetite, lack of bowel movements and sand in the stool.

The other type of impaction, and often the most deadly form, is the chronic impaction. A chronic impaction is the slow accumulation of sand that binds to the lining of the intestinal tract. Over time, and often years, it will create a blockage. This blockage will also have the same detrimental effects as an acute impaction. The biggest problem with this type of impaction is that when it is discovered, it is most often too late to cure. To prevent this possibility, avoid all granular substrates.

Substrates that are safe would include unprinted newspaper, paper towels, Repti carpet (making sure to keep check of any frayed edges), Non-adhesive shelf liner and slate / ceramic tile.

Linoleum can not be used because when heated it releases fumes from the adhesive which can be toxic. Cloth or regular carpet can also cause nails and claws to be caught and tangled.

Heating (daytime)

The most common and often the most preferred method of heating an enclosure for leopard geckos is with the use of an under tank heater (UTH) also known as heat mats.

UTHs adhere to the bottom of the glass aquariums and should be placed on one end and cover about 1/3 of the bottom of the enclosure. The spot in the enclosure that has the UTH under it will be considerably warmer than the rest of the enclosure. There should be a hide spot/spots placed over this location. This is where the geckos can receive the warmth required to aid in thermoregulation and digestion. The use of a thermostat will allow you to change the amount of heat that is emitted by the UTH.

Other methods of heating an enclosure are ceramic heat emitters and basking lights. Heat rocks should not be used in reptile enclosures, as these will cause thermal burns.

The ideal temperature range to house a leopard gecko at would be 88-92F in the warmer side of the enclosure (where the UTH or heating device is located.) The cooler end of the enclosure should not fall below 77F but should also not exceed 84F. There should be a hide spot located on this end of the enclosure as well.

The purpose of having this type of setup is to allow the gecko to thermoregulate its body temperature. Unlike humans, geckos are cold blooded. They depend upon external heat sources and cool spots to adjust their bodies' core temperature. If a proper heat gradient is not supplied, the gecko could become too cool or hot and become ill or die. One of the most common mistakes first-time keepers of leopard geckos make is not giving the geckos warm and cool hiding places in their enclosures. If hiding places are provided only in the cool end of the enclosure, the geckos may stay on the "cool side" all day. If heating systems are turned off at night when the geckos emerge, they will not have the chance to raise their body temperatures high enough to properly digest food. This is especially dangerous for juveniles, which need to eat more often than adults.

Heating (night time)

In the wild, evening temperatures differ from those during the day. This can be duplicated in captivity as well, although the geckos will appreciate warm temperatures at night. A nightly temperature range similar to the range provided during the day will allow the geckos to be more active at night, which is when they prefer to feed and move about.

Night temperatures in a leopard gecko enclosure should be no lower than 68F (20C). If you are using a ceramic heat emitter or heating pad for your gecko enclosure, it should be left on. This will allow the geckos to have an end of the enclosure that is warmer than the other, just as they would during the day. An idea is to purchase a heating pad, as to keep one side side of the cage warm. The light should also be placed on this side of the cage.

Temperature monitoring

It is crucial that you monitor your leopard gecko's enclosure. This can be done with the use of a digital thermometer; the use of two thermometers is recommended so that each end of the enclosure can be monitored. It is more economical to purchase a single digital thermometer with an external probe to monitor the temperatures. The "base" of the thermostat can be placed on the warm end of the enclosure and the "probe" can be placed on the cool end. This will allow you to monitor both ends of the enclosure off a single unit. Many pet stores sell small round dial thermometer for use in reptile enclosures, but these are sometimes inaccurate. Strip thermometers that are used in fish tanks cannot be used either because they are designed to measure the temperature of the air around them, whereas the probe measures the temperature of the substrate, which is more important.

Lighting

Leopard geckos are nocturnal. This means that they are more active during the evening hours and darkness than during the daytime. This also means that they do not require the expensive UV lighting that iguanas and other diurnal reptiles do. A red lightbulb can be used to view the leopard gecko at night without disturbing it as their eyes cannot see this color. Leopard geckos require an average of 12 hours as a photoperiod. Commercial light-timers can be used to achieve this lighting schedule.

Captive Breeding

Leopard Geckos become sexually mature at around 15-30 months of age. In order to produce healthy hatchlings, females are best at a weight of 45 grams. Males however do not need to be of any specific weight once sexual maturity is reached (though an obese male may be reluctant to mate).

Leopard Geckos usually breed from around March to September, though it may begin as early as january and finish as late October. They are also influenced to reproduce by subtle drops in temperature during winter.

If upon inspection of the translucent abdominal skin on a female there is the visual appearance of developing eggs, the female should mate immediately when introduced to a male. Two matings should be allowed to take place in order to insure that successful fertilisation has occured.

When a male and female are introduced, the male begins to beat his tail against the ground producing a thumping noise. In response, the female silently sways her tail from side to side along the ground. Following this, the male will lick her to to obtain her sent, then begin gently biting her from the lower body upwards. If the female does not wish to mate, she will bite back and the male will cease his activity. If she accepts, he will continue up to her neck, making his body parallel to hers and placing his hind leg over her tail, and inserting one of his hemipenes.

Roughly a month later, the female will lay either one or two eggs. Clutches of two eggs will then be laid monthly throughout the rest of the mating season, though this varies from female to female according to age, with older females laying less.

Egg Incubation

Leopard geckos are temperature sexed. During the incubation stage an egg incubated at 79-83 degrees Fahrenheit (26-28C) will yield a female where an egg incubated at 84-90 degrees Fahrenheit (29-32 C) will typically yield a male. Eggs incubated at too low of a temperature, below 79 degrees Fahrenheit (26 C), will yield sterile, underdeveloped mutated babies which will eventually die due to poor development. It is also important to keep the eggs in a moist environment and water-retaining soil, such as vermiculite.

References

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