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Leopard Gecko

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You can keep a male with 1 to 10 females all their life. Cage size is the only limiting factor.

Keep a jar lid full of vitamin-mineral powder available in the cage at all times.

These are the main points for daily care and keeping, but should you wish to deal with the breeding of leopard geckos, there are detailed sources of information at your local pet shop or from the ever-growing Internet. Always keep in mind that your gecko is subject to the temperatures and food you provide. If the temperature is not warm enough the lizard will not feed well and if the feed is not nutritionally balanced their bones will not form properly. This is true for all reptile pets.

In captivity, leopard geckos are best fed mealworms, (Tenebrio molitor), or crickets, which you can order through the mail or purchase at any bait or pet shop. It is important to "power feed" such food items for 24-48 hours prior to giving them to your pet. This is done simply by using a cut-down one-gallon plastic milk jug that is filled with chicken or hog feed. Place a piece of potato or carrot in the jug to provide a source of water for the insects. The idea is to fill the insect with nutritious food itself so that your pet can then fill itself with a balanced diet. Many shop owners do not feed their insects such diets and if you merely feed-out recently purchased insects then your lizard will suffer from poor health within 3-6 weeks. The first signs of such nutritional problems are a soft or shortened lower jaw or bent limbs.

Leopard geckos are sexually mature at 10 months of age and usually lay their first pairs of eggs of the season from January to August. First-time females will sometimes only lay a single egg, but a sure sign that you have done a good job raising your female gecko is seen when two fertile eggs are laid in the box of moist soil you have been providing. From then on, a clutch will always consist of two eggs unless your female is old or sick. Older females may lay 10-16 eggs per season. A fertile egg feels like a stale marshmellow while an infertile egg looks and feels like a half-filled hot water bottle.

Eggs are easy to hatch. In fact, you get to have a powerful job, if you wish, since gecko eggs are temperature sex dependent. This means that the sex of the gecko is not determined at fertilization, but is set during the first two weeks in captivity by the high daytime temperature you expose the eggs to. A daytime high that does not exceed 82 F will give you all female offspring, but if you want to make that egg a "male" then you simply place the egg where it will experience 90-92 F as a daytime high during the first two weeks of incubation. Do not keep "male" eggs at a constant 90-92 F or you will have some embryos die from heat stress or they may become what we call "hot" or high temperature females, which never reproduce and often bully their cage mates.

Now that you have learned a bit of science you can place your new eggs in a plastic container of moist potting soil, Vermiculite or Perlite. Bury the eggs only 1/2" and place two or three push-pin size air-holes in a tight fitting lid. You can get fancy and buy a commercial incubator if you are after a particular sex or you can just place the container of eggs on a high shelf in your reptile room or home where the temperature varies from 74-94 F. (Don't worry if you only have a single female as a pet. She may lay eggs and of course they will be infertile.) Young will emerge on their own in 60-70 days using this method of incubation.

Care of the young is the same as for the adults. They begin taking 1/4" crickets or one-inch mealworms at day 3 of their lives. Plastic shoeboxes are ideal homes for babies. At our reptile ranch we use #2 styrofoam meat trays (available in your grocery store) upside-down for a hide box, a pickle jar lid serves as a place for vitamin-mineral powder and the mealworms and a peanut butter jar lid works perfectly for a water bowl. The young need to be fed live insects daily or they may bite off the tails of their cage-mates. Always sort the young to size every two weeks as there will be one or two babies that outgrow everyone else and once this competition begins it is only a matter of time before a small gecko will be eaten by its big brother or sister. If you wish to feed baby mice to an adolescent gecko you can achieve larger size and for a female you will get more eggs laid per season.

Just how long will your pet gecko live? Well, we have had female leopard geckos live 19 years and a friend in Florida had a male, that died recently, that lived a verifiable 27 years! Females are usually able to lay up to the age of 8 years without problem. Again, the key is a proper nutritional foundation; especially during that first year of life.

If you have made a choice to select a leopard gecko as a pet, all you have to do now is find a healthy specimen. A gecko in top condition will have a fat tail - usually 3/4 of the thickness of their neck; they will be alert when awake and the colors should be bright. Kindly, ask your pet shop manager to throw in a live cricket with any gecko you are considering. If the gecko immediately goes after the food item then that is a gecko for you. Avoid lizards that do not readily open their eyes when touched or that have old skin stuck to their toes or are thin.

The normal phase leopard geckos are seasonally available in pet shops while the "designers" must be had directly from the breeder or at some of the larger reptile expositions. Generally, geckos can be bought during the hatching season, from April to October, without any problem. The most difficult months to make a purchase are usually January and February. Shipping through the mail is quite simple and safe.

With all the new color and pattern variations occurring in this species, its future will likely take on the huge assortment of mutations seen in the common goldfish. So far, the first albino has not appeared on the scene, but that is only a matter of time. (this article was written in 1996, but now in 1999 the first albinos are on the market.) Designer leopard geckos, which are all black or snow white and even all orange are now being developed.

The leopard gecko has become a top reptile choice for anyone at any level of experience. They will never let you down as long as you follow the basic care. The rewards are worth it.

Written by: Ron Tremper, Center for Reptile & Amphibian Propagation, Boerne, Texas

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