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Leopard Geckos

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Leopard Gecko Care Sheet

The leopard gecko (Eublepharis macularius), native of Pakistan, is a gentle, hardy, long-lived animal that is in many ways the perfect reptile pet.

Unlike their distant cousins the tokay gecko, leopards seldom even attempt to bite.

In a recent letter to the editor of Reptiles magazine, a reader noted a  leopard gecko that was a family pet for almost thirty years!

Leopard geckos are also very easy to maintain in that:
They reach only a foot in overall length, and don't outgrow a ten or fifteen gallon aquarium
They pick a single corner of the enclosure to use as a litter area, facilitating cleanup.
They are nocturnal and don't require the use of expensive UV light bulbs.
They don't require high heat like bearded dragons.
They eat mealworms and crickets, and don't require a vegetarian diet.
Virtually all leopards are now captive hatched in this country, eliminating  shipping stress and parasites found in imported iguanas and other lizards.

Gecko Care

As published in our article in the premier issue of Chit Chat. Newsletter of the Global Gecko Association

Descripton:

Overall the leopard gecko reaches a length of about 10 inches, and gets its  name from the leopard like spots which cover the bodies of adult  animals. Baby leopard geckos are born with dark transverse bands, which  lighten as they grow into the spotted adults. Their general background  color is yellow and lavender, although a number of new color phases have arisen through captive breeding. Some of the existing phases are  animals with hi-yellow, white or lavender background color, striped,  jungle and other pattern anomalies, and leucistic (actually hypomelanistic) and albino genetic mutations. Leopard geckos are members of the sub-family Eublepharinae, or the eye-lidded geckos. Many geckos lack eyelids, but the leopard geckos' are movable, which allow them to blink and close their eyes while sleeping. Toe pads, which are useful in climbing vertical walls and glass aquaria are not present in the  leopard gecko. There are tiny claws on the end of the toe.

Like many lizards, the leopard gecko has a tail which breaks off readily when grabbed by a predator. This permits the gecko to get away if attacked,  but leaves a valuable food resource behind; the tail is used as a fat  storage reservoir for lean periods. One of the most notable traits about leopard geckos, which has led to their great popularity, is their  unusually gentle disposition. Leopards in captivity appear to recognize their keepers, and are at times content to sit on a shoulder for hours.  It takes a significant amount of provoking before a leopard gecko will  bite.

Distribution:

Leopard geckos are found in southern Asia, in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq.

Natural History:

Leopard geckos inhabit arid regions, particularly rocky deserts and sparse grasslands. They avoid sandy deserts. They are strictly nocturnal, keeping out of the heat of the day, emerging at night from holes and  crevices to hunt for food. In the wild they mainly feed on a variety of insects, including scorpions, but will also eat other lizards. Animal often live in loose colonies. Leopard geckos are seldom found off of the ground.

Housing in Captivity:

The cage setup for leopard geckos can be as simple or elaborate, as you like. A single pet animal can be maintained in a ten gallon aquarium with a  paper substrate. If you prefer, they can be maintained on reptile  carpet, gravel or orchid bark. The use of sand as a substrate is not  recommended for leopard geckos. They will occasionally ingest too much sand in their craving for calcium or accidentally during hunting activities, causing a sand impaction that could become quite serious.  Basically, the cage substrate should be too large for them to swallow,  and dust-free.

Pet leopard geckos will choose one comer of the  tank to relieve themselves, and use it solely. This facilitates cleanup. You can place a piece of paper towel in the appropriate corner, and  spot-clean quickly and easily. Leopard geckos require a cage temperature about 85F. A heat source on one end, which will provide a thermal  gradient in the cage is recommended. This is best accomplished with heat from above; hot rocks do not provide the necessary cage heat, and have been known to cause severe burns. Red incandescent bulbs placed above  one end of the cage not only provide the needed heat, but also provide  light to view the animals in the evening when they are active. It is important that the nighttime temperature not drop too low (about 80  degrees F at the warm end) or the animals will not eat. As the geckos  are nocturnal, expensive UV lights are not necessary.

In addition to hiding places at both the warm and cool ends of the cage, a  plastic shoe box or small freezer container, with a hole cut in the lid, is provided for the geckos. Inside the box, there is a damp peat moss/vermiculite mixture. This hide box not only provides a place for  females to lay eggs, but also provides the humidity required for the  geckos to shed properly. In a ten gallon tank, there is usually room for just one hide box. This should be a moist box and the box should be  placed in the middle of the tank. An alternative is to spray a warm corner of the enclosure 3-4 times per week. If a moist area for shedding is not provided, the shed skin may remain on the toes and constrict,  eventually causing the loss of the toe.

Groups of juvenile or  female leopard geckos can be maintained in the same cage. Young animals, however, must be housed with others of their own size, or the smaller  pets in the cage will be dominated by the larger ones, and will not do  well.

Food and Feeding:

Leopard geckos can be fed mealworms or crickets, with an occasional meal of wax worms or a pink mouse when they are older. When maintaining a large colony of  geckos, mealworms are significantly less work than crickets. There  appears to be no significant difference in health or growth rate between geckos fed crickets or meal worms. Wax worms are a good supplement or treat, but are too fatty and not nutritious enough for a regular diet. Start with a feeding schedule of once daily or every other day. Babies  seem to prefer to chase their meals, adults will eat mealworms out of a shallow dish. Feed early evening if possible .The pet geckos soon learn  when it is dinner time, and will come out of their hide boxes to eat. Some appear to enjoy being hand-fed. Feed as many mealworms/crickets as  they will eat in a single feeding. If the animal eats what is provided, put in a couple more food items to see if they are eaten as well, to help gauge the correct amount of food. Be sure to remove any crickets  that are not eaten in a feeding, as they will annoy and unduly stress the geckos. Baby geckos that are getting enough food will shed every two weeks or so. Adults should be hefty, but not obese with a nice, fat  tail. Leopard geckos require a shallow dish for water and a calcium source. With many other species of gecko, crickets and mealworms need to be dusted with calcium; the leopard geckos will lick the calcium powder right out of a shallow dish if provided.

Health:

Leopard geckos adapt well to captivity and have been known to live 20-30 years. They are not highly susceptible to health problems, and seem to enjoy  being handled. Like many lizards, their tails will break off as a  defense mechanism if handled roughly. The tail will grow back fairly  quickly, although it will not be as elegant as the original.

Breeding:

It is very difficult to sex leopard geckos before they are about three months old. At this time, the sexual characteristics of the male can be  seen, especially if a magnifier is used. The male is identified by the presence of hemipenes, seen as bulges at the base of the tail.The male also has femoral (preanal) pores above the tail.The female has a row of modified cells where the pores would normally be, but there are no visible pores (see figures, male is on the right)

For  breeding, we keep a ratio of about 8-10 females to one male per enclosure, which is a custom-designed open tub with 2 x 4 foot floor dimensions.

Other breeders have had equal success with less  females per male, but we do not recommend a setup with less than three females, as the males become aggressive during breeding and may dominate the females if too few are present. Two males should not be placed together in the same enclosure, or they will fight. If you wish to keep  smaller numbers of animals, remove the male after a couple weeks and reintroduce him to the harem at monthly intervals. Female can retain  sperm, so they do not need the constant presence of a male in order to produce several clutches of eggs.

In the fall, the males are removed from the enclosure and all the animals are slightly cooled in the evening, allowing the nighttime temperature to fall into the mid 70's. The males are then introduced during this cooling period. Leopard  geckos lay two eggs at a time, doing this numerous times over several months. The females will then bury the eggs in the vermiculite/peat  mixture, and mound the substrate over the eggs. Usually, you can tell at a glance if you have eggs; all the substrate will be pushed to one end of the laying box. The eggs are removed daily and placed in an incubator in the same peat/vermiculite mixture. The sex of leopard geckos is  determined by incubation temperature. At 90 degrees F, virtually all the babies are male; near 80, most of the babies will be female.

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