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The leopard gecko (Eublepharis macularius), is one of the most commonly kept reptiles in the pet industry. Many factors contribute to this including easy of feeding, minimal space requirements, beauty, and because it is easily obtained from most local and national pet shops. Being one of the first captive bred reptiles, this species has evolved to include many different morphs (color patterns). Through selective breeding of individuals with similar desired traits. These traits vary, but are different coloration markings, some of which look very exotic. These genetic mutations are then given names, often referring to their specific coloration. Some names are even copyrighted by the breeder, so as to capitalize upon their being the first breeder of that individual trait. Even though there are many variations of the leopard gecko, they are all classified under the same scientific name of Eublepharis macularius. Some well-known variations are striped, high yellow, jungle, ghost, raptor, leucistic, albino, and many others.
Before making a commitment of having a leopard gecko, or any pet, it is important to know as much as possible about them. A leopard gecko can live to be over 20 years old. As an adult, the average length is between 7 and 10 inches (up to 25 cm). The speed at which your leopard gecko grows from hatching to adulthood is dependable, like all reptiles on feeding schedule, and volume intake. That being said, leopard geckos, like all captive reptiles, can have a propensity towards obesity. It is important, as with all pets, to keep to a diet regiment, which provides for a healthy lizard.
Due to the frequency of breeding in captivity, the leopard gecko is available as a captive bred specimen for prices in the same vicinity of wild caught individuals. Captive bred reptiles should be parasite free, more tolerant to human contact, and in better overall health. There are still a number of wild caught leopard geckos, being imported primarily from Pakistan and India. Males should never be housed together, as they tend to be territorial with one another, competing for mates. Unlike many other lizards however, males (solitary) may be kept with females at a ratio up to 1:10.
Males are somewhat larger than females and reach sexual maturity at approximately 10 months of age. For a first time breeding project, leopard geckos are an excellent choice. There is an immense volume of information available about every aspect of leopard gecko care, and breeding. Females may lay up to 16 eggs per season. Careful regulation of temperature is required to prevent the eggs from being infertile.
Temperature dependant sexually determined (TSD). What this means is that eggs incubated at higher temperatures will produce male offspring and eggs incubated at lower temperatures will produce female offspring. These incubation temperatures are approximately 82 for females and 90 degrees for males. Having this temperature dependency allows professional breeders to determine the outcome of a hatching, dependant with the needs of that breeder. The sex will be determined within the first two weeks of incubation, with the young hatching in as little as 70 days of incubation.
As with any pet, you should have their habitat set up, prior to receiving your pet. To keep one leopard gecko, one should consider a cage with a minimum of 12 inches by 12 inches, and sides at least 10 inches high. While being, they do have some ability to climb, that being said it is in the best interest of your gecko to provide a screen lid that can be secured. While it may, or may not be necessary to keep your specific pet in, it can keep out dangers as well (i.e. other pets, or poisonous/ venomous insects). It is important to be able to regulate the temperature for your leopard gecko. This may be done with any combination of lights, undertank heaters, or ceramic heat emitters. While there is little study on the subject of reptile emotions and psychology, it should be relatively easy to assume that producing a replicated naturalistic environment will produce less stressed animals.
Allowing, a habitat large enough that you can create a temperature gradient, allows your gecko to naturally control his or her temperature much as they would do in the wild. Providing basking surfaces is important, but it is highly recommended not to use heat rocks. Electrical heat rocks are inconsistent with temperatures and can cause burns to the underneath side of your leopard gecko. The heat produced is also very artificial in comparison to the use of a full spectrum light bulb. Other required furniture is a hide box, which provides a place for your gecko to cool off, as well as retreat to feel secure. Inside the hide box one may keep a layer of peat moss, which should be misted daily to help hold humidity. Leopard geckos should also have a shallow water dish available to them with fresh and clean water available 24 hours a day. As with all pet reptiles it is recommended that if you use tap water, you first neutralize it from chlorine and fluoride, which can be toxic to your pet. There are a number of drops available, and provide very cheap water treatment, and are as simple to use as adding two drops per gallon of water. They were originally developed for aquariums, but quickly were adopted by keepers of aquatic turtles. Also in keeping with the happy lizard theory, there are a number of artificial plants, branches and rocks, which are available to simulate natural environments.
Careful consideration should be made when choosing a substrate (floor covering). If cost is of concern, one of the most economical substrates is newspaper or paper towel. Both offer a relatively cheap alternative to pre-packaged substrate, and allow easy visual checking for soiled spots, which can lend to a cleaner cage. Make sure if any sand-like substrates are used, that they are only used for older lizards. If ingested in young lizards, sand may result in impacted digestive systems, which can in turn be fatal. For older lizards there are a number of Calcium based sand substitutes, which have little risk of use. There are a number of suitable substrates available in a variety of colors, in case one wishes to match or compliment the gecko’s coloration with its cage.
The leopard gecko’s habitat should be constructed of glass, acrylic, or plastic. Fine alternatives to these traditional habitats are the line of Reptariums from Apogee. They are constructed of dishwater safe PVC frames, which disassemble, and a zip-off nylon mesh, which is washable in your washing machine. They allow better interaction with your pet by allowing your gecko to be more aware of you being in close proximity to it. Over time this allows for a closer and more interactive pet experience. The open mesh design also allows for better odor control, and ease of cleaning. It allows better fresh air circulation and can actually help to control odor by eliminating stale air. For versatility the Reptarium may be used in a horizontal or vertical fashion, allowing for greater flexibility. Also available for your specific Reptarium, and being for specifically long or tall usage, in a heavy, clear plastic liner. The liner allows loose substrate to be placed in the bottom of the Reptarium, without concern for it falling out of the mesh. It also has an approximate 3-4 inch lip on the sides, which helps to retain moisture, for higher humidity applications. The Reptarium is made from very abrasion resistant nylon mesh, which is very strong. Should your Reptarium develop any rips or holes in the mesh cover, which are not easily mended, replacement covers can be ordered. These benefits make the Reptarium a very wise investment.
As with any reptile proper diet and feeding of your leopard gecko will attribute to a long healthy life. The leopard gecko is insectivorious, and in captivity feed upon crickets, mealworms, superworms, wax worms, or butter worms. Within their first week of life, baby leopard geckos will eat ¼ inch crickets, or one inch mealworms. Young leopard geckos should be offered live food daily. If there are more than one housed together, it is important to remember that hungry geckos may bite at each other causing injury (i.e. biting off tail), if not fed regularly. The diet remains fairly consistent with adults, with a few minor exceptions.
Adults may eat “pinkie” mice on occasion, and adults will require larger insects than the babies do. There are also a number of feed type foods available from a wide variety of pet product manufacturers. These pre-made feeds offer some benefits, such as nutritionally rounded diets, simplicity of feeding, and ease of storage as compared with live food. There are a number of health-related issues directly related to the diet of your leopard gecko. During development, one of the most common of these problems is referred to as “rubber jaw”. This condition is so called due to its side effect of soft bones developing. It is the result of calcium deficiency, and can be avoided by making sure your leopard gecko is receiving a well-rounded diet. As a general rule, most worms have much less calcium, than do crickets. However, crickets may have far less protein value than certain worms. That is why it is important to carefully research the specific food item you are feeding your gecko, or when in doubt ask your veterinarian. Depending on the needs of your gecko, there are a number of supplements available. One of the most commonly used is Calcium. Calcium is normally sprinkled or dusted onto the food source prior to feeding, but should not be overused to avoid internal organ calcification.
Temperatures inside of your leopard gecko’s habitat should be monitored regularly. If cage space allows, create an ambient temperature of 82-88 degrees Fahrenheit. Providing a slightly warmer basking area, which is slightly elevated under a full spectrum UVB light, will allow proper metabolism and development. Nighttime temperature can be reduced to as low as 65 degrees Fahrenheit. If it requires a heath source to keep the nighttime temperature to this, a ceramic heater is recommended. Black lights may be used, and are quite economical for nighttime heating; however some studies suggest that this may lead to eye problems with other lizards. Undertank heaters are beneficial, and may be used in conjunction with other methods to get the desired outcome. It is important in eliminating stress, to attempt a simulation of normal daytime and nighttime cycles. Keeping a 12 to 14 hour daylight simulation is easy and requires little effort on the part of the keeper. It is not fully understood why cold-blooded animals seem to benefit so greatly from UV light, however it is widely accepted that with many individuals, UVB light may produce more vivid coloration.
When you handle your leopard gecko, it should be done responsibly and care to prevent injury to you gecko. The leopard gecko stores fat in its tail. This fat is quite similar to the hump on a camel, in that it stores fat, which may later be metabolized by the body in a time of need. As with all geckos, if one grabs the tail of a leopard gecko, it will fall off. This is an evolutionarily developed defense mechanism. When a predator tries to catch the gecko, the tail falls of and twitches for quite some time. This catches the attention of the predator, and allows a rapid escape for the gecko as it runs to safety. The only way to avoid this is not to grab or handle your gecko’s tail roughly. When handling your gecko, gently caress the side of the lizard’s neck and body. While caught individuals may be very slow to calm when being held or touched. They may even attempt to bite when handled. Should this occur, do not jerk, or pull away. This will automatically cause the gecko to tighten its bite on you, and may cause injury to the gecko. Should the gecko bite you, slowly and carefully place him back inside his habitat, so that all four of his feet are on the substrate. Gently let go, and give him a few moments to see that you are not going to hurt him, and allow him to realize he is back in a familiar area. If after a couple of minutes he does not let go, a single drop of vinegar in his mouth should cause an instant release, and the gecko will probably try to run away. Even though your gecko may seem like a slow sluggish lizard, it is important to remember that it can move with incredible speed anytime he needs to. If you allow your gecko to get loose, it can be almost impossible to catch it. A way of bettering your odds is to purchase a butterfly net for emergencies.
When you first receive your gecko, please realize that it may require itself to acclimate (become accustomed to) its own environment, before it will eat or begin to resume normal activity. This is completely normal, and attempting to force your gecko into eating, may actually stress it to the point where it or the side effects of it may be fatal.
Geckoes are one most fascinating of all lizards. While the Leopard Gecko is not arboreal, many other species are. These arboreal species are capable of climbing up glass windows and even upside down. This is not accomplished through sticky feet or suction. Geckos use a fascinating foot structure while has many microscopic ridges, with microscopic hair like structures on and between the ridges. This foot structure provides a traction surface many times larger than that of the gecko’s foot. This allows the gecko its super-lizard qualities. Some geckos can hold onto surfaces with a load approaching 60 pounds. Not only do owners of leopard geckos get one of the most interesting creatures on the planet, but they also have the pride in having one of the most beautiful as well.
Responsible ownership means continuing to meet your pet’s needs through proper education. The more you learn about you leopard gecko, the more you will love it, and this love will lead to a healthier pet. Many educational opportunities are available, and your veterinarian should be happy to assist you with any herpafauna questions you may have. If you would like more information or would like to set up an educational program for your school, universities, or zoo, do not hesitate to give us a call.