Do you have allergies and need to forego furry friends? Then, scaly friends might be just the right pets for you! There are no known allergies to geckos, as far as I know. Leopard geckos, just like crested geckos and gargoyle geckos, are a great entry-level pet for collectors and future breeders alike. When I moved to the United States in 2006 to fulfill my American Dream, founding my own reptile business was a big part of that. I ran it from 2008 through 2014 and bred several hundred leopard gecko babies (until I got married and started working on a human baby). Whether you want to establish your own breeding business or just keep one or a handful of leopard geckos as pets, you’ve come to the right place to find answers to your questions. When I was a beginner, I learned a lot from established breeders, such as Kelli Hammack from HISS,
Jeff Galewood from JMG Reptiles, and Steve Sykes from Geckos Etc by reading their websites, studying their care sheets, asking questions, buying their geckos, and even meeting one of them at a reptile show. Kelli was the founder of geckoforums.net, which back in the day was my first go-to place for information about everything gecko, from mating over diseases to tank furnishing. You won’t get knowledgeable by going to a pet store where they sell you an animal without known lineage that might have been housed in unsuitable, overcrowded environments or even have a deadly disease like crypto. (There are good stores and bad ones, but I learned to buy my animals from renowned breeders instead, where I knew their genetic makeup. This is important if you want to breed them for certain traits. You get what you pay for!)
Here are a few reputable leopard gecko breeders in the U.S. (if you are a leopard gecko breeder and want to be added here, please contact me through my contact form):
Let’s start with some basics before we delve into picking the right geckos for breeding. The first thing you need is a cage with the right set-up, so the animal can feel well and doesn’t get sick.
WHAT DO LEOPARD GECKOS NEED?
Leopard geckos (Eublepharis macularius) stem from the rocky deserts of India and Pakistan. They are NOT sand dwellers, which is a common misconception.
- HOUSING and SUBSTRATE
In fact, sand as a substrate may get them impacted if they swallow it when hunting crickets or mealworms. You might see leopard geckos on sand, for example in chain pet stores, but it is actually best not to offer them any loose substrate, such as moss, perlite, and vermiculite; paper towel works great and is easy to clean, or green reptile carpet (a drag to clean off the poop, though), hydroton for digging, or tile. Also, don’t use “calcisand” (even if a pet store counsels you to get that, because after all, leopard geckos do need calcium; however, “calcisand” can cause impaction, since geckos cannot pass it once they’ve ingested it, which can lead to death. It’s also not a good idea to use woodchips; your escaped feeders (crickets/mealworms) will breed in them!
My very first two geckos in April 2008, Kira and Nikita (Tremper Albino leopard geckos) actually did live on woodchips, and I regretted it later. They also had real plants in their cage (you can get beautiful live plants from Black Jungle Terrarium Supply), but I didn’t spray mine often enough, so they always dried up and never lived long, which caused me to switch to plastic plants fairly soon. Below, you see Nikita and Kira enjoying their three-in-one cave.
I’ve had cricket babies in my woodchips already. If you are artsy, you can also make your own cage walls by using styrofoam, applying grout and color, or using excavator clay, with which you can create caves and which looks very natural. You can buy styrofoam rock walls that look very real. However, a downside is that if you feed your leopard geckos crickets or mealworms, those might gnaw holes into the rock wall and eat the styrofoam, and if your gecko then eats his live food, it will also have ingested styrofoam particles. The mealworms will make tunnels in the rockwalls and become pupae in there, so your geckos will miss out on their food. And you probably wouldn’t want black beetles run around in your cage, because that’s the end stadium of the mealworms. I used wooden cages with a natural look, containing rock walls and hydroton clay balls as substrate, and I also had glass cages (10- or 20-gallon fish tanks) with under-the-tank heat mats and paper towels.
Leopard geckos are NOT arboreal, so they don’t require a high climbing space. They rather require a bigger floor space, so get a long flat tank, not a short high one. They CANNOT climb glass, since they don’t have suction cups but claws. You can add a foam rock wall or drift wood for climbing, and hydroton to stimulize their digging instinct. I also used lava stone as basking ledge; if you use overhead heat lamps to provide the required hot spot instead of an under-the-tank heat mat (UTH), you need to put some kind of cave or basking platform on the hot side of the cage. You will have to use a temperature continuum in any cage; one side should be cooler and moister, so they can molt (shed their skin every three weeks or thereabouts), and a hotter side for basking. If you own cats or dogs or have little children, get a screen top for your cage and lock it. Otherwise, if your glass tank is high enough, no lid is necessary, since the gecko can’t climb it.
Above, you see one of my cage set-ups with an artificial rock wall, a stump hide made of resin, a three-in-one cave for egg laying and shedding, a calcium dish, a fresh water dish, and a dish full of mealworms (and some crumbs of bread, so they have something to eat and don’t ingest the substrate). I had already switched to hanging plastic plants; you can get them in every fish store. Just be careful that the aquarium plants aren’t too spiky or can’t tip over and hurt your geckos. I had mesh on top of my cages, where I could easily anchor the wire of the hanging plants.
2. HEAT and LIGHT
A simple set-up would be a 10 gallon glass tank (cheaply available from PETCO) for one adult leopard gecko or up to three baby/juvenile geckos. You need an appropriately-sized (for a 10g aquarium) under-the-tank heat mat (UTH) that will be stuck under one side of your glass tank to keep the floor temperature at around 95F. Place one hide on that side. Place a second hide on the cool side (room temperature) of your tank. Avoid heat rocks, as they can get too hot and burn your animal. If you don’t have a glass tank, you cannot use a UTH (fire hazard!), so instead buy an overhead HEAT LAMP (red light for daylight temperature; black light/nite light for night temperature).
NEVER use bright daylight. Leopard geckos are nocturnal and sleep/hide during the day; they go hunting for food in the early evening hours. They have light-sensitive eyes. They cannot digest their food without belly heat, so floor heat is very important! Make sure your substrate covers the heat mat, so the gecko doesn’t burn its belly by lying directly over the heat source—it won’t get up if it gets too hot! Leopard geckos need one moist hide (to help with shedding, and also for egg-laying if you’re planning to breed) and one dry hide. Fill the moist hide with wet paper towels. Avoid loose substrate in your moist hide, since your gecko MIGHT ingest it. Provide a water dish, a mealworm dish, and a dish filled with calcium powder (e.g., ReptoCal).
You can feed live mealworms, crickets, superworms, and/or dubia roaches. Waxworms are very fattening and should only be used as treats or to fatten up thin geckos. You can buy mealworms cheaply and with free shipping from http://vita-mealie.weebly.com/. You can also get mealworms, waxworms, and crickets from http://www.timberlinefisheries.com/, or from your local pet store. Dust the feeders with calcium before you feed them to your geckos. Too little calcium can cause leopard geckos to develop metabolic bone disease (MBD), which means their bones soften and bend, so they’re crippled. It’s irreversible in adult geckos, but progress can often be stopped by supplying liquid calcium.
Adult geckos eat every other day, and hatchlings/juveniles need to eat every day. Feed as much as they want, but at least 6-12 mealworms/crickets each session (in the evening). Remove left-over live food from the gecko cage, so it does not attack old or weak or baby geckos, does not eat the rock wall, or become pupae and beetles. Also provide vitamin powder (e.g., ReptiVite) once a month, or use Repashy. Soda caps/peanut butter lids make great food/water dishes! Some people don’t put the calcium dishes into the cave, because geckos tend to sleep or poop into them, or knock them over and leave little white foot prints all over the place. Instead, you can dust their food (crickets and mealworms) with calcium powder. You can also make the calcium powder yourself by collecting egg shells, washing them, and grounding them into fine powder. I used to do that for a while, because it’s cheap and easily done.
Quarantine EVERY new gecko you purchase for at least ONE month; otherwise, it can extinguish your whole collection if it has parasites. Make sure it eats and defecates properly before putting it together with other geckos. Only put females of the SAME SIZE together, or they will bully each other and prevent weaker animals from eating. NEVER put males together; they’ll fight and kill each other! One male needs a harem of 3-5 or more; if you put one male with just one female, he will pester her constantly, which can cause ugly bite wounds and weight loss. Don’t put different sexes together if you don’t intend to breed! It is very stressful for the females.
Make sure you know what to do with the eggs and babies. If you don’t already have an incubator set up and egg-laying boxes ready, do not put males and females together.
When leopard geckos mate, the male will signal his interest to the female by shaking his tail quickly. You can even hear a humming in the air! Then, he will bite at her from the tail upwards, until he holds her at the neck. Now, he is ready for locking up. A male actually has a hemipenis, which is a pair of intromittent organs. He will evert them to mate with a female, and then invert them into his body. If he can’t do that, it’s called a prolapse. You have to help him sometimes, for example by giving him a bath in sugar water or gatorate, so he can pull his hemipenis back in and it doesn’t dry out or get infected. The male will lick himself after the deed.
Some males are a bit rough to their females, so from time to time, you might see a flesh wound on the female where it got bit during the mating ritual. If it’s really bad, you can put Neosporin on it, but usually, it heals by itself. In rare case, the gecko might drop its tail; don’t worry, it will grow back in a few months. However, it will never look the same again; it will be short and stubby, and sometimes even a different color or pattern. The worst thing you can do is to intervene in a mating ritual – I did that once, to “save” a female who was being tormented in my opinion, and the male mistook me for the female and latched on to me! He didn’t release his jaws anymore, so I had to hold my hand under the faucet to make him open his jaws. Their little teeth are razor sharp, and accidents will happen from time to time, especially when you’re hand feeding or are not careful when cleaning their cages. Don’t worry, the bites are not deep, but you could bleed a little 😉
A female leopard gecko over five months of age can become gravid for a whole year after having met a male for one single lock-up! By the way, in reptiles, it’s called “gravid,” not “pregnant.”
The female will lay two eggs every three weeks, starting about three weeks after she first paired up with a male. Younger females sometimes lay just one egg, and sometimes, the eggs are “duds,” which means they won’t develop. Virgin females may lay eggs, too, but they are not thought to be fertile. (Some gecko species can do parthenogenesis, i.e., reproduce without the egg needing sperm to fertilize.)
If you only have one or a few breeding pairs, watch the time carefully so you know when about the eggs will be due. The eggs will dry out and the babies will die if you find them too late. If you are prepared, put the eggs in the box on moist paper towel or sphagnum moss, but make sure it is not too wet, because then, the eggs will become moldy and the babies might perish. If you want to know whether an egg is fertile or not, you can CANDLE it, which means you hold it in front of a strong flash light. If you see a red ring inside it, it is fertile. If it’s just yellow, it’s infertile. With time, you can see a big, red blob, the fetus, and when it gets dark, it fills out the egg. Shortly before the baby is ready to hatch, the egg will start sweating. When you see water droplets appear on it, it’s time to get out your cell phone or camera to take those hatching pictures!
Leopard gecko eggs take a long time to incubate. You can incubate for male offspring at higher temperatures (87 to 90 degrees F) for about 39 days, and for female offspring at lower temperatures (80-82 degrees F) for 70-90 days. If you incubate around 84 degrees F, you hatch both males and females. As an incubator, I used a Hovabator, which is used for chickens, and a mini fridge, set to the desired temperature with a thermostat. I incubated for females, because each male would need a separate cage, but females, you can house together if the cage is big enough. Mine were 48x18x18 inches. I bought just a handful of high-quality breeder males and had many females for them. Sometimes, a baby doesn’t get out of the egg alone. Like chicks, they have two tiny egg teeth that fall out right after they cut open the shell and have hatched. If they cannot hatch alone, you might take nail scissors and cut them out very, very carefully. However, if they are too weak to make it out alone, they sometimes have deformities or will die later. But it’s worth a try, because if they stay in the egg too long and can’t get out, they will drown.
The babies are so small; no longer than your little finger 😉
You won’t get around learning a little about gecko genetics when trying to breed. First of all, you need to know the morphs. A good site to look up is the Leopard Gecko Wiki. It shows you the phenotype (what they look like) and explains the genotype (the genetic make-up) of different morphs. Generally, remember not to breed the three different morph strands, Tremper Albino, Bell Albino, and Rainwater Albino, together! You would get only normal looking (like the wild type, yellow with irregular black dots) babies, but it is frowned upon to mix different Albino strains. You wouldn’t be able to sell any of your offspring. Also, there’s one morph you will need to be careful with: If you breed Enigmas, they might have the Enigma syndrome, which is a neurological defect causing star-gazing, head wobbling, missing their food when aiming, running around in circles, and generally having no balance. Those geckos might starve if you don’t hand feed them. Thus, at some point, I stopped breeding Enigmas. They were very beautiful, and many had a dot on the nose as hatchlings. Not all of them had the syndrome, but it is genetic, so you cannot avoid it.
Here are a few of the different morphs I bred throughout the years: