The world of gecko-related information, mostly internet based, is one of questions and answers, arguments and opinions. As people become more familiar with this world, they come to realize that there are those who mostly ask questions and others who mostly answer them. Exactly who is a “gecko expert” is a matter of opinion; there’s no certificate or official vote of confidence. However, if participants of any gecko-related forum could be polled, there would likely be consensus about which of the forum members are generally considered to be “gecko experts”. I would loosely define a “gecko expert” as someone who has the reputation of being well-versed in many aspects of gecko care, is the “go-to” person when a question arises, and whose methods are imitated by others.
People who are new to the hobby can be somewhat intimidated by the depth and breadth of a “gecko expert’s” knowledge and wonder “how did they get to this level?” My purpose in this article is to chart a path for anyone to take to become my ideal “gecko expert”.
The cornerstone to becoming an expert in any field, is to have as much practical experience as possible. Obvious as it may seem, a gecko expert must actually keep geckos. It’s important to keep enough of a variety of geckos, either one species or many, to learn about the range of behavior of these creatures and the different ways that they may be cared for.
A new gecko keeper begins by following care sheet instructions, but gradually learns through working with the geckos which instructions are essential, which are optional and which must be modified in order to meet the needs of a specific animal. For example, a keeper may follow the instructions of some experts who maintain that all geckos of a particular species are best kept individually but then discover that a specific gecko in his or her population does much better with a cagemate.
Experience, and a true understanding of the range of geckos’ needs, also enable a gecko keeper to devise creative solutions to situations unique to specific geckos. An example of this would be a gecko who continually lays fertile eggs outside the lay box. An experienced keeper may decide, based on the fact that the eggs are consistently fertile, to change the laybox size, location or substrate, or even to put the gravid gecko into an enclosure that functions as one large laybox.
Once a keeper has enough experience to perceive the gradations of care choices and is able to consistently make informed decisions and modifications to the usual procedures, he or she is well on the way to becoming a gecko expert.
Read Read Read
There’s a wealth of information available in print and on the internet about all aspects of care of most gecko species. For many of the more common geckos, there are books which could be considered to be the species specific “classics”. This would include, for example, “The Herpetoculture of Leopard Geckos” by Ron Tremper et.al., the species-specific “manuals” published by “Advanced Vivarium Systems” (www.avsbooks.com) or “Day Geckos in Captivity” by Leann and Greg Christenson.
There are also many popular internet forums, some devoted to a single species or genera and others more global in nature. As with any information, especially on the internet, it’s important to read critically. When reading information on gecko forums, try to distinguish between fact and opinion. Determine the level of expertise of the information’s source by locating facts about the poster’s actual experience, and by paying attention to the reactions of others on the forum to the poster’s information. It can be helpful to copy and paste information relevant to your specific interests into a single document so you have it all together in one place, rather than spread through many posts and threads.
Ask Questions, Answer Questions
The best way to learn is to ask. The best kind of questions to ask are those which arise as a result of observation and research, and those which are specific in nature. For example, asking “What do I need to know about breeding my leopard gecko?” isn’t a useful question, since there’s already ample information available about breeding leopard geckos. A more useful question may be something like: “I introduced my male gecko to my ovulating female and observed them mating six weeks ago but there have been no eggs yet. What may be going on?”
It’s also important to be clear about your motivations for asking. Some people ask a question because they truly want to know how to proceed. Others ask because they’ve already decided how to proceed, but they want validation that they’re doing the right thing. This is fine, as long as the questioners are flexible enough to seriously consider answers that don’t meet their expectations. Questioners who stubbornly continue a course of action, even though they are told by a variety of experts that they’re making the wrong choice, will likely become experts only in their own eyes.
A milestone on the path to becoming a gecko expert is to begin answering questions that others ask. If you’ve had experience, or read something that directly relates to a question posed by another, go ahead and respond. If you’re a relative newcomer, it’s always a good idea to explain a little about why you feel able to answer the question, for example “this is what happened with my gecko” or “this is what I read”.
As you gather information and practical experience, put them together. Reflect on what you read and see how it plays out in the actual gecko keeping; See how your experience with the geckos fits in with the opinions expressed by others. Although it’s a tough balancing act, it’s very important to keep an open mind about new and different ideas while holding to a standard of care at the same time. There’s more than one way to do things sometimes. Try to distinguish, for yourself and others, when an opinion about the way to do things is a case of parroting something that has been said by others and when it’s the result of experience and experimentation. Here are a few examples of issues that continue to be discussed and debated by experts and which probably have more than one acceptable solution: choice of substrate, planted vs. artificial enclosures, use of UV light vs. supplementation, racks vs. display enclosures, keeping multiple species in very large enclosures.
Be Assertive, Be Humble
My ideal “gecko expert” is confident about the experience that has made him or her such and doesn’t hesitate to provide information backed up by documentable facts. At the same time, he or she is willing to consider new ideas and alternatives and to accept that there is more than one way to achieve some things. An essential “bonus”, is an expert who is able to respond to all questions with courtesy, even if it requires pointing out errors or answering the same question yet again.
Enjoy the journey from “newbie” to expert. It’s a rewarding one that teaches a lot and also provides the perspective to be considerate of those who are following in your footsteps.