Eublepharis macularius, commonly known as leopard geckos are one of the classic “starter geckos”. How many of us kept leopard geckos as our first reptile? How many of us have “moved on” to more challenging species? For some of us, though, leopard geckos remain our passion and prime interest. This month you will hear from three reptile keepers who have maintained their fascination with leopard geckos throughout the years.
As usual, our three experts are responding to the following questions:
1. What species are you keeping?
2. What got you interested in this species and where did you get your first one(s)?
3. How are they set up? Describe your enclosure
4. What do you find most interesting about them?
5. What do you find to be the biggest challenge?
I keep Leopard Geckos and the subspecies E. afghanicus. The morphs I work with include tangerines, boldstripes, all three albino types, Murphy patternless and Mack snows.
A friend from work had a pet Leopard Gecko that I really liked, and he invited me to attend a Reptile Show in San Francisco with him in early 1995. I picked up two juveniles from a local vendor, and fell in love with these delightful lizards. Little did I know I would become a gecko breeder!
I used to keep my leopard geckos in 20-gal tanks, but now I house all of my geckos individually in Animal Plastics rack systems with Iris tubs.
I think everything about leopard geckos is interesting, but seeing how diverse the morphs have become over the years is especially so. I love how my breeding projects turn out.
The biggest challenges are keeping up with all the morph names, and maintaining an excellent reputation as a breeder in a community/hobby that is becoming overrun with competition and poor ethics.
We started breeding Leopard geckos 6 years ago. My oldest son Dylan was given a Murphy Patternless by a friend. My second oldest son, Derek, wanted a gecko also so we picked up a pair of Mack Snow Hypo leopard geckos from JMG Reptiles to experiment with breeding. After successfully hatching out several geckos we were addicted.
We keep our leopard geckos in rack systems. We use UTH (under tank heaters) and keep our hot spots around 95 degrees. For a substrate we use paper towels, since these soak up any defecation and spilt waters while minimizing the risk of any kind of intestinal blockages compared to a loose substrate. Each bin has a water dish, a small cap of calcium without D3 and a moist hide to aid in the shedding process and/or lay eggs in. Babies are kept in 6qt bins, juvies in 15qt bins and our breeding groups are kept in 32qt bins.
We recommend to our customers to keep 1 adult leopard gecko in a 10 gallon aquarium and 2+ adults in a 20 gallon long aquarium. The aquariums should be set up identically to our rack system.
Leopard geckos are insectivores and we like to give them a mixed diet of crickets, super worms, Dubia roaches and mealworms. Our insects are gutloaded with fresh vegetables and Repashey Superload Insect Gutload Formula. After the insects are gutloaded, we dust once a week with Zoo Med calcium with D3 and a multivitamin.
Leopard geckos will always be one of the favorites of the reptile community. With their calm behavior and individual personality traits it is very easy to attach human emotions to these geckos. Leopard geckos have also one of the simplest habitats to set up and are easily maintained. They are attractive for a beginner to take care of but they also draw in experienced reptile enthusiasts due to the many morphs and extreme colors.
Our biggest challenge with breeding leopard geckos is maintaining a balance in the work, hobby and our personal lives. The main breeding season and selling season for leopard geckos coincides with wrestling season, November through mid March. I am the High School wrestling coach and all three of our sons wrestle on different levels (HS, Jr. High and Elementary). Updating our website, posting our available geckos for sale and vending at shows is almost impossible during this time. We always make it through these months in good shape but I’m always concerned that we may get bogged down or burned out. We are able to alleviate this issue by splitting up the reptile duties among the three of us and then the whole family will pitch in if needed.
I keep primarily Tremper albinos, Mack snows, and stripes as well as all the permutations of these morphs. I also have a few “miscellaneous” geckos (blizzard and “normal” at the moment), some of which are breeders as well.
Twelve years ago, one of my sons brought home a newt as part of a terrarium project. I was able to keep the newt alive with very little care information for about 9 months, which kindled my interest in cold-blooded pets. Eventually, on one of my visits to a big chain pet store, I found care instructions for the reptiles they sold. Once I eliminated the instructions that required a large enclosure or specialized environment, the only caresheet I had left was one for leopard geckos. I asked to hold one and I was hooked! I figured I’d get just one for a pet, but pretty soon I got interested in the stories about breeding that I read on the gecko forums. The rest is history.
Most of my adult geckos are kept in small breeding colonies (1 male, 2 females) in a 20 gallon long or equivalent enclosure. In order to provide them with more space, each enclosure has a second 12″x12″ heated level. The males are kept with the females except for about 6 weeks before the new season, in order to get them “interested” again and to re-group the females. Nearly all my adults are kept on a ceramic tile substrate, though I do have one enclosure of retired breeders who are on a bioactive substrate. The babies are mostly kept in front-opening tanks with a 20 gallon long footprint. These tanks are initially divided into 3 sections, each with a pair of babies. As the babies grow, the partitions are removed and they are kept in small groups. I have a small rack with sixteen 6qt tubs which I use as overflow hatchling space when needed. The adults are fed crickets, superworms and mealworms, depending on their preference with occasional silkworm treats in the summer (when the mulberry tree in the neighborhood is in leaf). The babies are primarily brought up on mealworms to facilitate feeding by squeamish buyers.
In general, I continue to be fascinated by the variety of colors and patterns. Each egg that hatches is like a gift box being opened. While I can usually predict what is likely to come out, there are always surprises, like the reverse stripe I hatched last season from two banded parents. There’s something else, though, more elemental, about the way they look at me and the way they move. For some reason, this attracts me more with leopard geckos than with the other 10 species of reptile that I keep.
My biggest challenges are more due to my own attitudes than any real issues with the geckos. Every season in the mid-winter period, when no female is ovulating yet and hardly anyone seems to be eating, I usually convince myself that everything is going to go wrong. It always works out, of course, but it doesn’t entirely stop my worrying. Then there’s the mid-season anxiety as I try to avoid running out of places to put all the hatchlings before some can be sold at the first reptile show. Finally, there’s the feeding nightmare I’ve created myself with the geckos who need to be handed their crickets, the ones who need individual superworms dropped in front of them and the ones who need to be fed in special enclosures.
Marcia McGuiness is the owner of Golden Gate Geckos since 1995 where she works with 7 species of terrestrial geckos, and 3 python species. Her love and commitment for her leopard geckos and the community over the years has been demonstrated as the former Vice President of the Global Gecko Association, acting as administrator and advisor for several online resources, as well as authoring numerous published articles. She lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband.
Thad Unkefer owns Ohio Gecko which is a family adventure including Thad and his two sons Dylan, age 16, and Derek, age 14. Thad’s wife Stephanie and three other children, Hayley 12, Anthony 10 and Addison 4 help keep the chaos under control. Ohio Gecko has evolved over the years to include many other species including African Fat Tail geckos, Giant Day geckos, Bearded Dragons, Veiled Chameleons, Corn snakes and Western Hognose Snakes. Thad has also acquired and operates www.leopardgeckowiki.com and www.geckoforums.net.
Both images are provided by Golden Gate Geckos.