Rhacodactylus leachianus, the largest known gecko, fascinates many due to its sheer size, coloring and personality which ranges from the phlegmatic to the aggressive. Three experienced “leachie” keepers have responded to the following questions:
- What species are you keeping?
- What got you interested in this species and where did you get your first?
- How are they set up? Describe your enclosure.
- What do you find most interesting about them?
- What do you find to be the biggest challenge?
Debbie Buis and Léon Bregman
As far as leachianus goes, we generally keep pairs of Rhacodactylus leachianus “Friedel line Mt. Koghis” and “Troeger line Mt. Koghis”. One of our geckos originated from Grande Terre with no locality specification and we have 2 pairs of Nuu Ana.
There used to be a difference between Rhacodactylus leachianus leachianus and Rhacodactylus leachianus henkeli, but the situation has changed since July 31st 2012 when Dr. Aaron Bauer published a revision of the taxonomy of New Caledonian Giant geckos. From now on there is no Rh. Leachianus henkeli anymore and both are now Rhacodactylus leachianus. There is still a difference between the various locales, so that will remain the same.
We already kept Correlophus ciliatus (formerly known as Rhacodactylus ciliatus or crested geckos) and we liked leachianus for a while before we bought them. We really fell for their size and their character and decided to get our first one from Bodo Friedel. These are called the “Friedel line Mt. Koghis”, and were found on the same mountain as the “Troeger line Mt. Koghis”, only on the lower region of the montain.
Leachianus hatchlings are housed in shoeboxes. Little leachies are happy in a safe/small enclosure and are known to stop eating when they are put in a large vivarium too soon. In the wild they hatch and hide under a piece of bark or a big branch and stay there until they are bigger.
When they are around 20-25 grams we move them into a bigger container, like a critter keeper and after that (when they are around 50 grams) they go to a small sized Exo Terra (We use the 30x30x45cm. PT2602).
We keep our adults as pairs all year round in natural viv’s with a size of 80 cm x 80 cm x 50 cm. We add some fake plants and lots of thick branches and corkbark tubes.
As said before, we really like their behaviour and their character. They are very territorial, even the youngsters (once they are a bit bigger).
It’s always a bit tricky to do anything in their viv, because they might attack you, even though they can also be very kind once you remove them from the viv. One funny fact is that they also belong to one the most vocal gecko species in the world and they produce a lot of sounds. At night you can hear them whistle, growl and bark, which is a lot of fun. In time you’ll start to recognize the various sounds to match the mood they are in.
I think the biggest challenge with leachianus is pairing them up. They are really picky when it comes to mates and some of them really bond. We once had a very agressive male, which we paired up with our female (which was very docile for a leachie), but they weren’t compatible. The female transformed from an Angel into a She-devil and chased after the male and tried to bite him… we had never seen the male running this hard before, but now he was running for his life with his tail tucked between his legs. We rescued him and separated them immediately. Luckily we had a spare male and once introduced to our “She-devil” they bonded right away and we have been breeding this pair succesfully for about 3 years now. When leachies are not compatible they will fight resulting in big wounds and in the worst case it could even lead to death.
However, all difficulties and quirks aside, they are very lovely and (sometimes, but not always) gentle giants.
I keep a variety of mixed locales as well as almost every pure mainland (Grande Terre) or island form of R. Leachianus that has a known population in captivity, with the exception of Riveire Bleue (Grande Terre form) and Caanawa (Isle K). My goal is to have at least one, if not multiple pairs of each leachianus locale breeding in captivity. With over 30 breeding pairs this past season, I feel I
am well on our way to that goal.
I first got interested in Leachianus as I graduated through the ranks of breeding Rhacodactylus geckos. First I started with R. Ciliatus (crested gecko) and R. Ariculatus (gargoyle gecko) breeding. I then moved on to R. Chahoua and of course, the king of the Rhacodactylus family, R. Leachianus. Our first specimens were Grande Terre Yate specimens that had been imported and resided in Canada for some time. They were imported by Chris Redinger from Philippe De Vosjoli in the USA, way back in 2002. They have exchanged hands several times before they ended up with me. This magnificent pair, which had been producing in Canada for several years, is what started my obsession with collecting pure locale specimens of any and all locales I could get my hands on from as many sources as possible. I now work with upwards of 30 producing pairs of R. Leachianus in my collection. That is quite a feat, considering we only started with that first pair back in 2007.
Enclosures for our adults are custom made melamine frames with screened fronts. These house some of our largest Grande Terre Leachianus. We use Hemlock Mulch as a substrate as it is very good at absorbing feces and odours, a necessity when working with Leachianus.
I was a bit discouraged by growth rates when I first started raising R. Leachianus in an environment similar to R. Ciliatus. I could not seem to figure out why I had stunted growth rates in certain specimens and excellent growth rates in others. I have since perfected my system and determined that poor growth rates were associated with too much ventilation, lack of a high-humidity
environment, and a lack of security in juvenile R. Leachianus. All of these problems are resolved with the shoebox approach which affords optimal growth rates.
R. Leachianus have always fascinated me with their ability to vocalize. Not only can they communicate with each other, but when handling a specimen, I find I can really tell what their mood is like based on their vocalizations. I often sit in the dark at night and listen to R. Leachianus communicate with each other in the breeding facility. Growling and chirping appear to be some of the common signs of communication between pairs during breeding season.
Vocalizations also help to avoid the odd projectile feces that come out of some very nervous R. Leachianus when they are being handled. If you hear too much whimpering and whining when handling and you know your leachianus is well fed, beware of a surprise projectile feces attack! This is pretty much a guarantee if you continue to handle your specimen for too long.
With a larger collection, the biggest challenge has to be maintaining compatible pairs to achieve optimal breeding results (pairs are the norm when breeding R. Leachianus). Pairs must be compatible with each other in order to receive the several clutches a year you would expect from your geckos. Sometimes the female rejects the male and on the odd occasion the male can reject the female. Pairs can be compatible for years and then one day, just decide they no longer like each other.
Incompatibility can result in damage to one or both specimens, not to mention the obvious result of reduced viable clutches of eggs. This becomes a challenge when you try to maintain a pure breeding program, as you often need to keep some ‘pinch hitters’ available for use, should your pure R. Leachianus pair fall out of love. Some specimens are compatible in the sense they will live together just fine, but remain sexually incompatible and never produce fertile eggs. Another further possibility that can occur, is adequate clutch production for several years and then nothing. Some pairs just seem to take a year or two off from production if they feel like it. In this instance it might be wise to find a new partner for both if it goes on for longer than one season.
Keeping as many pairs as possible together for the length of the breeding season, or sending in a substitute when a pair proves incompatible, is definitely the most challenging aspect of breeding R. Leachianus in captivity.
At this point I have representatives of all the different localities of leachianus known to herpetoculture: Yate’, Poindimie’, Mt. Koghis, Mt. Humboldt, Type C, Pine Island, Bayonnaise, Brosse, Moro, Nuu Ana, Nuu Ami, Duu Ana and Caanawa. My favorite Grande-Terre locality is Yate’ and my favorite island locality morph is Caanawa.
I went to a reptile show in the early 1990s and someone had a young pair for sale. I handled them for just a few minutes and I was in love. I purchased them at the reptile show. They were Grande-Terre mixes.
I have many different types of enclosure. I find small animals do well in a simple shoebox setup lined with paper towels, coconut hide, a small cork tube and a water bowl. Larger animals are housed in anything from Rubbermaid tubs to PVC cages with a thin layer of mulch at the bottom, various cork tubes and flats, and a water dish.
I would have to say that the leachies’ impressive mass and soft skin is what attracted me to them. In addition, their usual calm temperament and handleability.
I find getting animals to be compatible during the breeding season to be the most challenging part of keeping them. Sometimes animals will get along for a long time and then begin to fight from out of nowhere. (Maybe he forgot to take the garbage out!) It seems impossible to predict compatibility and longevity of pairs.
Debbie Buis and Léon Bregman are from The Netherlands, Europe and together they are known as “The Gex Files”. They have been private breeders of gecko species from Oceania for quite some years now. They have kept reptiles since childhood and after they started living together they mainly focused on geckos. With over 200 geckos in their collection it’s a very time consuming hobby, but they love to do it and their collection is still growing. Last season they had their first succes with breeding Rhacodactylus trachycephalus, a live-bearing gecko from New Caledonia.
For questions and examples of what they keep and breed, check out their website or like their page on Facebook:
Steve Cemelli is the owner of Leapin Leachies. He has kept reptiles and amphibians for over 30 years including all of the different species of Rhacodactylus and maintains one of the largest locale specific collections of R. leachianus in herpetoculture today.
Mark Orfus has loved reptiles and amphibians ever since he was a kid. Ask anyone who was friends with him growing up and they will tell you he always had to have a frog or a snake or a lizard in his bedroom at any given time.
While he ended up following a path of business, acquiring a Master of Business Administration (MBA) at the Schulich School of Business in Toronto, Canada, he never shook his desire to work with reptiles and amphibians as a hobby. When he took full-time employment working in Property Management, he slowly funnelled all his earnings into creating his “ultimate collection,” acquiring specimens from across the globe. It wasn’t long before he had a killer arsenal of breeders (Rhacodactylus geckos became a specific focus for him). Slowly, room after room in his house began filling up with reptiles as his “hobby” continued to grow. Next it was time to evict his tenants in the basement – first one and then the other – all in the name of more space to fuel his growing hobby.
The real turning point for Mark was when he started to earn more income selling geckos in his spare time then he was making with his full-time job in Property Management. This led him to think about a career in Herpetoculture as a full-time gig. He quit his day job in 2006 and has never looked back since.
Mark Orfus is the sole owner and founder of Northern Gecko Specialty Pets & Pet Products (Northern Gecko Inc.). He has been breeding Rhacodactylus geckos since 2001. He maintains the largest collection of Rhacodactylus in Canada, with well over 3000 specimens produced annually. He has always striven for quality in his breeding projects and worked with nothing short of the best specimens he could acquire world-wide. He has his own formula for growing geckos of quality, size and structure. While some of this comes from the selection process, a lot of his success can be attributed to his unique rearing process, which is why he seldom will offer juveniles for sale but prefers to offer high quality breeding specimens which are ready, or almost ready to produce. It is not unusual for some of his R. Ciliatus to attain weights of up to 70 or 80 grams.
In the early days, while working to build his collection in Canada, he established a relationship with Allen Repashy, a large U.S. Rhacodactylus breeder and producer of premium reptile diets and supplements. Mark immediately saw an opportunity to improve his animal husbandry with these products and embraced them and stands behind Allen’s products today. He worked with Repashy from the ground up, to establish a presence for Repashy Superfoods in Canada and helped in create the jar line of his products. He now maintains a relationship as the Canadian distributor for Allen Repashy’s Reptile and Fish products. Mark continues to grow his reptile business by constantly looking for new opportunities and partners. Anything that can improve the way hobbyists work with Reptiles and Amphibians is within his domain as he seeks to have a greater presence in the hobby.
More information about Mark and his work can be found at his website: http://www.northerngecko.ca