The Leopard Geckos – A Genetic Wonder Of Nature

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leopard geckos pets black nights
Black Nights Gecko - Courtesy of Designer Geckos (https://www.facebook.com/Designer-Geckos-102193906507454)

Geckos Out In the Wild

This 2 part article on wild and pet geckos introduces you to the wonderful world of wild and pet Leopard geckos, with some great information and resources on the subject matter. So if you are budding enthusiast or even an advanced reptile pet journeyman, we have you covered. The first part delves into the wild world of the gecko and the second part encompasses the gecko as a pet.

The typical leopard gecko (Eublepharis macularius) is a nocturnal, ground-dwelling lizard indigenous to the rocky dry prairie and desert regions of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, India, and Nepal.

The common leopard gecko has grown to become a popular pet. Due to widespread captive breeding, it is sometimes attributed to as the first domesticated species of lizard.

Distribution and Habitat

The native environment of the common leopard gecko incorporates the rocky, dry grassland, desert terrains of south-Asian Afghanistan, Pakistan, western Nepal, north-west India and some portions of Iran.

Leopard geckos occupy arid and semi-arid areas with scanty vegetation and clay or sandy soils and rocky territory where crevices can be utilised as shelter. They reportedly evade areas where the primary ground is sand.

Baby leopard variation in the wild
Baby leopard gecko in the wild

Behaviour and Ecology

Leopard geckos are nocturnal reptiles; throughout the day they escape to burrows and covered hiding spots, becoming active at dusk while the temperature is favourable.

Winter temperatures in the leopard gecko range can be relatively low, below 10 °C (50 °F), driving the animals underground into semi-hibernation, termed brumation, surviving on fat reserves.

There is some dispute about the degree that leopard geckos interact with their own kind of gecko species in the wild. Academic references have declared that leopard geckos live in loose groups in the wild.

Pet keeping guides often maintain these geckos are solitary and do not ordinarily live with other animals.

Accepting the latter as a myth created by pet keepers, Philippe de Vosjoli – a leading leopard gecko breeder and writer of dozens of books on reptile husbandry – has affirmed that “The claims of some internet ‘experts’ that leopard geckos in the wild live singly… is not supported by facts.”

Gecko Diet: What Do Geckos Eat?

Leopard geckos are opportunistic predators that feed on a diversity of prey items. Invertebrates are assumed to make up most wild geckos’ diets. Still, in captivity, they will also eat little vertebrate prey if provided the opportunity, including baby “pink” mice and even hatchling leopard geckos.

Interestingly, breeders of pet leopard geckos state that adequately fed leopard geckos will not cannibalise young. The cannibalistic behaviour seems to take place only in poorly fed animals.

Leopard gecko wild
Leopard gecko in the wild

What Do Leopard Gecko Look Like

Leopard geckos are small lizards that obtain their name from their spotted colouration. Hatchlings on average are 7 to 10 cm (2.8 to 3.9 in) in dimension and weigh about 2 to 5 grams.

Mature females are about 18 to 20 cm (7.1 to 7.9 in) in length and weigh around 50 to 70 grams, while mature male geckos are about 20 to 28 cm (7.9 to 11.0 in) and weigh approximately 60 to 80 grams.

Unlike many other geckos, but like other Eublepharids ( a species of geckos), their toes do not have sticky lamellae (a weak layer, membrane, or plate of tissue, particularly in the bone), so they cannot climb smooth upright walls.

Gecko Tails

Like most geckos, traditional leopard geckos’ thick tails can regenerate if lost; nevertheless, the regenerated tails look stumpy and never have the same features as the original tail.

Gecko Defense Mechanisms

Ordinary leopard geckos have predators such as snakes, foxes, and other big reptiles. Their keen sense of hearing, perception and sight help them flee from them throughout the night.

Along with their extraordinary sight and hearing abilities, their skin maintains camouflage and helps themselves hide from their predators. Their sense of taste and smell also assists them with survival mechanisms.

They also stay in underground holes and tunnels throughout the daytime, not only to evade the heat but to also dodge the risk of getting eaten.

Common leopard geckos can also deliberately detach their tails if attacked, seized by the tail, bitten during copulation, or bitten by another while feeding. This is termed caudal autotomy.

After autotomy the tail can twitch for as long as 30 minutes, enabling the gecko to escape from its predator. The tail is large. At least one related species (Christinus marmoratus), the tail-less fleeing gecko performs a quicker getaway.

Cracks in the tailbone enable the tail to separate quickly, and rapid vasoconstriction allows the gecko to suffer minimal blood loss. This detaching of the tail produces a high level of stress on the gecko due to losing the precious storage of fat it once had.

It will begin to regenerate its tail rapidly because it is required for survival. A lost tail may improve the chance of illness in the gecko and in some instances kill it, but this is very rare. Regenerated tails often preserve similar colours to the first tail (although there will most likely be a broad variance from the original’s vibrancy and decorations).

However, they are typically smooth and lack the rigorous qualities and length of a standard tail. The tail will also be smaller and usually fatter than the former tail.

Leopard geckos wild

Reproduction

Traditional leopard geckos are also understood to have temperature-dependent sex determination (TSD). Study shows that more females can be produced in predominantly cool temperatures (about 26–29 °C [79–84 °F]) and relatively warm temperatures (about 34–35 °C [93–95 °F]).

It was documented that males can be produced at moderate temperatures (about 31–33 °C [88–91 °F]). Any temperature over that usually will not create a newborn, as it will be too hot for the gecko inside the egg.

Ascertainment of sex is considered to be set throughout the first two weeks of incubation. The ordinary amount of time it takes for a newborn to hatch is anywhere within 35 and 89 days. However, it is regularly closer to the latter.

Females born in the larger temperatures varied from those born in moderate temperatures hormonally and behaviorally. Those born in warmer temperatures showed more aggressive behaviour. These are identified as “hot females” and are often limited to being infertile.

Ordinary leopard geckos will typically breed in the summer. Females can store sperm throughout their breeding period, so they can produce up to three clutches from one or two matings.

Leopard geckos wild

Consequently, the male is not required for reproductive conclusion after the first or second copulation. Once the female has mated and accepted sperm, she will need an excess amount of calcium for health and guarantee that the eggs are adequately calcified. She can lay around six to eight clutches, which consists of two eggs in every clutch.

They will usually lay two eggs around 21 to 28 days after mating. After 45 to 60 days, droplets of condensation will appear on the shell. The shell will start to shrink and experience a partial collapse.

These are evidence that the eggs will hatch. Baby common leopard geckos will possess an “egg tooth”, a calcareous tip at the tip of its snout to help break their eggshell. Their “egg tooth” will fall off inside one to two days.

In addition to this, their skin will regularly shed within 24 hours of hatching. The leopard gecko hatchling will not be capable of eating until after the first shedding.

Leopard geckos pets
Courtesy of designer geckos (https://www. Facebook. Com/designer-geckos-102193906507454)

Domesticated Geckos

Leopard Geckos Are Great Pets

Common leopard geckos are one of the most widespread lizard pets. They are likely the first domesticated lizard varieties. Their small size, robustness, and comparatively easy care make them a good “starter” reptile pet.

They breed readily in captivity, so most sold today are captive-bred rather than caught in the wild. Due to the widespread captive breeding and artificial choice, captive animals exhibit a range of colours and patterns. Those located in the wild typically have more dull colourations than those held in captivity as pets.

Pet leopard gecko
A genetically morphed leopard gecko as a pet, courtesy of https://www. Facebook. Com/designer-geckos-102193906507454/
Wild leopard gecko
An image of a wild leopard gecko

Leopard geckos (Eublepharis macularius) are the fastest-growing reptile pet in popularity on the planet today. There are many characteristics of this animal that have encouraged the hobby to new heights, such as ease of care, docility, appeal, cost and cleanliness.

Possibly one of the most intriguing attributes of this wonderful little creature has been the global interest in new morphs and crossbreeds due to the enthralling genetic possibilities. Hundreds of morphs and crosses have been produced by breeders, collectors and budding, and educated hobbyists keen on expanding the latest hot morph or cross.

In recent years, the Internet, sourcebooks, expos, forums and publications, such as REPTILES and Reptiles USA, have produced a wealth of knowledge on the care, breeding and genetics.

Read this article on great reptile resources: 5 Best Books About Reptiles & Amphibians for Beginners

That mixture of experience has created an expert community of experts, who strive to expand the leopard gecko hobby through their challenging work and diligence.
The sky is the limit for delivering the various crosses being created throughout the world today.

Many breeders have their own morph groups, each with its own features, colours, designs and sizes. True new morphs are more challenging to come by, with many so-called “new” morphs often remaining variants or crosses of other existing morphs.

Leopard geckos pets
Courtesy of designer geckos (https://www. Facebook. Com/designer-geckos-102193906507454)

Careful Selection

When choosing geckos for a breeding plan, the breeder must have a solid plan to reach the desired result, with detailed knowledge of the genetics required. The geckos acquired must be from a recognised genetic background.

This can be a trial. Due to the massive expansion in leopard geckos breeding, the gene pool has become somewhat questionable in recent times. Finding pure genetic animals has become more complicated.

Many so-called pure genetic animals may, in fact, have various heterozygous backdrops, often unbeknownst to the breeder until they begin to produce animals and find odd effects popping out of the eggs!

Purchases and acquisition must be made with this in mind, so new breeding projects can be placed on a solid genetic footing. Obtaining breeding-project geckos from reputable sources, who can assure the animals’ genetic integrity, is essential.


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Eye colours and patterns have grown popular morph features as of late, with many intriguing colours and patterns depending on hereditary backgrounds.

There is a lot to know concerning breeding leopard geckos if you consider heterozygous, homozygous, recessive and dominant genes, etc. Anyone contemplating breeding projects should do their homework before starting on a project.

Leopard geckos pets
Courtesy of designer geckos (https://www. Facebook. Com/designer-geckos-102193906507454)

There are great genetic resources on the market and websites, forums and social media venues. Some of these resources include:

Likewise, online genetic calculators will utilise, which will give a fairly reliable prediction of breeding results based on the genetics you fill into them. (These appear to change regularly, so do a Google search, and you are bound to find one.)

It is also a great idea to find breeders who have operated with similar projects to get their input. Most reptile breeders are very generous and willing to share their experience. Networking with others in the hobby can present a wealth of knowledge. The value of this cannot be underestimated.

Some gecko experts, such as Ron Tremper, Garrick DeMeyer, Steve Sykes, and many others, who are most kind in imparting their knowledge to others to further the hobby.

Leopard geckos pets
Courtesy of designer geckos (https://www. Facebook. Com/designer-geckos-102193906507454)

Trait Selection

Leopard gecko genetics are enthralling in many ways. You will find that not only are the genetic results entirely predictable, but that other traits apart from phenotype (A phenotype is an objects observable traits, such as height, eye colour, and blood type.) are also carried down to the offspring. A great book titled The Leopard Gecko Advisor. (You can buy this gecko book on eBay here) delves into a great deal of depth on the intellect, socialisation and enhancement of leopard geckos, as well as cutting-edge thought and husbandry perspectives.

Some geckos are more intelligent and more social than others. Some are better eaters than others, and several other traits, like personality, are often genetically defined.

Designer Geckos (link above) has acquired these Black Nights and other various types and has joined into a partnership agreement with breeders Ferry Zuurmond and Roy Sluiter of the Netherlands to improve this beautiful new black gecko, which is the outcome of a 15-year gecko breeding project.

Genetics also have a role in the handling perspectives of the various morphs. Specific gecko morphs are very calm, while others are more lively and better adapted for advanced hobbyists.

Recommended are the more docile morphs for children and novices. Some designer morphs, such as Bandits and Mack Snows, are considerably docile, as are the Giants, which are genetically a very relaxed gecko.

Giants are some favourite geckos for this reason. Super Giants can attain sizes up to 12 inches in length. Though a larger gecko than your conventional leopard gecko, they are easy to maintain and make wonderful pets.

The Giant genes are fascinating to work within breeding projects. If a Super Giant is bred to a regular-sized leopard gecko, approximately 100 per cent of the children will be Giants. Super Giant bred with Super Giant provides 100 per cent Super Giant offspring.

Breeders have discovered in Giant projects that the offspring resemble and act virtually identically to the parents, especially males looking and functioning like the fathers.

Leopard geckos pets
Courtesy of designer geckos (https://www. Facebook. Com/designer-geckos-102193906507454)

The Tangerine Gecko

Linebreeding (breeding morphs with comparable traits to each other) is popular in reptile breeding projects, and keen breeders choose the best offspring examples for subsequent breedings so that each generation remains to be refined to deliver higher-level animals.

For example, there are many diverse lines of Tangerine leopard geckos in the leopard gecko society, each having a slightly modified appearance, structure or colouration. Many breeders choose the best Tangerines from different lines and blend them to refine and create their own new lines.

The Designer Geckos line, named Mandarin Tangerines, is a clean line that joined the best examples of many different lines until they came up with the qualities we were looking for, such as a robust body arrangement, conformation and specific colouration.

Mandarins are identified to have unique colouration and are a large, healthy gecko. Many breeders are proceeding to refine various Tangerine lines to create their own look.

Tangerine leopard gecko
Tangerine leopard gecko

This line of Tangerine leopard geckos, named the Mandarin Tangerine, is the result of line breeding and combines some of the best samples of many various Tangerine lines.

The Science Of Gecko Breeding

We all identify the Punnett squares from biology class, a simplistic chart method to discover breeding outcomes of known genetic histories (genotype). The phenotype points to the physical appearance (colour, size, pattern, etc.) of the gecko.

A homozygous gecko has a genetic history of two of the same gene alleles. If the alleles are mixed (one dominant, one recessive), the gecko is deemed heterozygous, carrying the dormant gene.

When breeding geckos that are heterozygous, both parents want to be heterozygous for the same recessive allele for that distinct trait to be displayed in the offspring.

One of the most impressive leopard geckos is the polygenic Zorro Bandit.

Polygenic zorro bandit gecko
Polygenic zorro bandit gecko

This morph occurs in Jungle, Striped and Albino forms, and it has grown to be one of the most sought-after leopard geckos globally.

Some traits are due to one gene that has been altered (single gene traits), while some are polygenic (affected by multiple genes). Some of the more attractive leopard gecko polygenic traits are Jungles, Stripes, Tangerines and Bandits.

Some aggressive trait cases are White and Yellows, and Enigmas. Co-dominant examples (where both alleles are displayed) are Mack Snows and Giants. Recessive traits comprise the various Albinos, Blizzard, Patternless and Eclipse. The combinations and opportunities are endless!

Leopard gecko genetics is complicated and can take up a book full of data. Topics like test breeding, trait proving, variations and gene linkage are topics for high-level genetics.

The hereditary and breeding complexities are astounding. Since the reptile hobby has grown so mainstream, hopefully, reptile genetics experts will grant offering classes and tutorials to assist hobbyists and promote the increase of the reptile field and hobby.

Leopard geckos pets
Courtesy of designer geckos (https://www. Facebook. Com/designer-geckos-102193906507454)

Environmental Control

Other features of breeding projects also need to be regarded as high priorities, especially proper care and husbandry, suitable temperatures of enclosures and incubators, and careful tracking of each project’s eggs.

While colony breeding is frequently the norm amongst the larger gecko breeders, the downside is that it can be testing to determine the babies’ exact lineage and genetics. Single breedings are the most dependable breeding practice.

While not as fruitful in numbers as colony breeding, it enables the breeder to know every egg’s exact parentage. Each egg can then be precisely charted out so that when the babies hatch, the breeder recognises each offspring’s exact genetics.

This eliminates the guesswork and enables the breeder to know all the genetic features of each baby, which is a major plus for buyers looking for exact genetic backdrops for their own breeding projects.

The other plus of single breeding and accurate egg tracking is that if something sensational or unique is generated, the breeder knows the exact parentage of those children and can do further breeding to replicate those results.

Incubation temperatures must constantly be closely regulated and controlled to avoid temperature spikes and variations that can create birth defects, such as kinked tails and other body abnormalities.

Leopard geckos pets
Courtesy of designer geckos (https://www. Facebook. Com/designer-geckos-102193906507454)

Your Journey Into Leopard Gecko Morphing Begins Here

To summarise, encouragement is needed for leopard gecko enthusiasts to possibly someday start on their own breeding projects, even if on a modest scale or just one project.

The experience you will gain from the endeavour will make your gecko journey all the more compelling. Studying genetics and extraordinary breeding potential of these incredible animals will enhance you, and others that you, in turn, will impart wisdom too.

Observing the miracle of life when the eggs hatch, and understanding you had a significant role in that process, will forever be a source of great individual satisfaction.

Leopard geckos pets
Courtesy of designer geckos (https://www. Facebook. Com/designer-geckos-102193906507454)
Leopard geckos pets
Courtesy of designer geckos (https://www. Facebook. Com/designer-geckos-102193906507454)

Adapted from Ray Roehner, Author at Gecko Time – Gecko Time

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The leopard geckos - a genetic wonder of nature

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