Leopard geckos are one of the easier reptiles to breed in captivity but there are several essential steps that need to be followed. Leopard geckos usually reach maturity once males are 40 grams and females are between 45-50 grams, which is usually within one-year. Waiting until the female reaches this weight will help ensure both a productive and safe breeding cycle. Leopard geckos always lay eggs in pairs and in their prime and average female will produce five clutches per year.
Sexing leopard geckos is relatively easy once you know what to look for. You should examine the underside of the gecko, just below the vent and if you see enlarged hemi penal bulges you have a male. Females can show some enlargement in this area, but display a smooth enlargement without any depression. The second method involves locating a male’s preanal pores, which are located in a V-shaped pattern just above the vent. Although females will exhibit similar pores they are not as pronounced and can sometimes be unnoticeable at first glance whereas the males are very obvious.
Breeder leopard geckos should be put through a cooling or cycling period to help stimulate the breeding cycle. Before leopard geckos enter the cooling period it is crucial to completely empty their digestive tracks. During cycling temperatures are lowered to the high 60’s(F) to low 70’s(F) Only water is made available during this period, which should range between four to eight weeks.
Once the cycling period is over temperatures should be brought back to normal levels and a regular feeding program. As soon as the geckos have acclimatized to the regular temperatures the males can be introduced to the females. A general rule of thumb is that each male can successfully breed up to six females. Within six weeks the females will start becoming larger and a look at their underside will show the outline of the developing ovum. At this time a nesting box should be introduced with a small entrance hole and a good layer of moist vermiculite where the female can bury her eggs (the vermiculite will prevent the eggs from drying out.)
Eggs should be removed daily from the nesting box and placed into an incubator. The eggs should be carefully placed in an airtight container on top of a bed of moist vermiculite. Leopard geckos can be temperature sexed with males incubating at 88-90F, females at 80-82 F and mixed sexes at 85-86F. During incubation containers should be opened twice a week to allow fresh air and to remove condensation that has formed on the lid.
Finally, it is important to separate the males and females at the end of each breeding season so that the females are given a chance to recuperate.
When the babies emerge from the egg they quickly become active and measure about one quarter of the size of an adult. Babies should immediately be moved to a hatchling enclosure, which is essentially a smaller version of the adult’s enclosure. Housing hatchling’s individually in plastic shoe box sized containers is an effective way to help reduce stress through their transition period. Initially only water should be offered and enclosures lined with moist paper towel. After a hatchlings first shed is complete, which is around day 10, you can offer baby pinhead crickets and switch to a paper substrate.
Hatchlings are not born with their adult coloration or markings – and unlike many other species of reptiles, most leopard gecko morphs get better as they age. Patternless geckos are often born with banding and/or spots and many color morphs may appear dull or muted until they start to mature. This means that as a breeder you get to witness first-hand the amazing progression as the babies develop into their adult appearance.
Breeding projects are one of the most fascinating and dynamic aspects of leopard geckos in captivity today. There is a phenomenal range of leopard gecko morphs that display varying colors, patterns and/or sizes, all of which are based on specific genetic traits. Although some unique morphs, such as high yellows and the jungle phase, were discovered as early as the 1970`s it was not until the 1990`s that the addition of new morphs started to pickup speed and become more readily available. During this time the more popular morphs included albinos, patternless, more intense high yellows, and the first signs of tangerine. Over the last 10-years the number of morphs and captive breeding project has simply snowballed. You can now select from pattern variations such as stripes or patternless to extreme color morphs including the pale white of the snow morphs to the bright orange of the Tangerine Tornados.
Some morphs such as albinos, blizzards or patternless have specific genes that when bred together will produce the same genetic characteristics. Other morphs, such as super-hypo tangerines, will also pass along their traits to their offspring but the coloration or intensity of the specific trait can be shown in varying degrees. These morphs have the potential to continue to develop and evolve over multiple breeding seasons. The tangerine morph is a great example of this. This trait has been selectively bred over numerous years, and the coloration of these geckos has gone from a hint of orange to extreme deep tangerine hues.
My advice to anyone looking to a breeding project is to start out with a clear idea of what your project will be, keep meticulous records and to have fun – it is a very rewarding and exciting experience!