Leopard geckos are considered the easiest reptiles to breed because:
- They have a long breeding season.
- There are no special requirements for initiating the breeding.
- Hatchlings are easy to care for and don’t require special types food.
However, breeding may prove complicated, and even fatal in the case that:
- The female leopard gecko is not well nurtured and in top shape.
- A breeder fails to provide optimal conditions for egg development.
- There is not enough food for the breeding pair and the hatchlings, resulting in stunted growth and sickness.
How to avoid the common mistakes and pitfalls of leopard gecko breeding practice? How to do it right? Let’s find out through our introductory article on breeding leopard geckos.
- Are You Sure You Want to Breed Your Geckos?
- Preparation: Getting Ready
- Eggs Laying
- Eggs Incubation
- Eggs Hatching
Are You Sure You Want to Breed Your Geckos?
At first sight, that may seem like an irrelevant question – since you’re already here, your mind is probably already set. Still, I highly suggest you to take some additional time to think about it.
Although they are considered one of the easiest reptiles to breed, no responsible owner should take leopard gecko breeding lightly, or consider it something one should do by default.
There are several good reasons not to breed your pet leopard geckos:
- Carrying and laying eggs is really exhausting for females. They need to be in top form to stay healthy. If they are not in perfect condition, they may get emaciated and may even die because of the complications such as egg binding.
- Life expectancy of breeding females is shorter than non-breeding females and males.
- New homes for baby leopard geckos may not be easy to find. Depending on where you live, you may not be able to find a sufficient number of responsible new owners in your area. And sending the young geckos far away from your home is not that easy.
- You will have many more hungry mouths to feed, which takes resources and time.
- If you want to breed geckos only to get an instant additional income, give it up. Making breeding leos profitable takes years of learning, investment and dedication. Small-scale breeding is the best choice for an average leo enthusiast.
Failing to manage these challenges correctly can result in a lot of human and reptile discomfort, and even the loss of leopard gecko lives.
On the bright side, breeding leopard geckos is not all trouble.
Studying biology of reptile reproduction first hand and up close might be exhilarating. Just be aware at all times that it takes a substantial amount of time, space, resources, and some serious dedication.
Preparation: Getting Ready
In the Northern Hemisphere, leopard gecko breeding season lasts from January to September or October. During this time, female may lay from 6-16eggs, two in each clutch.
The mating itself usually happens at night, so it is rarely observed. It can be a rough business – the male will bite the back of the female’s neck while placing his tail under hers. That is why you will often come across advice to house more females with one male – to prevent bullying. One male can breed with up to 6 females.
Before the big moment takes place, you need to carefully prepare for the upcoming breeding season. Here is some detailed advice on how to do it.
The Absolute Dont’s of Leopard Gecko Breeding
- Never just leave your averagely cared-for male-female groups and let nature take its course. You need to prepare your geckos for the breeding season.
- Never breed leopard geckos that are not in top condition.
- Don’t breed geckos that are too young or too old.
- Never breed leos that have any genetic disease or malformation.
- Don’t start with a large breeding colony. Breed 1-2 females in the first season is the best option for gaining initial experience and avoid being overwhelmed with a great number of hatchlings.
Leopard Gecko Genetics
Since there are many morphs of leopard geckos available, you should take some time to learn about them and their genetic potential. Depending on the genetic profiles, different combinations will yield different results. Some of which you won’t be able to predict if you don’t dive into the theory. Studying basic leopard gecko genetics before you decide on your breeding pairs is highly recommended. Also, bookmark this morph calculator since you may find it useful.
Let’s run through everything you will need to set up your first breeding project.
Your Breeding Leopard Geckos
For breeding stock, you should pick a male and one or two females that are completely healthy and in a fairly good shape (which you will make even better during the preparation process), ideally between two and five years old.
Of course, properly sexing leopard geckos is the first step to do, and you can read about it in our health article. It may seem funny, but there have been a lot of cases where breeding was unsuccessful because geckos weren’t properly sexed. The novice breeder ended up with two females instead of a male-female pair!
Equipment and Supplies
It is important to have all the materials in place before you begin. These include:
- Nesting or egg laying box, with moist sphagnum moss or eco-earth-type substrate, which will be placed in the main terrarium.
- Additional calcium supplementation.
- Sufficient food supplies. Having your own feeder insect colony is practically mandatory if you plan on reproducing your geckos. Your breeding pair will need additional food during mating and egg laying processes. Although small, juvenile geckos eat more frequently than adults – and you may end up with a dozen of them.
- Material and equipment for egg incubation. These include plastic boxes and/or deli cups, vermiculite or a commercial incubation medium, and a professional or an improvised incubator.
- Space, boxes, paper towels, shelters, and food and water trays for housing the hatchlings.
Food and Supplements
When you consider the size and the number of eggs a female leo will produce over one breeding season, it is easy to see why the whole process is really demanding on the female. That is why you need to prepare your breeding pair well, and supplement them with additional food and all the needed vitamins and minerals.
- The breeding pairs will probably require increased food intake. Breeding geckos should have a shallow dish with mealworms available in their tank at all times.
- A better variety of food is good for you overall gecko’s health, and especially as the breeding season approaches. Besides staples such as crickets and mealworms, you can include other varieties of insects if available. For example, the calcium-rich soldier fly larvae. Some breeders like to include a weekly newborn mouse – pinkie – into the diet, but this is not mandatory.
- Pure calcium powder must be available at all times in the terrarium. Don’t worry – geckos sense exactly how much calcium they need, and they won’t overdose on it as long as it is pure calcium. Some sources recommend calcium with vitamin D3. However, there is a risk of overdosing on vitamin D, especially when you’re already providing it through feeder dusting.
- Speaking of that, feeder insects should be dusted with a quality multivitamin powder at least every other feeding.
After successful breeding, you may expect for the female to lay eggs. The gestation period in leopard geckos is between 16 to 22 days after mating. Female will continue to lay a clutch of eggs every two to three weeks over the four or five month period.
The female will lay the eggs in the egg laying box you provided for her in the terrarium. Keep the design simple – a small plastic box with an entry hole in the lid and moist sphagnum moss or vermiculite inside is a great option.
When you notice that eggs are there, carefully take them out and put them in the already-prepared incubation tray.
It is crucially important not to roll the eggs over and to place them on the incubation tray in their original position, with the upper side still facing up. Otherwise, the embryo will drown inside the egg.
Egg incubation period is probably the one that stirs up the most anxiety in novice breeders.
Still, the truth is that all it takes for the leopard gecko eggs to hatch is the right amount of moisture and temperature that is within the 77 to 92°F (~25-33°C) range. Everything below 74°F (~23,3°C) will be fatal for the embryos.
The trick with temperature is that embryo’s sex is determined by the incubation temperature. If you incubate the eggs in the lower temperature range – 80 °F (~26,5°C), all of the hatchlings will be male. The higher range – 90°F (~32°C) will produce only females. At the temperatures in the mid-temperature range – let’s say 85-87 (~29-30°C) degrees, you will get hatchlings of both sexes.
Leopard Gecko Egg Incubation Material
For successful incubation of the eggs, you will need the following:
- Plastic container – deli cups, a plastic shoebox, or a similar type of container
- Water – tap is just fine, but I prefer to use the one that has been left for 2 hours, for the chlorine to evaporate.
- Incubator, or a heated terrarium.
Leopard Gecko Egg Incubation Step by Step
Step 1. Moisten the substrate (vermiculite or other) with dripping water, or by adding it little by little.
Step 2. Put a layer of moist substrate about 2 inches (~5 cm) deep at the bottom of the plastic tray. There are two ways to go about it. You can incubate many eggs in a larger box, or individual pairs in a small, 16 oz (~500 mL) deli cups, which you will then place in an empty terrarium with controlled temperature, or in a commercial reptile incubator.
Step 3. Put the eggs in the tray in their original position. This is crucial to avoid drowning the embryos inside the egg. Cover the dish with a lid in order to avoid excessive drying of the substrate.
Step 4. Where you will put the egg tray is up to your ambitions and possibilities. Certainly, the best option to fully control the temperature by getting a reptile incubator. As said before, you can also use an empty terrarium. On the lowest end of care and budget spectrum, you can simply put the enclosed egg tray in your adult leo tank – you’re providing sufficient temperature in there already. Just place it so it can’t be overturned.
Step 5. Wait, and inspect and vent the eggs regularly in the meantime.
Check the eggs every few days to check the humidity and to provide oxygen. Mold or bacterial growth may take place on infertile or dead eggs – remove those immediately.
If you feel like the vermiculite has dried out, add a tiny amount of water in the corners of the tray. The appearance of dents in eggs also suggest that their environment has become dry, but don’t worry, they will recover as soon as the moisture returns to an optimal level.
After about two months on average – or more precisely, 35 to 89 days depending on the temperature, baby leopard geckos will hatch from their eggs. This happens quietly and relatively quickly, so witnessing the actual moment of hatching is very rare. It is quite possible that you will just notice the brand new baby leos in the place of eggs.
Hatchlings are most often kept in plastic shoe box setups until they reach about 7 inches (~17cm). A ventilated 12 x 6 x 4-inch (~30 x 15 x 10 cm) plastic box with paper towels on the floor, a very shallow water tray and appropriate shelter is about enough for them. They can be kept in sibling pairs, but separate them in case one is growing faster than the other.
There is no need feed them before their first shedding, which will take place 3-4 days after hatching. After that, offer small mealworms (5-10 in a jar lid daily) or ⅓ grown crickets. Some sources suggest feeding every other day, while others recommend everyday feeding. Whatever you decide upon, skip feeding one or two days per week will ensure that the hatchling leopard gecko’s tiny digestive system will not be overwhelmed.
Remember that hatchling leos are a bit nervous and snappy – try not to handle them too much until they grow a bit older and stronger.
As you have just learned, breeding leopard geckos is quite different than just keeping them as pets. It takes time, special equipment and dedication, and it is not a right step for everyone. However, in the case you are ready for it, producing a new generation of leos can be a rewarding experience.
We covered all the important basics of leopard gecko breeding, but there are many more tricks and tips you may learn from experienced breeders who are kind enough to share their experiences. The more you know, the better results you will get, so never stop learning.
How was your first gecko breeding experience? Let us know in the comments – after all, we are here to learn from each other, for the ultimate benefit of our leopard geckos.