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Leopard Gecko Tankhood

General Facts and Care

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Leopard Gecko - Eublepharis Macularis: Meaning 'True eyelid, and Spotted'. Unlike many other geckos and what we commonly know about them, the leopard gecko has moveable eyelids, rather, they can blink. They also don't have the toe pads which allow other geckos to climb vertical surfaces. They actually aren't very good climbers at all and prefer to be closer to the ground or rather, are ground dwellers. They are however, naturally nocturnal and prefer things a little more on the shaded side, becoming most active at night. Such as, feeding late evening, night to earliest morning.

Originally found in the deserts of Pakistan, Western India, and Afghanistan, the leopard gecko has been bred in captivity for generations with various strains of the type of specialized breeding you can find in a leopard gecko from melanistic, jungle, albino, giant to tangerine, lavender, carrot tail, saddleback and so on. They can live up to 20 years with good care and health.

Leo's make a very tolerant pet to even the most inexperienced of novices, but they are still rather delicate with thin, sensitive skin, breakable tails and not much climbing ability. The highest injury risks for them is being dropped, abrasions, or cut by sharp or much too rough items, or bitten by another gecko. Their greatest illness risks tend to be parasites like intestinal passengers or external mites and intestinal/stomach impaction from things like digesting sand.

Tails and Tolerance

Leopard Gecko's have very fat tails where they retain nutrients. They can go a very long time without food or water, their tail thinning as they survive without it. Like other geckos and some lizards, their tails can break off as a means to dissuade predators in the wild. The predator might get a nice fat wiggling tail while the gecko gets away. As a pet, it's very important the tail never breaks because even if they grow back, the risk of a wound being infected is greater for them and a grown back tail never is the same tail wagging glory it once was.

The Cold and Moving

They can also survive very cold temperatures and are able to hibernate in the wild. As pets they can hibernate in the winter months as the household itself cools into the 70's but it isn't really necessary, they can also be kept in summer conditions in their tank all year long. Hibernation for the Leo pretty much means cooler conditions with less feedings due to less appetite, from every two to three days until spring, then feeding more often and warming things up. This also helps induce the desire to breed.

They can be moved in all kinds of weather conditions. I took my Leo's with me during our evacuation from hurricane Rita. A car ride is no problem for them. Just put them in a tupperware container with a firmly closing, secure lid with moist paper towels just thick enough to allow any possible jostling to not harm them. Put breathing holes around the sides of the tupperware, rather than in the lid. Given, without electricity for a while or winter conditions, you can use heat wraps meant for humans on aching muscles or cold hands like 'ThermaCare' which will retain a safe temperature for at least eight hours. My Leo's laid right on top of theirs at night and being a dead hot summer, didn't need any during the day. It's best to have such things as heat or cool packs before hand though and store it away for any such emergency. My Leo's even have an emergency 'kit' now, boxes, packs and canned mealworms have a two year shelf life.

Water

Leo's don't drink a whole lot of water being a semi-desert critter but they do need an ample supply of fresh water. Leaving it on the cool end of the tank will prevent it from evaporating too fast. Preferably, the water should be distilled by at least three days though leaving a bottle of tap water up somewhere for a full week would cover having it chlorine free. Going as far as storing them away some store bought bottled spring water wouldn't hurt, a gallon jug goes a very long way for a single tank of geckos.

A stone should be placed in the water bowl to prevent crickets from getting into it and drowning. They aren't much for swimming and having it really bad, most of the loose one's will drown in it almost overnight. It really helps to leave the water shallow, like a fingernail deep. I've had far less cricket drownings enough to not even need the stone in the water. The gecko's will only swing by to take a few swallows in a day and it should be rinsed out and changed for fresh water regularly anyway because it will still become slick and clutter, thus potentially harbor bacteria.

Some use shallow bottle caps as water bowls up to rock dishes. I like the repti-waterer dispenser, it's a bowl with a reservoir bottle that has a fine plastic mesh between bowl and bottle to keep drowned crickets from sucking up into the bottle part. The bowl itself remains as shallow as I want it to be and I can delay the rinse and refresh on the water for a week if there are no cricket deaths.

Crickets Potato

Leaving the crickets a half of a potato in the gecko tank will also help with them wanting something to drink as much as help in keeping them from potentially trying to munch on a gecko trying to find food. It will leave a scabby spot, and could turn out to be a really bad place like around an eye or get infected.

You can use other things like a carrot or apple pieces, I've just found potatoes to be easier to store and more likely to dry out than spoil. I leave the potato half in an open area so when the crickets come after it the gecko's have a chance to nab at them first. Don't leave the crickets in the tank any other sort of food the gecko's could accidentally swallow trying to catch the cricket. Crickets will also drag off things like a bit of food for them into a safer spot to eat it.

Another small trick I use is to later move the hides and substrate box just enough to get excess crickets to stir and flee. My geckos know perfectly well what's going on and get excited, going into a hunt mode for the fleeing crickets.

Feeding

Geckos are best fed at a consistent time around late afternoon every two or three days, twice in a week at the barest minimum. They should be given only as much as they will eat to one setting, and nothing larger than their own head as it would be too difficult to try to swallow. In crickets that would be about 10 per adult gecko, more or less depending on individual appetite. Preferably 4-5 week old crickets or 1/2 to 3/4th size of adult stage. Mainly because the crickets will be wingless, thus softer than their adult version and I can keep allot of them for a fairly long time before their life cycle is over. With my quantity though, between geckos and frogs, I rarely have to worry about buying 1000 crickets in a month and have any of them die of old age.

A gecko will most likely not eat if they are over stressed, sick, or for simpler reasons such as if they're molting or are pregnant. As a general rule, if you can't tell if they're eating or not, if you see poop, they're eating. If you have more than one and/or an excess in crickets during a routine feeding, somebody didn't eat. More than likely they are about to molt.

Geckos are better at eating live foods because the activity stimulates them much better to seek 'prey'. They don't really go after anything motionless. They can eat other foods besides crickets but they're better as snacks with crickets as the most nutritious staple, like small caterpillars, grubs, mealworms, pinkies and even roaches (good luck with that).

Generally I've found things like mealworms will go unnoticed because they're just too slow moving, and hard to keep on a pair of tweezers or in your fingers to try to wiggle to entice a gecko to nab at it. Those little jaws are very strong too and it's a bit of a startlement if your finger gets nabbed instead. Mealworms are also very fatty, instead of nutritious for a gecko and their exoskeletal is more difficult to process or digest than a crickets, so they're a little riskier in the gecko getting impaction. I've noticed my Leo's have even larger poop in mealworms than they did with just crickets. Bigger poop more or less means more waste came out than nutritions were absorbed into their system.

Some use mealworms as a staple and seem to have no problems with that. I may be raising my own hatchlings on a mostly mealworm diet myself, just because they are easier and cleaner to manage and raise than buying even more bulk crickets.

Just be sure the mealworms are gutloaded themselves with goodies. I raise mine in a semi-warm substrate of equal portions of oatmeal, bran cereal and cornmeal with an added 1/2 tbsp of herptivite multivitamins and repti-cal with the vit D3. Cut potatoes for moisture.

Starting with your fingers, Leo's can get used to diving for mealworms in a small dish bowl by showing them the food and then dropping it in after they show some interest such as licking and head tilting at it. Lightly shake the bowl a bit to keep mealworms moving and remove any worms after 15 or so minutes of eating/enticing. I wouldn't leave mealworms in there to become beetles that have just too hard of a shell to be safe for a gecko to ingest. You can pretty much leave them there inevitably with a bit of carrot but making a ritual habit of when mealworms come will also make it easier for the gecko to want to eat them despite the slow moving.

Fancy Dance is already quick to call on the bowl shaking and hand feeding, I swear he's like Garfield with lasagna for them. Susie Q hasn't really figured it out yet. She knows something to eat is going on but not what. She wanders around the others and climbs up my arm when I'm doing the hand feeding, but so far has only figured it out a little bit when some are in the bowl and moving.

You might want to have two different mealworm bowls for a tank with several geckos, because they might end up catching each other for trying to nab for the same mealworm. Another nice thing about mealworms is they don't escape from their bowl.

More or less mine eat crickets as their staple diet but I give them super mealworms and frozen pinkies are soon on the menu for occasions like after they've finally laid their eggs and need to quickly rebuild their tails. Pinkies are a bit expensive but a good treat for building a nice fat tail and healthy body, particularly in getting females extra large for pregnancy and then rebuilding after laying eggs. They can be offered 2/3 pinkies in a day, while I've noticed mealworms are better being offered two, three or even four times in a day/night between the regular cricket feedings or just left there. Rather, they're eating daily during the breeding season with mealworms between crickets.

When the colder months come in I'll slow things down again to feeding every two to three days but I think I'll start alternating crickets and mealworms. This is sort of a hibernation for them anyway and helps stimulate breeding for the summer months picking up the near daily feeding again in spring.

Powdering

I place the crickets to powder in a little box I gathered from the pet store that has a lid with fine slits in it. Here I include an equal measurement of reptile vitamins and calcium with vitamin D3. I shake the powder into a larger bowl away from the crickets using the slotted lid. Once I have my powdered crickets I open the container and allow them to slip into the gecko tank. It's a regular field day with geckos snatching at the pell mell of runaway crickets.

Inevitably I have some crickets left over by another day or two but I try not to give them so many that I'd have to clean the tank just to gather the excess of crickets out of there. Most importantly I don't want crickets to eat gecko poop and transfer intestinal parasites if my geckos eat the cricket in turn, or they end up nibbling on my geckos despite having a potato half for them to munch on instead.

I strive to make it a habit to clean the poop area by picking up the extra newspaper fold before a feeding or at least keep the habit of making it every other day or so but it's no perfect science. There will be poop and there will be crickets.

cricktsbox.jpg
The box I powder the crickets

Vitamin D3, Phosphorus and Vit-A

Vitamin D3 is essential for a gecko. Since they are cold blooded, they gather the D-supplement in the wild from the sun and from eating sand that contains it and calcium. In captivity they can gather it from the vitamins and calcium powder supplements, or special lighting like incandescents and fluorescents.

Incandescents produce heat, optionally as daylight or nightlight. Fluorescents are mostly soft, virtually heatless daylight. Basically though, most bulbs specifically for reptiles aim at producing vitamin D3 through such as UVB rays.

Basically, calcium uptake is regulated by phosphorous and by vitamin D3. Phosphorus derive energy from carbohydrates and fats and for protein production. Vitamin D3 is required to facilitate the absorption of calcium from the intestine. Too much Vit-A can also prove to be toxic for them, so it is preferable to gather a multivitamin supplement that uses beta carotene instead.

You never want too little or too much of anything either way, but the best system I've noted so far is to get phosphorus free supplements since the feeder insects will have enough or the multivitamins might end up containing it. Dust the crickets with calcium powder and multivitamins, one or the other having D3. But provide the tank a small bowl of plain calcium powder, without D3 or phosphorus.

Most importantly, feed your crickets well. Gut load them with vits and calcium rich foods and veggies. You can give them cricket foods from suppliers. I provide mine staple potatoes for moisture and something to drink with perhaps some occasional apple or carrot peals. I also feed them either fish food like pond pellets or dry cat food, both of which contain plenty of vits and minerals with a high content for proteins.

Sensitivity and Molting

shed.jpg
7/07 - Jungle Jool

An adult gecko tends to molt every month while juveniles molt far more often.

When they start the molting, they don't want to eat. Usually they'll stop eating a day or two before you even notice a frosting over. They pretty much don't want to do much of anything but rub against everything they can and hide around. They begin to look much lighter, almost as if they've gone white or frosty. After they're very noticeably frosty, this begins to peel off. The shed is rather thick, almost leathery or like tissue paper but it will dry very hard. It's important to keep an eye on them to make sure they successfully get the shed off of their toes and tails. If they don't it could potentially dry on them and cut a toe or tail off from constricting the circulation.

For the most part they get it off by themselves just fine and don't need any help. Sometimes it's very quickly and barely noticed, peeling within the hour of seeing them frosted while other times might take a bit longer. It looks so itchy at times, I might at least help with the head or hold a bit down and let them walk it off just to be sure the toes were freed. It's really neat to see a bit of skin from a leg intact like they just took a glove off. At this time though they are touch sensitive, easier to startle, and it's better off for them to just watch. Never peel the gecko while they are frosted and it hasn't started to loosen, even if they've already started rubbing against everything. You could end up injuring them and risking infection, just imagine trying to peel off a sunburn.

The substrate box and extra spraying the tank with a spray bottle should be enough for providing moisture/humidity to help them shed.

If the attempt to rub the shed off is going on just too long and being stubborn, such as most of it is still there over night, you can soak the gecko (not drown) in luke warm water or place them in a tupperware box with warm, wet paper towels for about 30min and help them peel themselves free. Be as delicate as possible with plenty of soaking, it should come off very easily or it isn't ready and they need another 30min. Return them to the tank with the shedding so they can eat it. A stubborn and/or thick shedding is most likely because the humidity wasn't high enough or the substrate box wasn't moist enough.

The gecko will eat their shedding which will return nutrients to them they didn't get skipping their regular feeding. Their new skin underneath is extra sensitive at this time, so it's best not to have to handle them, provide them with as little stress as possible for them with just leaving them alone. They should go back to eating normally by the next feeding after a complete shed.

Once they have molted, their coat patterns tend to change, especially juveniles into adulthood. The lighter or darker of their coating mainly has to do with the heat gradient and/or any lighting.

Despite what you hear just about everywhere on how to care for these guys, not every Leo is the same. Such as Jungle Jool, I never really notice her shed because she doesn't frost over until the very last minute when it's time to start rubbing it off. And just yesterday from this pic she ate about 10 super mealworms while Susie Q is still thinking about the idea of gobbling down more than one or two. SuseQ molted about three days ago though and had her fill on the regular feeding of crickets. She might care for mealworms later or just doesn't like them. Normally, Leo's don't want to eat sometimes just before you even notice they've frosted over for molting. It only takes a day or two, and then about an hour or less for them to rub it all off and eat it. Fancy Dance was the fairly normal one but now that I've introduced them to super mealworms he's eating them even while he was frosted over and ready to shed.

Captivity Stress

Captivity for any animal causes them stress on a constant basis. Bringing a gecko home to his new place, put the container he arrived in inside the tank with the lid off and leave him alone over night before taking the container out. Give him at least until the next night before you try to feed him. Give him only three or four crickets, more if he ate all of them, increasing it after the next two days, building up to his/her normal diet. For the first week or two do everything possible not to handle them or have to put your hand in the tank. With mine I went as far as covering the sides they would have to look out at activity. You don't want the tank to be in a high traffic area or have hides with entrances that point right at a brightly lit room, especially at night. It will take almost a month for habits and personality to begin to really show, as they become more comfortable with smells and surroundings. It's better to not impose on them with things like handling or placing ones hand in the tank until then.

In getting a new gecko or for the first time it is best to keep them separate from any others for at least a week or two but preferably over a month, as they adjust from being shipped to a new place, to having to get used to yet another tank with other geckos. It would be a sufficient quarantine to observe the new gecko for any illnesses you wouldn't want transfered to the other geckos. This will also give them enough time to adjust to the new smells and scenery, introducing them to the geckos they'll be living with by smell first, such as trading hides between them at first and making the tanks visible to each other. Or, taking the geckos out to let the new one have a run of the tank by themselves, reintroducing the old school Leo's back into their tank one at a time.

Geckos are naturally territorial and may become so with other geckos in the beginning. They show their warnings by waving their tails in a snake-like fashion into the air and going as far as to make a short, hissing sound. At last result with another gecko, they may bite, which can result in the loss of toes and tails. At the worst they will keep it up until the weaker gecko is too stressed out to eat or join in the better spots to bask or shade. In such a case, the weaker, or the gecko causing too much aggression for all the others, should be removed and kept in their own tank. Continuing to try to reintroduce them every two weeks or so might eventually get them to adjust, but they really shouldn't be expected to.

Geckos do just as well living alone and aren't all that sociable to begin with. Males never will do well together because they are competative, especially for the females attention. Females hatched at the much higher, male producing temperatures also have the potential to tend to be the aggressive, and might be the one to be unable to introduce to living with another gecko.

Being naturally passive, a pared male or several females together may tolerate each other well enough to become a little community. If there is a late, younger arrival, they should be kept in a separate tank until they are a more matching size to the others.

Suggestible Items

Provent-A-Mite

Spray, such as on newspaper substrate or other surfaces and accessories. Spray it around the outside of feeder containers like crickets or fruit fly cultures like on newspaper to set their containers on. I've found it to also repel ants.

Mite Off

Applicable directly onto the gecko for mites. I've found this safe, wiping it on the body with a tissue, nowhere near the eyes. The best way to tell your Leo has mites is if they rub allot even when not shedding and/or after your hand has been in there it feels itchy.

Reptile Eye Rinse

Infected, irritated or itchy eye. FD has had an itchy eye problem before but I generously wet the end of a q-tip and wiped it on the eye rather than handle and struggle with him to drip it into his eye as the application suggests. Allot less stressful, he barely even noticed, but I might of had to drip it in if it had been for something like rinsing out a foreign object.

Puralube Vet Ointment

Petrolatum and mineral oil for an irritated eye treatment but it could also be applied to a minor wound or abrasion.

Clotisol

Perfectly good product for a more serious wound like a broken off tail, cuts and abrasions.

Healthy Habitat

I prefer something like this over using things like bleach water if I really need to clean a tank better than warm water and a rag. I don't have to wait forever on a tank for a harsh, super chemical to dry out. This stuff is effective, squeaky clean and I can use it more quickly, allot more often.

Herptivite Multivitamins

Beta carotene in replacement of Vit-A

Rep-Cal

Fine powder calcium, with and without D3, phosphorus free

ESU Reptile: Jump-Start

For a leopard gecko I would suggest using a CC oral syringe rather than the tube it comes in, it's rather large. Apply into or at least around the mouth, not down the throat. Give them a chance to lick at it, prying a reptiles mouth open is never, never a good idea to have to do due to stress and inevitable injury to their mouth from such handling. It's a caloric supplement and appetite stimulant. Basically cod liver, corn syrup molassess and allot of vits and cal. Safe to eat at any time.

For cuts, healing wounds and/or abrasions you can also safely use petroleum jelly or iodine.