|A young leopard gecko|
The leopard gecko (Eublepharis macularius) is a nocturnal ground-dwelling gecko naturally found in the deserts parts of Southern Central Asia from the southern parts of Afghanistan, thoughout Pakistan, to the Northwestern parts of India. Unlike most geckos, it possesses eyelids. It has become a well-established pet in captivity. Leopard geckos are one of the most common pets in the reptile industry because of their easy care and cheap housing.
Leopard geckos were first described as a species by British zoologist Edward Blyth in 1854 as Eublepharis macularis. The generic name Eublepharis is a combination of the Greek words Eu (true), and blephar (eyelid), as having eyelids is what distinguishes members of this subfamily from other geckos. The specific name, macularius, derives from the Latin word macula meaning "spot" or "blemish", referring to the animal's natural spotted markings.
There are five subspecies including the nominative species: Eublepharis macularius macularius, E. m. afghanicus (Börner 1976), E. m. fasciolatus (Günther 1864), E. m. montanus (Börner 1976), and E. m. smithi (Börner 1981).
The native habitat of the leopard gecko is the rocky, dry grassland and desert regions of south-Asian Afghanistan, Pakistan, north-west India, and parts of Iran. As nocturnal creatures, they spend the day hidden under rocks or in burrows to escape the daytime heat and emerge at dusk to hunt insects.
Wild leopard geckos are very adaptable and are known to eat beetles, centipedes, spiders and even scorpions.
The leopard gecko is typically a cream to yellow color, with black spots similar to those of a leopard. However, selective breeding in captivity has produced varying colorations, including high yellow, tangerine, lavender, blizzard (solid white or gray), it may also have some light purple or red bloches and albino. Typical patterns include striped and patternless (no spots or stripes) varieties. The typical total length is 6 to 11 inches, with some captive specimens exceeding 11 inches.
Baby leopard geckos have a totally different colour pattern than their parents. At birth, a leopard gecko has no spots. Instead, the body is covered in alternating dark and light pink bands. These bands fade within one year.
The leopard gecko is one of only a few gecko species (all of them members of the subfamily Eublepharidae, a small family of tropical/subtropical species found in the world) that have eyelids. This helps the gecko keep its eyes clean and particle-free in its dusty environment. Like most other geckos, the leopard gecko can clean and moisten its eyes using its tongue. Unlike other species of gecko, leopard geckos have small claws instead of adhesive toe pads, which prevents them from climbing smooth vertical surfaces. However, their claws give extra traction on the ground and are helpful in digging. These differences have been cited as a possible reason to name Eubelpharinae as a different family apart from geckos.
Like most lizards, the leopard gecko can drop its tail, in a process called caudal autotomy. When disturbed (grasped), muscles at the base of the gecko's tail constrict and snap the vertebrae, severing most of the tail. The detached, wriggling and spasming tail distracts the potential predator as the gecko makes its escape. Although the leopard gecko will grow a new one in time, around 40 days, the regenerated tail will differ from the original, appearing bulbous and inferior. The tail will never look the same.
Geckos will also use their tails for fat storage. When a leopard gecko eats, it stores part of its food and converts it into fat, which is stored in its tail. In times of hunger, leopard geckos gain nutrition by metabolizing this fat reserve and therefore can survive a period of weeks without food. A healthy leopard gecko's tail is wider than the width of its neck.
Leopard geckos shed their skin and then eat it. This is done to prevent an alert to predators that leopard geckos are living in the vicinity, and are therefore up for eating! It has been suggested that the skin provides nutrients for the gecko, but evidence for this remains inconclusive.
Leopard geckos can also escape chicken by making use of their claws to climb trees which enables them to escape hunters.
Leopard geckos become sexually mature at ten to fifteen months of age. Males are generally larger and broader (bulkier) than females and have a V-shaped row of pre-anal pores in front of their cloaca that are much darker and more prominent than a females, and a noticeable bulge at the base of the tail caused by the hemipenis. Also males are usually more boldly coloured than females, but this is not always the case.
Leopard geckos breed from February through September, although the season may begin as early as January and finish as late as October. When a male encounters a female he will vibrate his tail rapidly. In response, the female silently sways her tail from side to side along the ground. Following this action, the male will lick her to obtain her scent and will begin biting her from the lower body upwards. If the female does not wish to mate, she will bite back and the male will cease his activity. If she accepts, he will continue up to her neck, making his body parallel to hers and placing his hind leg over her tail, inserting one of his hemipenes into her cloaca.
Thirty days later, the female will lay one or two eggs with a leathery shell. Clutches of two eggs will then be laid every two weeks to monthly throughout the rest of the mating season varying from each gecko according to age, with older females gradually laying fewer eggs each year. The eggs will need to be incubated. Owners can incubate leopard gecko eggs in a plastic deli-cup filled with vermiculite.
Like many other egg-laying reptiles the sex of leopard geckos are determined by incubation temperature. Eggs incubated at 79 °F will result in a majority of female neonates, whereas eggs incubated at 85-87 °F will result in a more even sex ratio and eggs incubated at 89-90 °F in the first four weeks will result in more males. Females hatched from these eggs are generally more aggressive than other females, and they tend to reach sexual maturity later if at all. An incubation temperature lower than 77 °F or higher than 97 °F will cause deformities and usually death of the neonates incubated at these temperatures.
The eggs hatch six to twelve weeks after being laid depending on temperature. The gecko breaks the surface of the egg and pushes its head out, remaining in this position from two to four hours adapting to lung breathing and obtaining oxygen from the egg membranes as well as absorbing yolk from inside the egg.
One to a few leopard geckos can be easily housed in a small area. Although housing two males together is not advised as territorial fighting may occur. Apart from heating they need very little equipment to thrive. Any heating provided should be controlled by a thermostat to ensure the temperatures are correct. Additional lighting is not necessary as they spend much of the day in burrows, and in some cases - particularly in albino's the lighting can burn through the skin covering their eyes causing blindness.
Captive food includes crickets,locusts, small cockroaches, mealworms, small silkworms and Phoenix worms. These insects are commercially available from most pet shops that sells these lizards. Feeder insects should be well fed, with a so-called gut loading food to increase their nutritional value to the gecko. In addition to this the food items should be dusted with a suitable multi-vitamin, mainly calcium, powder every two to three days. adult leopard geckos should be fed every other day baby leopard geckos should be fed every day adult leopard geckos will eat around 5-9 crickets every other day babies will eat around 3-5 crickets a day
Cryptosporidiosis, also known as 'crypto', is a highly infectious disease that is often fatal to leopard geckos if it is not detected and treated in its early stages. Although a definitive diagnosis can be difficult to make, the disease can be recognized by regurgitated food in the enclosure, liquid feces, and consequently a very thin body and tail (also called "pencil tail"). One should never buy a gecko displaying these symptoms. Even if the symptoms are not caused by crypto there is probably another problem with the gecko's health.
Although the success rate is still low there are experimental treatments for crypto that can be successful, but involve a painstaking process. Because of this and the difficulty to diagnose the disease, a lot of suspected infected pet leopard geckos gets humanely euthanized.