If you have a crested gecko, starting a breeding project will no doubt come to mind. This article begins with a short list of questions one needs to answer before venturing into breeding crested geckos. What is the reason for breeding? Is the reasoning sound? The list below will help keep reality in check as you dive into this passionate hobby.
The short list:
Time – Do you have the time to offer excellent care and effectively sell/find homes for the geckos you produce?
Space – …and lots of it! Two geckos can become 20 easily within one year. Do you have the space for expansion, even in the long-term if the offspring do not sell?
Money – Having the financial means to feed and house a growing colony, pay for emergency vet care and support the animals that may not sell is very important. This can quickly add up to hundreds of dollars. One must make a financial commitment.
Strategy – Is what you plan to breed going to be something people want to buy? Sometimes pet stores will buy surplus geckos, but often at a very low selling price.
Risks – Your favorite pet gecko may permanently lose a tail, suffer a calcium deficiency or need an emergency vet visit for a prolapsed hemipene. If your gecko’s tail is of extreme importance, keeping her as a pet is the safe route.
So you decided to start a breeding project, congratulations! Below are the bare basics needed to successfully breed crested geckos.
- Scale – to track weights of breeding animals and weigh future offspring
- Laybox – a deep container with substrate for the female to lay her eggs
- Multiple enclosures for separation (Exo Terra Glass Terrariums or others)
Choosing your stock:
The previous article “Choosing a Crested Gecko”, covers this topic.
One of the most important aspects of conditioning a gecko for breeding is calcium supplementation. This topic is most important for the female, because she will be the one to develop and calcify the eggs. There are many brands of calcium supplements on the market. In nature, calcium is absorbed through the body by exposure to sunlight and the vitamin D it provides. Because it is not advised to house crested geckos outdoors, make sure the calcium supplement includes vitamin D. Calcium should be provided regularly when “dusting” crickets and other feeder insects. Calcium can also be offered via “calcium lick” or by adding small amounts of additional calcium to their fruit diet. A calcium lick is a simple, small dish filled with powdered calcium.
Are they ready?:
How do you know if your female has enough calcium to start breeding? One can check a female’s stored calcium by looking at the roof of her mouth. Gently apply pressure on the side of her mouth to encourage her to gape. Two engorged white sacs should be present on the roof of her mouth. If the sacs are prominent, the female is good to go. The minimum age for breeding is 18 months, with a minimum weight of 35 grams. Keep the male and female separated until these numbers are achieved to prevent high-risk pairings. It is widely believed that first-time breeders often lay more viable eggs if they are given more time to develop and grow. Waiting until two to three years of age before breeding the female can allow for optimum uninterrupted growth. If a female is not supplemented with enough calcium, and she is bred before she is done growing, there is a risk of permanently stunting her growth. There is also a greater chance of a fatal “calcium crash”, in which the female depletes her stored calcium to the point where it is drawn from other parts of her body. The breeding community largely prefers weights of 40 grams for breeding females. Many hobbyists also believe that obesity can decrease egg production. One can combat obesity by providing a larger enclosure, more climbing structures, and even calm hand walking.
Who to pair:
This is the fun part! What do you want to see in the offspring? When choosing from a larger collection, this can become quite the task. If you have a single male and a single female, ask yourself if you think the pairing is worthwhile. Will people want to buy the offspring they produce? Breeders often change up their pairs yearly to help preserve genetic diversity or reach a desired result with the offspring. Crested gecko “morphs” do not breed true. This means whether the parents look alike or not, you are likely to see a variety of colors and patterns in the offspring. This quality is part of the fun and frustration with breeding crested geckos. My only recommendation in choosing your pairs is to consider the presence or absence of spots. Choosing to mate spotless females to spotless males is often a wise move. When it comes time to sell the offspring, buyers can be very picky about spots.
When it is time to bring the pair together, there are a few methods to choose from. If the female is a first-time breeder (and you are new to the hobby), I highly recommend the first option to lessen the stress on you both.
The male is placed with the female for one week each month. Crested geckos are highly prolific and one week is more than enough time for the male to get the job done. If the female is unusually reluctant, there is always the month following. Frequent separation allows plenty of “off” time for the female to recover from the stress of courting. Introducing the male multiple times throughout the year virtually eliminates reliance on stored sperm. It also helps alleviate the common weight loss seen in both the male in the female during long periods of cohabitation. This option is also preferable if you have one male mating with several females for the season and you do not wish to co-house the females.
This is probably the most common method currently practiced by breeders. The male and female are introduced and left to cohabitate for one to three months. After this period, they are not introduced until the following year. Each clutch of eggs laid by the female is from sperm stored earlier in the season. During their time together, it is important to make sure no gecko is losing weight, or sustaining injuries.
Year round cohabitation:
This method is best left to breeders with years of experience under their belt. Without proper cooling, females may continue to produce clutches until a calcium crash. A calcium crash can also occur with the other pairing methods, but with this method it is at the highest risk.
Courtship and Mating:
Typical courting involves chasing, biting and calls from the male. When he successfully subdues the female (usually by biting and holding her neck or crests) he will wrap his tail underneath her and insert one of two hemipenes. Successful mating can happen within seconds of introduction. Both rituals appear brutal, and are not for the faint of heart. Observe the pair from afar, leaving them to their privacy often speeds up the process. Observations made at night with a flashlight tend to yield the best results.
An 18x18x24 Exo Terra Glass Terrarium will serve as excellent housing for a pair. Larger enclosures will be needed to house trios or quads. If one wants to be able to provide parental information on the eggs that hatch, females must be housed individually. If space is a limiting factor, remember that soon you will be hatching many more geckos that will also need enclosures of their own. Housing the offspring together can result in nipped or lost tails.
With the surplus of crested geckos on the market today buyers are becoming more selective. Parent information is often requested and in some cases required before picky customers make a decision. Knowing the parental info of breeding stock can help make a sale and even help you decide which geckos will make the most interesting offspring. Providing the parental info of the offspring is simple, but requires that females be housed individually and that eggs be carefully labeled or incubated apart.
Egg laying and retrieval:
After a successful pairing, the female will lay a clutch of two eggs approximately 30 days later. One-egg clutches are uncommon but do occur. If there is not two to three inches of Exo terra plantation soil or a similar substrate in her enclosure, she will need a laybox. A laybox can be any container with a minimum depth of two to three inches, and a comfortable length and width to contain your adult female. Homemade containers can be as simple as a lidless plastic shoebox filled with plantation soil. Other popular laying substrates include vermiculite or a vermiculite/soil mix. Females may feel safer during laying if the laybox has a lid with a two-inch hole for entry. After 28 days the laybox can be checked as often as daily or as infrequently as weekly. If the laying substrate is moist, one can comfortably check the laybox once per week. Gently brush substrate aside while searching for eggs. Remove eggs and carefully place them into your incubation container filled with moistened superhatch in the same orientation in which they were uncovered. If the eggs are rotated after the embryo has attached to the shell, the embryo can detach and expire.
Keep in mind that the laying process can be very strenuous on the female gecko. Let her rest and recover for a few days before checking her weight and calcium stores. If you notice the female acting unusually lethargic over 24 hours after laying eggs, she may be experiencing a calcium crash and needs to see a reptile vet immediately. If the female is visually gravid and not able to deposit her eggs she will become egg-bound. Egg-binding is potentially life threatening and may also require veterinary care. If the female is unable to defecate for more than a few days, check http://www.reptilevetsnearyou.com for veterinary options!
Breeding crested geckos can be a rewarding endeavor. Watching eggs hatch is an exciting moment to look forward to. Stay tuned for more on the incubation of crested gecko eggs!
About the Author:
|Lauren Phillips is a graduate student studying Tropical Conservation at Michigan State University. Lauren is currently in charge of tadpole husbandry and gecko-related inventory here at Josh’s Frogs. She owns and operates The Adventure Gecko, a small-scale business focusing on breeding New Caledonian gecko species. Check out her Facebook page.