Leopard Geckos are relatively easy to breed but there are a few things to consider before you decide to breed from your leopard geckos -
Are your leos healthy, eating and shedding well with no illness or deformities? This is important as breeding from unhealthy leos risks their health aswell as the health of their offspring - some deformities are hereditary.
Are your leos over 12 months old and weigh more than 60g? Breeding from leos who are not old enough or up to weight can cause problems such as egg binding and weight loss as breeding takes a lot out of leos.
Have you researched breeding leopard geckos so you are prepared and know what to expect?
Do you have space, tubs, heating and stats for the hatchlings? A single female could produce up to 12 hatchlings, all of whom have to be housed individually until they are at least 8 weeks old.
Do you have the time and money to care for the leos if anything goes wrong? Such as if any of your hatchlings are unwell or hatch with deformities? Or vets fees if your female becomes egg bound or your male suffers from a hemipenal prolapse?
Do you have an incubator set up ready? It can take several days to ensure your incubator is running at the correct temperature reliably and once eggs are laid, they need to be transferred to an incubator within 24 hours.
Are you breeding to make profit? Very few people who breed from their leos make any profit from selling the hatchlings.
Do you have potential homes for your hatchlings? The leopard gecko market is becoming flooded as more people are breeding from their leopard geckos.
Leopard Gecko breeding season is usually January/February til September/October.
Introducing Your Leopard Geckos
You should introduce your male leo to your female and observe their behaviour - if a female does not want to mate, she can attack the male and also males can become aggressive during mating season. If you see the leos fighting, you should remove the male immediately and put him back in his own viv then try again a few days later.
A male leo will sniff and lick at the air and floor then he will vibrate his tail and approach the female. If she is receptive, he will often start by biting her tail and sides then work his way up until he has hold of the females head or neck. At this point, they will usually mate. The male will usually clean himself after mating.
One or two matings is sufficient for a female to lay a full season of eggs and you should not leave a male in with a female after they have mated or re-introduce the male to a female in between egg laying. You should not introduce more than one male to a female per season unless the first male did not mate with the female.
Setting Up Your Incubator
There are various types of incubators - the Hova-Bator, the Lucky Reptile Herp Nursery, the R-COM Juragon or the home-made incubator.
Whichever incubator you choose, you need to have it set up and running prior to your female leo laying eggs to check that the humidity and temperatures are correct and constant.
Inside your incubator you will need to have a plastic "egg box" (or egg boxes if you prefer) containing your damp incubating medium. There are several things you can use as an incubating medium but perlite or vermiculite are the common choices.
It is important that you have the correct amount of moisture in your incubating medium - too damp and your eggs will become mouldy or swell and fail, too dry and your eggs will collapse and dehydrate. If your eggs become mouldy, wipe them gently with a piece of kitchen roll or cotton wool and carefully try to remove some moisture from your incubating medium. If your eggs become dented or deflated, try placing a piece of damp kitchen roll over them overnight and carefully add some water to your incubating medium, taking care not to let water drip onto the eggs.
The temperature you incubate your eggs for can determine the sex of your hatchlings. This is not 100% accurate as occassionally males can hatch at female temperatures or females can hatch at males temperatures but it is a good guideline. It is important that the temperature in your incubator remains steady as fluctuations can result in deformities to hatchlings faces, eyelids, tails or legs.
Incubating at 80F / 26C will hatch mostly females and the eggs should take approx 60-65 days to hatch
Incubating at 85F / 29C will hatch males and females and the eggs should take approx 55 days to hatch
Incubating at 90F / 32C will hatch mostly males and the eggs should take approx 40-45 days to hatch
How to build your own incubator.
You can build your own incubator very cheaply using a polystyrene box which can be sourced from an aquatics shop or a mini fridge.
1. Put 3-4 small holes in the lid of the polystyrene box if this is what you are using. Make sure that they are very small - a pencil is a good choice for this. If you are using a mini fridge, make sure it is unplugged and not in operation.
2. Place a heat mat in the bottom of the polystyrene box/mini fridge, connected to a pulse stat. The heat mat should cover the whole base of the polystyrene box/mini fridge.
3. Place a stand on the heat mat for the egg box to lift it off the heat mat and attach your stat probe to the stand so it is touching the egg box or you can put the stat probe in the egg box if you prefer. If you are using a mini fridge, you can use one of the fridge shelves to put the egg box on.
4. Use a pencil to create 2 dips on the rim of the polystyrene box and place the cables for the heat mat and stat probe in them so that the lid of the polystyrene box closes flush and is not lifted by the cables. You can use some sellotape to help hold the cables in place.
5. Now you need to set up your egg box ready for your eggs. I use this method - http://www.albeysreptiles.com/incubate-eggs.htm
6. Place the thermometer in the egg box. You may need to adjust your stat until you are getting the correct temperature in your egg box before you put the eggs in there.
7. You are now ready for your eggs!
8. During incubation, open the egg box once a week to allow the air to circulate but try not to have the egg box out of the incubator for more than a minute or so as this will cause temperature fluctuations which can damage the developing embryos.
9. When your eggs are due to hatch, you should check your incubator daily for any hatchlings, monitor the condition of the eggs and also keep an eye on the temperature but again take care not to leave the lid open for too long.
Between 2 and 6 weeks after mating, a female will be ready to lay her first eggs. The eggs can usually be observed in the leos lower stomach prior to laying. It is important to have a laying box in the viv ready for the female - a wetbox is sufficient for this or you could provide an additional opaque plastic hide containing damp spagnum moss or eco earth. If a laying box is not provided or kept damp enough, a female may retain her eggs leading to her becoming egg bound.
Some leos will only dig in the laying box when they are preparing to lay their eggs, others will dig in the laying box a few days prior to find a suitable spot. You may not notice when your leo lays her eggs as they are often laid overnight but if you do see her, she should be left quietly to dig a hole, lay her eggs and cover them up without being disturbed. This can take several hours as egg laying is tiring and your leo may pause and have a rest. Once your female has left the laying box, then you can remove the eggs.
A healthy female should lay 2 eggs (a clutch) every 2-4 weeks up to 8 clutches (16 eggs) but first time breeders may lay single eggs or fewer clutches. It is important to provide an egg laying female with plenty of food and calcium as she will need extra during this time.
Eggs will usually be laid at the bottom of the laying box and covered up so the only way you will see them is to lift the laying box and look through the plastic if using a clear laying box or by carefully checking through the contents of the laying box if using an opaque laying box. You should check for eggs daily when you know your female is due to lay.
When you remove the eggs, take care as they are likely to be stuck to the laying box and removing them too quickly or roughly may cause the eggshell to rupture. You should also make sure that you do not rotate the eggs when you remove them - the embryo will attach itself to the egg wall when it is laid and rotating the egg could drown the embryo. I mark the top of the eggs with a cross using a felt tipped pen to ensure they stay the right way up and can be corrected if they are accidently rotated. Eggs are often stuck together and I can recommend that you don't try to seperate them - they will be fine to remain stuck together whereas seperating them may damage them.
Using your finger, create a dent in your incubating medium and place the eggs in there so that they are held in place and prevented from rolling.
Fertile or Infertile Eggs
Checking whether eggs are fertile or not can be done 3 days after they have been laid when you should be able to see a small bullseye on the inside of the egg but its easier to tell when the eggs are 2 weeks old and veins should have developed. To check your eggs, carefully lift them out of the incubator and hold an LED torch to the side of the egg. If the egg glows pink or you can see veins, it is fertile. Infertile eggs will be a bright yellow colour.
There are several reasons why your female may lay infertile eggs including -
Some first time breeders do not lay fertile eggs during their first season but will go on to lay fertile eggs the following season if mated.
Your male may not have actually mated with your female - female leos can lay eggs without being mated or even without ever being near a male but these will obviously be infertile.
Sometimes the first clutch of eggs laid by a female are infertile but subsequent clutches are fertile and sometimes a female will lay some fertile eggs and some infertile eggs during a season even though she was mated.
There is always the possibility that your male is infertile. If you have tried to breed from him more than once or with more than one female and the eggs are always infertile, it is likely that your male leo is infertile.
When your babies hatch, you should leave them in the incubator for a few hours, unless they are running around when you find them and then they can be removed immediately. Sometimes a baby will hatch with the egg yolk still attached - you should not try to remove this but leave the hatchling in the incubator where it will absorb the yolk or seperate on its own.
When you remove hatchlings from the incubator, its wise to check that all the other eggs are the correct way up - sometimes hatchlings can rotate eggs by running around when they hatch. Be aware that hatchlings are very fast and also very delicate so you need to take care when removing them from the incubator. They are also likely to start screaming at you - this is a warning for you to back off and it will make you jump the first time you hear it. They are pretty defenseless at this size so other than running off the only thing they can do in the wild to try to scare off predators is to make a lot of noise.
You should have small tubs set up ready for your hatchlings with kitchen roll as a substrate, a milk bottle top of calcium, a milk bottle top of water, a small hide and a wetbox. Similar to your adult leos set up but on a much smaller scale. Hatchlings should be housed individually to prevent bullying during this important growing phase. Your hatchling tubs should all be positioned half on/half off a heat mat with a stat on it at the same temperatures as your adult leos.
Newly hatched leos don't eat for up to a week, but they will have their first shed and pass waste. You should offer your hatchling leos mini mealworms and tiny hoppers or mini crickets from 3 days after they hatch. All hatchling livefood should be gutloaded and dusted. Once they start eating, hatchlings have big appetites and should be allowed to eat as much livefood as they like. You should not offer hatchlings any treats such as waxworms as they will be too big and too fatty for them to digest.
Hatchling leos will shed a lot more often than adult leos as they are growing rapidly (approximately once every 3 weeks).
You should monitor your hatchling leos weight weekly or fortnightly and once they are over 8 weeks old and preferably over 20g, they are ready for their new homes if you are selling them!