Guide to Breeding Leopard Geckos on a Small Scale
Breeding leopard geckos is relatively easy and rewarding. There are so many exciting images on the internet of gorgeous and unique animals that many of us get bitten by the breeding bug. We may dream of producing beautiful specimens and even of developing our own lines. Few of us, however, have the time, space and money that it takes to succeed at this level. In order to develop a unique line of high quality animals, a breeder must have access to a large collection which needs to be continually upgraded. He or she must be able to house and feed breeders and hatchlings, and also must have a market to sell both the expensive morphs and the less unusual ones that will result. A new breeder without the reputation and clientele of an established one will most likely not be able to locate enough customers to move a large number of geckos and will not be able to get the same prices as an established breeder.
We may not be able to “have it all”, but there are other ways to have an interesting and fulfilling breeding experience. For the past 3 years, I have been breeding leopard geckos on a small scale which has allowed me to experience the joy of participating in the creation of new life on a more modest budget of money, space and time. Working with a small scale operation, arbitrarily defined here as a colony of 10 or fewer females, a breeder may have to make some difficult choices: producing high quality morphs with limited opportunity for development of the line, or producing less unusual morphs with greater variety and progression. Breeding on a small scale is a permanent choice for some of us, and is also a way to “test the waters” before embarking on a more extensive enterprise.
What follows are some considerations and suggestions for small scale breeding and a model for how to go about it:
Before You Begin
Gain some basic experience:
A prospective breeder should have experience and knowledge about caring for leopard geckos, preferably for at least a year, before trying to breed. Starting with juvenile geckos and learning about the changes they go through and the problems they may encounter is good preparation for some of the things that may come into play with breeders and hatchlings. Geckos have a yearly cycle of behavior that follows the seasons. Observing and learning about seasonal changes and how to cope with them is essential before taking on the responsibility of breeding these lovely creatures.
It’s best to begin with a single male and 1-2 females to see how the process works and whether or not breeding is feasible and enjoyable. We can easily be seduced by the “more is better” philosophy. New breeders who begin with large colonies may find themselves with an inconvenient number of hatchlings, breeders and equipment to sell off if they decide not to continue.
If a small breeding colony is successful, add breeders slowly, 1-2 a year, rather than expanding exponentially. Caring for 100 geckos, for example, is much different than caring for a dozen, not only in the amount of time it requires, but also in the personal contact one can have with individual geckos. A huge number of hatchlings may be exciting, but they have to be fed, housed, and ultimately sold. Problems, including hatchlings with deformities, breeders who don’t thrive and sick geckos, also multiply quickly.
Think about life circumstances:
Are you a teenager planning to go to college in a few years? Are you thinking of having a baby soon? These are just two examples of situations where too extensive a breeding project, or, in some cases, breeding at all is not a good idea. It’s also important to consider whether there are enough funds available to pay for breeding stock, food, medical bills and publicity among other expenses and how much space for hatchlings is available. The likelihood that most breeders will break even or make a profit is small.
Setting up the Colony
What interests you most about breeding? If you mainly want to experience birth and the creation of new life, then any small colony will be rewarding. If you are more interested in producing high quality morphs, choose a small number of designer geckos, recognizing that the chances of developing your own unique line may be small. If you like the “genetic engineering” aspect of breeding, purchase some geckos with heterozygous traits and recreate the process of developing a morph.
Choose males carefully:
Breeding groups consist of a single male gecko with multiple females. A collection almost always has fewer males than females. By choosing a small number of males, each with a variety of genetic characteristics, the offspring will have more variety, as different male/female combinations can be set up each year.
Design interlocking projects:
If your goal is to produce a variety of morphs, it’s best to choose a group of geckos with genetic characteristics that complement each other. In order to produce a gecko that expresses a recessive trait (for example, albinism) both parents must carry the trait. A breeding colony with only one gecko carrying genes for a particular morph will not produce any geckos exhibiting that trait. A male gecko with multiple genetic characteristics that match those of the group of females in the colony is much more valuable as a breeder. For example, consider a group of females including an albino, a stripe and a superhypo tangerine. A patternless redstripe male heterozygous for albino would be able to generate a variety of offspring including albino, albino stripe, reverse stripe, superhypo tangerine, redstripe, jungle and even sunglow (if the superhypo were heterozygous for albino).
Consider a dominant/co-dominant morph:
Morphs like Mack snow or enigma will produce at least some offspring that exhibit the dominant/co-dominant characteristic no matter what morph they are bred to. This is a way to produce interesting variations in a single season.
Consider building a morph:
Working with heterozygous animals to produce a particular result over the course of several seasons has its own excitement and rewards. There’s an aspect of sculpting the desired result piece by piece instead of simply breeding two similar animals to get another copy that is appealing. For example, it’s no trick to produce hybinos by breeding two hybinos together. Even though the results are the same, it can be more rewarding to breed an albino to a superhypo tang and then in the following season to breed the offspring to each other or to the albino parent.
Selling the Offspring
Expect a slowly growing customer base:
It is best to start with a very small colony, as mentioned above, in order to avoid a glut of hatchlings the first year. A new breeder is an unknown and will find it more difficult to attract customers than someone who is established. Consistent production of high quality healthy animals, good customer service, networking by talking about breeding and hatchling availability to everyone and conducting business with integrity will lead to a growing demand for what you have to offer. If you allow the stock for sale to grow slowly as well, there should be a good fit between supply and demand.
Recognize your own niche in the market:
Not every breeder will be shipping their geckos all over the country and not every breeder will be producing thousand dollar hatchlings. There is also a need for the production of modest numbers of relatively inexpensive geckos in the local community. Meeting this need can be satisfying and may even dictate a move away from producing more “expensive” geckos. High end morphs often need to be sold for higher prices and finding those markets may not be possible or worth the time and money it will take.
Tune into the rhythm of the selling seasons:
Spring and summer are usually times for gecko production with many hatchlings too small to be sold. The winter holiday season may be a time when there is more demand for offspring. Local shows may also dictate what months of the year are best for selling. After several seasons, breeders should be able to recognize the pattern of seasonal buying and selling and use it to their advantage.
Don’t panic about sales:
Assuming that you have started with a small colony and produced a modest number of geckos the first year, continue networking and looking for likely situations where a sale can be made. Have faith that the hatchlings will be sold and that more will sell in subsequent years as your reputation develops and you become better known. Every breeder’s situation is unique. Every breeder will experience different rewards and different disappointments. A new breeder who is careful to start small and plan ahead will most likely experience more rewards than disappointments.
**If you liked this article, check out the update article here: http://www.geckotime.com/breeding-on-a-small-scale-revisited/
Photos: All photos used in this article are property of Tamara Locke of Geekusmaximus.net. Thank you for your permission to use these photos!
Aliza is a home care speech therapist living in the Boston area. She has been breeding leopard geckos since 2005 and has also been successful in breeding Coleonyx, African Fat Tail and Gargoyle geckos. Other interests which she pursues in her copious free time include work in ceramics, practicing tai chi and surfing the internet.