Gecko Husbandry Changes – Part 1
We’re all familiar with the steep learning curve a novice reptile keeper experiences when learning how to properly care for the first reptile: I bought my first leopard gecko at a big chain pet store and kept it on 2″ of sand in a 10 gallon tank before she needed a vet visit for worms and impaction. What’s more interesting and informative, are the adjustments made by expert gecko keepers, both for practical (what they do) and philosophical (why they do it) reasons. This curiosity led me to ask a number of experienced gecko keepers (including myself) to tell us about how and why they have changed aspects of their gecko care.
Since we got seven well thought out and somewhat lengthy responses, Gecko Time will be running this article in two installments. Look for part 2 next Tuesday, May 27.
The respondents were asked to respond generally to the following questions:
- How long have you been keeping reptiles? What kind of geckos do you keep?
- Could you give a few brief examples of changes you have made in your gecko husbandry since you started keeping them?
(I’m not so interested in things you learned after your first, novice experience, but more in changes you made after you were already an established gecko keeper)
- To what do you attribute the husbandry changes: new information based on research, advice from other respected keepers, personal experience, other?
- What might cause you to change your husbandry in the future?
I’ve been keeping leopard geckos for 11 years and more than 10 other species for nearly that long. I’m not a researcher, nor do I blindly follow what other people recommend. My criteria for considering a change include observation of my geckos’ health, learning the reasons why other keepers suggest methods that are different from my own and comparison of how the geckos do before and after the changes.
When I first started keeping leopard geckos, the recommended minimum cage size for a single gecko was a 10 gallon tank (10″x20″). Over the years, more and more people have recommended a 20 gallon long (30″x12″) as a more appropriate minimum size based on need for a decent heat gradient, having enough room to place multiple hides and water/food bowls, and general comfort of the gecko. The reasoning is compelling enough that I now also recommend the larger size as a reasonable minimum (some people advocate 4″ of cage length per inch of gecko, so an average 9″ leopard gecko would now require a 36″ cage at a minimum. In my opinion, this is a bit much).
With feeding, I had generally subscribed to the idea of figuring out what each gecko likes to eat and giving it to them. I was aiming for simplicity: the hatchling leopard geckos got mealworms (in order to be able to sell mealworm-eating juveniles to young keepers with cricket-nervous parents), the adults got super worms except for the stubborn cricket eaters. Other insect eating species generally got crickets (my household is currently a “no fly zone” for roaches). I now realize that a variety of feeders is important for health and optimal nutrition. The leopard gecko home restaurant now features alternating “cricket week” and “super worm week” with periodic infusions of hornworms and silkworms. Everyone, except the bugs and worms, is happy.
Because of the big worry about MBD (metabolic bone disease), I, like many other keepers, were frantic that our geckos get enough calcium and vitamin D3 to insure good bone development. There is more information now to suggest that nocturnal geckos especially can be over supplemented with both calcium and vitamin D3. I’ve recently cut back on my frequency of dusting feeders for my nocturnal geckos to about once a week.
It takes some overcoming of inertia to change the system if the geckos are “doing OK”. It’s worth a periodic reevaluation of husbandry methods to determine whether changes will lead to geckos having an even better quality of life.
The biggest change in the reptile industry is LED lights. It’s a direction I’ve look forward to for many years because LED lights are the perfect companion for Dietary D3 Husbandry.
For fifteen years now my gecko and reptile husbandry has been based on Dietary D3 which means none of my reptiles, day or night, are exposed to any artificial UV light, nor are any of my reptiles exposed to natural sunlight. This method is very fundamental to reptile biology and very straightforward yet when I mention it in forums I am often treated with hostility or my methods are dismissed as something unobtainable to the reptile hobbyist.
Sort of like electric cars. People who don’t understand them or make no effort to learn about them dismiss them or treat them as a plague. That I have owned an electric car for four years now without any problems or “running out of electricity”, and last week was host to a couple who traveled from California to Alabama in their electric car with no effort and complete freedom, is just not comprehensible to many. So it is with Dietary D3 husbandry, and now with LED lights.
So where are these LED lights that will change the reptile world? You have to go to the fish aisle. That’s right, just like all reptile products, they follow the lead of the aquarium fish industry.
So these LED lights provide exactly what reptile want: great light, custom light, programmable light. Few LED systems are on the market for reptiles, but just look at what is available on the fish aisle. Ouch, this is tough if a keeper is not familiar with LED’s. The available systems range from something as simple as a string of LED’s to huge complex systems with customizable computer controls. For now I am looking at the simple systems.
For individual tanks I can add LED at a pretty reasonable cost. The challenge for me as a large scale keeper with several racks to light up with multiple shelves is those simple systems are not do-able for anyone with lots of reptiles. Time to sit back and watch the industry respond to our large scale needs. Time to learn about these LEDs and what light one can get from them.
So over small individual tanks I can get the kind of light that up to now only T5 lights could offer: intensity, clarity, color! Oh, my. At this time, LED are not designed for heat. The frustration is the larger systems need fans to keep them cool but this is related to the computer controls needed for custom LEDs on a large scale. So, as a keeper, I still have to provide basking light.
Not a problem for me as I’ve used halogen lights for fifteen years. My problem now is LEDs are replaceing many of the lights and fixtures that used halogens. My basking plans may need reinventing. I put a LED strip light and halogen basking lights on top of the screen and my gecko’s needs are met. They get their D3 through diet so I don’t have to worry about providing any artificial UV lights.
Did I mention that you can get LED bulbs that provide UV? Great! But, the price for these advanced LED systems runs to the thousand dollars. Again, if keepers had embraced Dietary D3 husbandry no one would have to wait around for LED prices to drop.
The price are dropping for the simple fixtures and standard LED lights. There will be a long wait for UV producing LED lights and programmable large scale LED systems to be affordable. I don’t have to wait. For my gecko, the future is now.
I am slowly incorporating LEDs into my gecko room. I am keeping observation notes as I have for 15 years. As it happens I will share those results just as I did with the D3 husbandry. If anyone wants to pay attention that is.
Still skeptical about the D3 Husbandry? P. cepediana, P. ornata, P. inexpectata, Lygodactylus williamsi, just to name a few, all bred under Dietary D3 husbandry, and as of this year, all bred and reproduced to third generation. Skeptical about LED’s? Start talking to some aquarium people. Go look down the aquarium light isle. Whatever your goals and plans for the future, in the reptile industry, LED is headed your way.
I’ve been keeping reptiles since I was about 6 years old, so about 35 years. I advanced into breeding reptiles about 21 years ago and I’ve been a full-time reptile breeder for 14 years.
I used to keep my reptiles in glass aquariums. I had a basement full of them. Later, I decided to construct my own rack systems. Eventually, I replaced those with commercial rack systems such as Freedom Breeders and Animal Plastics racks. I honestly haven’t made a lot of changes to my methods of housing, caring for, or breeding my geckos. I’ve been keeping my leopard geckos in the same approximate tub size, newspaper substrate, humid next box, food bowl, water bowl, calcium bowl for many years now. 1 male and 3 or 4 females per tub. I go by the old saying “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it”. In the past, I did experiment with keeping my colonies in larger tubs with more females, but I found that there was always a female or two in each tub that was stressed by having so many cage-mates, and wouldn’t do well. I’ve also experimented with different nesting substrates. I’ve tried peat moss, vermiculite, and coco-fiber bedding. I found that the geckos eat vermiculite so I didn’t use that for long. Coco-fiber bedding seems to retain moisture the best so I have been using that for years. I’ve also used a number of different supplements. I’m using Repashy Calcium + now and have been for years. It has given me great results. My geckos get through the breeding season mostly with excellent body weight.
I only change my husbandry except for two reasons: 1. Save time: If I can figure out a way to be more efficient with husbandry and free up some time, I’ll make slight changes. I’ll only do this if it doesn’t impact the overall quality of their care and well-being. 2. New information becomes available: I think leopard gecko breeding strategies are pretty standard nowadays, but if a new supplement becomes available and it is proven to have a positive effect on either the breeders or babies, I will certainly try it.
I don’t think I will need to change my gecko husbandry in the future, because how I keep them now works very well for me- at least for leopard geckos. For crested geckos, I am trying new diets in the hopes of finding something they really like. I’m also experimenting with different housing options for them in order to optimize production.
I’ve been keeping reptiles for almost 10 years. Starting with Veiled/Jackson/Panther chameleons, my interests have shifted to leopard geckos, crested geckos, and most recently, the micro geckos (under 3 inches).
As we moved forward, doubling our facility (from about 300 to 600 enclosures) in the last 3 years, there have been 2 significant changes in our husbandry.
First, we had to find ways to get double the work done in the same amount of time. This was a MUST HAVE! My daytime job sometimes requires 10-12 hour days and I just could not spend 4+ hrs. every night just feeding/watering AND still offer the same care/observation needed by each gecko. So, a couple of changes we implementaed to save time- I added 2 50 ft garden hoses (one in each big room off two separate sinks). Misting the hundreds of enclosures literally takes us less than 10 minutes! Second, for all our Rhacodactylus geckos (@350 enclosures) we feed every other night. We use identically sized dishes, have a specific place in the enclosure to add the dishes, and have soaking containers for the dishes. This saves tons of time on feeding/dish cleaning! I’ve also started using a condiment squeeze bottle for pouring. Again, from 3 years ago to now, even though we have more than doubled our crested gecko diet fed animals, the time it takes to feed is still only about ½ hour (2 people)!
The other significant change in the past few years was the amount of help I receive from my wife Nanette. Without her day-to-day assistance, I COULD NOT keep all these animals. Her focus (besides the animal care and hard-good shipping every day) is on feeding the leos/non-Rhacs and basic maintenance (collecting eggs, moving babies, etc). I am so blessed to have a partner that shares and appreciates my passion.
The changes listed above are due to a sole factor — growth. It’s a simple matter of survival. There are never enough hours in the day.
I can see a few, moderate changes in the future (unless we decide to go out of house and into a much bigger facility- hope Nanette doesn’t read this last part). The changes would focus more on the animals’ care. I would like to set up more ‘display’ enclosures. Many of the animals we keep are set up specifically for breeding. While receiving great care, there are several that would be better served with a fully planted/decorated , display enclosure. This would benefit me as well as I would be able to spend more time observing naturalistic behaviors. Another change I see in the near future is a full misting system. This would be installed not so much as a time saver but again, so I could better manage the needs of some animals. I see these changes coming very soon to maximize some gecko’s care by providing the optimal enclosure needs. Should be fun.
Stay tuned next week for responses by Kristi Housman of Ghoulish Geckos, Herve St. Dizier and Travis Kuhse of Enigmatic Reptiles
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.