Gecko Husbandry Changes – Part 2
We hope last week’s first installment of “Gecko Husbandry Changes” contained interesting ideas and food for thought from the experts reflecting about how they’ve changed their husbandry in the past few years. Below, another four gecko keepers share their responses.
As before the respondents were asked to generally address 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 seriously keeping reptiles for about 8 years now. I keep and breed leopard geckos. I’ve had crested geckos, a frog eyed gecko, and a leachie in the past. I should be getting my first pair of banded geckos soon.
The main thing I changed about my leopard gecko husbandry was the temp on the high end. I used to have it at 90, but I increased it to closer to 92-94 degrees. I also added dubia roaches as a staple along with mealworms.
I did this because I remember reading on GeckoForums awhile back from others who increased the temps. I’ve noticed better eating habits with the new temperature.
I would consider further changes to my husbandry if I hear about positive results from other well known/respected breeders. I’m always looking for things to improve husbandry, but I would only change it if others have been getting good results after years of experience with those changes.
I got my first reptile, actually a male leopard gecko, in 1998. Before that, I had already caught the herp virus, and I was simply waiting to have a stable job to own reptiles, but I’ve been reading and field herping since the age of 8 — I’m 42 now. I have worked at home with over 100 species of reptiles and amphibians since then, my main focus being geckos. I have kept and bred for example several Uroplatus species, rare species such as Afroedura loveridgei, Pachydactylus visseri, P. haackei, Ptyodactylus guttatus. I am into a big project with the Ptenopus genus, having already worked with them for several years. I breed other species as well, such as Gehyra marginata, Blaesodactylus sakalava, Hemidactylus tanganicus, Hemidactylus sp. (several undescribed species), Paroedura picta…
Here are some things I have started doing differently in my evolving gecko care techniques:
Hygrometers: I used to put one in every enclosure. They are useless for geckos and a source of errors. Hand spraying bottles are the way to go, and since I have given up using hygrometers, I feel I am doing things right with my geckos. Depending on the species, I rely on how moist or how dry the substrate is, I provide almost every species with a water dish. As for desert or steppic/savannah species, I adapt the spraying frequency to data taken from books or the Internet about the climate or micro-climate they live in.
Tank size: mainly with the Uroplatus genus, I started just like everyone, following advice from books and care sheets. Not only had some of my specimens completely stopped eating in very large enclosures, but I was also wondering about the risks of injuries as they are often jumping vigorously on prey or simply to change their resting spot. I checked for internal parasites and eliminated one by one the causes of anorexia, then decided to put species such as henkeli or lineatus in much smaller tanks. Many observations in the wild show they are found not that high from ground level, usually between 1 and 8 feet up. I have seen myself a U. giganteus at barely 2 feet from ground level resting in the wild during the day on a large tree trunk. Since then, all of my specimens readily eat again. I underline they had been in large tanks for months and gradually ceased eating. They are basic sit-and-wait predators and will not attack prey wandering too far away from their snouts. So, despite criticisms from some people, I keep all of them in 2′ high tanks, except for my fimbriatus pair (also breeding) which I keep in a 4′ high enclosure.
Food for feeders: I have already had several cases of small geckos, babies and even adults, seriously injured or even killed by crickets. In order to avoid this, I leave in enclosures for babies and small species a small dish of dog pellets (for the crickets to eat). Since then, I have had no signs of wounds from crickets. I also stopped using large Gryllus bimaculatus which are very aggressive and may easily injure even a large gecko such as an adult African Fat-tail.
I have instituted these changes mainly due to common sense and personal observations. I also sought confirmation through discussions with other breeders. Keep this in mind: what works with a particular keeper for a particular species or specimen may not work for you. Adaptability and a good sense of observation are essential if you want to be successful in gecko breeding. Questioning your own methods, even after years of experience with a given species, is something we should all do. Don’t trust too much what you read or hear here and there, form your own opinion and see what works for you. Yes, even if a self-claimed “experienced” keeper gives you advice which has been copied and pasted thousands of times. There are basics everyone should know prior to keeping a gecko, but as an example, apart from leopard geckos which are all completely wasted by the morphs race and inbreeding with potentially harmful genes such as albinism or enigma, I have never had any issue of impaction using fine sand with much smaller desert species.
One thing that would lead me to consider additional changes is more efficiency. That’s the main focus for any breeder, at least it should be so. If you don’t manage to breed such or such species, then I will follow anyone’s advice if this person has had success in breeding a species I have not bred yet.
I have been keeping and breeding reptiles for 17 years. Currently, I keep over 20 species of geckos ranging from arboreal Madagascar species such as Uroplatus phantasticus to terrestrial Yucatan peninsula species like Coleonyx elegans.
Over the years there have been multiple husbandry adjustments made. Some of these changes were the choice of feeders, ambient and basking temperatures, supplementation, and environment enrichment. The biggest thing I have changed was my mind set on feeders. Most people (including myself) would offer what was easily accessible, affordable, convenient for us, and suitable for the animals. After years of doing things this way I realized dietary diversity (not just with other common and easy to acquire feeders) was essential to maximize health and well being. My goal with the dietary changes are to include more calcium, protein, and vitamin rich feeders. An example of additional feeders we offer are isopods (4 species), snails, and spring tails. With a more balanced diet, we have to use less supplementation for most species we work with. We have 4 different supplementation mixes we use for our various species. These all contain a primary calcium source, multi vitamin, and bee pollen. The reason for the different mixes is based on the natural dietary and calcium sources for the different species which then determines how much needs to be supplemented as well as other dietary deficiency needs that need to be fulfilled.
Other aspects of husbandry that I feel get overlooked are temperatures and décor/enrichment. We as a hobby like to blanket things as terrestrial or arboreal and desert or tropical…which couldn’t be more wrong. An easy way to tell if your animals are thermally happy is to watch their environment location throughout the day and night. If they are continually heat or cool seeking than adjust accordingly. That concept is nothing new…but once you make that change you need to observe their location throughout the full day. By bumping temps up or down a little bit you have effectively changed EVERYTHING about how that animal will function. Close monitoring should follow any temperature changes. The enrichment in the enclosures should suit the species and mimic its natural environment. When keeping animals in racks it is substantially harder to provide enrichment and thermal variant…but still should be done as effective as possible. Many believe that reptiles just want their basic needs to be met and then they are happy, which I agree to an extent, but I have seen notable production increase, nutritional absorption, and increased activity from animals in adequate vivarium/terrerium. What to add will vary by species but a general thought of tight hiding places, elevated hunting surfaces, and appropriate substrates will help get you on the right track.
Changes to my husbandry are provoked either through research, other successful keepers, experience, and most importantly the animals’ health and reaction to their current husbandry. This is tough, however, as some of the species I work with don’t have much known or published information about husbandry requirements. For these species it is a bit of natural environment research coupled with any similar species information that can be collected to develop a plan for the species in question.
I am continually educating myself and discussing husbandry with other keepers trying to further understand what the animals truly need or desire. Without proactively looking into your husbandry you will seldom find problems with it. For this very reason, I have taken on my 2 year old mentality of asking “Why?” to everything. It’s amazing how little we know about why we are doing what we do or the cause and effect of our decisions besides saying either “the breeder (or a book) said to do it” or “I have done it this way for years and it works”. Questioning my own techniques and researching alternate options has helped form my collection into a thriving environment for every species I work with. If any changes of my husbandry techniques are to be made, then non-animal trials begin and environmental conditions are monitored. Once trials are complete and deemed safe and the desired changes are achieved then I will begin single animal trials to ensure the reaction to the environment is productive to their well being. From there it will become a colony wide adjustment for the species.
Keeping reptiles has been a hobby of mine since I was fourteen years old. Over the years I have kept numerous species, but as of today the list is as follows: Nephrurus amyae, N. wheeleri cinctus, N. levis levis, and N. vertebralis. Chondrodactylus angulifer. Pachydactylus rangei, P. rugosus, and P. vanzylii. Ptenopus carpi. Strophurus ciliaris ciliaris, and S. taenicauda. Haemodracon riebeckii. Gekko gekko. Lepidodactylus lugubris. Woodworthia sp.#5 “Southern Alps”, and W. brunneus. Naultinus grayii. And lastly Rhoptropus boultoni. I also keep several non-gecko lizard species, frogs, and newts.
The most significant change I have made involves the food that I feed to my feeder insects. This is by far the most monumental change I have made in my years of keeping reptiles. As a direct result of this change I have seen a huge improvement in the health of my geckos. This change has positively affected the overall health and well being of each gecko I keep. From the growth rate of hatchlings, to breeding, to longevity; the benefits are many.
The food I make is labor intensive and takes time to prepare. I also use a whole bunch of fresh vegetables, grains, and superfoods. There are many good ingredients that come together and when it’s set it can be cut into cubes. It’s an all inclusive food and water combo deal. It’s a basic idea of feeding whole foods to feeders and varying the fresh veggies according to what’s seasonal or freshest. I vary the exact vegetable part to include different plants so that the geckos can get everything they need from the cricket and its gut contents. It also promotes fully hydrated feeders which is very important, in my opinion, since a lot of the species tend to get a great majority of their water intake from the insects they consume.
Secondly, I have simplified my enclosures. I eliminated almost all cork and other material where crickets or other feeder insects could potentially hide. This helps the gecko to more easily locate and consume the crickets (or whatever feeder it may be) right after being introduced into the enclosure. This benefits the gecko as the feeder insect has not only a belly full of nutrient rich materials, but it is also still freshly dusted with calcium and vitamins. I’m not saying that my geckos have no places to hide or feel secure –these needs come first and foremost, but aside from security in numerous temperature zones, my enclosures are quite open, and void of nooks and crevices.
These are just two of numerous pivotal changes I have made, but for the sake of brevity, they were deemed very relevant to my section of this article.
Personal husbandry changes are typically attributed to trial and error through my own experiences, but I will not downplay the advice and knowledge I was freely given from more experienced gecko enthusiasts. I am lucky, and blessed to have a small group of very intelligent and observant friends that are very familiar with numerous species of gecko. They can discern how a particular species reacts to alternate methods of husbandry, as minor as they may seem to a less experienced individual; sometimes, it’s just very little things that need to be altered, that can only be learned through mistakes, unfortunately usually fatal ones.
Any information brought to light that can improve the health and well-being of my collection would result in my making additional changes to my husbandry. I am open to constructive criticism and suggestions. Nowadays with open communication, hobbyist can communicate with one another on different sides of the planet. This makes the experiences of others much more accessible. Aside from that, there is more scientific research going into this field, and with the internet, much of that information is free to anyone willing to take the time to do a little reading.
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.