The challenge to finding good breeder geckos

I chose this topic for our first Gecko Breeder Chronicle article because this is something we are currently evaluating. After having bred leopard geckos for 2 years now (going on 3rd), we are faced with the difficulties of having to decide which geckos to let go. This is something that we did not think of initially, nor was it something talked about on forums or mentioned on any gecko breeder sites. After checking with several breeders and having some 1 on 1 conversation with them, it appears this is not unusual.

For many new breeders getting into gecko breeding for the first time, many assume you could go out, buy a male and a few females, and you’ll end up with a bunch of gecko babies. While that certainly can happen, and does happen to some breeders, some are simply not as lucky. So just exactly what makes a good breeder gecko?

For males:

1. He would know how to mate and copulate.
2. He would be able to fertilize females.
3. He wouldn’t be overly aggressive.

For females:

1. She would feed well, and know to eat between clutches to keep her weight up.
2. She would lay fertile eggs.
3. She would accept male courtship.

So now you know what makes good breeder geckos, you may be wondering what makes not so good breeder geckos. Here are some of the things we’ve experienced in the past 2 years.

For males:

1. We have a male that can not copulate successfully half of the times, and would take upwards of 10-15 minutes of trying to copulate. Usually when it takes this long, the female would be annoyed and stressed, and she would likely start to reject the male and bite back. This is when we separate them, and then wait a few days up to a week before reintroducing the male again.

2. We have a male that bites excessively, even when the female is willing and waiting, he would bite all over and not go for copulation. This often makes the female mad, and once the female starts waving her tail and bites back, that’s when we separate them.

3. We have a male that appears intimidated by females larger than him. He would rattle his tail showing interest, but if a female looks his way, he would walk away.

For females:

1. We had a great jump start with our radar project, our first time jungle bell het radar female laid 2 fertile eggs and gave us a radar female and a bell albino het radar male. But she has not laid any eggs since then, and it has been 2 seasons now that we’ve tried to get her to lay eggs, she just stopped laying eggs completely. She is very healthy, has a fat tail and good weight, but she just won’t lay anymore eggs fertile or infertile.

2. We have 2 females that will not accept male courtship. They would bite back at the male if a male gets near, or touches their tail. We’ve tried several proven male breeders to no avail.  We gave them 2 seasons, both were ovulating when we tried.  We’ve tried every method possible, including putting them in a neutral environment to rule out territorial issues, putting a paper towel with the male’s scent in the female’s living space, female into male’s tank, male into female’s tank, no go.

3. We had a female that laid 16 (yes 16) infertile eggs in one season.

4. We had a female that was gravid for a long time, but she would not lay the eggs. She then passed away in what appeared to be egg-bound issues. We were really sad because she was one of our favorites.

5. We had a very fertile female breeder last season, she ate well, and she laid good eggs.  But this season, she has rejected every male we’ve tried, and she’s ovulating.

As you can see, you can have everything planned out in your head, got all the projects setup and ready for a season. But they are still animals, you can’t predict how successful your season will be. Even if a gecko gave you good eggs a season ago, there’s no guarantee she will breed well for you this season. As a small scale breeder, this makes things more difficult. Unlike large scale breeders, we don’t have excess females and males to put together when things don’t work out.  We don’t have 10 female breeders of the same kind so even if things don’t work out for a few geckos, you would still get plenty of good eggs to incubate. Sometimes even when 1 or 2 females don’t work out, that could be a whole specific project for the season down the drain.

Of course I’m not saying you will necessarily experience these issues. But after speaking with some long time breeders, it would appear what we’ve experienced are not unusual. Things do happen, females do get retired, some prematurely sold as “pet only” geckos because they are simply not good breeders. Unexpected things do happen, things you couldn’t have planned for. So if you do find yourself some good breeder geckos, consider yourself lucky, and savor it while you can. You don’t know how long it’ll last.

What are some of the things small scale breeders can do to protect themselves and better prepare for things like these?

1. Have a backup plan. It won’t hurt to have a second male just in case the first male doesn’t work out.

2. Don’t put all the eggs in one basket. When you are planning a project, try not to rely on just 1 female for a specific project. Because if that female doesn’t work out, you could be looking to delay a project you’re working on by a season or two.

3. Don’t get too ambitious right away. New breeders come and go, many quit after their projects didn’t work out after a couple of seasons, others quit when they’ve got more geckos than they could handle & afford. The first hand experience you will get during your first 2-3 seasons is priceless. You can read everything about breeding leopard geckos, but there’s nothing like experiencing it, and going through the ups and downs yourself. This is how you really learn. If you are not too ambitious to start it off,  when/if things don’t work out, the monetary and emotional loss will be less painful.

4. Holdbacks! Don’t be afraid to start holding back geckos for backup purposes, just in case a male or female stops producing for you. Understand that a healthy, good breeder female is only good for 3-5 seasons. They often peak their fertile egg production for 2-3 seasons, then they wind down. So sooner or later, you will need to have holdbacks to take in their place. It’s not a question of if, it’s when. So plan early, it won’t hurt to hold some back just in case something happens to your breeders.

I want to be honest, so let me just say that I’ve calculated the amount we’ve spent on bad breeder geckos these past 2 seasons, and they amount to over $2k. Now, none of this is the fault of any of the breeders we’ve purchased the geckos from. Because as I’ve found out myself, there’s absolutely no way to predict if a gecko will become a good breeder or not. There’s nothing that tells you if a female will get egg-bound when gravid, or that she will lay infertile eggs, or she may lay good eggs for one season but stop laying good eggs seasons after. There’s no way to tell if a female will reject males.  Not just females, but there’s no way to tell if a male will be bad at mating.

This season we are looking to rework our projects, phase out some of the breeders that are not working out, and sell them to good homes as “pet only” geckos. I never thought we would have to do this so soon, but sometimes things just don’t work out. The good news is we are both motivated to keep this hobby going. Despite the monetary losses, as well as the loss of our dear pet, we see no reason we should stop due to some bumps on the road. Those that live and learn, and persevere go on. This is a hobby for us, you are expected to have some success and failures.

I wanted to be upfront and honest in our blog because you can’t read about these things elsewhere. I do wish we had read these warnings and advice before we started, but alas, we have to live and learn. I do hope our Gecko Breeder Chronicle will help future, young, new breeders better prepare for their bold leap into this hobby. Breeding leopard geckos is exciting and educational. Just remember to breed for the right reasons, and have the right expectations. Having some luck helps too.

Thank you for reading.