It’s never easy to determine your reptile’s pregnancy status, especially if you’ve never had a pet lizard before. So, I’m here to fix that.
Today, we will discuss leopard geckos, their primary pregnancy signs, and the most useful tips in terms of care, both for them and the upcoming hatchlings. So, let’s get to it!
How to Determine if Your Leopard Gecko is Pregnant?
The answer may seem obvious, but it never is. Leopard geckos exhibit several signs of pregnancy; you should consider all of them for a proper diagnosis.
The most relevant of them include:
- Enlarged abdomen – First, you need to make sure that your gecko is a female. If the male develops a large abdomen, that’s most likely constipation you’re looking at. If the gecko in question is a female, the enlarged abdomen is most often a sign of pregnancy. You can eliminate the likelihood of constipation or other digestive problems if the increase in belly size is gradual instead of sudden. Also, look for fat deposits around the tail, legs, and under the chin. If there aren’t any, but your gecko still has a growing belly, that’s a clear sign that egg production has begun.
- Egg-laying behavior – The female will begin to look for a fitting place to lay the eggs. Leopard geckos typically hide their eggs under foliage or in the substrate, provided it’s soft enough for them to dig in. Most females begin to look for a suitable location as the pregnancy comes to an end; you should have already determined whether your gecko is pregnant by this point. If the enlarged belly wasn’t a clear enough sign, the additional egg-laying behavior should settle the debate.
- Bigger appetite – Pregnant female geckos will begin to eat more often than they used to. This is due to their bodies’ increased need for extra nutrients. This is the perfect time to increase your gecko’s nutritional input, especially regarding calcium. Your gecko’s body will use extra calcium to aid in egg formation, which can quickly deplete the lizard’s reserves. It’s safe to say that pregnant leopard geckos are more prone to calcium and other nutritional deficiencies, which can be fatal.
- Behavioral changes – Leopard geckos are usually territorial towards other members of the same species. But you should witness this behavior going up a notch during pregnancy. Female geckos are notoriously aggressive and territorial towards other leopard geckos, especially towards the end of the pregnancy. You might want to separate the pregnant female if things get spicy.
It’s important to note that these are general signs that may not always be easily decipherable. I recommend speaking to your vet and making an appointment for a more in-depth analysis and a more accurate reading.
The Pregnancy and Reproductive Cycle of Leopard Geckos
Okay, so you’ve determined without a doubt that your leopard gecko is pregnant. What’s next?
Well, ‘next’ comes in the form of determining the reptile’s pregnancy and reproductive cycle so you know what to expect.
In this sense, consider the following points:
Length of Pregnancy
The leopard geckos’ length of pregnancy varies between 30 and 60 days. This timeframe varies depending on numerous factors, such as the female’s age and health, environmental conditions, available nutrients, and even genetics.
Ovulation and Fertilization
The ovulation process refers to the gecko’s reproductive system producing eggs and moving them through the oviduct when the time comes. This process is usually triggered by several factors, such as the presence of a male, triggering the mating phase.
Fertilization describes the process of insemination which occurs during mating. Interestingly, the male’s sperm will fertilize the eggs while they’re forming and moving through the oviduct.
Once fertilized and matured, the female will lay them in the right spot where the eggs will incubate and hatch after a specific timeframe.
The gecko’s eggs will undergo a gradual development inside the female’s body; this developmental phase describes the formation of the egg and the partial formation of the embryo.
The embryo will develop in full only after the eggs have been laid.
The egg itself undergoes the following developmental phases:
- Cleavage – This is the initial dividing phase, consisting of individual cells multiplying and creating a so-called blastomere. This is a conglomerate of cells that undergoes a further transformation.
- Blastula – This is the next developmental stage, consisting of the blastomere dividing and leading to the formation of a higher and more complex form called a blastula.
- Gastrula – This phase begins the formation of the embryo. The gastrula is essentially a 3-layered structure (comprising the ectoderm, endoderm, and mesoderm cell layers) that forms the foundation of the upcoming embryo. Depending on their genetic makeup, these layers will transform into various organs and tissues.
- Organogenesis – The name is pretty much self-explanatory. The gastrula will now create specific organs and tissues, at which point the embryo has entered its first developmental phases.
- Egg-shell – The eggshell begins to form, using the female’s calcium reserves. This is meant to protect the embryo during the developmental phase, which will continue for quite a while after the eggs have been laid.
When the time is right, the female will lay the eggs, and the incubation period will begin.
Preparing for a Leopard Gecko’s Laying
If your leopard gecko exhibits egg-laying behavior, you need to start making preparations.
Here are some of the critical steps to follow in this sense:
- Setting up a nesting box – You must first prepare the laying site. This should be different than the reptile’s main enclosure because you want to relocate the gecko back to its home once the eggs are out. This prevents the gecko from eating its eggs, should it choose to go there. Any shallow, covered container should do, so long as your gecko has sufficient room to move around.
- Providing a suitable substrate – The substrate is important because leopard geckos usually bury their eggs into the substrate. When they don’t, they still prefer to lay the eggs on a soft substrate to make sure they’re safe and protected.
- Maintaining optimal environment – Adjust the environmental parameters according to the recommended values for gecko eggs. The temperature should stay between 80 and 85 F during the day and up to 75-80 F during the nighttime. Humidity is best served at 50-60% with as little fluctuation as possible.
The Egg-Laying Process
So, what exactly is the egg-laying process when it comes to leopard geckos?
Here are a handful of hints to consider:
- The signs leopard gecko is about to lay – At this point, you’ve already determined that your gecko is pregnant by assessing its behavior and appearance. You know need to determine when the time has come to lay the eggs. The egg-laying behavior is the most telling. The female will begin to look for a suitable egg-laying site and exhibit specific behaviors like arranging the substrate and searching for hiding. They may also grow more aggressive towards other tankmates and avoid your hold.
- How many eggs to expect – Most leopard gecko females lay one to two eggs at a time, but they lay eggs throughout the year. And not all females lay the same number of eggs at the same frequency. Overall, leopard geckos lay eggs throughout the year, and some produce more eggs more frequently, while others, not so much. The amount of eggs your gecko will produce and how often they’ll do it depends on the lizard’s age, health, diet, environmental conditions, etc.
- Assisting with the laying process – There’s nothing you can do except prepare an egg-laying site and let Nature follow its course. So long as you tweak the environmental parameters to meet the standard requirements, all you need to do now is wait.
Incubating and Hatching Leopard Gecko Eggs
If your gecko has already laid the eggs, your priority is to secure and move them to a different location. This is to prevent the gecko from either eating or destroying them by mistake.
To incubate the eggs properly, consider to following steps:
- Prepare the incubation site – We’ve already discussed this one briefly. Any shallow container should do, so long as it can fit the eggs comfortably. Use vermiculite or soft soil as a substrate for a plus of security and moisture retention. Also, make sure that the incubation container is well-ventilated and has a good drainage system. The extra humidity can cause the accumulation of bacteria and mold, which can prove fatal to the eggs.
- Collecting the eggs – Use a spoon or other similar instrument to collect and carry the eggs into the nursing enclosure safely. Be gentle because gecko eggs are notoriously sensitive, and you don’t want to crack them.
- Monitor and adjust environmental parameters – Have a thermometer and a hygrometer installed to keep an eye on the environmental parameters. Spray the eggs regularly to make sure that the humidity levels remain stable. Misting the incubation site every couple of days should do, but be precise about it. You don’t want to oversaturate the eggs with too much water.
- Let the waiting game begin – All you have to do now is wait. Leopard gecko eggs typically take 60 to 75 days to hatch, but the timeframe can vary between 38 and 90 days. This timespan can vary depending on environmental conditions like temperature and humidity. It’s important to assess and adjust these parameters properly during the eggs’ development.
Common Problems During Leopard Gecko Pregnancy and Laying
Unfortunately, leopard geckos can experience a variety of problems during their pregnancy, egg-laying behavior, or even egg development.
- Egg-binding – Egg binding is the most common problem by far. This issue is the result of the female not being able to pass the eggs. This can be due to a deficient diet, especially calcium deficiency leading to weak muscles and improper egg development, or a small cloaca, which some geckos struggle with. Egg-binding can be fatal, so it’s best to contact your reptile vet to figure out the cause and the best solution available.
- Malformed or retained eggs – This is often the result of poor calcium intake, leading to a weak shell or the eggs spending too much in the oviduct. The result is the oviduct pressing against the eggshell and deforming it, making the egg unviable.
- Weak or deformed hatchling – This is usually the result of improper environmental parameters. Reptile eggs require specific environmental parameters to develop properly. If the temperature or humidity is subpar or fluctuates drastically, the eggs may not develop as they should, causing the hatchling to either die or experience life-threatening malformations.
- Infertile eggs – Not all eggs are fertile, which is a normal occurrence among leopard geckos. This can happen due to the female not having access to males or the males exhibiting poor sperm quality. To determine whether the eggs are fertile, I recommend the candling method (you hold the egg against a light source; if the egg is fertile, you will see the blood vessels or even the embryo in mid-development.) If the egg is infertile, dispose of it.
Leopard geckos are eager to breed in captivity, but you should be ready to manage them properly if you decide to keep the offspring.
I hope today’s article can help you in this sense.