So far this year has been a peculiar one, as far as my reptilian menagerie. Years ago I swore that I would never keep another creature besides a chameleon (dogs not withstanding) because nothing could be as interesting or challenging to keep as a chameleon. I was possibly right to a degree, but as I stand in my new little reptile room/office and admire my ten non-chameleon pets, I have contradicted myself on every regard!
In May, as a birthday present to myself I purchased a bonded pair of R. leachianus geckos (New Caledonian Giant Geckos), allegedly belonging to the Nuu Ana locality. I had always toyed with the idea of keeping leachies, but for the price of one of these beauties I was never sure I could justify it if they were going to be boring to keep. Who wants to pay $800+ for a giant blob of gecko wrinkles that you can’t handle and that doesn’t move all day? This pair was for sale at a ridiculously reasonable price, so I snatched them up and I’ve been so glad!
This is written with just about 5 months of experience with this species but as they are dominating my Instagram, I am getting bombarded with questions on how I care for mine. Below are 5 things I’ve learned about them while they’ve been part of my little household.
|My big beautiful male, Atticus.|
1. Your decorating skills mean nothing to these inconsiderate wrinkly lizardpigs*.Ah yes, housing. I keep my pair separate in two Exo Terra terrariums measuring 24” W x 24” H x 18” D, which is a little more generous in size than what most people use (I believe for small localities people opt for the 18” W ones to save a little space) but this means I could house them together during mating season. I will go into why they are separate a little further down.
As my long-time readers may perhaps know, I put a lot of effort into decorating my enclosures. I go on and on extensively about environmental enrichment, so naturally my enclosures are full of species-appropriate décor, like branches, logs, plants, and substrate. Things to climb, things to dig into, etc. Leachianus geckos, however, have no regard for your carefully orchestrated cages. Oh no. These behemoths of the gecko world will disregard all your carefully placed branches and choose instead to hang vertically from the glass sides. At feeding time, they will take their over-sized lizard hands and finger-paint the murals of the Sistine Chapel across the front of their glass terrarium. And as if that wasn’t insulting enough, they seem to relish leaving their post-meal… deposits, to streak down as much glass as possible before landing in some tough-to-clean cork.
I do provide a mild UVB bulb across the top of the cages, under which they do seem to enjoy basking at least a portion of the day. My female also gets a low-wattage basking bulb that she does use, especially when she is gestating some eggs.
2. Prepare to be serenaded at night, and quite loudly.Accustomed to the chirps and squeaks of crested geckos, I expected leachies to be along the same vein. Louder, perhaps, but in a similar family of gentle, unobtrusive sounds. Boy was I naive!
Leachies have up to fifteen recognized different noises, most of which I have discovered as I was startled awake by a call on the opposite side of the apartment, through a closed door. Barking, whistling, chirping, screaming, groaning, growling, etc. One leachie is apparently quiet. Two or more leachies seem to have a lot to say to each other, and very loudly.
3. Mango is King.A big plus to this species, after having kept large chameleons, is that they can eat the crested gecko diets so I don’t have to worry about procuring a varied diet of large insects. They will gladly eat their CGD (especially if it’s mango flavored), and will most certainly go after mashed fresh mango, but will not go after live food with a lot of gusto and enthusiasm. It seems that anything that promotes a relatively lazy, easy existence is preferred over having to chase down a live cricket. It is simply too much effort. Holding up an insect in tongs? Still too much effort. I have watched Petra take a roach from tongs, chew it just long enough to kill it, and then spit it out unceremoniously. Simply not worth swallowing. Simply not mango.
|Petra gets tong-fed some fresh mango, buy eyes the camera suspiciously.|
4. Leachie Tinder would be even weirder than human Tinder.As anyone that is familiar with this species may know, courtship is an ordeal. This species pair bonds and two compatible animals may breed and cohabitate together successfully for years. However, what I did not know when I first got my pair is that leachie amour is a very tumultuous thing, even in bonded pairs. Mine would bite at each other, scream, whistle, and grunt in displeasure with each other. I proceeded to separate them, worried they were no longer compatible animals. A few professional breeders assured me that this was completely normal behavior, that most leachie pairs are never completely peaceful. I was even told about a successful pair where the female bites off and eats the male’s tail every single year. Just because!
This is Petra, my pretty female. You can see her head is scarred up from fights with her paramour. She has left him some as well! And yet, they court each other, serenade each other, and sleep as closely together as they can through the glass.
I reintroduced the pair, who lived together uneventfully another several weeks. Until one evening I hear a lot of noise (like flapping) in the cage and I pull away some cork flats to investigate. She was hanging from the glass with his entire face in her mouth, while he was trying to furiously shimmy away! I separated them again, this being a bit too rough for my tastes, and they will remain separate until next spring (when we shall try again? Undecided still.)
In a world where romance means “I’m going to chew on your face, baby” I am reminded that human dating is not quite this difficult to navigate. Almost, but not quite.
5. Babies are just tiny, adorable replicas of their wrinkly, lizardpig parents.Incubating eggs turned out to be extremely straightforward, compared to chameleon eggs. I left them at room temperature and 80 days later I had two perfect hatchlings. No diapause period, no 8-month wait. Just a few short months and large, wrinkly, gecko piglets emerged. And my goodness, are they adorable! I hope that my female will still lay a couple retained clutches because I do not know how I could possibly get rid of the babies and not keep at least one. Maybe keep all of them, I haven’t decided how far I want to descend into this madness.
A few months ago I had no interest in breeding this species beyond just my little pair, but now? Is one pair of leachie lizardpigs enough? I dare say that it may not be. And I am blown away by the naturally occurring patterns, greens, pinks, and whites that this species displays. So time will tell if I end up selling the two babies I have now (I’ve already named them) or if I begin the slow accumulation of more beautiful adults. We’ll leave that for a different post, perhaps.
|My first hatchlings from this pair, hatched on September 19th, 2016.|
So these are just five of the things I’ve learned since taking in these strange geckos. I have to say I adore their fat, wrinkly bodies and their disproportionately large feet. Petra may be hell-bent on biting me (unless I offer fresh mango, and then we’re on good terms) but Atticus is a gentle, shy lizard, and the two babies seem to be taking after dad’s more complacent nature. I am so glad I finally decided to give this species a try, and I have been enthusiastically recommending them to anyone that likes New Caledonian geckos and wants to get something different.
While I am always happy to answer questions and help where I can, I do not feel experienced enough to help with very specific questions. A lot of lizard physiology and medicine is the same so I will help if I can but for advanced help with breeding, pairing successfully, or locale identification please seek out one of the top-notch breeders in the hobby that specialize in these guys.
*Lizardpig is not the correct scientific identifier for Rhacodactylus leachinaus, but I am a rebel.