Session Three: Breeding Leopard Geckos With Genetic Ethics
This is (more or less) the transcript form last Sunday's show. I apologize in advance for the formatting and syntax of the transcript.
Hey everybody, welcome back to the Strength In Leos Podcast. Today is going to be a little bit different in the sense that today there isn’t going to be an interview. We’re going to talk about some of the ethics that go into breeding leopard geckos, and more specifically the those on quote no no’s, like crossing the strains of albinos, snows, and eye pigmentations. It is important to note that this will be taken from a breeders perspective and will be as unbiased as possible. Most of you should know that Leopard Gecko breeding isn’t as easy as picking two gecko that look cool and pairing them together. You don’t buy two geckos from PetSmart or PetCo and breed them with the expectation to make a profit. It just doesn’t happen. Even if your not in it in for the money don’t think that you’re going to keep all of them or give them all away to good homes. It’s already hard when someone is paying for the animal to go to a good home. Now imagine how much harder it would be if the geckos were given away for free. The topic of breeding ethics in regards to genetics is a very serious topic that impacts the hobby every day and it's time we start a conversation about it.
A lot of people here probably know that there are three strains of albino and we don't cross any of them together. For those of you who don't know, there are three strains of albino. There's the Tremper Albino discovered by the Leopard Gecko God Father Ron Tremper. There’s also the Bell Albino which popped out of Mark and Kim Bell’s collection over at Reptile Industries and the Rainwater Albino from Tim Rainwater in Vegas. It is vital to know that you should in no circumstances cross any of the strains of albino. Why not? Well to make this as easy to understand as possible, I am going to make up a few hypothetical breeding situations. Say you have a bell that you want to breed to a rainwater. Since both are heterozygous traits, meaning that when you breed it to a normal all the babies will be carrying the genetic code for albinism, but is not shown through the animal’s looks, all the offspring will be normals that are het or carrying the genes for bell and rainwater albino. But why is this an issue?, you may ask. Say you breed The offspring together, so a Normal het Bell and Rainwater back to a Normal het Bell and Rainwater. According to mendelian genetics you will get a mix of Bells poss het Rainwater, Rainwater poss het Bell, Normals double het for Rainwater and Bell, and the total obamanation, a Bell Rainwater Albino combo. Once you produce all these genetic mutts you will be stuck with one huge issue. What is actually a Bell and what is actually a Rainwater. YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO TELL THE DIFFERENCE! All of the strains of albino are more or less phenotypically the same, yet are genetically different. It doesn’t matter how experienced you are, the albino strains can never be identified from one another (or rather it’s nearly impossible). Therefore the genes are not compatible. Well what about test breeding? you might say. Well, to actually test one of these animals may take up to five years. And the more you test breed the more and more the gene pool gets muddied up with double het this and double het that. Creating more and more animals that the hobby needs to worry about not getting bred. And the worst part about it is that if you look at the appearance of the animal, you would never be able to tell. Even if you are just trying to produce pet only animals or just trying out breeding, start with animals from a reliable breeder with trustworthy genetics. Because somewhere down the line someone will want to breed that animal regardless of what you say and eventually will sell someone a “pure” normal which is actually double het for Rainwater and Bell albino.
Before crossing your animals always be cautious. Even though you may have got something to you sold as “pure” of no hets, it is your duty as a breeder to do your due diligence of test breeding. This is why it is also important to know the lineage of your animals. Most of my animals, I can tell you the lineage of them at least 3 generations back. I know what lines they came from, the breeder i got them from, and what their parents look like. Good genetic tracking is always advised and if a breeder can not tell you lineages upon your request than they are likely unreliable sources and you should not trust them to buy geckos from. With that said, always be cautious. You may have bought a raining red stripe that you want to breed to a marble eye that was also sold to you as het free. Well, If you knew the history of both morphs you would automatically know that you should do some test breedings before you make this cross. Why? If you go back in the Leopard Gecko history books to track down the origin of the marble eye, you will discover that it popped out of Matt Baronak’s collection over at SaSobeck Reptiles. You will also discover that some of the original marble eyes popped out of some Tremper stuff. This means that all of the founding stock of marble eyes are either het or possible het Tremper. Going back to crossing it to a Raining Red stripe which are Red Stripe Rainwaters from Jeremy Letkey’s line by making this cross you can possibly be crossing a marble eye het Tremper to a visual Rainwater. The offspring will be possible triple het for Rainwater, Tremper and Marble Eye making a huge genetic mess in one animal. Test breeding this type of stuff would be a nightmare. So instead of taking a chance make sure that you have test bred that marble eye in advance to avoid producing unethical animals that are seen as a disgrace to most in the hobby.
Moving on to the Eye pigment traits, noir desir black eye , Eclipse, and Marble eye are also genes you do not want to mix. Again, going back to the albino example, crossing such traits like the marble eye and NDBE will produce double hets and once a visual is produce the offspring will be very hard to tell apart. Something else to be very careful is in the Eclipse complex there is something called an Albassinian. An Albassinian is an Eclipse Leopard Gecko that shows no eye pigment. These are also called clear eyes. This goes back to phenotype and genotype. The gecko may show traits of being an eclipse such as the high white sides, blue spot on the head, and white socks. There may not be any eye pigment at all, yet it is still an eclipse. Watch out for this because the last thing you want to do is cross a Clear eye eclipse to a marble eye. You also want to watch out for Blizzards and Super Snows. Blizzards are notorious for having false eclipse eyes, or eyes which have altered eye pigmentation to resemble an eclipse but doesn’t have the eclipse gene. Super Snows also naturally have all black eyes and can possibly seem like eclipses if they have eclipse markers such as white socks, so always be aware of that. Remember test breeding is your best friend when it comes to this stuff. As a breeder it is your responsibility to do your due diligence when it comes to producing quality animals and putting them out on the market. Marble eyes, NDBE’s, and Eclipses should ONLY be bred to animals that have been proven to have no other eye pigment trairts. This will only continue to mess up the Leopard Gecko population in the coming years.
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Last but not least of the big three is mixing the 4 genetic snows. The 4 lines of snow are Mack, Gem, TUG, and Albey’s Line Bred Snow. The Gem, Tug, and LBS are currently labeled as incomplete-Dominant snows, meaning that no matter what you breed it to half of what you produce should be that line of snow. Also note that a 2-copy (aka a super Form) has not been discovered. I have personally not worked with any other line except for the Mack Snow, and I think that more genetic testing should be done on the other lines of snow. Something else to think about is If the Gem Snow, TUG Snow, an LBS are all Dominant genes than can they both possibly be the same genetic mutation just rebranded with different names? And the worst part is that we can’t prove this theory through test breeding. Even if they were the same lines of snow we would never know. Just something to think about. Moving on to the Mack Snow which is the most popular of the Snows. It is a Co-Dominant gene (for lack of better terms) which if bred to another Mack Snow can produce a Super Snows about 25% of the time. All in all any of these lines of snow should not be combined. Imagine crossing a Mack Snow with a Gem, then crossing the offspring back together. You could possibly hatch out a Mack Super Snow Gem Snow. You wouldn’t even know because of how similar they all look to each other. From here it's just a game of guessing and chance. If those genetics get out to the public than the lines will not be able to be told a part. There is no point of having separate lines if they are only breed to make one line of multi genetic mixed snows that pop out offspring with unknown lineage. There are breeders out there who do this without consequence and in reality it's just as bad as crossing eye pigentations or albino strains.
These are the main big three rules to follow when it comes to ethics in leopard gecko genetics.
Now the question arises of test breeding. Should you test breed every animal you have in your collection? It’s almost impossible to say that someone has a 100% test bred collection where the breeder knows the exact genetics of every animal. In reality, many large breeders or unexperienced breeders have unknown hets floating around. Even if you buy from the most trustworthy breeders, more likely than not, their collection isn’t 100% tested. People always make mistakes. I've heard stories that someone buys from a breeder and hatches out all kinds of unexpected offspring due to the mislabeling of the animal. If thats happens to one of your males who breeds 4-5 females, your entire season could be sent to dust due to the unreliability of the genetics. You should always do the best you can. I'm not saying to test breed every animal to every albino strain, eye pigmentation, and snow, but instead make sure you do your homework and buy from trusted sources and get all the background info on the animal including ALL the possible hets. YES ALL! No matter how small the percentage or weather they have popped out that unknown het that might be in there. You should always check multiple times and disclose any possible missing hets.
Pretty much every gecko that you see at your huge chain pet stores has many hets and an unknown genetic make up. This is why when people ask, What morph my Leopard Gecko is? I often say that it is impossible to tell. I don’t say it’s a normal with unknown hets or Unknown snow with unknown hets because I could be wrong and that person will think, well I know what it is now and all i have to do is test breed to find out what it is. I recommend if people ask you the same question to say the same thing. If they really wanted to know what morph their gecko is they would honestly buy from a breeder. And if it is just a pet it shouldn’t matter anyway.
The only way we can keep this hobby strong and alive is maintaining ethics with genetics through education.
I want to close off by saying that I have no biases or personal motivations when writing this. This episode was made to educate, not to discourage. In order to make this hobby stronger we need to educate and spread the knowledge. When breeding is done in a correct manner and we work together to clean these lines the hobby will be in a much better place for future generations. Keeping the hobby strong always starts in ethical and morally correct breeding.
I want to thank all of you guys for joining us on today’s show about Breeding Leopard Geckos With Genetic Ethics
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