Types of Leopard Gecko Morphs
Geckos are small lizards from the infraorder Gekkota. Within this infraorder are 7 families, around 125 genera and many more individual species. While these lizards all share certain characteristics, their diversity in appearance is incredible. Some are dull in color, allowing them to camouflage against their often arid habitats. Others are brightly colored and ornately patterned. Although geckos are known for their wide feet, there is an entire family of legless geckos. The leopard gecko (Eublepharis macularius) is both one of the most physically beautiful lizard species, as well as one of the most commonly kept as a companion animal. Since they are relatively docile, leopard geckos can live well in the domestic environment, but they still have very specific care needs that must be met.
Even within the species known as leopard geckos, we can see great variation. This is thanks to the selective breeding which has been carried out in the domestic environment. At AnimalWised, we look into this diversity in more detail by finding out what are the different types of leopard gecko morphs.
What are leopard gecko morphs?
In the wild, we can see some variations of appearance in terms of skin color and patterns. However, these generally conform to a very similar type. Since their domestication, the diversity of appearance has changed greatly since breeders actively exploited natural genetic variations to encourage various traits. The result are different types of leopard geckos known as morphs.
How do leopard gecko morphs occur?
Various animals change their appearance, with some members of the Reptilia class being particularly known for this ability. This is thanks to something known as chromatophores, a pigment cell found in the skin of lizards which allow the expression of different colors. The color expressed will depend on the type of chromatophores found in the animal's skin. These types of chromatophores include:
- Xanthophores: yellow pigment.
- Erythrophores: red and orange pigments.
- Melanophores: black and brown pigments, equivalent to melanocytes in mammals.
- Cyanophores: blue pigments.
- Iridophores: do not produce a particular pigmentation, but rather have the property of reflecting light and producing iridescence.
In the case of the leopard gecko, the process of expressing different colors is coordinated by their genetics. There are two main ways that different leopard gecko morphs are expressed. They are:
The process known as mutation is the alteration or modification of an animal's genetic material. These mutations can result in various changes between individuals, but some are more prominent than others. Certain mutations do not cause any observable change, while others can cause distinct visual differences. Mutations can provide benefits to the organism, but they can also be detrimental. Color morphs don't usually cause harm to the species.
The manifestations of color in leopard gecko morphs are seen in the various pattern and color differences of their bodies. A clear example of color morphs is seen in albinism, a condition which is caused by a congenital failure to produce a particular color pigment. Leopard geckos are special in terms of these color mutations because of the presence of various chromatophores, allowing such a diversity in appearance.
The genetic mutations which cause albinism in leopard geckos have resulted in different albino morphs of gecko lizards, showing that even an absence of color can present in different ways. These albino leopard gecko morphs are:
- Tremper albino
- Rainwater albino
- Bell albino
Studies have also revealed that several of the color and pattern mutations in the leopard gecko are capable of being inherited. It is important to note these different types of leopard gecko morphs and their names are not a part of their taxonomic categorization. Just as there are different breeds of domestic dog that are all part of he same species (Canis familiaris), all the leopard gecko morphs are part of the species Eublepharis macularius.
Expressions of the same gene
In the case of the leopard gecko, there are also some individuals that present variants in their colors. These can be of varying intensity, but due to mutations of the gene. Instead, they are different expressions of the same gene. These differences do not result in a specific morph, but the colors can patterns can have a distinctive appearance.
Genes are not the only reason for differences in a leopard gecko's body coloration. Variations in the environmental temperature during gestation can also affect what a leopard gecko will look like. During incubation within the egg, the amount of ambient temperature and light can affect the embryo's melanin production.
Other factors can also alter a leopard gecko's appearance. This is found in the temperature of their habitat, the type of substrate used in a domestic gecko's terrarium, the food they eat and the animal's stress levels. These environmental influences and melanin production due to thermal differences are not inheritable.
Leopard gecko genetic morph calculator
The leopard gecko genetic morph calculator is a tool that can be found on various websites. Its main purpose is to predict the type of morph which will result from the crossing of two adult leopard geckos.
For this tool to work, you will need to know some basic principles of genetic inheritance. This means the results of a leopard gecko genetic morph calculator will only be reliable if the data entered is done so correctly. This will require the appropriate genetic information to do so.
The leopard gecko genetic morph calculator is only effective to know the results in case of monogenic or single gene mutations. These are the genetic predictions based on Mendelian laws.
Learn about how another type of lizard uses pigments with our article on why a chameleon can change color.
Different types of leopard gecko morphs
Our understanding of leopard gecko morphs come from the diligent work that individual breeders have created to develop them as a domestic animal species. There has been much effort to create networks of breeders, sharing information and creating new terminologies to better understand them. However, there is no governing body or strict organization. This means there are often various terminologies used which can differ according to the region or even the individual.
Such loose organization means the following types of leopard gecko morphs are not an exhaustive list. There may also be certain onomatological differences in the names used:
- Normal or nominal: they do not present mutations and can only express smaller variations in the basic colorations of skin color and pattern.
- Aberrant: the pattern of the spots is modified in these specimens when compared to the nominal one. There are different types that express different patterns.
- Albinos: they present mutations that prevent the production of melanin, resulting in various lines of albinos with different patterns. The main types mentioned above are Tremper, rainwater and bell albinos, but other variations also exist.
- Blizzard: all the chromatophores of blizzard leopard gecko morphs are affected due to a failure in the formation of the embryo. These individuals totally lack coloration in the skin. Since the chromatophores of the eyes are formed differently, they are not affected and do express coloration.
- Patternless: is a mutation that causes the absence of pattern in the formation of the characteristic black spots of the species. As in the previous cases, there are several variants of patternless leopard gecko morphs.
- Mack Snow: they have a dominant mutation that causes a white and yellow background coloration. In variations, this coloring can be purely white and is sometimes known as a Mack Snow albino leopard gecko morph.
- Giant: this mutation causes individuals much larger than normal, so a male can weigh up to 150 g, compared to 80-100 g for a nominal leopard gecko.
- Eclipse: in these cases, the mutation produces totally black eyes but without affecting the pattern of the leopard gecko morph's body.
- Enigma: the mutation in this case causes circular spots on the body. Individuals with this change in many cases also present so-called Enigma syndrome, a disorder that is associated with the modified gene.
- Hyper and hypo: these individuals exhibit variations in melanin production. The former can cause higher amounts than normal, which causes an intensification of the color patterns in the spots. The latter, on the contrary, produce less of this compound, resulting in the absence of spots on the body. For this reason, the prefixes of hyper- and hypo- are sometimes added to other types of leopard gecko morphs.
As we have been able to demonstrate, the captive breeding of the leopard gecko has resulted in the manipulation of its genes to create a great variety of phenotypic expressions. It is important to note the natural development of these geckos is being modified. While this can result in undoubtedly beautiful lizard specimens, it can also result in the inheritance of harmful genetic mutations.
Examples of leopard gecko morphs
While we have provided a list of some of the most common types of leopard gecko morphs, we also want to look at some of these individuals in greater detail:
Nominal leopard gecko morph
The nominal leopard gecko refers to the stage without genetic mutations. These are the domestic leopard geckos most similar to the wild leopard gecko equivalent. In this morph, a pattern of body color resembling a leopard is visible. It is for this reason the species was given its common name.
The nominal leopard gecko morph has a yellow coloration over most of its body. This presents on the head, upper body, and legs, while the entire underparts, as well as the tail, are white. The pattern of black spots goes from the head to the tail, including the legs. Additionally, it has lavender stripes of a faint intensity that cross the body and tail.
Learn about other types of domestic lizard with our article on taking care of a bearded dragon.
Enigma leopard gecko morph
The enigma morph refers to a dominant mutation in this species. Individuals that present this dominant mutation have black spots in a circular pattern on the body, instead of stripes. The coloration of the eyes is copper, the tail is gray and the background color of the body is pastel yellow.
There may be several variants of the enigma leopard gecko morph. What they are will depend on the selective crosses that are made, so that may present other colors.
An aspect of great importance in animals that have this mutation is that they suffer from a disorder known as the so-called Enigma syndrome. This syndrome makes it impossible for them to make coordinated movements, so they can walk in circles, stare without moving, manifest tremors and even be unable to move to hunt for food. This is an example where such selective breeding to create leopard gecko morphs can have detrimental effects.
Sometimes other disorders are confused with Enigma syndrome. These are often a result of gecko guardians misdiagnosing other conditions with similar symptoms such as metabolic bone disease.
High yellow leopard gecko morph
This variant of the nominal leopard gecko has a rather intense yellow coloration as its distinguishing characteristic, which has given rise to the name of the morph. They can display an orange pigmentation in the tail, presenting with peculiar black spots on the body. Some external effects during incubation, such as temperature or stress, can affect the intensity of the coloration.
RAPTOR leopard gecko morph
Also known as tangerine leopard gecko. The name of this specimen comes from the initials of the words Ruby-eyed Albino Patternless Tremper Orange (RAPTOR), so it is an acronym and denotes the characteristics that individuals of this phase present. It has nothing to do with the dinosaur, despite any similarities in appearance.
The eyes are deep or ruby red (Ruby-eyed), the coloration of the body is a combination that comes from the albino Tremper line (albino), it does not have the typical body patterns or spots (patternless), but it does present a coloration orange (orange). They are one of the most beautiful leopard gecko morphs, as you can see in the photo below.
Many different types of geckos can enter our homes. Find out if this is a problem with our article on whether lizards in your house are dangerous.
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