By Scott Wesley
10 Questions With Ron Tremper of LeopardGecko.com. Ron is a pioneer in the reptile industry creating some of the most amazing leopard gecko morphs that exist along with breeding ball pythons, tortoises, colubrids and many more. He is also an established author penning several popular reptile care books!
1. Leopard Geckos are what actually got us started here at LLLReptile. What originally got you into the reptile business and why?
My specialty is the captive breeding of amphibians and reptiles. Back in the 70s, I always had this idea of “reptile ranching”. Leopard geckos were not the first herps I ever bred, but they held the promise for large-scale breeding and so they became my focus in 1978.
2. Back in the 90’s – Leopard Geckos were frequently imported. How did you end up with ones that produced albinos – was it just complete luck or did you bring them in knowing they had that chance?
In 1996, a shipment of wild caught adult leopards reached a Los Angeles wholesaler and one female produced hatchlings consisting of a normal male and a female albino – the first in the world.
I had already been selling to the two brothers that had this form of random luck and so they eagerly contacted me and sent me a photograph, which I quickly confirmed as an albino.
They did not know who was the mother and so I assisted them with their attempts to breed the two siblings together, but after one year of health problems with the albino female, they accepted my offer to purchase the albino and her brother, which we named Bubba.
When I obtained the albino she was small and under weight for a one year old gecko. One month later, despite heroic efforts, the albino, named Rosie, died, leaving me only with her brother, which mathematically had a 66.66% of being het for albinism.
So, in the winter of 1997 I bred Bubba to a large number of high yellow, tangerine, striped and reverse striped “designer” geckos in order to test if he was carrying the albino gene.
The following year I bred Bubba to 150 of his daughters, a laborious task to move his daily to the next three females that were ovulating. The result in the late winter of 1999 was 1200 test eggs. There was only a 1 in 8 chance that any given egg could be an albino if Bubba was truly an albino het.
In March of 1999, I casually inspected the incubator and there to my astonishment was the first baby to hatch and IT WAS AN ALBINO !!!! The math held true for the rest of the eggs. Out of the 1200 young I got 150 albinos. I then grew them all to 6” before revealing to the world that not only did an albino leopard gecko exist, but that 100 large albinos were up for sale!!!
The rest is history.
A few years later Bubba sired a gigantic baby measuring slightly over 4.5” at hatching that was the world’s first codominant genetic leopard gecko trait – a super giant leopard gecko.
Sadly, Bubba died of old age on September 6, 2012 due to organ failure. He had been in decline for a year so his passing was expected, but his legacy will live on as every leopard around the globe that carries the Tremper albino and/or super giant genetics have descended from this one very average looking gecko that was a gift to the industry.
3. One of your passions outside of reptiles is song writing. What genre / style of music do you typically write lyrics for? Has anything come of it beyond personal satisfaction?
I have never had any music training, lessons and play no instruments, but I have always heard original melodies in my head for years. At the age of 47 I decided to write my first song and within 48 hours it was on the desk of a music publisher in Nashville. They said I had a gift and that I should write some more pieces. I did so and I turned out numerous tunes for my own pleasure. Soon I was co-writing with Eric Horner, leader of Lee Greenwood’s band, who soon branched out on his own successful career and has some of our joint music on his albums.
Since I don’t play an instrument all of my songs are different. I have done country, gospel, rock, hip-hop, contemporary and Caribbean pieces. Its just a good solid outlet for my creative side.
4. You have a brand new book out called “Leopard Geckos – The Next Generations”. What, in your opinion, are some of the biggest changes you have seen for leopard geckos in recent years considering how many morphs were already around?
My first big book, The Herpetoculture of Leopard Geckos, came out in 2005. At the end of that book I predicted that by 2011 there would be a need for an update. That prediction was accurate since more leopard genetics were discovered in the last 7 years compared to the previous 30 years. So, in October of 2011 I began putting together my latest masterwork, which includes contributed photos from my breeders around the world.
The discovery of new morphs and most importantly new codominant forms has led to a mathematical explosion of a myriad of newly formed “combo” morphs. The White & Yellow, Super Galaxy and others have opened up many new possibilities. And I can tell you many great things are still to come.
5. Can you share with our readers any new morphs / projects you may be working on with Leopard Geckos that we can look forward to?
As the leopard gecko industry knows, I like to keep my work to myself until things are proven out and ready for sale, but I can reveal that I am working on the first genetically melanistic leo and perhaps a Pied.
6. Does your interest and knowledge in biotechnology help you in the reptile world – either coming up with new morphs, breeding habits or just the general science involved?
Yes. I keep up with the latest scientific developments. For instance, the leopard gecko was one of one hundred vertebrate species selected by the World Genome Project to have its DNA revealed. I supplied the geckos and their genetically related young for that work, which will soon be completed by the team in China.
I also follow recent bio-related patents and keep up on new research on human genetics to watch for things that might be applied to herps.
7. You also work with tortoises and from what I can tell – have been since the 80’s. What are some of the species you work with – and do you ever see any really unique “morphs” in tortoises in our future beyond the few that are currently available?
What most people don’t know is that I began my herp interest at the age of six collecting only turtles and tortoises. I had a huge collection by the time I was 14 years old including a small Galapagos tortoise that I purchased in the Los Angeles area in 1967 when they we still legal and selling for $25 an inch!!!!!!
I have had turtles and tortoises in my life for over 55 years now with Cherry-head redfoots, sulcata, radiata and Manouria impressa being my focus. My female Impressed tortoise produced the first captive bred young in the world in 2004 and she also holds the longevity record of 26 years 6 months as of this writing.
Morphs in tortoises are possible. The Cherry-heads I work with develop massive amounts of ivory streaking on the top shell as they grow. Morphs take more time since most species of tortoises need 3-8 years to go from egg to egg. Over time more shelled morphs will hit the marketplace.
8. When and why did you originally get involved in Ball Python breeding, and are you working on any “new” morphs with them?
In 2007, a friend of mine got recalled to active military duty and so I bought all his colubrids and ball pythons. Having more snakes to offer helped round us out as a source for a variety of herps…….. “More Than Geckos”.
9. Is there a Leopard Gecko morph available today that you wish you had thought of first? If so – which one specifically and why?
I don’t mean this to sound funny, but the answer is no. It’s not hard to think of all the possibilities and so I have what I want by design and not by omission.
I always knew that with more and more great new breeders getting into the gecko industry there would be a good chance of random mutations showing up. The Enigma and the White & Yellow are prime examples.
10. What, in your opinion, are the biggest changes we have seen in the reptile industry in the last 25 years – and do you like what you have seen over that span?
The birth of captive breeding began in the United States with primarily corn snake success in the early 70s. Since that time great strides have been made for captive-breeding nearly every key collectible species on the globe. Knowledge grew quickly so that anyone getting into the hobby today and easily learn how to keep and breed and even sell herps in a very short period of time.
In the late 90s I did not like seeing all the people that jumped into the industry to just make a “buck”. Yes, we had a period of rapid growth and interest that made for a “sellers” market, but not many of those same people are still around today.
Bad reputations and economic collapse has weeded out so many marginal sellers, but also rid us of a number of really great folks that just could not sustain their collections.
I believe that the herp community in this country is well on its way to recovery. I see increased sales in all species for a lot of breeders, so this is clear evidence that not only the reptile market is improving but I see it as an indicator for our nation as a whole.
With increased pressures on restricting wild imports and new laws against herp ownership it is more important than ever that we join together not only to celebrate our breeding successes but also to protect our right to do so.