Gecko sperm plugs—what are those and what do they look like? Are they a normal development or will they hurt your precious leopard gecko?
Male leopard geckos develop sperm plugs—hardened hemipenal secretions, debris, and shed—often due to low humidity and vitamin A deficiency. With proper husbandry and diet, geckos can normally pass them without any problems. In case of severely impacted plugs, an exotic veterinarian is needed.
You probably saw others removing their own reptile’s sperm plugs so you might want to do it yourself too. But does it actually cost a fortune to get an experienced reptile vet to remove sperm plugs?
Does Your Leopard Gecko Have a Sperm Plug?
Sperm plugs are the accumulation of semen, smegma, shed, and dead cell debris that hardens with time in the vents of leopard geckos. Commonly, a gecko’s sperm plug is small, circular, and colored cream or tan.
In larger lizards like iguanas, long sperm plugs may be expelled while they’re connected to each other forming the letter H . But for smaller lizards such as geckos, these plugs are typically round and somewhat spiral by the end.
Normally, they are excreted by geckos together with their other bodily wastes. This is why sperm plugs sometimes have dark brown matter attached to them.
Check out our other article to see what normal gecko poop looks like!
Other times, leopard geckos will manually get rid of their sperm plugs after taking out their penises—they have a pair called hemipenes—from their vents. Then, they will take their hemipenes back inside once the deed is done.
For the most part, owners don’t see their leopard gecko’s sperm plugs because they are normally no larger than half a single piece of pea. Once they start poking out of the vent, these plugs can quickly cause other problems.
So how exactly can you tell whether or not a gecko’s hemipenes are impacted by sperm plugs? Check out the list below to find out.
Below are signs that your leopard gecko has developed impacted sperm plugs:
- Refusal to be handled
- More aggressive behavior
- Excessive licking of vent
- Inflamed vent area
- Hard hemipenal bulges
- Enlarged hemipenal bulges
- Solid mass sticking out of the vent
Simply put, you really need to familiarize yourself with how your lovely leo usually behaves. If it suddenly gets bitey when it usually seems to like getting petted by you, it could mean that its hemipenes are impacted and it may be feeling quite uncomfortable!
Are femoral pore plugs and sperm plugs the same?
Sperm plugs are also known by many names, such as hemipenal or seminal plugs, but they are different from femoral plugs. Femoral plugs are found in a gecko’s femoral pores above their vents, whereas sperm plugs form in its inverted penis or hemipenes within the vent.
Why Do Leopard Geckos Get Impacted Sperm Plugs?
The exact cause of impacted sperm plugs is still not confirmed. However, experts believe that low humidity, vitamin A deficiency, and lack of breeding opportunity may result in recurrent and serious cases of big retained sperm plugs.
Retained sperm plugs are only observed in leopard geckos that are kept in captivity—at least from what I know. As such, the actual cause—or causes—remain uncertain . Still, I’ll share them with you so you know what things to monitor more closely!
1. Low Humidity
But since it only seems to happen with pet geckos, experienced keepers and veterinarians think that the number one cause of hemipenal impaction may be related to husbandry.
More specifically, leopard geckos kept in tanks with very low humidity (constantly below 30–40%) are more prone to sperm plug buildup—especially if they don’t have a humid hide.
To me, this makes sense because low moisture can cause a lot of hydration issues such as sperm plugs drying up too fast, making them much harder to pass.
2. Vitamin A Deficiency
The link between vitamin A deficiency and hemipenal impaction still isn’t clear. But there is obviously a connection .
Plus, research does show that a lack of vitamin A in an animal’s diet can cause reproductive issues—not only in males but also females . The catch is, it hasn’t really been studied much in geckos yet.
Then again, the lack of vitamin A is related to stuck shed, which is also a component of sperm plugs.
Also, many pet parents realize that even though their husbandry is top-notch, the multivitamin supplements they are giving their leopard geckos only contain beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is just a precursor of vitamin A—meaning, geckos still need to convert it.
So despite being kept in a magnificent bioactive tank, they keep getting sperm plugs because they aren’t getting enough vitamin A in their diet!
Want to upgrade your leo’s setup? Find out in our guide for going bioactive!
3. Lack of Breeding Opportunity
Male leopard geckos that have never been paired with a female for the breeding season are reportedly more likely to accumulate and retain sperm plugs.
Since lone, sexually mature male geckos can’t release their sperm by mating with a partner, they might not be able to discharge it at all which can result in plug formation.
But again, this isn’t true all of the time.
Even proven male breeder geckos can develop really big retained sperm plugs that can prove fatal for reasons still currently unclear.
Conversely, unpaired male geckos can go through their entire lives without ever having retained sperm plugs.
Does loose substrate cause geckos to develop sperm plugs?
Though fine substrate particles could indeed get into a gecko’s vent and adhere to the other liquid and waxy components of sperm plugs like sperm and smegma, there has been no case of loose substrate causing hemipenal impaction.
Is It Possible to Prevent Geckos From Getting Sperm Plugs?
Impacted hemipenes can be prevented in geckos by ensuring that they can safely pass it by themselves. Such measures primarily include providing correct husbandry and adequate diet and supplementation.
Again, leopard gecko can remove their sperm plugs without our help. So if you’re little fellow has never gotten retained sperm plugs before, you probably have nothing to worry about.
It doesn’t hurt to stay on the side of caution though. You can practice preventive measures to make sure that your soft-scaled baby has little to no chance of experiencing a serious case of sperm plugs.
Prevent retained sperm plugs in leopard geckos by providing:
- Rough-textured decors like cork and wood
- Various live feeders
- Multivitamin with vitamin A (here on Amazon)
- Humid hide
- Ideal humidity gradient (35–65%)
Learn more in our article on maintaining ideal humidity levels.
With these measures, your gecko will likely have no issue removing its little sperm plugs!
Are Sperm Plugs Dangerous for Leopard Geckos?
Sperm plugs that have been retained for a long time, especially with recurrent cases, can be very dangerous and deadly for leopard geckos. When severely impacted hemipenes are not promptly treated, they can become infected and abscessed.
When you get leopard geckos—or any other pet, for that matter—you really need to be quite hands-on with their care.
In doing so, you can catch and notice possible problems and health issues early on. This can help you make sure your gecko stays in tip-top shape.
Otherwise, you will only notice severe hemipenal impaction when it’s too late. Sadly, I have seen several cases where leos have died due to untreated retained sperm plugs.
If left to build up in a gecko’s hemipenes, sperm plugs can get bloody and super nasty—filled with pus! These sperm plugs can be quite stinky as well.
Does this mean you should force it out of your gecko’s vent? Not really—which brings us to my next point: proper sperm plug removal!
How to Remove Sperm Plugs From Leopard Geckos
The removal of a leopard gecko’s retained sperm plugs should be done by an experienced exotic veterinarian. It is not advisable to remove sperm plugs at home as incorrect removal can worsen the condition and result in a hemipenal prolapse.
Attempts of removing gecko sperm plugs at home may inadvertently cause:
- Undue stress
- Excessive bleeding
- Severe pain
- Internal trauma
- Bacterial infection
- Hemipenal prolapse
In other words, trying to remove your gecko’s retained sperm plug on your own can do more harm than good, especially if you’re a newbie pet parent. Your precious leo may even end up needing surgery!
Sure, you have probably seen experienced keepers and breeders remove sperm plugs from geckos and other reptiles.
But expert owners know how to correctly resolve such issues with the help of vets from regular consultations throughout the years.
Aside from that, at-home removal is more commonly done for larger lizards, like bearded dragons. This is because it’s easier to distinguish between their seminal plugs and actual hemipenes at their size.
In the hands of a veterinary doctor that is well-versed in reptiles, the entire procedure—including the application of anesthesia—will only last about 5 minutes, or even less.
They will also give your leopard gecko the appropriate medication, like an antibiotic, when necessary.
How much does it cost to have a vet remove a gecko’s sperm plugs?
Though rates will vary across different states and clinics or hospitals, it will generally only cost 50–80 USD to have a reptile veterinarian remove retained sperm plugs from geckos. In serious cases where the amputation of the hemipenes is required to prevent future impaction, the bill can run up to 120—500 USD with the anesthesia and medicine(s).
Can You Tell Apart a Gecko Sperm Plug and a Prolapse?
Both sperm plugs and hemipenal prolapses stick out of a leopard gecko’s vent however their color and texture differ. Sperm plugs are cream or tan hard masses, while hemipenal prolapses are pink-red hard masses.
However, it can be very difficult to distinguish them from each other in certain cases, especially once they start getting discolored.
A sperm plug that has been retained for quite a long time can start turning dark brown—partially due to poop that becomes attached to it. On the other hand, a hemipenal prolapse can turn dark due to infection and necrosis (tissue death).
Even for veterinary doctors not familiar with reptiles, the two can be confusing. To the untrained eye, though, they may look identical.
Now, imagine if a gecko owner kept trying to pull out a leopard gecko’s necrotizing hemipenes thinking that it was simply a chunk of retained sperm plug. Such a scenario probably won’t have a happy ending, would it?
Is it normal for leopard geckos to not eat after sperm plug removal?
Can female geckos develop sperm plugs?
Female leopard geckos can’t develop seminal plugs since they neither have hemipenes nor produce sperm. However, a male gecko may insert copulatory plugs into the female’s reproductive tract after mating to stop them from breeding with others.
Summary of What are Gecko Sperm Plugs
It is normal for a sexually mature male leopard gecko to produce sperms plus, which is a semi-solid waxy substance composed of reproductive fluids, shed, and cell debris. Correct husbandry and a complete and balanced diet allow them to release these without their owners noticing.
However, improper husbandry and incomplete diet can lead to the accumulation and retention of sperm plugs, causing hemipenal impaction. This must immediately be removed by a reptile veterinarian to prevent further complications that may necessitate hemipenile amputation.