Henkel’s flat-tailed gecko (Uroplatus henkeli)
|Size||Total length: up to 255 mm (2)|
Henkel's flat-tailed gecko is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1). Listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).
Henkel’s flat-tailed gecko (Uroplatus henkeli) is most remarkable for its incredible ability to conceal itself in its forest habitat. Not only does its grey or brown colouration act as superb camouflage against bark (2) (3), but a fringe of skin edging the head and body enables it to blend into tree trunks by breaking up the outline of the body and preventing any shadows from forming (2). Some individuals also have charcoal-coloured bodies patterned with a lighter grey, which closely mimics the appearance of lichen (3), and the relatively short and flattened tail can resemble a dead leaf (2). Henkel’s flat-tailed gecko has a fairly large, triangular head and bulging eyes which are light pinky-brown, or beige with red spots (4). The pupils are vertical slits, indicating its nocturnal habits (2) (5). Like other geckos, the feet of Henkel’s flat-tailed gecko are another striking feature, with the large toe pads providing impressive adhesion when climbing (5) (6).
Endemic to Madagascar, Henkel’s flat-tailed gecko occurs only in the extreme north and northwest of the island (6).
Henkel’s flat-tailed gecko is an arboreal species that inhabits dense primary rainforest at low altitudes (2) (6). It apparently also occurs in secondary forest, but at very low population densities (6).
Spending most of its time in vegetation just a few metres off the ground (2), this nocturnal lizard searches for insects on which to feed (6). Daylight hours are spent resting head downwards on small trees (2). Henkel’s flat-tailed gecko lays clutches of just two spherical eggs (2), which are carefully deposited on the forest floor, generally under fallen leaves, beneath a piece of wood, or amongst dead leaves still attached to a plant (6). After more than 90 days of incubation, the eggs hatch to reveal juveniles measuring 60 millimetres long (2).
Not only is Henkel’s flat-tailed gecko a master of disguise, but it holds several other tricks to help it escape predators. It can cause confusion by voluntarily shedding its tail, and can frighten enemies by opening its mouth wide and revealing the bright red cavity inside (6). Such defensive behaviour is often accompanied by loud, distress calls (2).
Like other geckos of Madagascar, Henkel’s flat-tailed gecko is undoubtedly threatened by the continued destruction of Madagascar’s forests. Nowhere is this species considered to be abundant, and whilst it is apparently able to tolerate some degradation of the natural habitat, in such areas it is only found at even lower densities (6). This rarity makes Henkel’s flat-tailed gecko very vulnerable to the second major threat it faces: collection. In recent years, this astonishing lizard has become very popular amongst reptile hobbyists (6). While there are some reports that this species is bred by hobbyists (4), others state that the vast majority of Henkel’s flat-tailed geckos in the trade have been harvested from the wild (6). Just taking into account legal trade, 3,000 individuals were reported as exported from Madagascar in the years 2001 to 2003. Illegal collection poses a particular problem; a decline in flat-tailed gecko populations in Lokobe Strict Nature Reserve on Nosy Be Island was attributed to illegal harvesting (6).
Henkel’s flat-tailed gecko occurs in at least two protected areas, Manongarivo and Tsaratanana Intergrated Nature Reserves. In addition, collection of this species is supposed to be controlled and restricted under Malagasy law (6), and international trade is regulated by its listing on Appendix of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) (1). However, none of these measures currently prevent the illegal collection of this rare reptile. This issue needs addressing, as continued harvesting may result in populations of Henkel’s flat-tailed gecko becoming extinct in the near future (6).
For further information on conservation in Madagascar:
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- Arboreal: an animal which lives or spends a large amount of time in trees.
- Endemic: a species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
- Incubation: the act of incubating eggs, that is, keeping them warm so that development is possible.
- Nocturnal: active at night.
- Primary rainforest: forest that has remained undisturbed for a long time and has reached a mature condition.
- Secondary forest: forest that has re-grown after a major disturbance, such as fire or timber harvest, but has not yet reached the mature state of primary forest.
IUCN Red List (May, 2011)
- Glaw, F. and Vences, M. (1994) A Fieldguide to the Amphibians and Reptiles of Madagascar. M. Vences and F. Glaw Verlags GbR, Germany.
CITES (July, 2007)
- Bartlett, R.D. and Bartlett, P.P. (2006) Geckos. Barron's Educational Series, Hauppauge, New York.
- Halliday, T. and Adler, K. (2002) The New Encyclopedia of Reptiles and Amphibians. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
- CITES. (2004) Proposals for Amendment of Appendices I and II, Proposal 27. Thirteenth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties, Bangkok, Thailand.