Satanic leaf-tailed gecko (Uroplatus phantasticus)

Synonyms: Uroplatus schneideri
GenusUroplatus (1)
SizeLength: 10 - 15 cm (2)

Listed on Appendix II of CITES (1).

The incredible satanic leaf-tailed gecko is a master of disguise, with a body that superbly mimics a dead leaf. Its twisted body, veined skin, and tail which looks remarkably like it has been nibbled at by insects or rotted by decay (3), all help this reptile blend into the foliage of its habitat. The satanic leaf-tailed gecko varies in colour, but is often mottled brown (4), and small black dots on the underside help distinguish it from similar species (5). Geckos possess no eyelids, just a transparent covering over their eyes, and so they use their long, mobile tongues to wipe away any dust or debris that gets into the eye (3). It has often been debated whether the satanic leaf-tailed gecko is the same species as U. ebenaui (the Nosy Bé flat-tailed gecko), but the satanic leaf-tailed gecko possesses more, and longer, spines on the head, body and trunk (6).

Endemic to forests of eastern Madagascar (4) (5)

The satanic leaf-tailed gecko is an arboreal, rainforest-dwelling species (5).

A nocturnal reptile, with suitably large eyes, the satanic leaf-tailed gecko moves about its rainforest habitat at night feeding on insects (5). The adhesive scales under their fingers and toes and their strong curved claws enable them to move adeptly through the trees (5). The satanic leaf-tailed gecko is somewhat of an expert at avoiding predators, not only through their incredible mimicry, but through a number of behaviours. They can flatten their body against the substrate to reduce the body’s shadow, open their jaws wide to show a frightening, bright red mouth, and voluntarily shed their tail in order to trick a predator (5).

Like many reptiles, the satanic leaf-tailed gecko is oviparous, or egg-laying. Reproduction starts at the beginning of the rainy season when it lays clutches of two spherical eggs onto the ground under leaf litter, or in the dead leaves of plants (5).

Studies suggest that leaf-tailed geckos can only inhabit a very specific environment and are not tolerant of any degradation of its natural habitat. This makes the satanic leaf-tailed gecko very vulnerable to the impacts of habitat degradation and harvesting. Its fascinating appearance makes the satanic leaf-tailed gecko a popular pet and it is among the species most frequently traded. The apparent low population numbers in the wild suggests that, without careful monitoring and suitable controls, harvesting for the pet trade places this species at risk of local extinctions (5).

The survival of the satanic leaf-tailed gecko is intrinsically linked to the continued existence of its Madagascan rainforest habitat. Protected areas are therefore essential, and at present the satanic leaf-tailed gecko is known to occur in at least three: Tsaratanana Strict Nature Reserve, Marojejy National Park and Anjanaharibe Special Reserve. However, illegal harvesting of leaf-tailed geckos is known to occur even within protected areas (5), and efforts to control this threatening activity are required if this extraordinary and unique reptile is to endure.

For further information on geckos see:

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  1. IUCN Red List (July, 2014)