Satanic Leaf-Tailed Gecko Facts

Scientific Name: Uroplatus phantasticus

Close-up photo of satanic leaf-tailed gecko.
Getty Images/Corbis/Jim Zuckerman

The satanic leaf-tailed gecko (Uroplatus phantasticus), is a mild-mannered reptile that, despite its name, prefers to take peaceful naps in the forests of Madagascar. It has evolved an extreme method of camouflage: becoming a dead leaf.

Fast Facts: Satanic Leaf-Tailed Gecko

  • Scientific Name: Uroplatus phantasticus
  • Common Name: Satanic leaf-tailed gecko
  • Basic Animal Group: Reptile
  • Size: 2.5–3.5 inches
  • Weight: 0.35–1 ounce
  • Lifespan: 3–5 years
  • Diet: Carnivore
  • Habitat: Mountainous rainforests of eastern Madagascar
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

Description

The satanic leaf-tailed gecko is one of 13 recognized species belonging to the gekkonid lizard genus Uroplatus, which were discovered on the island of Madagascar in the 17th century. The 13 species are broken into several groups based, in part, on the vegetation they mimic. U. phantasticus belongs in the group named U. ebenaui, which is comprised of three members, including U. malama and U. ebenaui: all three look like dead leaves.

All leaf-tailed geckos have long, flat bodies with triangular heads. The satanic leaf-tailed gecko is mottled brown, gray, tan, or orange in color, the same shade as the decaying leaves in its natural environment. The gecko's body is curved like the edge of a leaf, and its skin is marked with lines that mimic a leaf's veins. But the most remarkable accessory in the leaf-tailed gecko's disguise is undoubtedly its tail: The gecko has the longest and widest tail of all the U. ebenaui group. The lizard's tail is not only shaped and colored like a leaf, but it also bears notches, frills, and imperfections to more closely resemble a dead leaf that has been gnawed on by insects.

Like the rest of its group, the satanic leaf-tailed gecko is small in size compared to other Uroplatus groups, measuring between 2.5 to 3.5 inches long including its tail.

The Satanic leaf-tailed gecko is a spectacular, camouflaged, lizard species endemic to the last remaining highland rain forests of Madagascar
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Habitat and Distribution

The satanic leaf-tailed gecko is found only in the mountainous rain forests in the southern two-thirds of eastern Madagascar, a large island nation just off the southeast coast of Africa. It is found at the base of trees disguising itself as leaf litter and up to about 6 feet up the trunk of a tree. Well known for its unique wildlife, Madagascar's forests are home to lemurs and fossas and hissing cockroaches, in addition to being the only known habitat of the world's satanic leaf-tailed geckos.

Diet and Behavior

The satanic leaf-tailed gecko rests all day, but as soon as the sun sets, it's on the prowl for a meal. Its large, lidless eyes are made for spotting prey in the darkness. Like other lizards, this gecko is believed to feed on anything it can catch and fit in its mouth, from crickets to spiders. Little research has been done on satanic leaf-tailed geckos in their native environment, though, so we can't know for sure what else they consume.

The satanic leaf-tailed gecko doesn't rely on passive camouflage to protect itself. It also behaves like a leaf when resting. The gecko sleeps with its body flattened against a tree trunk or branch, head down and leafy tail up. If needed, it twists its body to accentuate the leaf-like edges and help it blend in.

It has a limited ability to change color, and when camouflage fails, it flicks its tail upwards, rears back its head, opens its mouth exposing a brilliant orange-red interior and sometimes even emits a loud distress call.

Satanic Leaf-tailed Gecko (Uroplatus phantasticus) in Ranomafana rain forest in eastern Madagascar. Red eyes and horns above eyes earn this supremely camouflaged lizard its devilish name
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Reproduction and Offspring

In their native Madagascar, the start of the rainy season also marks the beginning of the gecko breeding season. When sexually mature, the male satanic leaf-tailed gecko has a bulge at the base of its tail, while the female does not. The female is oviparous, meaning she lays eggs and the young complete development outside of her body.

The mother gecko lays her clutch, two or three spherical eggs, in the leaf litter on the ground or within dead leaves on a plant. This enables the young to remain hidden when they emerge about 95 days later. She may bear two or three clutches a year. Little is known about this secretive animal, but it is believed that the mother leaves the eggs to hatch and make it on their own.

Conservation Status and Threats

Though currently listed as a species of Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, this unusual lizard may soon be at risk. Madagascar's forests are being degraded at an alarming rate. Exotic pet enthusiasts also create a high demand for collecting and exporting the species, which is currently illegal but may continue in low numbers.

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