Uroplatus henkeli / Leaftail gekko- Care
|Scientific name:||Uroplatus henkeli|
|Reproduction:||oviparous / egglaying|
|Cites:||B / II|
In a contrary to many other leaftail geckos the Henkels Leaftailgecko is a species that can tolerate ‘higher’ temperatures. Making them very appropriate for those who want to take care of these awesome geckos but cannot provide the lower (night-time)temperatures many other Uroplatus sp. need.
Status: The genus Uroplatus contains 13 species, all being classified as vulnerable by the ICUN and are the ‘most protected’ of the geckos being listed as Cites B with limited export quota. Uroplatus henkeli is one of the most exported and was also one of the first species of leaftail gecko that was exported for the pet trade. Making it one of the better represented Uroplatus sp. in our hobby.
General appearance: Uroplatus henkeli is one of the larger leaftail gecko species. On average they reach a size of 25cm till 28cm. Their general appearance is that of a classical leaftail gecko. Like many others of the ‘Fibriatus’ group within the genus Uroplatus. Other species that belong to this group are the U. giganteus, U. fimbriatus, U. sikorea and U. sameiti
The body is overall flat and thin, the head is very broad and long with well-developed eyes suiting these nocturnal hunters. They have the classic flat and fringed tail that is not longer than the body itself. Along the whole body, legs, toes and of course the head they have fringed dermal skin that drapes perfectly around the surface they are on (often a tree or branch) so they are almost unnoticeable when seen from the front or side, not even a shadow will be seen. They have adapted very well to their natural surroundings and the secret life they live. So much that even within a species individuals from different locations can have a very different colour and/or pattern. The base colour of the species is a light brown with a faint pattern of speckling. But like mentioned this can differ a lot. Animals can be seen with a lot more melanin or be very blotchy with all kinds of brown and yellowish shades to match the bark of the trees they hide on. There are also a lot of individuals with a lot of white or a lot of black speckles, especially on their head. They are exclusive nocturnal animals that depend on their very good eyesight. During the day they attach themselves to a tree or branch often head down, relying on their supreme camouflage.
General behaviour: The Henkels Leaftailgecko is a classic nocturnal gecko species. They hide during the day relying on their supreme camouflage and go hunting at night. They hunt using their good eyesight. In captivity they are calm but can get stressed out easily when handled, so try to avoid any unnecessary contact or handling. When threatened they will use their broad flat tail as a distraction, pointing it upwards and wagging it side to side. When this does not help they will raise themselves upwards so they look a lot bigger and open the mouth in a treat display. If you do need to handle this species it is best to let them walk on a branch or hand and move them. Only grab them when it is absolutely needed.
Natural range and habitat: This species of leaftail gecko is endemic to Madagascar. The natural range is very fragmented. Uroplatus henkeli can be found on the island Nose B. On Madagascar itself they range true the northern parts and the western rainforest regions of Ankaranafantsika and Bemaraha. Madagascar is a country where deforestation is a major problem. This makes that not only habitat loss is a problem for the survival of this species, but their territory also gets more fragmented than it already is. Making it harder for the natural breeding colony’s to migrate and mix genes. They prefer lowland rainforest habitats where they will live on tree trunks, branches and fines often no more than 1.5 till 2 meters from the ground. Thin trunks have their preference that measure between 10 till 20cm. Because of their wide range, differences in morphology and behaviour between locations and the fact that animals from different locations often don’t mix and reproduce suggests that the species Uroplatus henkeli actually contains more than 1 subspecies or species. More conclusive research needs to be done on this. In the meantime we advise all breeding hobbyist to try and select animals from the same location. To prevent we unintentionally mix different (sub)species or rare locals.
Captive requirements: Let’s start with one of the biggest misconceptions, UVB. Many say that a nocturnal animal has no use for UVB as they are active when the sun doesn’t shine. But we must not forget the place where these animals hide during the day. Against tree trunks and often in this fashion they will be in contact with (indirect) sunlight and UVB. As the Uroplatus henkeli is also a species that can be found in rather thick rainforest the UVB requirement is not as high as for instance in desert dwelling Uromastyx, but it certainly is there and experience shows that the best captive maintenance and breeding successes are done when a medium level of UVB was available for the Uroplatus.
For Uroplatus the higher glass terrariums produced by Exo-Terra and Zoomed are very useful. They have a good construction and the mesh top makes it very easy to provide the animals with the proper light and heating fixtures without the risk of an animal actually being able to touch the equipment with the risk of burning. On top of the mesh top we lay a UVB compact lamp with a reflector behind it. These lamps don’t give a high UVB output but they spread it nicely and it fits the indirect sunlight the animals are exposed to in the wild. Make sure you replace these lamps at least ones every 6 months as the UVB output decreases rather rapidly. You can also use a daylight/UVB fluorescent light. These especially come in handy when you also want to make use of life plants.
When needed we also use a heating lamp to raise the daytime temperature and give different temperature gradients in the enclosure. On average the daytime temperature needs to be around 24C till 26 degrees Celsius. Night temperatures can drop till 20C. Higher daytime temperatures till 30C can be tolerated for an extended period of time although not recommended. This does make this species a lot easier to maintain for many compared to other Uroplatus sp. who need lower temperatures and are not as tolerable to high temperatures.
The humidity needs to be high, 70/80% during the day with a rise to 90/100% during the night. As the leaftail gecko does not drink from a bowl but only fresh water droplets from the decoration and walls of the enclosure it is best to mist extensively after the lights go out. This will recreate the rise in humidity during the night and gives them a chance to drink. Mist daily. You can hang a small waterbowl high between the leaves that catches the fresh water. Sometimes the geckos will drink out of this after the misting as it replicates a small puddle left over from the rain between leaves and tree branches.
The way the enclosure is setup can help with providing the higher humidity requirements. Whenever possible we always try to create a ‘bioactive’ setup and a big part of a bioactive setup with rainforest dwellers are the substrate and the use of life plants. Not only do life plants work well for decoration and creating natural hiding places, they also help to keep a higher humidity. Even between the leaves different microclimates will exist with a small difference in humidity.
Also a thick bioactive substrate will help. A thick layer of soil will absorb water and lets it evaporate slowly. Best is to place a layer of (clay) hydroballs with a layer of mesh or a filtrationmat on the bottom to function as a drainage. This makes sure the substrate and possible roots of plants are not in constant contact with water so it becomes too wet. Then make use of a substrate of soil like cocopeat that is at least 10cm thick, preferable mixed with small pieces of bark, moss and leaves. Place a layer of leaves on top as this species likes to hide their eggs between them.
When you add small invertebrates like millipedes, springtails and Arthropods like woodlice they will feed of all the waste created by the feeder insects and gecko. Making maintenance of the enclosure very low and a lot of fun.
Further decorate the enclosure with a lot of vertical standing or hanging vines and branches from different widths. We also offer bamboo but they don’t seem to use it very often. A background looks good and will give the animals always one side that is always shielded. The background can also be used to let any plants grow against. It is not uncommon to find your Uroplatus henkeli on the glass walls or front.
Adults can be kept separate, as pair or as a trio of one male and two females( 1.2). Observe the behaviour of the geckos toward each other. Also females can be territorial to one and other and even pairs that don’t match may fight. Use a terrarium that has the minimal measurements of 60x45x90 for an adult pair or 90x45x90 for a trio.
We have seen hobbyist combining Uroplatus henkeli with similar sized Madagascar daygeckos (Phelsuma madagascariensis, grandis) but have no data on long term experience. Both species do not look the same and are active during different times of the day so the change they react territorial to each other is small. But we would not recommend this, the space in your average terrarium is in the end small and compromised. So when your Phelsuma is ‘sleeping’ your Uroplatus will be actively exploring the enclosure and disturb the other occupant, causing stress and possible fighting. We have seen successful combinations with Rhampholeon species that inhabit the same regions and have the same captive requirements as your Uroplatus.
Diet: Uroplatus henkeli is a true insectivore. They hunt at night looking for all kinds of small invertebrates like moths, caterpillars, crickets and grasshoppers are a staple diet for them. Also small snails will be eaten.
In captivity their main diet can consist of crickets and mid-sized cockroaches like the Blaptica dubia. Make sure that you feed and dust your feeder insects well, especially if a main part of their diet is house crickets (Acheta sp.) who have high phosphor level compared to the calcium. Try to vary, offer for instance different species of crickets and mid-sized grasshoppers, you can also offer waxmoths. Especially breeding females will also eat snails which are a very calcium rich preyitem. Mealworms and such are often not accepted.
Like said, feeding your feeder insects before feeding them to your Uroplatus is a smart move. Store bought insects often have not fed properly in a while and are most times dehydrated. This can be done with some carrot, endive or bell peppers. Dust your feeders before you feed them to the gecko, twice a week with a calcium powder and ones a week with a vitamin powder that also has some vitamin D3 in it. When you also offer UVB this if often more than efficient to keep your Uroplatus in good health. Feed your Uroplatus almost every day. Uroplatus are active during the night, so feed during the evening when the lights are out. Then they will react to all the activity. Feeding by day will give no feeding reaction and gives the prey items time to hide and clean themselves. Making the dusting of your feeders useless.
Breeding and captive propagation: Although some pairs will reproduce without a difference in seasons, the best results are met when we provide the animal with a cycle of two seasons. A more humid and warmer season and a dryer, cooler season. This is especially the case with animals from the more western regions.
We can provide this to the animals by giving a shorter light cycle from 14/10 (day/night) till 10/14. During this normally 3 month period the temperature is dropped several degrees and the normal daily misting is done only ones every few days. In Madagascar this season is actually when most countries of the western hemisphere have summer. But often the geckos will adapt to the switch in seasons, it does help to have captive born animals. After this 3 month period daylength can be longer again and temperatures and humidity can go up. Soon after this mating will occur. Make sure you only use healthy well fed animals for breeding. Mating will always take place when the lights are off, lasting from several minutes to a few hours.
Typical for many treedwelling geckos is to stick their eggs somewhere between the leaves of a plant, a hole in a tree or bamboo or in a corner against your terrariumwall. But Uroplatus henkeli will lay their eggs only in a substrate on the ground and they can be very picky. So provide them with several nestingboxes and make sure they are clean and humid. Especially substrate that is mildly composting seems to have a preference. If you use a bioactive substrate with bigger species of millipedes or you have to many crickets walking around they can damage the eggs. So make regular observations after witnessing copulations.
Eggs can be ‘incubated’ in the actual terrarium they are laid in or in a small box with a substrate of sphagnum moss or perlite or vermiculite. The incubation temperature can differ between 22C till 26C (max). The incubation period can last between 70 till 120 days. Which is highly dependent on the incubation temperature. Make sure that if you incubate them in the terrarium they are laid in you cover the eggs so when hatched the hatchlings will not function as a enrichment on the diet of the parents.
Hatchlings can be raised under the same conditions as the parents. Feeding can be started one till two days after hatching. Feed the young with small (dust) crickets, small cockroaches and fruitflies or regular curly winged fly’s.