Satanic leaf-tailed gecko (Uroplatus phantasticus)
Keeping and breeding at BION Terrarium Center
DESCRIPTION, DISTRIBUTION AND BIOLOGY
Satanic leaf-tailed gecko (Uroplatus phantasticus (Boulenger, 1888) is one of the smallest leaf-tailed geckos. It has total length of about 100–110 mm: SVL is 55–70 mm, TL is about 40 mm. The head is not flattened and terminates in a rounded snout (Bauer, 2013). A prominent row of scales in the interorbital and the occipital regions forms a V pointing on the neck (Bauer, Russell, 1989). Body is laterally compressed allowing these animals to be a perfect example of phytomimesys (phytomimicry) even within the Uroplatus genus (Glaw et al., 2007). Their coloration is extremely variable: from gray to chocolate brown, beige, orange and red, sometimes with greenish spots or cream to black vertebral lines.
These geckos have no eyelids, except only a transparent coating on their eyes, and therefore they use long, movable tongues to wipe off dust or debris from their eyes. Individuals with heterochromia (different eyes’ coloration) are the most valuable for terrarium collections as well as individuals with unusual patterns and spots on the body. Their tails imitate the shape of a leaf (Svatek, van Duin, 2001). Sometimes "giant" U. phantasticus can be found in reptile collections worldwide. It is very likely that they belong to a new species discovered in 2019 - Uroplatus finaritra Ratsoavina, Raselimanana, Scherz, Rakotoarison, Razafindraibe, Glaw & Vences, 2019 (total length about 14-16 cm). The latter has a pink or red throat (see photo below), while true U. phantasticus has a black throat with orange corners of the mouth (Ratsoavina et al., 2019). Still among wild caught animals from Madagascar one can find large U. phantasticus individuals, which look as big as U. finaritra, but have black throats and pink or orange corners of the mouth. It can be another new species that is not officially discovered and described yet.
These geckos can be easily sexed since the moment of birth. Males are easy to sex due to the presence of hemipenal bulges and frequently serrated tail fringes that have so-called “spikes" at the base, while fringes of females’ tails are smooth and they have no hemipenal bulges. Females are larger than males. Satanic leaf-tailed geckos are capable of living longer than 10 years (http://www.reptilesmagazine.com/Care-Sheets/Satanic-Leaf-Tailed-Gecko-Care-Sheet/).
Satanic leaf-tail geckos inhabit tropical forests, generally along the central to northern east coast of Madagascar (Angel, 1942). These geckos are rarely found above a few meters off the ground, and prefer to hide in low-lying shrubs, dry foliage and other forms of vegetation (http://uroplatus.info/uroplatus-phantasticus).
They also autotomize their tails if being irritated or if they feel sick. The tail does not regrow. U. phantasticus missing a tail can be extremely difficult to distinguish from a spear-point leaf-tailed gecko (Uroplatus ebenaui (Boettger, 1879) (http://uroplatus.info/uroplatus-phantasticus). Another sign of bad health is rapid color change and “twisted” tail with its edges up.
Due to mass deforestation and destroying of their natural habitat they have IUCN Status indicated as “Least Concern” (https://www.iucnredlist.org/ja/species/172906/6939382). The species is also listed in CITES Ap. II. The survival of the satanic leaf-tailed gecko is intrinsically linked to the continued existence of rainforest habitats on Madagascar. Protected areas are therefore essential, and at present, satanic leaf-tailed gecko is known to occur in at least three: Tsaratanana Strict Nature Reserve, Marojejy National Park or Anjanaharibe Special Reserve. However, poaching of leaf-tailed geckos is known to occur even within protected areas, and efforts to control this threatening activity are required if this extraordinary and unique reptile is to endure (https://www.cites.org/eng/cop/13/prop/index.php). Therefore development of breeding methods and creation of ex situ populations is extremely important (Dubyna et al., 2019).
KEEPING AT BION TERRARIUM CENTER
Keeping. We keep U. phantasticus separately or in pairs at 45*45*60 cm (17.7*17.7*23.6 in) terrariums, setting an opaque wall (partition) between them in the middle. This wall can be easily installed if it is needed to separate the pair. Babies are kept separately at terrariums or plastic lunch boxes of not less than 30*30*30 сm (11.8*11.8*11.8 in). The decoration of the terrarium includes thin horizontal and vertical branches, lianas, living plants and shards as shelters. Substrate — crushed bark, covered with dry oak leaves or paper. If you use paper on the bottom than provide a moist chamber of at least 1 l filled with coconut substrate and dry oak leaves. Geckos will use it for resting and making clutches. Water dish is obligatory. Interior decoration for babies includes thin branches, paper towel instead of substrate, shallow water dish and if possible – artificial plants.
Lighting. Zoo Med 5 UVB lamp is used during breeding season for 10-14 hours per day; during resting period (Jan – Feb) for 4 hours per day.
Temperature. Daytime temperature is +24 – +25 °C, at night – +19 – +21 °C; at the time of winter dormancy – +16 – +19 °C. 25W incandescent lamp is used as both lighting and heating source.
Diet. Diet for adults includes Turkestan cockroaches (Shelfordella tartara), black soldier flies (Hermetia illucens) and crickets (Jamaican field cricket (Gryllus assimilis) and Mediterranean field cricket (Gryllus bimaculatus). Soft-shelled snails are used as additional food and treats, which are given 1-2 times per month. We offer 2–3 insects per head 1–2 times per week. If the animal shows sign of obesity, the frequency of feeding is reduced to 1 time per 2 weeks.
It is strictly recommended not to use wild caught insects. Sometimes if an animal is still hungry we can offer one or two additional feeding items. We offer soft-shelled snails for females during ovogenesis more often. All insects should be gut loaded and dusted with vitamin-mineral supplementation every other feeding. Sepia or cuttlefish “bone” powder works well as a source of calcium. Insects are dusted with it prior to the feeding session. We gutload the insects with fruit, greens and vegetables and sometimes bee pollen as an additional source of vitamins and bioactive elements.
Diet for babies is the same as for adults. However we don’t offer flies, since they are too big for babies to consume. We use insects of appropriate size. We offer 3 insects per head 2–3 times a week before age of 1.5 months; 3 insects per head 1–2 times a week after age of 1.5 months. We add mineral supplements "Repashy" with D3 with every second feeding.
BREEDING AND RAISING AT BION TERRARIUM CENTER
Winter dormancy is necessary for successful breeding. Animals are placed inside individual terrariums (females cannot be kept in groups – only separately) with paper as a substrate. After placing the animals in a special laboratory, the temperature, spraying intensity (from 2 to 1 session per day) and daylight hours (by 1.5-2 hours per week) decrease within 2 weeks. Temperatures during wintering are as follows: +18 - +19 °C at daytime and +16 - +17 °С at night. It is necessary to ensure that there are no signs of dehydration (twisted tail, clavicles visible, protruding hip bones). We provide 4 lighting hours a day. Wintering lasts for 2 months (January - February). We offer 1 low-fat insect per head, 1 time a week. Winter withdrawal algorithm is reverse to input and lasts for 2 weeks. After that we form pairs.
It is important to place together males and females of approximately same sizes. If a female is much bigger than male she will suppress the male, eating out his food and sometimes biting him. In such case the pair should be re-formed and another male should be placed with the female. Copulation lasts from 20 to 60 minutes. Males’ typical mating behavior includes head bobbing, tail waving, licking of female’s legs, tail and back. After every clutch females become receptive for mating again. They usually mate during the first 5-7 days after the making a clutch. 90% of mating that we observed took place in the evening of the same day when a female made a clutch. Sometimes females lay infertile eggs or so-called “slugs”. They usually attach these eggs to the branches of walls of the terrarium. Sometimes these “slugs” are consumed by a female. Presence of “slugs” means that copulation took place too late and the fertilization of the eggs failed.
U. phantasticus gain sexual maturity at the age of 18 months. Breeding season lasts from March to September. Females lay from 2 to 5 clutches per season (1–2 eggs in each). Eggs are laid in the substrate and covered with bark, dry leaves or turf. Laying process usually takes place in the evening (9 pm – 11 pm) or in the morning (5 am – 10 am).
Gestation period is from 20-25 days to 2 months and depends on the female. The eggs are transferred to the incubator without changing polarity. A small recess is made in vermiculite and each egg is placed in such a recess individually at no more than 2/3 eggs’ height depth. The eggs are incubated on vermiculite or “Seramis” substrate at +21 at night and +23 at day. Humidity is 75-85%. Incubation period is 80-100 days.
We keep juveniles separately. All keeping requirements are identical to those for adults. Hatchlings normally shed within a couple of days after hatching. If a baby cannot shed on its own, you can help it by tearing the linear peel on its face. But as a rule, most of these animals are weak and do not survive to reproductive age. Babies usually eat the shed skin. We believe that it is essential for appropriate functioning of digestive system.
1.. Frank Glaw, Miguel Vences. 2007: Field Guide to the Amphibians and Reptiles of Madagascar. Vences & Glaw Verlag GbR 3rd Edition. 497 p. Germany.
2.. Boulenger, G. A. 1888. Descriptions of new Reptiles and Batrachians from Madagascar. Mag. nat. Hist. (6) 1: 101-107
3.. Sacha Svatek and Susanna van Duin. 2001. Leaf-tailed geckos – the Genus Uroplatus. Brahmer-Verlag, 161 p. Germany.
4.. Dubyna Anastasiia, Tkachev Dmitri, Neizhko Ivan, Nekrasova Oksana, Marushchak Oleksiі // Development of breeding techniques in herpetoculture as an approach to leaftailed geckos' (Gekkonidae, Uroplatus) conservation // Abstract book of 62nd International Conference for students of physics and natural sciences “Open Readings 2019” on March 19-22? Vilnius, Lithuania. – Vilnius. – 2019 – P. 467.
5.. Bauer A. M. 2013. Geckos - The Animal Answer Guide. Johns Hopkins University Press, 159 pp.
6.. Bauer, A. M. and A. P. Russell 1989. A systematic review of the genus Uroplatus (Reptilia: Gekkonidae) with notes on its biology. Journal of Natural History 23:169-203
7.. Angel, F. 1942. Les Lézards de Madagascar, Mem. Acad. Malagache: Tananarive XXXVI, 193 pp.
8.. Ratsoavina F. M., Raselimanana A. P., Scherz M. D., Rakotoarison A., Razafindraibe J. H., Glaw F., Vences M. Finaritra! A splendid new leaf-tailed gecko (Uroplatus) species from Marojejy National Park in north-eastern Madagascar // Zootaxa. – 2019. - 4545(4). – P. 563-577. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.11646/zootaxa.4545.4.7