Uroplatus phantasticus is a small species of the genus Uroplatus (Leaf Tail or Flat Tail Geckos). All species of Uroplatus are endemic to Madagascar. Madagascar is an island off the southeastern coast of Africa, and is the 4th largest island in the world. Uroplatus occupy the eastern forests, extreme northern and southern mountain ranges and some offshore islands.
There are currently 10 valid species of Uroplatus. Within the genus there are 3 sub-categories: the allaudi-group consisting of U. allaudi, U. guentheri and U. malahelo; fimbriatus-group with U. fimbriatus, U. sikorae, U. henkeli and U. lineatus; ebenaui-group with U. ebenaui, U. phantasticus and U. malama. Nussbaum and Raxworthy (1995) suspect the latter group may be either the same species through evolutional stages, or the same species with geographical speciation. U. phantasticus was first described by Boulenger (1888) and has since undergone many years of taxonomical contestation as a valid species. U. phantasticus was incessantly synonymized with U. ebenaui and again resurrected as a valid species over and over in the past century.
U. phantasticus comes from the eastern forest belts of Madagascar. Their distribution covers approximately 500km of the eastern forest belts from Ranomafana National Park in the southeast to 25 miles north of Perinet Special Reserve in east central Madagascar. U. ebenaui come from the northern tip of Madagascar and the island of Nosy Be. U. phantasticus tend to prefer staying within 1m of the ground in low shrubbery. At night they may actively travel on the forest floor in search of food and/or good ambush points. During daytime hours they will sit motionless for hours in a low shrub or small plant, resembling a dead leaf. When disturbed, some animals will drop to the ground.
U. phantasticus is one of the smallest species in its genus with a total length of 5-6 inches (12.5-15cm) . It has several common names that imply their physical features including Satanic, Eyelash, and Fantastic Leaf Tail Geckos Over either eye there is a backward facing spine, resembling an eyelash. Their tails are shaped exactly like a dead leaf. Males especially will have small gaps in the sides of the tails to mimic as if eaten by insects. This is not a 100% form of identifying males and females. More times than not though, males will have the gaps in the tail, but are usually absent in females. Males will have hemipenal bulges at the base of the tail; this structure is absent in females. The ground color ranges from tans, creams and browns, to brick color and purple. Patterns can vary never-ending possibilities. Blotches, bands, pin stripes, leaf veins and lichen spots are among the most common.
Most specimens offered for sale are wild caught imports. The importation process can be very stressful on these geckos. Often times fresh imports are suffer from dehydration and internal parasite loads. A healthy animal will have a filled out stomach and no rib cage showing. Eye coloration (red, white, etc) may vary. This is not important unless it is obvious that something is wrong with the eyes. To check for dehydration, examine the tail. If the sides of the tail are folded inwards, the animal is dehydrated. This can often be reversed quite easily by misting often and occasionally giving some Pedialyte© to replace lost nutrients. Flagyl and Panacur should be given to rid of internal parasites and should be placed in quarantine individually for 30-60 days. Healthy individuals should be reactive and may slowly walk on your hand or jump. If an animal does not seem coordinated or seems unhealthy overall, that animal is a poor choice for captivity. Few people are successfully captive breeding them with any regularity. Prices will range from $50-$100 retail for fresh imports and $75+ for captive bred individuals. Captive bred individuals can be tough to find offered for sale.
You can keep a pair or trio of U. phantasticus in a 10 gal tank. Males can be kept together, and fighting occurs only very rarely. A screen top is necessary for proper ventilation and air circulation. I keep a breeding trio in a 20-gallon high tank. All-Glass aquariums or acrylic cages are the best choices. Hexagonal tanks can be used, but finding screen tops for these can be difficult to find and expensive. You may have to make your own homemade cage top. Reptariums© and screen mesh cages made for chameleons are not a good choice for U. phantasticus because they impair the ability to keep correct ambient humidity levels.
Uroplatus come from mid to high altitude montane rainforests where they like cooler temperatures and high humidity levels. Any additional heat source is unneeded and often detrimental to the health of any Uroplatus. U. phantasticus prefer a temperature range of 70-73F (21-23C) at night and 72-75F (22-24C) during the day during the summer. If a short period of cooling is preferred, winter temperatures should be 68-70F (20-21C) at night and 70-73F (21-23C) daytime. Temperatures can reach as low as 65 with no ill effects. Temperatures should never reach 80F (26.6C) for any period of time; 78F (25.5C) is the maximum temperature that should be safely allowed. The summer and winter temperatures can be reversed to simulate their natural seasons in Madagascar. I have found that their breeding is more as a result of their own biological clocks than atmospheric temperature changes. Humidity should be kept at 75-90%, preferable at a near constant 80% humidity. Throughout the day in between misting, humidity levels will fluctuate. Mist the cage as often as needed, generally between 2 and 3 times a day. I have also found it helps if you occasionally water the substrate some. This helps to keep humidity up also. I have observed when the humidity drops some individuals will immediately go into shedding.
For a substrate there is a variety of possibilities. When choosing a substrate be sure that the substrate retains humidity well, should be pleasing to the eye and if live plants are to be used in the tank, it must be able to be used as their substrate also. Sphagnum Moss, Bed-a-Beast, Orchid moss, live pillow moss, and orchid bark are all commonly used. Soil serves little useful purpose as a substrate. I use a naturalistic setup with a Bed-a-beast substrate for the plants and a layer of leaves over that. It is a fine substitute for soil when live plants are being grown in the enclosure. Sphagnum moss usually smells and can often contain sharp sticks and twigs. Orchid moss makes my second choice. Live pillow moss is a very attractive substrate, but can be difficult to maintain. Crickets also will find their way underneath this, and make become trapped, die, and rot. Live fern moss is a better choice when available, but again can be difficult to maintain. Orchid bark suits the purpose, but is less interesting than the other substrates. I use live plants in my enclosures and do so by using bed-a-beast and several fertilizers and other components essential for the plants’ survival. This mix is based on Searcey, Rex Lee. 2002. Reptiles Magazine. Vivarium Planting Mixes – Part 2
Acceptable cage accessories would include cork bark, bamboo shoots, Bio-Vine©, and certain branches. Leaf litter looks very naturalistic on the cage floor and dead partially decomposing sticks or small logs could be used amongst the leaf litter. I have found that artificial plants (like those stuck to wooden fixtures that they sell at pet stores in the "reptile section”) work well. Suitable live plants for U. phantasticus enclosures include Ficus sp., Dieffembachia, golden pothos, Cryptanthus sp., and a very small palm-like plant whose name I don’t know. Other kinds will work too as long as they are strong enough and large enough to support the animals on the leaves and branches. Any kind of plant that may be toxic if eaten should not be used, even though Uroplatus are not herbivorous. Some of the bromeliads are poor choices because they can store water where crickets can be trapped and drown and sometimes need specialized conditions. Always pick healthy plants and wash them thoroughly to get rid of any pesticide residues. Most branches are fine, even from the wild. Moss-covered branches can be very attractive, check to see if there are any noticeable external parasites before using. U. phantasticus prefer thin branches, less than a ½” (9mm) in diameter.
Everyone has their own opinions on UV rays concerning nocturnal geckos, Uroplatus especially. Some say UVB is good for them and helps w/ fertile egg production, and others say too much light will stress them. I have always used UVB lights on my animals. I believe that since they hide in exposed, uncovered spots, that they would naturally be exposed to UV rays. If not for the animals, they are beneficial for the plant-life. A full-spectrum bulb should be used in conjunction with a UVB bulb if you have live plants. I have used UVB for other gecko species and I do notice that it enhances their color. You can acquire hoods at Wal-Mart for $8 for fluorescent tubes. I believe the best UVB lights are the Repti-Sun 2.0 Fluorescent tubes. I also use a generic full spectrum bulb for plants called Sunshine from Home Depot. Places such as Home Depot, Wal-Mart, etc have fluorescent tubes for indoor plants. They are cheaper than the commercial reptile full spectrum bulbs.
For adults, crickets make the best diet. The crickets are cheap and have a good nutritional value. I feed them 1/2 inch and ¾ inch. Other insects like mealworms, waxworms, silkworms and moths can be offered as well. Mealworms tend to go unnoticed by the geckos and burrow into the substrate quickly. Faster moving prey is often preferred. Some individuals will accept food from a bowl or dish, but usually not with any consistency. It is best to gut load crickets with some sort of calcium and protein enriched feed. Calcium supplementation with Rep-Cal© or Miner-All© and Herptivite© should be used once every other or every 3rd feeding. Give them as many crickets as they will eat in an hour. I feed mine every other day to every 3rd day. When possible, small terrestrial snails should be offered for calcium.
In the wild pairs of U. phantasticus will stay together during the breeding season. Their natural breeding season in Madagascar is during their summer. For the northern hemisphere, this is our winter. Cycling is probably not necessary in the captive breeding of U. phantasticus, but it can’t hurt. I have found that breeding is stimulated more by their own biological clocks rather than by any artificial seasons (temperature/photoperiod reduction) produced by the keeper. I keep my U. phantasticus according to the seasons here, but still breeding takes place during our winter. The gestation period is around 30 days. On average the eggs will take 90 days to hatch at room temperature (70-76F) . Fertile eggs are spherical with a hard white shell typical of geckos within the subfamily Gekkonidae. Infertile eggs, or “duds” are usually a yellowish goop with no true shape. Sometimes perfectly white unhardened globs are laid. Fertile eggs are laid on the ground near the base of a branch, plant, cork bark slab or any other solid structure within the tank. Infertile eggs are almost always glued to a branch or leaf.
Temperatures for incubating eggs should range from 70-75F (21-24C). Humidity should be around 80%. There are several ways to incubate them and several different mediums to use. I have mine incubate mine in deli cups at room temperature (70-76F, 21-24C) on a shelf. Vermiculite, perlite, peat moss, sphagnum moss, bed a beast, orchid moss all can be used. Some have had success using paper towels. I have used bed-a-beast, vermiculite and orchid moss on Uroplatus eggs. I prefer moist Bed-A-Beast or orchid moss. The eggs of the phantasticus are literally about the size of a pea. I personally just don't like sphagnum moss that much for any use with these geckos. Eggs can sometimes be kept in the cage, but simply place a small screen mesh cubicle over the eggs to ward off crickets. Some breeders have set wire or some sort of mesh over an incubating medium or water inside deli cups to avoid direct contact with water. Every so often the incubation medium will need to be moistened again. Do so by dripping or very lightly spraying water in the substrate around the eggs. Be careful not drip water on the eggs or flood the incubation medium.
Taking care of the babies is the most difficult part in captive breeding U. phantasticus. Babies should be kept with temperatures and humidity identical to that of the adults. A small cage like a Kritter Keeper is best to house each individual. As a substrate I prefer moistened orchid moss or paper towels. Small, sterilized sticks, Bio-Vine and small Golden Pothos plants are appropriate choices for cage furniture. Offer crickets about 1/8” (1-2 weeks old). Small terrestrial snails may be offered. Alternate the use of Herptivite© and Rep-Cal© at every feeding for the first month. I believe a good amount of calcium is extremely beneficial for hatchling Uroplatus. The first 3 months is crucial to their survival into adulthood. After this point you are out of the ‘danger zone’.
I hope this care sheet gave some helpful information to all of those interested in keeping Uroplatus phantasticus. They are a wonderful and amazing species of gecko that will bring enjoyment to those who will take the time and dedication to properly care for them. If you have any further questions on U. phantasticus or U. sikorea as well, I will be happy to answer them. You can email me at [email protected].
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Love, Bill. 2001. Reptiles Magazine. Stalking the Action (Parts 1 & 2).
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Nussbaum, Ronald A. and Raxworthy, Christopher J. 1995
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