Henkel's Leaf-Tail Gecko, Uroplatus henkeli :

HENKEL'S LEAF-TAIL GECKO is the most commonly kept and bred member of the Malagasy leaf-tail group (Uroplatuss pp.). They are native to the humid forests of Eastern and Northern Madagascar. Being the second largest Leaf-tail, adults can reach between 9 and 10 inches (23-25 cm) in total length. In common with someother large Leaf-tails such as U. fimbriatus and U.sikorae, they mimic tree bark, having a flattened tail and cryptic colouration to help them blend in with their surroundings.

In addition, U. henkeli has a fringe of skin around the lower sides of its head, body and legs which blends the outline of the body with its background while resting by reducing any shadows cast by the gecko. Being nocturnal, they spend the daylight hours hanging vertically on tree trunks. Even when in plain view, these animals can be hard to spot, so cryptic is their appearance as they sleep motionless.

Leaf-tails exhibit a wide range of colouration, some specimens being simply mottled grey or brown while others are striped, lichenate patterned, or have contrasting patches of white or cream. There is also some ability for these geckos to change their colour and pattern. They often assume more contrasting colouration at night.

Noctunal activity is quite different from their day-time routine. Henkel's Leaf-tails come to life like animated gargoyles after the sun goes down. Their actions are very controlled and deliberate, somewhat reminescent of chameleons, as they patrol or sit alert on the lookout for their next meal. Not having the chameleon's tongue, leaf-tails tense their whole body like a spring and launch themselves with considerable speed and force at prey. Often they hang on with their back feet and return to their original position once they've made a strike.

Another interesting facet of Leaf-tail behaviour is their use of the tail to signal.They wave it back and forth rhythmically while walking. Different types of tail waving are displayed when food is sighted and during courtship.

Captive Environment

Henkel's Leaf-tail has proved to be the easiest Uroplatus species to maintain and breed in captivity due to their general hardiness and ability to withstand higher temperatures than most of their relatives. Although they can endure brief periods of temperatures above32C, Uroplatus henkeli should be kept somewhat cooler. Daytime highs of 25-28C and night-time lows of 18-22C are adequate. Cooler temperatures at night are easily tolerated. My herp room routinely drops to 14-16C during the winter months. In the wild, this species has been observed breeding at temperatures below 1OC.

In addition to a suitable temperature range, correct humidity is extremely important. Daytime humidity of 70-80% and nighttime humidity of 90-100% works well. Hand or automatic misting morning and night will do in most cases. It is important that the substrate does not become saturated and remain wet all of the time as this can encourage the proliferation of bacteria. Setting up the vivarium so that some areas are dryer than others will allow the geckos to select a comfortable spot. A small artificial waterfall or water bowl with an airstone in it can raise the humidity and create such a gradient.

Full-spectrum lighting is recommended to benefit both plants and geckos. Although they are nocturnal, Henkel's Leaf-tails often sleep on treetrunks where they are exposed to UV light from the sun. I have found weak full-spectrum lighting (vita-lites) suspended directly over the vivaria to be adequate. In my situation,the animals often sleep fairly close to the light source, so they are able to benefit from the weak UVB generated from this type of lighting. If dietary supplements containing vitamin D3 are not used, stronger UVB lighting is required. Adding a blacklight BL or a higher-end flourescent made specifically for reptiles may work. If the local climate is suitable and screen caging is used, the geckos can be placed outside to receive natural sunlight.

Enclosures should be as large and as tall as possible when housing adults. An ideal size would be anywhere from 1 to 2.5 meters high with a floor space of over 0.6 m2. That said, I have successfully maintained and bred this species long-term in vivaria of only 0.6 m in height. Hatchlings do well in small plastic pet keepers where feeding can be closely monitored. After a couple of months they can be moved into larger quarters.

Glass or acrylic enclosures with screen tops or all screen enclosures are suitable. In areas where humidity is Iow, glass or acrylic types will retain humidity better. If the ambient humidity is high, the screen cages are better as increased ventilation helps to keep bacteria levels down.

The substrate can consist of orchid bark, soil, coconut coir or peat moss. I prefer a mixture of soil, bark and covered with areas of moss and dried leaves. Hatchlings can be kept on paper towel with a few leaves on top.

The cage furnishings should consist of smooth branches, large pieces of bamboo or cork bark arranged in such way as to provide climbing and resting areas. Henkel's Leaf-tails prefer to sleep on smooth vertical surfaces. If suitable branches are not available, they'll most likely be content to sleep on smooth vivaria walls. Adding sturdy plants such Sanseveria spp. will help to increase humidity and additional climbing areas as well as provide surfaces for the geckos to drink from.

Diet

Uroplatus henkeli will readily hunt crickets and waxworms. They can also be fed superworms or roaches from forceps or by using feeding dishes. These last two food items will usually disappear into the substrate before being eaten if they are simply broadcast into the vivarium. Soft-shelled land snails are another very useful food which adds calcium to the diet, if they can be obtained. Judging by the way my animals glare at hatchling geckos if I happen to set a small enclosure within sight while cleaning, I'm surethat they would not hesitate to eat other small lizards.

In captivity, dietary supplements are important, especially for breeding females and juveniles. Unless strong UVB lighting is used, a supplement containing both calcium and vitamin D3 should be used. One product that works well is Miner-All 1 (indoor) as it sticks very well to prey insects.

Most females will learn to drink a solution made of supplements dissolved in water from a dropper. Many will also lick baby food mixed with supplements off the tip of their snout. This can prove very useful during the breeding season when females utilize large amounts of calcium.

Breeding

If kept as described in this article, U. henkeli will breed quite readily in captivity. In some cases, it may take several months before a pair produces viable eggs. In others, it can happen within the first two months.

Normally clutches of two hard-shelled eggs are produced. Occasionally only a single egg will be laid. Before egg deposition, thefemale will start to explore the enclosure and she may push her snout into the substrate as she does so. Once a suitable site has been found, she will hollow out a slight depression with her hind feet and remain there until the eggs have been laid and the shells have hardened. As the shells harden, they are rolled in the soil so that particles stick to the shell and provide some protective camouflage as the eggs are not buried. Often they will be deposited in a sheltered nook or partly or completey under surface debris such as dead leaves or moss.

The whole process often continues into the next day, so morning checks will often reveal the female still nesting. I have noticed that females in my collection shed one to three days before laying. This has proved to be a helpful indicator as to when to search for eggs.

Eggs can be laid anytime of year, with the heaviest production being in the summer and fall. Some females will stop breeding for 2-4 months, starting in early winter.

Incubation and Care of Hatchlings

Incubation lasts 80-90 days at 24-26C. One method of incubating that works well is to place the eggs on dry vermiculite in a small jar lid and set the lid on top of wet vermiculite inside a deli container with a few small holes in the sides and top. The dampened vermiculite must not dry out as high humidity is very important to successfully hatching strong neonates. In addition, an open container of water placed inside the incubator will help keep humidity levels elevated.

Healthy hatchlings will shed soon after hatching and will look like miniatures of the adults. An incomplete first shed is a sign that the gecko is weak and may be dehydrated. Administering a diluted electrolyte solution may help in such cases. Sometimes the tail may be slightly curled or even bent at an angle, but if the animal is otherwise strong and healthy it will straighten and flatten as it grows.

Most hatchlings will begin feeding on small crickets and/or waxworms within 4 to 10 days. One that does not eat on its own after two weeks, sooner if a decline in condition is noticed, should be hand-fed crushed crickets, waxworms or other insects to help get it started.

Juveniles do well if fed 3-6 insects 4-5 times per week. Adult size can be obtained in 12-18 months with good feeding. Some individuals have large appetites and grow very fast, while others are slower but steady in gaining weight. A varied diet is important as hatchlings may start taking one type of food while ignoring others during the first few weeks.

Uroplatus henkeli has proved to be a hardy and productive gecko in my experience, although they do require more attention and specialized care than some of the more common species. I wouldn't recommend Henkel's Leaftail to the novice herpetoculturist, but anyone with some experience with lizards should be able to keep and possibly breed this species if they do their homework.

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