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How to Care for Your Leaf-Tailed Gecko
Leaf-tailed geckos (Uroplatus sp.) are a group of 18+ recognized species native to the tropical forests of Madagascar. They are active primarily at night, and spend most of their time in the trees or shrubs.
Leaf-tailed geckos range in size from 3-13” long, depending on the species. Color and patterning also varies by species, but they have one thing in common: they are proficient at camouflage in a forest environment. Their appearance can be sorted into three categories: bark/moss mimics, dead leaf mimics, and bamboo mimics.
Due to their sensitivity to poor husbandry, lack of handleability, and need for a naturalistic environment, leaf-tailed geckos are advanced-level pet reptiles. With good care, they generally live 5-15 years in captivity.
How much space do leaf-tailed geckos need?
The minimum size of the enclosure you will need depends on the expected adult size of your gecko:
- 3-5” long — 12”L x 12”W x 18”H or 18” x 18” x 18”
- 6-8” long — 18”L x 18”W x 24”H
- 9-10” long — 18”L x 18”W x 36”H
- >12” long — 24”L x 24”W x 48”H or 36”L x 18”W x 36”H
Of course, larger is always better, and will be happily used!
Cohabitation (keeping multiple leaf-tailed geckos in one enclosure) is generally not recommended.
Do leaf-tailed geckos need UVB?
They can survive without it, but they are known to do best when it is provided. UVB lighting gives reptiles all of the vitamin D that their bodies need, stimulates better appetite and activity, and generally allows them to be healthier than they would be without.
The best UVB bulbs for leaf-tailed geckos will depend on the size of the enclosure being used:
- 18” tall — Zoo Med ReptiSun 5.0 Compact Fluorescent, 26w
- 24” tall — Arcadia ShadeDweller ProT5 kit or Zoo Med T8 Reptisun 10.0
- 36-48” tall — Arcadia T5 HO 6% or Zoo Med T5 HO ReptiSun 5.0
The UVB bulb should be at least half the length of the enclosure, housed in a reflective fixture, and placed close to the heat lamp. UVB is blocked by glass and plastic, so you can’t give your gecko UVB by placing its terrarium in front of an open window. Also make sure that the fixture your UVB bulb is in does not have a clear plastic bulb cover.
Leaf-tailed geckos should receive 11 hours of light during winter and 13.5 hours of light during summer. This simulates natural seasonal changes in day length and encourages healthier hormonal rhythms.
What basking temperatures do leaf-tailed geckos need?
Despite popular myth, leaf-tailed geckos are not “room-temperature reptiles.” While they do prefer cooler temps, they still benefit from having access to a basking area. After all, they’re still ectotherms, which means that they need a temperature gradient in their enclosure to help them regulate their metabolism and stay healthy.
Leaf-tailed geckos should have a low basking temperature between 80-84°F, as measured by a digital probe thermometer with the probe placed on the basking surface. The cool zone in the lower regions of the enclosure should stay between 68-76°F. These geckos heat stress easily, so it’s VERY important to give them opportunities to escape the heat! Heat lamps should be turned off at night, with temperatures dropping no lower than 62°F.
Provide heat for your gecko by imitating the sun with a low-wattage heat lamp placed on one side of the enclosure. If it gets too warm, dial it down with a plug-in lamp dimmer. Do not use ceramic heat emitters (CHEs), red bulbs, or blue bulbs, as these are not as effective.
What humidity levels do leaf-tailed geckos need?
Leaf-tailed geckos need a high humidity environment with an average humidity of 60-80%, as measured by a digital probe hygrometer with the probe in the middle of the terrarium. However, Uroplatus phantasticus (the satanic leaf-tailed gecko) dehydrates easily, and requires higher humidity levels of 90-100% at night in order to thrive.
Misting your gecko’s enclosure with a sprayer first thing in the morning and again at night will help create the right humidity levels. It also provides an important source of drinking water! If you need help maintaining appropriately high levels of humidity, install a cool mist humidifier connected to a hygrostat.
What substrate is good for leaf-tailed geckos?
Although leaf-tailed geckos are arboreal and don’t spend much time on the ground, placing a layer of substrate on the floor of the enclosure helps maintain humidity and provides a cushion when they dive for insects. As an added perk, it also tends to make the enclosure more attractive.
Ideally, this substrate should resemble what leaf-tailed geckos naturally live on in the wild — in this case, tropical soil. It should have small particles and hold moisture well. We recommend the following substrates for leaf-tailed geckos:
Layering clean, chemical-free leaf litter on top of the substrate can also help with humidity.
Substrate should be at least 2” deep and completely replaced every 3-4 months. Remove poop and urates daily, along with contaminated substrate.
What décor can you use in a leaf-tailed gecko terrarium?
It’s terribly boring for a gecko to be stuck in an enclosure with nothing in it except substrate and food/water bowls. It doesn’t matter how big the enclosure is if you don’t put things in it for your pet to use and interact with. Leaf-tailed geckos appreciate an enclosure with plenty of branches to climb on and some foliage to provide shade.
Here are some décor ideas that work well with leaf-tailed geckos:
- branches and vines
- cork tubes
- nontoxic live plants (help with humidity)
What do leaf-tailed geckos eat?
Leaf-tailed geckos are insectivorous, which means that they need plenty of live insects in order to get the nutrition that their bodies need. How often they need to eat depends on age: Juveniles should be fed daily; adults can be fed every other day. Offer as much as they will eat in one night.
Feeder insects for leaf-tailed geckos: dubia roaches, discoid roaches, red runner roaches, mealworm/superworm beetles, crickets, grasshoppers, hornworms, silkworms, snails (captive-bred only)
You will also need calcium and vitamin supplements to prevent your gecko from developing a deficiency. We recommend Repashy Calcium Plus LoD, lightly dusted on all feeder insects.
Although your gecko will get most of its drinking water from daily mistings, it’s a good idea to also provide a wall-mounted water dish. Change the water daily and scrub the bowl with a reptile-safe disinfectant weekly, or whenever it becomes soiled.
Do leaf-tailed geckos like to be handled?
Few reptiles actually “like” to be held, and leaf-tailed geckos aren’t one of them. Instead of interacting with your gecko by holding it, try hand-feeding it instead with a pair of feeding tweezers.