gecko-care

Leaf-Tailed Gecko Care Sheet

February 23, 2021

mossy leaf-tailed gecko

Leaf-tailed geckos (Uroplatus sp.) are a group of 18+ species of arboreal, nocturnal lizards native to Madagascar. Their preferred habitat is tropical forest, and they can be found in shrubs as well as high up in the trees, depending on species.

Leaf-tailed geckos can be as small as 3” and as large as 13”, depending on the species. Although color and pattern vary from species to species, they all have spectacularly realistic camouflage. Some are bark/lichen mimics, some are dead leaf mimics, and one species is a bamboo mimic!

Leaf-tailed geckos are very sensitive to poor husbandry, get stressed easily, and need a naturalistic enclosure in order to thrive, which makes them advanced-level pet reptiles. When cared for well, they can live as long as 15 years.

Minimum terrarium size for leaf-tailed geckos

Minimum enclosure size for leaf-tailed geckos varies based on the gecko’s expected adult size:

  • 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! However, if you are bringing home a hatchling leaf-tailed gecko, it’s best to keep them in a smaller “grow-out” enclosure before introducing them to their long-term home.

Housing multiple leaf-tailed geckos in the same terrarium is not recommended.

Do leaf-tailed geckos need UVB?

Technically they can live without it with the right supplementation, but using supplements as a replacement for UVB exposure is imprecise at best, and can negatively affect the health of the gecko. So it’s safest and best to use artificial UVB lighting in your gecko’s setup.

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

For best results, the bulb should be at least half the length of the enclosure and housed in a reflective fixture. Position the lamp on the same side of the terrarium as the heat lamp. UVB is blocked by glass and plastic, so placing the terrarium in front of a window doesn’t count as “free UVB” — in fact it can make your terrarium too hot due to the greenhouse effect. And don’t forget to replace your bulb every 12 months to maintain consistent output!

Lights should be on for 11 hours/day during winter and 13.5 hours/day during summer to simulate seasonal changes in day length. All lamps should be turned off at night.

Best temperature for leaf-tailed geckos

Despite the popular myth that leaf-tailed geckos do best at room temperature, they do benefit from having a low-temperature basking area. After all, they’re still reptiles, and that means they need a range of temperatures in their enclosure that allow them to thermoregulate.

Leaf-tailed geckos should have a low basking temperature between 80-84°F, as measured by a digital probe thermometer with the probe positioned in the basking area. The rest of the enclosure should range between 68-76°F, and nighttime temps can drop as low as 62°F. Leaf-tailed geckos are very prone to heat stress, so make sure yours always has a way to escape the heat!

Provide heat for your gecko with a low-wattage incandescent bulb. White heat bulbs are the best way to imitate the warmth of sunlight indoors, and considered to be a superior form of reptile heating by experts. Do not use ceramic heat emitters (CHEs), red bulbs, or blue bulbs, as these are not as effective. Nighttime heating is not necessary.

Best humidity levels for leaf-tailed geckos

Leaf-tailed geckos are a tropical species, so the humidity inside their enclosure should be fairly high: 60-80% on average. However, if you’re keeping Uroplatus phantasticus, then you’ll need higher levels of 90-100% at night to keep them properly hydrated. Humidity should be measured via digital probe hygrometer, with the probe placed in the middle of the terrarium.

Increase humidity by misting your gecko’s enclosure 1-2x/day with a spray bottle. Mist each evening, and then again in the morning and then if needed. Aside from raising humidity, this also provides your gecko with an important source of drinking water! If you are having trouble maintaining good humidity levels, use a cool-mist humidifier connected to a hygrostat.

Best substrate for leaf-tailed geckos

Providing a layer of naturalistic substrate (“bedding”) will help maintain correct humidity levels and provides a natural cushion when they dive for insects. It also helps make your enclosure more attractive! 

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.

How to decorate a leaf-tailed gecko terrarium

An empty terrarium makes for a bored leaf-tailed gecko, reducing its quality of life, and potentially even its lifespan. Keep your pet entertained and engaged with its environment with the strategic use of décor items that encourage it to exercise natural behaviors!

Here are some décor ideas that fit with your leaf-tailed gecko’s arboreal lifestyle:

What to feed to a leaf-tailed gecko

Leaf-tailed geckos are insectivores, which means that they need to get the majority of their nutrition from insects. 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)

Supplements

You will also need calcium and vitamin supplements to help keep your gecko healthy. We recommend Repashy Calcium Plus LoD, lightly dusted on all feeder insects. It’s okay to occasionally skip a dusting.

Water

Of course, don’t forget a small water bowl and feeding ledge for your gecko to drink from! Change the water daily and scrub the bowl with a reptile-safe disinfectant weekly, or whenever it becomes soiled.

How to handle your leaf-tailed gecko

Reptiles generally don’t appreciate petting and handling in the same way that dogs and cats do. Leaf-tailed geckos are one of the types of reptiles that are best to leave alone rather than attempt to handle regularly. If you want to interact with your pet, try hand-feeding it with a pair of feeding tweezers.

*This care sheet contains only very basic information. Although it’s a good introduction, please further your research with high-quality sources. The more you know, the better you will be able to care for your pet! We recommend checking out these other sources:


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