Mossy Leaf-Tailed Gecko
Scientific Name: Uroplatus sikorae
Leaf-tailed geckos have transparent scales covering their eyes instead of a movable eyelid. They keep their eyes clean by wiping them with their tongues.
Active only at night, leaf-tailed geckos are almost impossible to find when the sun is up. They hide in plain sight, their cryptic coloring, flat profile, and motionless resting posture making them all but invisible to even the most practiced reptile watcher.
STATUS: Despite being protected under CITES Appendix II, mossy leaf-tailed geckos are still rated as “Vulnerable” to extinction by the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN). They are threatened by habitat destruction and collection by the illegal pet trade.
HABITAT: Highly adapted to the tropical forests of the island nation of Madagascar, these lizards live nowhere else in the world outside of captive collections. They are most often found on lichen-covered tree trunks 3 to 6 feet (1 to 2 meters) off the ground.
DIET: Insects and arthropods make up the majority of the mossy leaf-tailed’s diet, but they eat snails occasionally as well.
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Like all leaf-tailed geckos, sikorea takes its common name from the shape of its tail. It could more accurately be called a leaf-shaped gecko though, since a flap of skin (known as a dermal flap) rings its entire body. The result is an animal that looks very much like a leaf or a chunk of bark. To complete the lizard/leaf illusion, its flat body is mottled brown, tan, light grey, and black, exactly like a mossy tree trunk. Its eyes are large and yellow with an elliptical pupil, perfect for spotting prey at night. Full-grown individuals can measure up to 8 inches (20 cm), excluding their tails.
Most vertebrates have two types of light-sensing cells in their eyes, known as rods and cones respectively. Rods pick up black and white under low-light conditions while cones detect color when there’s more light available. Lizards, however, only have cones. So how do nocturnal geckos see at all? It turns out that they have evolved three types of “super-sized” cones which allow them to hunt at night and even see color in the dark, something very few nocturnal animals are capable of doing.