Image: “Cork bark gecko / Uroplatus pietschmanni” by Reptiles4all from Shutterstock
|Unique evolutionary history||35 million years|
Why is the cork-bark leaf-tail gecko so special?
The cork-bark leaf-tail gecko spends its days motionless looking exactly like the bark of the oak tree on which it sits. It’s a pre-montane species that lives between 900 and 1,200 meters above sea level, with a tiny restricted range of only 1,200km2.
While these nocturnal “masters of disguise” posses some typical gecko traits, like being as sticky as bus-seat bubble gum, their genus is ancient and has evolved independently for the last 50 million years.
Their distinctive morphology of a flat body, triangular head, and leaf-shaped tail has evolved to allow these cryptic critters to go unnoticed by science right up until 2004 when they were first described. In fact, this species is so hard to see, because of its almost perfect camouflage, that between 2007 and 2010 only five of them were found in the in the wild.
Weirdly, these tiny creatures, that only come in at around 8cm length, have an enormous amount of teeth. So much so that the larger species in this genus have the most marginal teeth of any other living reptile, amphibian or mammal!
What are the threats facing the cork-bark leaf-tail gecko?
Habitat destruction as a result of rampant deforestation has likely had a huge effect on the cork-bark leaf-tail gecko. As is all too common with species from Madagascar, the destruction of their habitat is driven by logging, clearance for mining operations and slash-and-burn agriculture. However, what’s even more worrying is the fact that scientists are not even really sure of its exact range or distribution. It can only be said that at the five localities from which it is known to occur, all sites are suffering from a decline in both extent and quality of habitat.
It is also thought that this amazing reptile has been poached and trafficked as part of the illegal pet trade. Naturally, the rarity and beauty of this little lizard have made it a desirable addition to the terrariums of unscrupulous collectors.
What is being done to help save the cork-bark leaf-tail gecko from extinction?
Although there are a few “captive breeding” examples, these seem to be more from hobbyists than as parts of any dedicated conservation programs (it also begs the question of how they got hold of the species in the first place). It is noted by ZSL’s EDGE of existence website that the output of these private breeders is too low to even be effective as a conservation tool anyway.
This gecko occurs in a new protected area in the Zamena-Ankeniheny Corridor eastern Madagascar, which was established in 2015.
What can I do to help?
The IUCN has highlighted key research and conservation actions that will benefit this species on their red list of endangered species. Unfortunately, it seems like outside of the protections offered by the Zamena-Ankeniheny Corridor, little is being done to develop these actions. So if you feel compelled to help with the conservation of this nocturnal ninja then you should consider getting involved with the initiation of the following:
- Studying the distribution of the cork-bark leaf-tail gecko
- Clarifying the range of this species, in case this high canopy species has escaped previous attention
- Attempts should be made to reintroduce animals collected during forest clearance for mining operations to other sites.
- Export bans need to be enforced to better-protect this species.
If you love weird animals of all shapes and sizes and you want to see how you can help with WAWA’s conservation support, then please see how you can get involved here.
References and further information
Bohle, A., & Schonecker, P. (2003). Eine neue Art der Gattung Uroplatus Duméril, 1805 aus Ost-Madagaskar (Reptilia: Squamata: Gekkonidae). SALAMANDRA-BONN-, 39(3/4), 129-138.
Dubyna, A., Marushchak, O., Sherstiuk, A., & Tkach, A. Cork-bark leaf-tailed gecko (Uroplatus pietscmanni). retrieved from https://bion.com.ua/news_article/cork-bark-leaf-tailed-gecko-care-sheet/ on 21/04/2022
Greenbaum, E., Bauer, A. M., Jackman, T. R., Vences, M., & Glaw, F. (2007). A phylogeny of the enigmatic Madagascan geckos of the genus Uroplatus (Squamata: Gekkonidae). Zootaxa, 1493(1), 41-51.