Leaf-Tailed Gecko Body Language & Handling Tips

Handling Tips

Uroplatus are better display specimens than handleable pets, as they stress easily. Handling should be restricted to when absolutely necessary — no more often than 1x weekly.

Leaf-Tailed Gecko Body Language

Uroplatus are experts in the art of camouflage, so much of their body language revolves around this fact. From my observations, bark, lichen, and bamboo mimics like to sleep/rest stretched out and flat (kind of like a length of tape). This makes use of their dermal fringe and aligns their pattern with their surroundings. Leaf mimics like to curl up like leaves or knots of wood. The result for all is that they become virtually invisible.

Leaf-tailed geckos ordinarily use slow, deliberate movements to get around — much like how a chameleon moves. When (if) they jump, it’s more of a short hop than a crested gecko leap. A still or slow moving Uroplatus is a happy, calm Uroplatus.

A stressed Uroplatus is in constant motion. It will move quickly and may even leap in an attempt to escape a stressful situation (ex: handling). It may also gape, arch its body, and curl its tail, and/or scream.

The “bug stare”: Many geckos share this trait. Eyes appear to widen as crests over the eyes will lift, sometimes revealing a ring of white. Pupils often dilate as well, signaling that they are now in hunting mode.

Female Uroplatus sikorae demonstrating the bug stare - leaf-tailed gecko body language

Female U. sikorae demonstrating the “bug stare.”

Tail waving: Uroplatus use their tails as the main tool in their body language. They may curl it upward or even wave it, depending on what they wish to communicate to other geckos. Tail waving has been observed significantly in Uroplatus mating behavior, while tail curling seems to be a way of making the gecko appear larger.

Firing up/down: Uroplatus have a limited ability to change color by “firing up” from pale, low contrast coloration to more vivid, high contrast coloration. U. lineatus seems to do this the most dramatically. I speculate that this change in color may serve a purpose in thermoregulation, and enhancing camouflage with the individual’s surroundings. It has also been proposed that these color changes are used to communicate with other members of their species.

Female Uroplatus lineatus coloring, unfired and fired - leaf-tailed gecko body language

5-month-old female U. lineatus, unfired (L) and fired (R). Photo by Sean Scardino.

Vocalizing: Leaf-tails have been recorded making a range of sounds, including humming, barking, and even screaming. It is assumed that barking and humming are used to communicate with other members of their species, and screaming is likely used to scare away a predator.

Gaping: Leaf-tails gape by opening their mouth wide, exposing the tongue and buccal membrane. Gaping is primarily observed in defensive geckos.

Uroplatus lineatus showing defensive behavior - leaf-tailed gecko body language

Female U. lineatus showing defensive behavior. Note the gaping mouth, rigid body, and arched tail. Photo by Sean Scardino.

Can leaf-tailed geckos bite?

Any animal with a mouth can bite. But although Uroplatus can bite, their jaws are quite weak. Even bites from the largest species are unlikely to break human skin.


Next → What you need to know about leaf-tailed gecko health