At the Reptile Discovery Center, keepers play matchmaker to true masters of disguise: Henkel’s leaf-tailed geckos! These bizarre-looking lizards may have evolved to blend in to bark and lichen, but there’s no hiding the team’s breeding success: they welcomed 5 hatchlings this year. Leap into the world of this secretive species with keeper Sara Hasenstab.
What sets this species of gecko apart from the others?
Not only does the Henkel’s leaf-tailed gecko’s tail look like a leaf, but the rest of their body is bordered by textured skin flaps that obscure the outline of their body when flattened against bark. They are truly masters of camouflage—their highly variable patterns perfectly mimic different types of bark and lichen! Leaf-tailed geckos are some of the most beautiful lizards on the planet and are a wonderful example of nature's variability.
This species also has the "sticky" toe pads that most geckos are famous for, comprised of folds with millions of microscopic “hairs” called setae. These specialized toes allow them to climb on smooth surfaces, while their tiny claws help them stay agile when moving through the trees.
How did you “matchmake” the hatchling’s parents?
All of our adults are between 3 and 4 years old—prime reproductive age—and came to us from the Riverbanks Zoo in South Carolina. Prior to their arrival here, we received a recommendation to breed them from the Species Survival Program (SSP). It’s very exciting that they successfully reproduced, as we have now added more genetically valuable individuals to the population in human care.
The mother laid her first egg at the beginning of January 2020 and the last one at the end of March. There were seven total, and she laid each about three weeks apart. Usually they lay two eggs per clutch, but this particular female only laid one egg at a time.
Other than finding the right spot to lay her eggs, there is no parental care in this species. We separated the eggs from the adults during incubation so there was no confusion over what was or was not a snack when they hatched. She buried each egg overnight in the moss on the bottom of her habitat. Keepers removed the eggs and placed them in containers of damp vermiculite, which mimicked the temperature and humidity of that area.