This masterfully camouflaged little lizard has a leafy look, complete with a tail sporting missing chunks to make it look as it has been partly rotten away.
Is that a dry leaf? Wait, is that a leg? Image credit: Jessica D
A testament to natural selection, this animal known by scientists as Uroplatus phantasticus, that is, “fantastic flat tail”), otherwise known as the satanic leaf-tailed gecko, is one of 14 species in its genus, including the famous mossy leaf-tailed gecko, which long ago renounced Satan in favor of Mosses, Wired reports.
These geckos are only found in Madagascar, and only emerge at night to hunt. Scientists think they’re mostly after insects, but in reality little is known about their diet in the wild.
In captivity, though, “satanic leaf-tailed geckos feed on almost everything they can overwhelm, including crickets, flies, spiders, cockroaches, and snails,” says herpetologist Frank Glaw of the Bavarian State Collection of Zoology.
It definitely looks like a leaf. Image credit: Paul Ritchie
The fantastic (and non-less satanic, as you’ll see below) leaf-tailed gecko has plenty of predators to deal with, on the other hand. Birds, snakes and rats, they all want him. When these geckos decide to stand their ground, they stare down their foes, and “suddenly widely open their mouths, emit loud cries, show the reddish tongue and mucosa and try to bite,” says Glaw. It’s no wonder, then, that locals are very much afraid of the gecko.
They’ll also flash their tails to confuse the potential predator, but should that fail, they can leap deftly from branch to branch or straight down to the leaf litter. Scaaary!
Haha, I’m no leaf after all
Image credit: Paul Ritchie
Apparently, not only does the gecko’s tail look like a dead leaf – so does its body.
“A light line along the back together with leaf-vein-like lines and skin structures on the body can complete the perfect imitation of a dead leaf,” says Glaw.
And the coloration can be incredibly varied (as, again, you can see below), coming “in all shades of beige, grey and brown, often with a mixture of lichen-like or even greenish spots which look very much like moss. This variability ensures that they have an adapted outfit for the different structures in their habitat.”
Reinforcing this camouflage of these amazing animals is their behavior: They’ll spend the day hanging motionless off of branches or snuggling among dead leaves, often twisting their leafy tails around their bodies. Waiting for prey.
The leaf gecko sometimes takes up other colors that indeed make it look satanic
Image credit: Allan Hopkins
And then just turns into a leaf to avoid detection
To avoid detection, leaf-tailed geckos will hang from branches, much like leaves. Image credit: Allan Hopkins
But then, it’s really up to leaf geckos to determine what they REALLY want to look like – TO YOU
But how on Earth could such a perfect camouflage come about in the first place? Well, according to scientists, the satanic leaf-tailed gecko and its related species are some of the most striking manifestations of Darwin’s principle of natural selection.
Meaning that critters with these magic variations have a better chance of surviving and passing these genes along.
Getting leafy pays out.