These are samples of a typical vivarium used to house a pair or trio of Uroplatus phantasticus. It consists of a 12' x 12' x 18" Exoterra cage which allows for both horizontal and vertical ventilation by way of front ventilation holes and the screen top.
At the bottom of the cage is a 1" layer of clay pellets to allow for drainage. On top of this layer is a sheet of nylon window screen to help separate the soil mix from the gravel.
The top layer is an Atlanta Botanical Gardens AKA, ABG mix. This is available premixed from specialty shops or can be madewith the following recipe:
2 parts Tree fern fiber
1 part Organic Canadian Peat
1 part Fine hardwood charcoal
1 part Sphagnum moss
2 parts fine Orchid bark
There is a mix of both live and artificial plants and a horizontally placed branch which the geckos use when basking under the UVB bulb. The basking branch is held in place by two plastic closet rod hangers attached to the glass by Velcro. At the top of the cage is a single misting head linked to an automatic misting system. UV light is provided by way of of a 5.0 UV emitting florescent bulb across the top of the cage.
Additional humidification is provided through a room humidifier plumbed through 3/4" PVC pipes. Refer to the section of this document on building humidification systems.
A critical factor in raising up hatchling phants is being able to provide adequate humidity. My rack system utilizes a personal size humidifier plumbed into PVC piping and drip irrigation tubing. The humidifier is plugged into a timer which run for 10-15 minutes intervals several times a day. Here in California it can get very hot during the summer months and pumping in humidified air helps to cool the geckos. It is also equipped with an automated misting system to provide drinking water.
One or two hatchlings are housed in Exoterra 'Nano' cubes and a cage card with each animals information is kept in an envelope taped to the side of each cage. Every hatchling is inspected for retained sheds on a weekly basis. Circumferential and facial retained sheds are removed when encountered. The first thing I will try when attempting to remove retained sheds is to place the gecko in a deli cup filled with moistened sphagnum moss. The gecko is then checked again in a few hours, and if the shed is still attached, we will moisten the skin and manually remove the problem piece using a forceps. Forceps with a clap tip seem to work best.
When a female phant is ready to lay her eggs she will drop down to the ground and seek shelter under a leaf or other available debris. Once she is secure she will begin the egg laying process which involves egg deposition and egg rolling which can take quite some time. Egg rolling is the term used to describe how the female gecko will hold a freshly laid egg with her back feet while the egg dries and and roll soil onto the outside of the egg. This process helps to camouflage the bright white egg.Egg rolling occurs is short duration bursts of 3-5 seconds followed by a 30-45 second rest period.
On the left hand photo note the bulge at the base of the male's tail. For comparison the gecko on the right is a female.
We've tried a number of different ways to drain the excess water from the bottom, but the easiest is to simply drill a hole in the bottom of the cage and allow the water to drain out. Just be sure to use some sort of a collection tray to capture the run off.
Uroplatus phantasticus Husbandry
Tear drops: An accurate method of determining the sex of a phant is to look just below the eye for a tear drop shaped white spot which is present only in males. Females will either have no markings below the eyes or they will have a thin straight white line. Now with that said that tear drop shape in males can be reduced and difficult to detect in some individuals.
Two week old 0.4 gram Uroplatus phantasticus
CAUTION: Never attempt to feed the commercially available black cricket (Gryllus assimilis) to your phants or any other Gecko. These crickets are aggressive and will bite back resulting in serious, if not fatal wounds! They will also feed on any gecko eggs in the cage.
Eggs: Laying/Incubation and Hatching
I remove the eggs after the female stops guarding them, which is typically one day after they are laid, or when found, if I believe the eggs have been there for some time. Because they can be so well hidden, eggs can remain undetected for quite some time. Prior to removing the eggs I mark each one with a red sharpie so when they are removed and placed on the incubation medium they can be placed in their original orientation.
We use aquatic potting soil (APS) as the incubation medium in pre-punched 16 oz deli cups. The APS is moistened to saturation using boiling water and soaked for about 20 minutes. When cool it is packed wet and stored in a zip-lock bag ready for use. The eggs are placed directly on the APS.
When found I weigh out enough APS to bring the deli cup, lid, and APS weight up to 160.0 grams, then add the eggs. The egg weights are recorded along with the specifics on the sire and dame. Fertile U. phantasticus eggs will weigh between 0.3 and 0.7 grams, but typically run 0.4-0.5 grams each. Unlike some other gecko eggs, phant eggs do not increase in size during the incubation period. By weighing out the eggs cups and recording the weight you can add water as needed to maintain proper substrate moisture through out the incubation process.
Despite being nocturnal animals leaf-tailed gecko do benefit from access to ultraviolet light. As John Courtney-Smith from Arcadia Reptiles puts it "If you have bones, you need UV". Animals need exposure to UVB in order to manufacture vitamin D-3, and vitamin D-3 is needed to store calcium in the bones, where it belongs and where it can be utilized. Dietary vitamin D-3 can be utilized by Uroplatus, and they can survive with just this, but in my opinion dietary Vit. D-3 alone is not sufficient for these geckos to thrive.
Now because we typically house
This is our hatchling rack under construction showing some of the plumbing features of the humidification system. When the humidifier is activated it blows mist into the tubing where it is then directed into each cage. The humidifier exhaust port had to be modified to accommodate the tubing and this was done simply by using a rat tail file to open to orifice enough to slip in the tubing. The PVC pipes should not be glued together as they will need to be disassembled from time to time in order to drain excess water.
Slugs and Duds
Tail Notching and spikes
Tail notching itself is not an accurate method of gender determination, but typically males have more notching than females. However if you look closely at the base of the tail you will see spikes on the males, which are absent in females.
Here's another option for a humidification system using directional fogging. In this case we just used PVC pipes and fittings.
Infertile eggs, which are referred to as slugs or duds, are a common problem many Uroplatus breeders encounter. The photo on the upper left is of a female phant laying a slug egg. Slugs are usually laid in the foliage or stuck to the glass. The formed, but wrinkled egg shown above was a hollow egg and of course infertile. Note that there was no soil camouflage as well. Hollow eggs can appear Okay, but will only weigh out at only 0.1 grams.
Constructing a Humidification System
These are Pex fittings and a small section of 5/8" drip tubing. The Pex fittings easily slip right into the 5/8" tubing. The short piece of tubing is used to direct the mist right into the top of the cage.
Sometimes the eggs will be partially buried in the substrate, other times they will be left right on the surface, but fertile eggs will nearly always be hidden with leaf litter.
To install misting heads use a Phillips head screwdriver to first bore a hole, then insert the fittings through the hole.
As you can see from the photos, young phants are quite small. With this small size comes a greater susceptibility to changes in temperatures and humidity which makes raising up juveniles one of the more challenging aspects of phantasticus husbandry.
The primary diet of the Uroplatus phantasticus we keep is crickets. Many people have successfully used various commercially available roaches, but I've never been able to get the geckos to feed on them before the roach disappears in the substrate. On occasion we will feed the females garden snails, which does seem to have a positive impact on egg production. We have used both the brown cricket (Acheta domestics) and the Banded cricket (Gryllodes sigillatus)dusted with vitamin or mineral supplements. The supplements we use and recommend are Sticky Tongue Farms Mineral (Indoor Formula), Rep-Cal Calcium with Vitamin D-3, and Rep-Cal Herptivite. We use one of the supplement at at time, and typically dust with every feeding. The Geckos are fed about 5 days a week.
Two examples of misting system pumps and reservoirs. The assembly on the left holds about 3 gallons of water and is used to supply 17 cages. The photo on the right supplies 15 small vivariums on the hatchling rack. A digital timer is used to allow for short duration misting of 10-15 seconds.
My preference for the incubation of U. phantasticus eggs is to have a day time temperature of about 69 degrees with a nighttime temperature drop of 2 degrees. Some variation of this is fine and many people do quite well just keeping them at room temperature. I add an open container of water to the incubator to help keep the humidity up in the 90s. With incubation temperature like this phant eggs take about 110-120 days to hatch. With warmer temps you get faster incubation times and sometimes smaller hatchlings.
Pictured below is another example of a modification made to accommodate a different humidifier. This is the unit I use for by breeder rack. In this case the PVC fitting was filed down to fit snugly into the exhaust port. If you do choose to build this sort of a system be sure and purchase an analog humidifier as the digital models don't work with appliance timers.
Mist King articulating misting head and a Mist King bulk head used to supply individual misting heads.
If you choose to to drill a drainage hole in the bottom of your vivariums you will need some means of collecting the runoff. What I've shown in this series of photos is one I built using plexiglass. Once in place the collection panel is tilted just enough to create a means for the water to flow to the back corner of the panel then drain out via the Pex tubing elbow and into a removable tray for disposal.