These geckos are found throughout much of the rainforest belt spanning Madagascar’s eastern side. The holotype of the species is from ‘southern central eastern’ Madagascar.
Morphology and Colouration:
These geckos receive their common name from their large superciliary spines (eyebrow spines).
The bodies of the U. ebenaui-group of geckos (U. ebenaui, U. phantasticus, U. finiavana, U. malama, and at least four undescribed species) are laterally compressed (as opposed to the dorso-ventrally compressed form of all other members of the genus). This makes them highly effective leaf-mimics.
Colouration in this species is extremely variable. Generally, however, a dark line extends from the posterior of the head down the dorsal mid-line. The iris is silvery in its periphery and reddish-brown towards the centre, but this too varies to some extent.
These geckos are characterized by a large tail that is roughly half or equal to the full length of the body of the geckos. There is a moderate degree of sexual dimorphism: females tend to lack serration in the tail. Males can have either serrated or non-serrated tail edges, but extensive serration appears to be entirely restricted to males.
U. phantasticus cannot regenerate its tail once lost.
Uroplatus phantasticus is a nocturnal, arboreal gecko species.
These geckos rely on their extremely cryptic colouration and morphology to shelter from predation during the day. At rest, they typically hold their tails alongside their bodies, hiding their feet beneath them, for maximum crypsis.
At night, these geckos typically hunt between ground level and three metres up. Often they are observed at night hanging from branches in the position seen in the third photo above.
Curiously, these geckos, and indeed the rest of the Uroplatus genus, are unable to run like most geckos. Instead, if they are in need of rapid locomotion, they leap in a frog-like fashion.
U. phantasticus is listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List due to its wide distribution and occurrence in several well protected areas of rainforest.
U. phantasticus is superficially similar to all of the other members of the U. ebenaui-group. The following characteristics however set it apart from other members of the clade: U. phantasticus has a blackish oral mucosa, setting it apart from U. finiavana. It is also larger in size and has a larger tail than that species. It also lacks an armpit, which sets it apart from U. ebenaui. The tail is also much larger than that of U. ebenaui, and the head smaller in proportion to the body. The body possesses a large number of spines, which set it apart from the smooth-skinned U. malama. In most other respects, U. malama and U. phantasticus are highly similar.
The U. ebenaui-group’s taxonomy is still complicated and at least four species remain to be described.
First two photos by Olaf Pronk. Third photo by Mark Scherz. Fourth photo by Paul Bertner.
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