Leaf-Tailed Gecko Substrate Options

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“Substrate” is another word for bedding, the material that you use to cover the floor of your gecko’s enclosure. 3 factors should be considered when choosing a leaf-tailed gecko substrate:

  • Moisture retention — Humidity is essential to maintaining a leaf-tailed gecko’s health and preventing/managing stress.
  • Digestibility — Although Uroplatus are adept hunters, there is a risk of ingesting a mouthful of substrate if they miss their target.
  • Softness — Uroplatus dive for their prey. If the ground is hard, they can potentially severely injure themselves on impact. Furthermore, Uroplatus skin is thin and soft, so substrates with sharp edges can also cause injury.

The best leaf-tailed gecko substrates meet these requirements. Keep in mind that juveniles are particularly in danger of impaction, and are best kept on paper towels as a precaution.

Natural Substrates

I prefer natural substrates because they hold humidity better, are a lot more attractive, and most importantly, best replicate leaf-tailed geckos’ natural habitat.

Layer the substrate 2-4″ thick to aid in moisture retention and ambient humidity. Natural substrates should be spot cleaned daily and replaced monthly. For best results, use with a drainage layer like Zoo Med Hydroballs or The Bio Dude’s Hydrogrow to prevent the substrate from getting soaked. 

Bioactive substrates and enclosures are nice because they use symbiotic relationships between the animal (in this case, leaf-tailed gecko) and certain detritivore species to break down waste. The result? Essentially a self-cleaning terrarium. For help getting started, join Bioactive Reptile & Amphibian Setups USA on Facebook and read my blog posts on the subject.

Artificial Substrates

These work best for young leaf-tailed geckos until they’re big enough for natural substrate. These are not a long-term solution and do not provide enough cushion to protect your gecko when it dives for an insect.

  • paper towels
  • blue shop towels
  • butcher paper

These are cheap, easy to clean/replace, and favored by many keepers. However, they get soggy and soiled quickly, which can be very inconvenient in a high-humidity setup. Replace these substrates daily.

Substrates to Avoid

Some keepers argue that loose substrates should be never be used, due to the risk for impaction in geckos of any size. These claims should be taken with a grain of salt, as larger geckos are more capable of safely passing ingested particles with proper husbandry. However, there are some substrates that pose too great a risk, even with precautions in place.

  • bark and wood chips (ex: cypress mulch, coconut hulls, orchid bark)
  • pine/cedar substrate (can cause respiratory damage [source])
  • reptile carpet (the fibers can catch and damage delicate gecko toes!)
For an example of what happens when you house a leaf-tailed gecko on indigestible, large-particle substrate, check out this necropsy recorded on the Geckos Unlimited forums.

Keep reading about leaf-tailed gecko care:

  1. Introduction to Leaf-Tailed Geckos
  2. Leaf-tailed Gecko Shopping List
  3. Uroplatus Species
  4. Terrarium Size Requirements
  5. Substrate Options
  6. Temperatures & UVB
  7. Humidity Requirements
  8. How to Decorate a Leaf-Tailed Gecko Terrarium
  9. What to Feed Your Leaf-Tailed Gecko
  10. Handling Tips & Body Language Info
  11. Common Diseases & Other Health Questions
  12. Additional Resources