Don’t Rake This Leaf

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Lately, National Geographic has helped fund my research on toxic frogs in Madagascar‘s Ranomafana National Park. On a prior trip to that park, I encountered several snazzy reptiles to admire, including the aptly-named leaf tailed gecko, Uroplatus phantasticus, pictured above.

No, that brown thing in the foreground isn’t a leaf—that’s really the gecko’s tail! This leaf mimic is soft and fleshy and feels like velvet.

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This next shot shows you this amazing critter’s unbelievable mug. Even its eye is an example of astonishing adaptation to blend in with its surroundings.

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The tail of another Uroplatus I encountered in Ranomafana resembles a well-decayed dead leaf. It’s no small effort to look so unkempt—this is some highly evolved camouflage!

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If you appreciate biodiversity and want to see some unusual critters, place Ranomafana National Park in Madagascar near the top of your destinations life list. The Institute for the Conservation of Tropical Environments has helped me obtain permits and maintains a field station in the park. Check the Institute’s website if you’re planning a trip to Madagascar, or if you’d like to learn more about research in Ranomafana.

I’ll post next on some exploration to a remote area of Guyana, where it takes days to hike up the giant tepuis, or sandstone mesas. The blistering hikes are well worth the effort, as such expeditions regularly reveal new frog species and other exciting surprises. Meanwhile, read more about my adventures in National Geographic News, and check the Photography link on my website to see more improbable animals.

Photographs copyright Valerie C. Clark

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After earning her Ph.D. on the "Chemistry of Amphibian Skin Secretions," Dr. Valerie C. Clark founded the conservation organization i.F.r.o.g.s. (Indigenous Forest Research Organization for Global Sustainability) 501(c)(3). i.F.r.o.g.s. engages the public online to explore Earth’s biodiversity and is active on the ground in Madagascar with local people to survey biodiversity and protect and restore rain forests. Her scientific expeditions have been supported by the National Geographic Society since 2007. Her publications are available for free at frogchemistry.com.