Dead Leaf Mantis – The Leaf that Hunts

The Dead Leaf Mantis is the name for various species of praying mantis known for their remarkable ability to mimic dead leaves, a camouflage strategy that aids in their survival. This mimicry involves not just coloration but also the physical structure of the mantis’s body, which mimics the texture and shape of dead foliage. In this article, we’ll explore these fascinating insects, including their physical characteristics, habitat, behavior, and some of dead leaf species.

Dead Leaf Mantis Overview

Among many types of praying mantis, the dead leaf mantises are characterized by their leaf-like appearance. Their colors range from brown to yellowish-green, mimicking the look of dead or decaying leaves. This camouflage is enhanced by their flattened, extended thoraxes and hind wings, which bear a striking resemblance to leaf veins. Some of them even have additional leaf-like protrusions on their legs and bodies. This mimicry is not just a passive defense mechanism; it actively aids them in hunting, as it allows them to blend into their surroundings and ambush unsuspecting prey.

These mantises primarily live in tropical and subtropical regions where dense foliage is abundant. The specific habitat of a dead leaf species depends on the species, ranging from rainforests to small gardens, anywhere they can effectively blend in with leaf litter on the forest floor or among the branches of trees and shrubs. Dead leaf mantises can be found in South America, Africa, Asia, and sometimes even in Southern Europe.

The dead leaf mantis eating prey

Dead leaf praying mantises are predatory insects that primarily feed on other small insects, sometimes small vertebrates or snakes. Their diet typically includes flies, crickets, moths, and sometimes even small frogs or lizards. To hunt prey, they remain motionless for long periods, blending into their surroundings until prey comes within reach. Then, with rapid movement, they strike, capturing their prey with their strong, spiny front legs.

The dead leaf praying mantis goes through a life cycle with 3 stages of life, just like other mantises. First, the female lays eggs in a foam-like material that becomes tough to protect the eggs from predators and environmental conditions. The baby mantises, called nymphs, are smaller than adults and don’t have full-grown wings yet, but they already know how to camouflage by mimicking ants. As they get bigger, they shed their skin several times, gradually developing their adult form and camouflage. The dead leaf mantis lifespan is around 8 – 12 months.

Types of Dead Leaf Manis

  • Ghost mantis (Phyllocrania paradoxa)

The ghost mantis is the most popular dead leaf mantis. It’s a small species with only about 45 to 50 millimeters long. It can be brown or greenish-gray. Sporting a slender body, elongated prothorax, and leaf-like extensions on its legs, this species mimics dried leaves, blending seamlessly into its natural habitat. Its elongated wings look similar to withered foliage, with markings that look like folds in the leaf.

The ghost mantis - one of popular dead leaf praying mantis

The ghost mantis is predominantly found in the tropical regions of Africa, specifically in countries like Cameroon, South Africa, Ghana, and Togo. It also lives in South Europe. These adaptable creatures live amidst dense vegetation, including shrubs, bushes, and tall grasses, where they camouflage themselves effortlessly among foliage and dried leaves. Additionally, ghost mantises can also thrive in gardens and agricultural areas.

  • South American dead leaf mantis (Acanthops falcataria)

The South American dead leaf mantis is a remarkable species renowned for its extraordinary camouflage. Inhabiting the dense forests of South America, this mantis thrives in a humid and leaf-rich environment.

This species looks like a dead leaf, just like many other mantis species. It has a brown color. The females are bigger than the males, but they cannot fly. However, their small wings can be raised to show bright colors on their bellies as a warning.

South American dead leaf mantis (Acanthops falcataria)

On the other hand, males can fly well. They have long wings that resemble a flat or rolled-up dead leaf when they’re not flying. When they’re sitting still, males often position themselves in a way that makes them look even more like a dead leaf, with their head, legs, and body mimicking the shape of a dried leaf’s stem and small leaf parts.

  • Giant dead leaf mantis (Deroplatys desiccata)

The giant dead leaf mantis, also called Malaysian dead leaf mantis, possesses a broad, flattened body that mimics the shape and color of a dead leaf. You can see lines on its body, which resemble the veins on a leaf. This feature, along with its dark color, helps the mantis stay hidden from birds and other insects.

As its name suggests, this mantis is bigger than other dead leaf mantises. The female has a size of about 7.5–8 cm in length, while the male is smaller with 6.5–7 cm. The species can be brown, orange-brown, or very dark brown, with the male being more yellowish. The female has sharp, pointed shields on their chest, while the male has rounder ones.

While this dead leaf praying mantis may seem dull at first glance, it surprises with a hidden burst of color within its wings. There’s a remarkable contrast between its dead leaf-like exterior and the vibrant hues concealed on its inner wings, unveiled when the creature feels threatened.

Giant dead leaf mantis (Deroplatys desiccata)

The forewings have a light brown-orange color on their inner parts, featuring a distinctive white pattern resembling the numbers 6 or 9, with a black eye spot in the center. Meanwhile, the inner section of the hind wing displays a large black part. When threatened, the mantis will show the inner parts of its wings with these patterns. It can also fall to the ground and stay still when disturbed.

This species is native to the dense forests of Southeast Asia (Sutrama, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, etc), this species thrives in humid, tropical environments where its unique appearance allows it to blend seamlessly with the leaf litter and foliage.

  • Southeast Asian dead leaf mantis (Deroplatys lobata)

The Southeast Asian dead leaf mantis is primarily found in dense, tropical rainforests of Southeast Asia, where the moist and lush environment provides an ideal backdrop for its disguise. You can find it in Thailand, Sumatra, Indonesia, or Borneo.

The Deroplatys lobata is characterized by its broad, flat upper body part that bears a striking resemblance to a withered leaf, complete with leaf-like veins and a coloration with different shades of grey that mimics the hues of fallen foliage.

Southeast Asian dead leaf mantis (Deroplatys lobata)

Like other mantis, the female of the species is bigger with a size of about 6 – 7 cm in length, while the male is about 4.5 cm long. The female also owns a wider prothorax. On the other hand, the male boasts a slimmer body and a prothorax that’s shaped like a diamond.

  • Boxer mantis (Acanthops falcata)

The Acanthops falcata is also called the South American dead leaf mantis like the Acanthops falcataria. To differentiate between the two, people often call the A. falcata the boxer mantis. These insects are primarily found in rainforests of South America.

The boxer mantis has a slender prothorax. Like the A. falcataria, the female boxer mantises cannot fly with small wings. But, they can lift these wings to show bright colors on their bellies as a warning. The females have a size of about 0.5 g in weight and look like a curled-up dead leaf. The males are even smaller with only 0.2 g. However, they can fly with long wings.

Boxer mantis (Acanthops falcata)

  • Philippines dead leaf mantis (Deroplatys philippinica)

Like other dead leaf praying mantises, the Philippines dead leaf mantis has a body that looks like a dead leaf. However, unlike other species on the list, its prothorax has a darker color than its body. Its appearance is meticulously detailed to mimic a decaying leaf, complete with leaf-like veins, and a brownish to dark green coloration that mirrors the hues of dead leaves.

This species predominantly dwells in the dense, humid forests of the Philippines, thriving in environments where foliage provides both shelter and hunting grounds.


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