What if leaves can walk? When you look at a leaf during this season that seems to walk and nibble at other leaves, you might find a small face and pointy legs. When a giant Malaysian leaf insect is nibbling on the leaves of a guava or mango tree, you’ll have to look closely. These herbivores are excellent masters of camouflage and blend in with their surroundings because they resemble their choice of food: fruit leaves.
Known as Phylliidae, Leaf insects, like large leaves, usually remain motionless to avoid attracting the attention of predators. The most dangerous mistake this insect can make is to move. If they must move, they do so slowly — or employ a clever strategy.
These exceptional practitioners of disguise have taken the resemblance to the leaves on a serious note. When walking, the insect rocks back and forth to mimic a real leaf being blown by the wind. After they’ve transformed to match their leafy environment, which usually takes a week from the point they’ve hatched from the eggs, they ascend into the trees to match their leafy environment.
They simulate the leaves’ appearance with their wide, flat bodies and specific traits like their texture, spots and “veins.” They even develop frayed brown edges to resemble damaged leaves.
Did you know a 47-million-year-old fossil of Eophyllium messelens, found in a lake bed in Germany, is considered ancestral to the modern Phylliidae?
Giant leaf insects, on the other hand, do not start out looking like fresh green leaves. Their appearance evolves to match their surroundings, so their #camouflage is ever-changing, just like their natural habitat.
Females hide in the trees and lay eggs on the forest floor. The eggs have the appearance of small brown seeds that blend in with the decaying leaf litter. After emerging in two or three weeks, the nymphs remain brown and scurry around, possibly imitating tropical ants.
Although some amateur entomologists try to raise them privately, in the United States they are not commercially available.
Have you seen these beautiful harmless creatures?
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