At first, it looks like nothing more than a dry crumpled leaf, but on closer inspection, the unmistakable eyes, antenna, and lobed legs reveal a small species of mantis. However, this isn’t just any garden-variety praying mantis; it’s the Ghost mantis, which can be found in Africa and Madagascar.
The Ghost mantis is a master of disguise. With its crinkly limbs and reddish-brown color, it is indistinguishable from surrounding dry leaves. Its scientific name, “Phyllocrania paradox,” comes from the Greek word for “leaf” (phyllo) and the Latin word for “head” (crania), which makes perfect sense given its incredible mimicry.
Depending on its life stage and meteorological conditions, such as light and humidity levels, the mantis’s colors can shift to fit the environment. Some research suggests that hotter temperatures with lower humidity means the Ghost mantis is brown in color and tends to resemble dead leaves, whereas in higher humidity and cooler temperatures, they are green in color.
In its native territory, the Ghost mantis specializes in catching flies, crickets, and grasshoppers that mistake it for a food source; however, instead, it’s these flies that get eaten by what they thought would be their meal.
Explaining its behavior in detail, Keeping Insects notes that once the species sees its prey, it tends to attack it very fast, and before the prey has realized it, it is already firmly stuck between the claws of the predator. Additionally, it will not actively chase its prey but rather wait for a prime moment to attack it.
The Ghost mantis doesn’t just look like a leaf; it even behaves like one, deliberately wavering in the wind and even falling to the ground both for hunting purposes and to escape predation.
As for fooling low-flying birds that would be interested to snack on it, the Ghost mantis has perfected thanatosis, also known as playing possum. By holding incredibly still on branches or fallen leaves, it can almost make it impossible for birds to spot it.
Despite its extraordinary camouflage, the Ghost mantis is a quiet, small species. It measures 5 centimeters (2 inches) at its largest, and the differences between the male and female are fairly minimal. As with most mantises, the females are more impressive, both heavier and larger than their male counterparts.
Another noteworthy characteristic of the Ghost mantis is that they can lay up to three-dozen young at a time; however, their young ones don’t resemble the adults. Instead, they have mastered their own camouflage, which is ant mimicry, states Roaring Earth.
Due to its unique appearance and long lifespan compared to other mantises, the Ghost mantis has become a favorite among terrarium owners.
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