Spectral Leaf – Ghost Mantis

Yes, it’s another mantis, but they’re really cool insects, so why not?

The Ghost mantis (Phyllocrania paradoxa) is a tiny mantis found throughout Eastern and Western Africa and occasionally in the South, including the island of Madagascar. It mainly lives in drier areas and clings to the leaves and twigs of different plants in its habitat. It only grows up to about two inches in length and is considered to be miniature for a mantis. Ghost mantis males and females are roughly the same length, but the male is slimmer and has slightly longer wing cases that are partially transparent. Males also have eight abdominal segments, whereas females possess only 6. They can be a variety of different colors ranging from a subtle brownish green to almost black. The most common color is dark brown, however.

Two females next to a  50 euro coin.

Like the orchid mantis, ghost mantises boast some of the most impressive camouflage of the insect world. The thorax is slightly flattened into a leaf-like shape and each of the walking legs and abdomen have projections that mimic dead leaves as well. A ghost mantis’ back is laced with thin veins and mottled with pigmentation that mimics leaf folds. The head is probably the weirdest and most intriguing part of the animal’s body. Its eyes are almost invisible due the fact that they are the exact color as the rest of its exoskeleton. Above them is a long, ghoulish crest that resembles a dried and withered leaf. In addition to the ghost mantis’ physical camouflage, it also displays behavioral camouflage. It will often tuck its forelegs up tight against its body to give it an unusual shape that may confuse potential predators. When disturbed, it will start to rock back and forth to mimic a leaf blowing in a gentle breeze.

Ghost mantises aren’t typically very active. They mainly hang upside down on leaves and branches while waiting for prey. They possess no attributes that help lure other creatures to them, so their only hunting strategy is to hide and stay still. Crawling insects are the most common prey items as they have more trouble taking down flying insects. A ghost mantis can stay motionless in the same spot for hours ready to seize prey that comes too near. It may quickly turn its head to look at something it sees, but the rest of its body remains unmoving. If something comes by that is a threat rather than food, the first line of defense will be to get away or use that quaking motion described earlier. If that fails, it uses thanatosis (plays dead) to try to fool whatever is startling it. It does this by folding all of its legs into its body and dropping to the ground. This may seem like it would make the mantis an easy target, but most of its predators are only interested in live prey so it actually works quite well.

Similar to many other species of mantis, ghost mantis babies are disguised as ants to avoid being eaten. Many mantis predators such as spiders and large insects avoid ants because they can be so dangerous. A baby ghost mantis is just the right size for this gimmick to work before the second molt, but after that it becomes too big to pull it off and begins to take on the appearance of an adult. Although the ghost mantis is slightly longer lived than other mantises, its life is still short. Even so, it’s very special that such a cool animal like this exists.

1. Tomasinelli, Francesco, and Andrea Mangoni. “Biology and Captive Breeding of the African Dead Leaf Mantis Phyllocrania Paradoxa.” Mantis Study Group Newsletter 23 (Feb. 2002): 1-12. http://mantodea.myspecies.info/sites/mantodea.myspecies.info/files/MSG%20NL%2023%20%28February%202002%29.pdf

2. “Ghost Mantis – Phyllocrania paradoxa.” Keeping Insects. Keepinginsects.com, n.d. Web. 23 June2015. http://www.keepinginsects.com/praying-mantis/species/phyllocrania-paradoxa/

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