I try not to play favorites when it comes to our animals (I adore each and every one of them) but it’s hard not to fall in love with these laid-back little leaf mimics. Phyllocrania paradoxa (whose genus literally translates to “leaf head”)is a small species of mantis native to central and south Africa, and a popular one among hobbyists.
The ghost mantis, who gets its common name from its ability to “disappear” into the foliage, is commonly used as an elegant example of crypsis. The jagged, leaf-like extensions on its head and abdomen allow it to blend in with its background to avoid becoming lunch. In addition, this masterful camouflage also allows them to catch unsuspecting prey. Is that a leaf, wavering in the wind? No, it’s… over for you, cricket.
They can vary in color, from green to brown, to nearly black. There is some genetic component to their color variation, but it also depends on the environment they are exposed to. A brown mantis may turn green after a few molts if placed in a green environment, and vice versa.
Larger species of mantids, like Deroplatys dessicata (the Dead-Leaf mantis; another excellent example of crypsis) may become aggressive as they age, sometimes lashing out and attacking anyone attempting to handle them. Yet the ghost mantis typically remains docile throughout its life; as adults, they can be kept together as a community with a significantly reduced risk of cannibalism (a guaranteed outcome for other mantis species).