Introducing the Green Leaf Insect
The green leaf insect, also known as walking leaves, is even more of a camouflage expert than the stick insect. The detail of its camouflage is one of the most amazing things, with the body outline made up of frayed brown edges just like a leaf that has fallen from a tree.
Taxonomy and History
The Phasmatodea (also known as Phasmida) are an order of insects, whose members include stick insects, phasmids, ghost insects, and leaf insects. Their name is associated with their powers of camouflage as it derives from the greek “phasma,” which means phantom. Venetian scholar of the late 1400s, Antonio Pigafetta, was the first to record leaf insects on a trip to Cimbonbon. His journal records: “In this island are also found certain trees, the leaves of which, when they fall, are animated, and walk. They are like the leaves of the mulberry tree, but not so long; they have the leaf stalk short and pointed, and near the leaf stalk they have on each side two feet. If they are touched they escape, but if crushed they do not give out blood. I kept one for nine days in a box. When I opened it the leaf went round the box. I believe they live upon air.”
But the leaf insect can be traced back further than the days of Pigafetta , as far as 47 million years to the fossil of Eophyllium messelensis. Eophyllium messelensis is an extinct member of the Phasmatodea order, a fossil of which was discovered in a German lake bed, and is very similar to the modern leaf insect.
Keeping a Leaf Insect
Native to Asian rain forests and exotic locations such as the Seychelles, these insects like fresh, warm air. It’s a good idea to keep the vivarium at around 22-27 degrees, and you can do this with a bulb or heating mat. If you use an overhanging bulb it must be placed out of reach of the leaf insect as you don’t want to burn them.
As you would imagine leaf insects spend all their time in trees so it doesn’t matter what the flooring of the vivarium is, although moist woodchip is a good option to help regulate humidity. A tall vivarium of around 60cm with plenty of plants is sufficient to house a few walking leaves.
A hygrometer is a handy tool for measuring relative humidity, and will help you know when your pets’ habitat is in need of a warm spray.
As with the stick insect, captive leaf insects are happy on a diet of bramble. The best idea is to grow them yourself, even in the vivarium is an option. If you do buy or pick bramble you must ensure it is clean and free of all pesticides and car fumes.
Sometimes a young leaf insect will refuse to eat. This is easily overcome by cutting some leaves into small pieces to reveal the most juicy portions.
These are the type of pets watched rather than handled as it is so easy to accidentally injure them when handling. However, when handled they will consider you a potential predator and sway like a leaf.
Beginners have quite a bit of success with breeding leaf insects. The first stage is to collect the eggs that the female lays a few weeks into adulthood, these are then stored on moist sand in a box kept at 20 to 25 degrees. Once the eggs hatch they should be placed on bramble. As noted in the feeding section it is a good idea to cut the bramble leaves to encourage the young to feed.