Leaf Insect Care

Phyllium spp.

Leaf insect

Phyllium sp. Phillipines

Leaf insect information

Leaf insects (Phyllium spp.) are truly remarkable insects which occur naturally from South Asia through Southeast Asia to Australia. Famed for their camouflage, leaf insects are some of the finest leaf mimics in the animal kingdom. They have turned their camouflage in to a fine art, with some species showing brown irregular edges which look as if the leaf has been chewed upon. Their use of camouflage doesn’t just end at their appearance, when they move or when you blow upon them they will swagger/shake in order to mimic leaves blowing in the wind.

Leaf insects make fantastic pets for young and old, they are great projects for children and schools, as well as being fascinating and beautiful, they are very easy to keep pets. They are a personal favourite in the insect world and they never fail to amaze friends and family.

Fun fact: Leaf insects are able to regrow lost limbs. When the leaf insect moults after losing a leg a small but fully operational leg appears in its place. Over successive moults this leg gets larger and becomes identical to the lost leg!

Leaf insect

Female leaf insect nymph with a partially regrown leg.

 

Leaf insect housing

Unsurprisingly, leaf insects are arboreal, spending their time living amongst their food plant (more on food later) which makes them really easy to care for. They do well in anything which is tall and offers good ventilation. Nymphs (youngsters) are best cared for in an empty sweet jar, Tupperware jar, etc etc. You should replace one side of the enclosure (in most cases the lid) with mesh to offer a good amount of ventilation. Adults should be kept in a similar fashion – in a larger enclosure obviously. I find the large plastic faunariums available from most pet stores to be ideal; I have also had good success with 12x12x18in glass aquariums with mesh lids. I should add here that leaf insects are quite happy to live together providing ample space is available.

Substrate isn’t really necessary for leaf insects – I personally use tissue paper to facilitate cleaning, however you can also use coconut fibre (available in bricks which expand) which is a little bit more attractive. I dampen the tissue every 3 days or so, and change it once a week (it becomes soiled quite quickly).

Leaf insects do not need a water bowl, simply mist them lightly once every other day ensuring there is sufficient ventilation so any moisture has gone within a couple of hours.

Leaf insect

Feeding leaf insects

Leaf insects are really easy to feed, they readily eat bramble (blackberry leaves) which grows just about anywhere. You should avoid collecting these near the road (car pollution problems), and avoid taking new shoots – these are the softer bright green leaves. These new shoots compensate for their softness by having higher levels of toxins in which can be harmful to your leaf insects, in older shoots however these toxins are less concentrated and your leaf insects can safely eat them.

Place the bramble branches in a pot of water (I use a Tupperware container with a hole in the top) and place directly in the enclosure. It is important to ensure that the leaf insects cannot fall in the water so make sure the hole in the top of the pot is small enough to prevent this. You should replace the bramble once a week or when it is starting to look a little withered – whichever comes first.

That is all there is to it really, the leaf insects will live on the bramble they eat so they don’t really require anything else at all. They are fine at room temperature and don’t require external heating to thrive – however it might be a good idea to move the enclosure to one of the warmer rooms in your house during the particularly cold winter months.

Remember I said they were easy to care for?

Leaf insect

Breeding leaf insects

Leaf insects are sexually dimorphic and start displaying visible differences from about their third or fourth instar. The females have a more rounded abdomen whereas the males’ are more pointed – this is a trait which becomes more prominent in the insects through successive moults. When males and females are kept together they naturally breed without you having to do anything. Females will steadily produce eggs as adults. They are quite distinctive, looking like small seeds (very distinctive from excrement) and should be removed and incubated separately. To incubate just put them on some lightly dampened tissue or coco fibre and keep them in a warm room. Eggs can take anywhere from 3 to 12months to hatch depending upon the parent insects and the temperatures incubated at.

Females are able to produce eggs on their own via parthenogenesis and will do so readily when no males are available. However you should be advised that eggs produced this way take longer to hatch (up to 12 months) and will only produce females. For that reason it is always preferential to have males and females together.

Sexual dimorphism is highly visible even in young specimens the male on the
right displays a distinctly V shaped absomen.

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