“Huh, I thought leaves were plants ?!”, “Has the leaf really moved?” Or “That’s really unbelievable!” Are utterances that you can hear more often when it comes to your first encounter with Walking Leaves. Or as a former student of mine put it in a nutshell: “Wow! Full LOL “.
Walking leaves are perfectly camouflaged insects that can hardly be distinguished from “real” leaves on the outside (especially in the foliage, let alone in the jungle!) And also impress in their behavior. For example, if they are blown on, they rock back and forth like leaves in the wind. In the course of evolution, camouflage, which is scientifically correct as “mimetic”, has perfected and serves to protect against predators. Of course, those who are not discovered will not end up on the proverbial plate.
Walking leaves are so well camouflaged that even experienced keepers find it difficult to spot these insects in the foliage. By the way, tracking is an activity that is always exciting and gives pleasure. And if you deal intensively with this family of insects, you also learn to look closely – something that is not so natural in our fast-moving times. In addition to the fascination that they have on people, walking leaves also have a very decisive advantage: They are extremely easy to care for and are therefore also suitable for beginners in terraristics.
Walking leaves are not just walking leaves, because within this family of insects, around 50 species are distinguished, or so many species have been scientifically described so far. Since new taxa are constantly being discovered, it can be assumed that the number will increase in the future.
For the keeping and care of walking leaves, however, not that many species come into question. The most common species found in German terrariums is probably Phyllium siccifolium from the Philippines. Some scientists are of the opinion that this species, which is kept in Europe, is a separate species that can be called Phyllium philippinicum. However, this view is not shared by all experts. Critics counter that the latter taxon is only an unspecified hybrid. Be that as it may: If you look for Walking Leaves on relevant websites, animals are offered under both names that can be cared for with the husbandry conditions listed below.
On the Biology and Biological Systematics
The family of the walking leaves (Phylliidae) belongs to the order of the ghost horror (Phasmatodea, gr. Phasma, ghost), which also includes the real ghost horror and the stick insect. In the case of walking leaves, males and females are visually very different from one another. This sexual dimorphism of Phyllium is expressed, among other things, in its ability to fly. The flightless females are significantly larger and heavier than the flightable males and have completely hardened wings. The males are narrower in shape, lighter in weight, and membranous, relatively small forewings. Some walking leaves are capable of virgin generation (parthenogenesis), i. H. Females are able to produce offspring even without a male partner. Parthenogenesis is considered proven in Phyllium giganteum and Phyllium bioculatum.
From a biological point of view, it is particularly fascinating to watch the regeneration of limbs or watch how walking leaves are dead (the dead-dead reflex is known as thanatose) when they feel threatened.
Natural Distribution, Diet, and Lifestyle
The natural distribution of the Phylliidae extends from Seychelles through India, China, Philippines, Indonesia, and New Guinea to the Fiji Islands. The main distribution area is Southeast Asia. Phyllium siccifolium occurs in various local forms in India, China, Malaysia, and the Philippines. In the tropical and subtropical home, the phytophagous (= leaf-eating) land insects feed on the foliage of guava, mango, rhambutane, cocoa, mirabilis, etc. B. blackberry (evergreen!), Raspberry, wild rose, etc. can be used, but also the foliage of sessile and English oak.
Attitude and Care
The use of a terrarium is essential for keeping and caring for walking leaves. For this, caterpillar boxes, glass terrariums, and temporary also plastic terrariums are suitable. In any case, you have to pay attention to good ventilation. The soil can be covered with peat or with a dry, inorganic substrate (e.g. vermiculite, pebbles). It also makes sense to display kitchen paper, as it is easier to collect eggs. However, the workload when the floor is covered is significantly less than when the kitchen roll is changed weekly. Occasionally the organic or inorganic covering has to be replaced anyway since the excrement of the animals otherwise becomes unsightly and unsanitary. You should be careful not to throw away eggs unnecessarily.
You should not choose the size of the terrarium too small. For an adult couple, the minimum size should be 25 cm x 25 cm x 40 cm (height!), With a larger number of pets accordingly more. Simply place the cut branches of the forage plants in a container in the terrarium and replace them regularly. You should avoid rotting leaves and moldy wood for reasons of disease.
The additional installation of water troughs is not necessary, as the insects usually absorb the necessary liquid through the plants they eat. But you can also observe animals more often in the keeping, actively ingesting water droplets on the leaves and on the walls. Adult females in particular have an increased need for fluids. The temperature in the terrarium should definitely be above 20 ° C. You shouldn’t exceed 27 ° C. 23 ° C is ideal. Here you can observe a high level of activity of the animals and diseases occur less often.
To do this, you can connect a heat lamp or use a heating cable or a heating mat. With the two last-mentioned technical aids, you have to ensure that the container with the forage plants is not in direct contact with the heater, as the water will then heat up too much and putrefaction processes in motion, the unnecessary work (more frequent changing of the forage plants) and possibly also cause diseases. In many living rooms, however, the internal temperature of the terrarium can be reached through the normal room temperature. The humidity should be around 60 to 80%. Waterlogging is to be prevented for health reasons. Make sure there is sufficient air circulation!
For this purpose, I recommend that you spray distilled water into the terrarium daily – with tap water there are limescale deposits on the glass walls – with the help of a spray bottle. You should not spray the animals directly, as pathogens can nest and multiply at non-drying water points on the exoskeleton. Alternatively, you can use an ultrasonic fogger. However, the required water tank must be cleaned regularly and it also takes up a relatively large amount of space. But the ultrasonic fogger is ideal for taking care of the animals over the weekend. So-called rainforest spray systems are also conceivable in principle. To check the temperature and humidity, you should definitely install a thermometer and a hygrometer in the terrarium.
Walking leaves are fascinating insects that are easy to care for and inexpensive to keep, and that can “tie up” you for years.