All About the Dead Leaf Mantis: Masters of Camouflage

Leave a comment / / Updated on: 11th November 2023

NameDead leaf MantisDietCarnivorous
Scientific nameDeroplatys desiccataWeight1 ounce (28.35 grams)
Pronunciationdead leaf MAN-tis.Length6.5–8 centimeters (2.5–3.14 inches)
ClassificationDictyoptera, Mantodea, DeroplatyidaeLocationAsia, South America, and Central America

The Dead Leaf Mantis

Dead Leaf Mantis
Dead Leaf Mantis | cynoclub via iStock

Insects and other small animals use different strategies to escape from predators. 

The strategy for the dead leaf mantis is to mimic a dead leaf to get the predator to look the other way. 

That’s how it got its common name. 

The name dead leaf mantis actually applies to several species of praying mantis, but most of them are in the Deroplatys and Acanthops genera. 

Deroplatys desiccata is the most popular member of this group, and it is also referred to as the giant dead leaf mantis, but there are several others with similar habits. 

They all have a large flattened thorax, a brown, leaf-like coloration, and intricate patterns on their wings that complete their mimicry act. 

This article is about the dead leaf mantis and all the fascinating facts about it. 

Gage Beasley's In-Demand Plush Toys
Gage Beasley’s In-Demand Plush Toys

Taxonomy and Classification

Gage Beasley's Dead Leaf Mantis Stuffed Toy
Gage Beasley’s Dead Leaf Mantis Stuffed Toy

Dead leaf mantis is the common name for various praying mantis species, all renowned for their unique ability to mimic dead leaves. 

That name commonly refers to insects in the Deroplatys, Phyllocrania, and Acanthops genera. 

But Deroplatys desiccata is the most well-known of all of them. 

It belongs to the Deroplatys genus within the Deroplatyidae family. 

All members of this genus are native to Asia. 

All dead leaf mantises belong to the order Mantodea, along with other mantis species. 

They’re not to be confused with stick insects (order Phasmatodea), also known for their tendency to mimic twigs and sticks. 

The closest relatives of the mantises are cockroaches and termites within the order Blattodea since they’re all grouped within the superorder Dictyoptera. 

Dead Leaf Mantis
Pray Mantis antique illustration | ilbusca via iStock

Praying mantises are ancient insects. 

They have been around since the Jurassic Period, about 199 million years ago. 

Mantises evolved from cockroach-like ancestors that began diversifying about 145 million years ago during the Cretaceous. 

The dead leaf mantis, specifically, evolved to mimic dead leaves as a form of camouflage. 

Its leaf-like appearance helps it hide from predators and ambush its prey.

Some of the most notable species of dead leaf mantis in the Deroplatys genus include 

  • Deroplatys angustata 
  • Deroplatys cordata 
  • Deroplatys desiccata 
  • Deroplatys indica 
  • Deroplatys lobata
  • Deroplatys trigonodera 
  • Deroplatys truncata

Physical Characteristics

Dead Leaf Mantis
Oh! Lookie! I am here… | Dan Olsen via iStock

As the name implies, the dead leaf mantis resembles dead leafy vegetation on a first look. 

It has an elongated, flattened thorax, also known as prothorax shield, which has a leaf-like appearance.

The wings also have intricate leaf patterns so much that it looks like a dried leaf. 

The coloration of members of this group also helps with this mimicry. 

All species of dead-leaf praying mantis are brown. 

However, the shade of brown may vary from one species to the other. 

This brown color is also not solid all through, as some individuals may have dark and light spots, further adding to the illusion the insect is trying to maintain. 

Dead Leaf Mantis
The triangular head of the Dead Leaf Mantis | Melvyn Yeo via DevianArt

Dead leaf mantises have a triangular head with large, compound eyes that provide excellent vision for hunting.

Size varies from one species to the other, but the giant dead leaf mantis (Deroplatys desiccata) is the largest species in the genus. 

Most species of dead leaf mantises exhibit sexual dimorphism, with the females being slightly larger than the males. 

For Deroplatys desiccata, females are typically about 7.5 to eight centimeters long, while males are about 6.5 to 7.0 centimeters. 

The females’ prothorax shields also tend to end in a sharp, pointed curve on both sides, while females typically have a round shape.

In terms of color, males are typically a lighter shade of brown compared to the predominantly darker females. 

They have two pairs of wings, with the forewings modified into leathery tegmina, which also resemble the shape and texture of a withered leaf.

The legs of the dead leaf mantis are long and adapted for grasping prey. 

Like other mantises, their forelimbs are equipped with spines and raptorial forearms that they use to capture and hold onto their prey.

Habitat and Distribution

Most species of dead leaf mantis, especially those in the Deroplatys genus, are native to Asia. 

However, species in the Acanthops genus live in Central and South America, while species in the Phyllocrania genus are found in Africa. 

In places where they’re found, dead leaf mantises mainly live in the understory of tropical rainforests. 

They thrive in environments with lush vegetation, abundant foliage, and a variety of plant species.

They may also inhabit deciduous forests, where they can take advantage of the changing leaf cover throughout the year.

You may find them on the branches of trees and shrubs or even on the forest floor among leaf litter. 

In these places, their leaf-like appearance provides them with exceptional camouflage. 

The distribution range of the dead leaf mantis in the Deroplatys genus is primarily concentrated in Southeast Asia. 

Some of the specific countries where this insect can be found include Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Borneo, and the Philippines. 

Different species are also endemic to specific countries. 

For instance, Deroplatys indica is native to India, while Deroplatys philippinica is endemic to the Philippines and is also known as the Philippines dead leaf mantis. 

Behavior and Social Structure

Dead Leaf Mantis
The docile dead leaf mantis | thomascan via iStock

The dead leaf mantis is a relatively docile insect.

They do not move around a lot, especially during the day. 

Since they’re primarily nocturnal, the dead leaf mantis spends most of the day lying motionless in order to avoid getting detected. 

They move around more actively at night but still rely on their mimicry to catch prey. 

When disturbed, the insect will either run away frantically or simply feign death. 

Such displays involve lying motionless on the floor with the legs stretched out or folded. 

The Deroplatys may keep up the act by not moving even when touched. 

However, they sometimes get up quickly and bolt away. 

This creature may also mimic dead leaves on twigs and branches and will even rock gently in the wing. 

Dead Leaf Mantis
A dead leaf mantis intimidating its prey | Jpogi via Wikipedia CC BY-SA 4.0

Some species are also known to be more aggressive and may try some wing displays to intimidate the enemy. 

This is known as the deimatic display, and it involves showing off its colored wings and legs to spook and discourage predators. 

Dead leaf mantises are solitary insects and do not exhibit a complex social structure. 

Mantises are generally territorial and tend to establish a personal space for hunting and resting. 

They often choose concealed locations that offer good camouflage, such as leaf litter or vegetation. 

They are known for their strong preference for remaining still, resembling a leaf, and waiting for prey to come to them.

There is no evidence to suggest that dead leaf mantises engage in migration. 

Their sedentary lifestyle, weak wings, and reliance on camouflage make them less likely to engage in long-distance movements.

Diet and Feeding

Dead Leaf Mantis
Deroplatys desiccata eating a cockroach | cynoclub via iStock

The dead leaf mantis is a carnivorous insect. 

They often prey on small insects such as flies, moths, crickets, and ants.

They may capture and consume spiders occasionally, given the opportunity. 

Dead leaf mantises may also cannibalize smaller mantises, including members of their own species.

The dead leaf mantis hunts its prey by ambush and stealth. 

Their compound eyes have excellent vision, which allows them to discover potential prey from a concealed position.

Dead Leaf Mantis
Motionless dead leaf mantis preparing to pounce | thomascan via iStock

Once a target is identified, the dead leaf mantis does not chase them. 

Instead, it stays motionless until the prey comes within striking distance.

They have specialized forelimbs with sharp spines that can be launched forward. 

Once the prey is captured, they use their mouthparts to devour and consume it. 

Like most mantis species, the dead leaf mantis is a generalist predator. 

This means it has no specific food preferences and will prey on any animal as long as it’s the right size. 

However, flying insects like moths are often at the top of the menu. 

Reproduction and Life Cycle

Dead Leaf Mantis
Female dead leaf mantis | Adrian Pingstone via Wikipedia Public Domain

The reproductive process for the dead leaf mantis typically begins when the male locates the female. 

Male species must be cautious when approaching females to avoid being mistaken for prey. 

In some species, the male may engage in gentle tapping or antennal movements to signal his intentions and avoid aggression from the female.

Such displays include fanning their wings to display the bright, contrasting colors while swaying side to side rhythmically. 

Mating occurs when the female accepts the advances of the male. 

It is typically brief, and the male has to move away cautiously or risk becoming the female’s next meal after mating.

Dead Leaf Mantis
A dead leaf mantis ready to cannablize | arif hidayatullah via iStock

This is known as sexual cannibalism and is caused by the apparent difference in size between males and females. 

After mating, the female lays a cluster of eggs in a concealed location. 

The incubation period for dead leaf mantis eggs can vary for different species but typically lasts several weeks. 

A single egg case (ootheca) can contain dozens to over a hundred eggs. 

Once it lays eggs, the dead leaf mantis does not provide direct care to its offspring. 

The nymphs (young mantises) that hatch from the eggs are left to fend for themselves, and they’ll undergo a series of molts over the course of several weeks to transform into adults. 

The average lifespan for this group of insects is between eight and 16 months. 

Ecological Role and Interactions

Dead Leaf Mantis
Dead leaf mantis sitting above the flowers | AlessandroZocc via Getty Images

As an insectivore, the dead leaf mantis preys on a variety of small arthropods, including insects, spiders, and other small mantises.

The excellent camouflage of this insect makes it quite effective at capturing prey. 

By preying on other arthropods, the dead leaf mantis helps control their population under control.

This includes the population of potential pests that can damage plants.

The mantis itself is prey to other animals, including other invertebrates (spiders, hornets, and ants), as well as vertebrates like frogs, lizards, and birds. 

Conservation Status and Threats

Dead Leaf Mantis
Say Mantis! | Dan Olsen via Getty Images

The dead leaf mantis is not formally listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). 

The insect’s absence on the IUCN red list of endangered animals is likely due to insufficient data relating to its population trend. 

Many insect species, especially those that are less well-known or not economically significant, often lack formal conservation assessments like this.

While it is safe to assume that most species of dead leaf mantis are not at risk of extinction, they still face significant environmental pressure and threats. 

Habitat destruction and deforestation in the regions where these insects live are some of the major factors threatening their survival. 

Climate change is also altering temperature and humidity conditions in their ecosystem, which may affect the availability of food and their overall distribution. 

The dead leaf mantis is a popular species among insect enthusiasts. 

This means there’s a risk of overcollection for the pet trade, which can pose a threat to wild populations of these insects if not managed sustainably.

Unique Adaptations and Survival Strategies

Dead Leaf Mantis
Dead leaf mantis mimicking | Ltshears via Wikipedia Public domain

The most remarkable adaptation of the dead leaf mantis is their leaf-mimicking appearance. 

The color of this insect, the appearance of their thorax, and the shape of their wings make them practically indistinguishable from dead leaves.  

This disguise is often very effective for avoiding predators and prey.

This unique camouflage is further aided by how the dead leaf mantis moves. 

The mantis tends to rock gently as if the breeze is blowing it (like a leaf). 

It can also feign being dead or attack an intruder by a “violent” display of its underwings to scare them off. 

The underwings of most species have large eyespots and other colored patterns that can frighten unsuspecting predators. 

Cultural Significance and Human Interactions

Dead Leaf Mantis
Malaysian Dead Leaf Mantis | Bernard DUPONT via Wikipedia CC By 2.0

The dead leaf mantis is not a very popular insect. 

The fact that the common name refers to several insects, all with similar appearance and behavior, further complicates their identification. 

However, they’re still very well-known mantises, especially in regions where they’re native. 

Local people in these locations may have some traditional or indigenous knowledge about them. 

The unique appearance of the dead leaf mantis, with its leaf-like mimicry, makes it a prime candidate for admiration by insect enthusiasts. 

Nature photographers and artists look out for these insects due to their striking appearance. 

The dead leaf mantis is also quite popular in the exotic pet trade, especially among insect hobbyists and collectors. 

They are sometimes kept as pets in captivity, and specialized breeding programs exist to provide enthusiasts with captive-bred individuals.

Future Prospects and Research

Dead Leaf Mantis
Please study me | Bernard DUPONT via Wikipedia CC By 2.0

Many intriguing attributes of the dead leaf mantis are worth studying. 

Much of the ongoing research relating to this species is mainly aimed at understanding mechanisms and evolution of mimicry and camouflage in mantises. 

This could lead to insights into biomimicry, camouflage technology, and predator-prey interactions across various ecosystems.

Researchers are also investigating the hunting and feeding behaviors of the dead leaf mantis and other mantises. 

This research may provide insights into predation and sensory adaptations that have broader implications for ecological and behavioral studies.

In the future, it’ll help if there were more accurate data about the population and distribution trends of this insect group. 

Such knowledge is critical for making informed conservation decisions about this and other insects. 


The dead leaf mantis is so-called because it has a habit of mimicking dead foliage.

The common name is used for several species of praying mantis known to exhibit this behavior. 

They live in tropical and subtropical forest habitats in Asia, South America, Central America, and Africa.  

The dead leaf mantis is a master of camouflage thanks to its leafy protrusions and resemblance to dried-up dead leaves due to its mottled brown color. 

Although they don’t seem like they do much, insects like this are essential for maintaining the biodiversity and ecological balance of their ecosystem, which is why they must be protected.


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