Ghost Mantis

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Ghost mantids (Phyllocrania cf. illudens) are probably the most morphologically bizarre mantid here in central Kenya. The corrugated projections along its abdomen, pronotum, and legs make the mantis almost imperceptible among foliage. Of the 20+ mantid species I’ve seen here at Mpala, the ghost and the Sibylla crowned mantis have been the most magical of the bunch. “Phyllo-” translates to leaf and “crania” means head, referring to the mantis’ asymmetrical head crest. Every individual has a unique crest, similar in appearance to a crumpled up dry leaf. On this female the tip of the structure looks like a match stick, and its texture is soft and bendable. During the dry season, mantids that are polymorphic molt into their brown duller suits. So far, the wet season has already produced vibrant green on a few species. It would be fascinating to find a green morph of the ghost mantis, though I am not sure of their frequencies in wild populations.

Usually when I interact with mantids they are motivated to assume a particular cryptic position, one that they would usually adopt on their substrate of choice. This ghost mantis seemed comfortable in two positions: facing upwards on a broad surface, and hanging upside down from thin branches. When right side up the mantis remained motionless and rigid, like a leaf positioned precariously on the ground after falling. When hanging downwards it would tuck its legs together and dangle rhythmically, like a leaf and petiole attached. As in many cryptic animals, the ghost mantis coincided its movements with wind intensity to move in sync with the leaves, seed pods, and branches in its immediate environment. Even blowing air weakly will elicit the staggered movement. It’s fun to do this trick on chameleons, vine snakes, walking sticks — really almost any small arboreal animal with a swaying gait.

Photographed after capture under controlled conditions [6]

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