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5 Reasons Why This Giant Leaf Insect Found In Malaysia Stands Out Even While Blending In

You are what you eat.

Cover image via Addicted2Hymenoptera/Flickr & Deep Look/YouTube

Giant Malaysian leaf insects are just about the most masterful mimickers out there

Scientifically known as Phyllium giganteum, they originate from forests in Cameron Highlands as well as Sarawak, and were discovered in 1984. 

They can grow up to 10cm in length, roughly the size of an adult human palm.

Here are five fun facts about this critter:

1. Giant leaf insects completely blend in with their natural surroundings… and food

To defend themselves against predators, such as the mountain bulbul bird (Ixos mcclellandi), these insects hide in plain sight.

Their bodies have incredibly intricate veins that emulate those found on the leaves surrounding the giant leaf insect. These plants, including oak, guava, and blackberry, also happen to be staples of their diet.

What's more impressive is that they have brown spots on their abdomens and crinkly edges that look exactly like damaged or fallen leaves.

Even their eggs are made to look similar to their poop and any decaying leaf litter lying around.

Seeing as it takes approximately five and a half to 14 months for the eggs to hatch, this disguise is probably for the best.

Comparison of a giant leaf insect's egg (left) and their poop (right).

Image via Deep Look/YouTube

2. After hatching, the nymph (young insect) will moult seven times before becoming an adult

According to entomologist Frank Hennemann, newly hatched giant leaf insects are typically dark orange-brown with an approximate length of 22mm and a width of 7mm.

Over time, the active nymphs shed their outer layer to reveal a different coloured body underneath. This change, from brown to the light apple green seen on adult giant leaf insects, occurs after the creature moults seven times, as described by PBS

The moulted layer.

Image via Deep Look/YouTube

However, once they reach adulthood, these insects remain the same colour. It is not something they can change on the fly, unlike some species of chameleons. 

3. The grooviest part about these critters are their walks

Nymphs have to make the long migration from the forest floor, where eggs are laid, to a tree branch. 

In order to remain undetected by predators, giant leaf insects unleash its second asset: a groovy walk. 

By swaying slightly from side to side, these insects are truly able to mimic the motion of leaves rustling in the wind.  

Just look at it go!

4. Once they find a tree, they will likely stick to it for life

Okay, they don't actually stick - they cling on with bifurcated claws.

Bifurcated claws are claws that are separated into two.

Image via Deep Look/YouTube

But once they make that long trek to a tree branch, they remain there for the rest of their lives. When laying eggs, these critters will simply stay still and allow the eggs to fall to the ground.

Female giant leaf insects can live up to a year, while males have a shorter lifespan of only a few weeks.

5. Giant leaf insects were thought to be an all female species until a male was spotted in 1994

Male giant leaf insects are extremely rare in the wild. One of the sole descriptions of the male insect was recorded by Paul Brock, an amateur entomologist, who saw it while travelling in Peninsular Malaysia in 1994. 

Though not many have been seen, males are believed to have long, green, and translucent wings that allow them to fly, unlike females. 

According to Dr Giovanni Luca Scardaci, the females are able to reproduce parthenogenetically, meaning they lay unfertilised eggs that will grow up to be genetically alike to their mother.  

Although giant leaf insects are not considered endangered, they have unfortunately become popular trading items and pets for people worldwide

The International Union for Conservation of Nature has not evaluated giant leaf insects' level of extinction. 

However, a quick search on Facebook revealed several groups dedicated to the rearing of these insects, even though it is regulated by certain countries, including the US. 

Considering how they are primarily found in captivity, it is best to leave these critters alone should you ever come across one in the wild.

Fire snails and pink fairy armadillos are only two of the many cool-looking creatures out there:

You may not have realised that it is illegal to keep these animals as pets: