The ghost mantis, Phyllocrania paradoxa, is a small species of mantis found across the African continent that is well known for its interesting appearance and fascinating behaviors. They frequent dry areas, living primarily in brush and trees and mimicking dead foliage. They have many incredible abilities that allow them to survive in the African bush, an unforgiving environment that is hard for most other insects to survive in.
This species is an absolutely astounding appearance. It looks just like a dead leaf, complete with many horns and protrusions to make it look more like a leaf. The purpose of this incredible disguise is multi-purpose. The most important reason they look this way is because they are ambush predators that must remain completely unseen before they attack their prey. This disguise also has the benefit of protecting them from predators, who will have a much harder time noticing them than they would other insects.
The ghost mantis is a fairly small species, topping out at no longer than 2 inches. Despite this they are incredible predators that can snatch their prey, small flying insects, right out of the sky with surprising strength and speed. This is aided by their amazing camouflage, which allows insects to come close enough to grab.
When the ghost mantis is threatened or afraid it exhibits a most peculiar response. They will pretend to be dead until they feel that the threat has gone. This is very effective, especially because this species resembles a dead leaf to begin with. Would-be predators are confused, often becoming disinterested in the mantis.
The ghost mantis is a very sexually dimorphic species, meaning that the males and females are quite different from one another. The females are much larger than the males, which is why the male ghost mantis must be quite careful when wooing females. Though the female ghost mantis is not generally inclined towards cannibalism it is always a possibility with such a great size difference. In addition to size, males are far better flyers and generally much faster. The females and large nymphs (nymphs cannot fly) instead rely on playing dead, a behavior that adult males do not need.
Young mantises are very vulnerable to predators. They are extremely tiny and almost completely incapable of defending themselves, so they use a form of mimicry to convince predators that they are not worth the effort. They are small, dark in color, and peculiarly shaped so that they appear a lot like an ant. Ants can sting and bite and are generally much more difficult for many predators to manage, thus appearing as one discourages predators. This is a great method of protecting the mantises until they grow larger.