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Rainforests of the World 

February 8, 2011

Aliens of the Rainforest

Of all the animals displayed in our Rainforest Exhibit, none convey a sense of other-wordliness quite like our Madagascar ghost mantids (Phyllocrania paradoxa).

adult ghost mantid

                                                                                                     Photo by Rachael Tom

Above: an adult Madagascar ghost mantid.  


These alien-looking insects hail from the island of Madagascar and other areas on the continent of Africa.  They sport projections off of their exoskeleton that offer an excellent camoflauge in the leaf litter and twiggy vegetation where they live out their short lives.

Like all mantids, P.  paradoxa are carnivorous, feeding stealthily on a wide variety of insect prey.  Here at the Academy they feed on crickets, soldier flies, fruit flies and silkworms.

The ghost mantid lifecycle begins in an ootheca or egg-case.  After mating, the adult female will lay 4-35 eggs in this ootheca.  She attaches the well camouflauged ootheca to a tree branch, rendering it virtually invisible amongst the forest foliage.

mantid egg cases

                                                                                                    Photo by Rachael Tom

Above: a cluster of ghost mantid egg cases layed on a branch.


After about a month the egg case hatches, releasing tiny baby mantids, also called nymphs.  The nymphs differ from adults not only in their small size, but they also lack wings.  The nymphs are independant and begin feeding almost immediately after hatching.  Since they are so tiny, we start our nymphs out by offering them fruit flies which are about the size of a pinhead.

ghost mantid nymph

                                                                                                    Photo by Rachael Tom

Above: A Biologist carefully moves a ghost mantid nymph.


As the mantids eat and grow  they will shed their exoskeleton.  This process is called molting.  In about three to six months the mantids will go through their final molt into adulthood.  It is at this stage that the mantids develop their wings.  The adult males possess longer and more well developed wings than the females.  It is thought that this allows the males to disperse greater distances in order to find receptive females and begin the cycle all over again.

ghost mantids mating

Filed under: Insects & Arachnids — rainforest @ 3:24 pm


  1. I live in NW Alabama in the Bankhead National Forest. I am excited by these photos and accompanying story of the Ghost Mantid Phyllocrania paradoxa. Can you tell me what if anything the Latin name translates to? This creature is a paradox but I don’t make a connection with the Phyllocrania handle? I applaud all the scientific field researchers and eagerly await each newsletter from Calacademy.

    Thank you for keeping the General Public educated and fascinated.

    Comment by Mimi — March 1, 2011 @ 3:40 pm

  2. Interesting! I wish that I could see these creatures in person!

    Comment by Mike — March 1, 2011 @ 4:09 pm

  3. Wow! That is some handsome dude! I had a pet praying mantis for awhile, but not nearly as stunning as this creature.

    Comment by Janet — March 1, 2011 @ 7:10 pm

  4. Fasinating! I’m sure some SciFi movies were made with these guys as their models. What is their life cyle I wonder?

    Comment by Deen — March 8, 2011 @ 1:49 am

  5. Very interesting, I am going to share with my clas. I teach 2nd grade and I’m teaching camouflage now. I use to love when the museum was close to Bart because I was able to take my class to the museum, now I can’t because buses are too expensive and with all the budget cuts we can’t afford to go :(
    Thanks for sharing

    Comment by Brenda — March 8, 2011 @ 2:26 am

  6. Hello Deen,

    Indeed, to me the mantids are reminiscent of the creatures in “Aliens”. The life cycle of a mantid begins as an egg in an eggcase. They hatch out as nymphs, which are miniature versions of the adults and identical in every way except that the nymphs lack wings. Over time, the nymphs grow in size and eventually at their final molt develop wings. At this stage they are ready to reproduce and begin the cycle all over again.


    Comment by rainforest — March 22, 2011 @ 10:09 pm

  7. Hello Mimi,

    What an excellent question! We referred to our Naturalist Center and found out that “phyllo” translates to “leaf” and “crania” means “skull. This makes sense since ghost mantids have leaf-like bodies!

    Comment by rainforest — March 23, 2011 @ 6:36 pm

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