The Dead Leaf mantis is one of the most intriguing mantis species of all. As the name suggests, this incredible insect resembles a dead, crumpled leaf as an adult, perfectly helping it to camouflage in its surroundings.
There are a number of different species in the Deroplatys genus, but it is Deroplatys dessicata which is the largest and certainly the most common in the pet trade.
For this reason it is sometimes known more specifically as the “Giant Dead Leaf Mantis”.
Dead Leaf Mantis Habitat
Originally described by Westwood in 1839, this praying mantis is found across a relatively wide area in South East Asia. Growing to around 8cm-9cm long, the females are typically quite a bit longer than the males, and are easily told apart from an early age by counting the abdominal segments. Females have 6, while males have 7.
The dead leaf mantis has been reported in Borneo, Indonesia, Malysia and Sumatra, where it is most commonly encountered hiding in foliage throughout the forests and scrubland to be found here. The specific literature specifically reports specimens on Labuan Island and Poring Hot Springs.
As might be expected from this part of the world, dead leaf mantids therefore enjoy warm temperatures in captivity, coupled with high humidities.
As a guideline, a tank temperature of 25-30’C is recommended, with mantids that are kept warmer generally eating more and growing more quickly. Humidity levels of 50-80% tend to serve this species well. The higher end of the scale is recommended when moulting time is expected, as this is a dangerous time for such an intricate insect.
A range of different containers may be used to house dead leaf mantis. From specially-made insect tanks to a re-purposed plastic sweet jar, the most important element are the dimensions.
Most praying mantis are almost entirely arboreal, meaning that they sit in trees and bushes rather than on the ground. Here they hunt for their prey, which most commonly comes in the form of flying insects. When a praying mantis moults it attaches it’s back legs to a twig, and then slowly “slides” out of the old skin.
These two elements mean that height is more important than width when it comes to praying mantis housing. Not only should you be able to fit one or more suitably-sized twigs into the cage to act as a perch for your mantis, but there should be enough space for your mantis to hang down when changing their skin. A good rule-of-thumb to apply is that the cage for your mantis should be at least three times as tall as the mantid’s body, and twice as long.
Remember when applying these rules that mantids grow rapidly. They will go through a number of skin changes, increasing in size each time. Many species will go from hatchlings to fully-grown adults in less than a year. Being too precious over size will therefore mean that you’re constantly having to swap cages. It is therefore often best to buy a cage suitable for an adult mantis early on, which he or she can be transferred into when they are half grown.
For a truly memorable display I like to use a tall Exo Terra for my adult females. These cages are easy to heat, look fantastic, and offer a range of practical benefits such as locking doors, a mesh lid for ventilation and pre-made holes for any electrical applications you add.
Temperature & Heating
As described, these tropical insects do best when kept warm. To this end an artificial heater will be required except during the warmest summer months. A temperature of around 25’C is ideal for this species.
The easiest way to provide this warmth is through the use of a heat mat. These can be bought very cheaply in a range of different sizes. The heat mat should be attached to the outside of the cage in such a way that some areas are warmer than others. As with nature, therefore, your mantis will be able to move around and locate the area that suits them best.
While historically many exotic pet keepers have rested their cages on top of a heat mat, for praying mantis this may not be the wisest decision. The reason is simple enough; as arboreal insects Dead Leaf Mantis may not come down to the floor often, and therefore may not benefit fully from the warmth being produced.
An alternative option is to attach the heat mat to one side of the cage, ensuring that a left-to-right temperature gradient is produced.
While opinions on the matter vary, many people recommend the use of a “matstat” in addition – an external thermostat which helps one control the warmth produced by the heater. This is especially beneficial in Spring and Fall, where such a piece of technology can prevent your mantis from overheating on warmer days.
Water & Humidity
Coming from the tropical jungles of South East Asia, the Dead Leaf Mantis has evolved in a humid environment. Moulting can be a particularly problematic time for this species, which may struggle to extricate themselves from their older skin.
It is therefore critical that this species should have their cage sprayed on a regular basis. As this water evaporates so the relative humidity in the cage increases.
Note that as with all exotic pets, ventilation is still important. Air that is trapped in a sealed container for a period of time can lead to mould or mildew build-up. The skill of the mantis keeper is therefore in providing both a high humidity but also reasonable ventilation.
As arboreal insects, Dead Leaf Mantids rarely come down to the floor of the cage, so providing a water bowl is seen as pointless by many keepers. Instead, you will likely see your mantis drinking the water droplets left on the walls of the cage after misting.
Dead Leaf Mantis are not complex creatures to keep. Once the key requirements of a suitably-sized cage, which is suitably heated and misted, has been provided very few other pieces of equipment will be required.
Broadly speaking there are only two main considerations. The first of these is the substrate which lines the base of the cage. A range of options may be used, from the practical yet unattractive use of kitchen towel, through to proper reptile substrates like coir.
Personally I start my young mantids with kitchen towel, which can be easily removed and replaced on a regular basis. The larger mantids, however, are truly a sight to behold, so I link their cage to reflect this. I provide a centimetre or so of compost or coir to their cage, and sometimes even add dead leaves etc. to really give a naturalistic setup, and helps show them off to their best.
The second consideration is that of somewhere to sit, hunt and moult. This means that suitably-sized twigs or branches should be added to the cage. If these are sourced from nature, these should be sterilized first by immersing them in boiling water, then allowing them to dry thoroughly.
The goal of these twigs should be to provide an area beneath which is at least twice the height of the mantis. In this way moulting should present no problem.
Feeding Dead Leaf Mantis
Like all mantids, Dead Leaf Mantis are carnivorous and will eat almost anything they can catch in the wild. It is not unheard of for mantis to catch small lizards and even birds, but in captivity their diet consists of a range of feeder insects.
These should be provided on a regular basis. As you cannot overfeed a mantis the best course of action is to follow a simple strategy of feeding your mantis then waiting for it to eat. Once the insect has been caught then introduce another. Keep going until your mantis has eaten enough.
Of course, the more you feed your Dead Leaf Mantis, the faster it will grow. For this reason some keepers like to separate out males from females early on. The smaller males are then fed slightly more than the females, with the intention that they will mature at around the same time.
Aim to feed your mantis every day or two, and keep a note of how much and how often your mantis is feeding. In this way you can modify your routine over time to match their appetite.