Spiny Leaf Insect

What an extraordinary year 2020 has been as far as wildlife is concerned. Insects abound, and we have had visits from 3 different carpet snakes, a tree snake and an aggressive small brown snake. There has been an amazing variety of insects, some we have never seen before. We had a plague of lawn grub moths and their grubs, fruit sucking moths decimated our entire citrus crop, cabbage butterflies were hanging around and their grubs destroyed a couple of plants, various spiders are spinning webs in the garden, beautiful butterflies have descended on the garden, and a stick insect was discovered and featured in W23’s Six on Saturday post.

Last week’s insect discovery however, fascinated us. We found this unusual insect on our back patio, clinging to one of the wooden posts. If you look closely you can see its beady eyes staring at the camera.

Spiny Leaf Insect on a wooden post

After hauling out reference books and searching the internet we identified it as a Spiny Leaf Insect (or Macleay’s Spectre), Extatosoma tiaratum which occurs in Queensland, New South Wales and down into Victoria.

It felt really hard and spiny to the touch, and due to its large curved abdomen and residual wings we assume that it is a female. By all accounts the males are smaller, leaner and can fly.

Spiny Leaf Insect hanging from the edge of the awning

The head of the insect is pointed at the back, almost like a snout, and because of the position of the eyes it looks to me as if the head is on back-to-front (which it is not). The body is cleverly disguised as leaves; in fact its legs remind me of segments of a Zygocactus. The insect moved extremely slowly giving the impression of a ‘leaf’ that is swaying gently in the wind. What amazing camouflage!

It is interesting to discover that the female insect flicks the eggs she lays to the ground. Ants are attracted by a small bump at the top of the egg and take it underground to their nests. The young insects, nymphs, hatch, but are not eaten or attacked by the ants as they appear to look and smell like the ants. The nymphs eventually leave the ant colony, find a suitable plant to live in (they eat wattle, eucalyptus and roses), and moult several times before reaching maturity.

We moved the insect from the verandah and onto a bush, close to four roses. The insect stayed in the bush for a day before moving onto the climbing rose on the arch. It hangs down from the branch under the leaves where it is less noticeable.

Four days later the insect is still in the rose bush, feasting on the leaves. Luckily the rose is a vigorous one, so the light pruning by the insect should not do it much harm. What a privilege to have one of natures wonders in the garden.

UPDATE: Eight days later, the female spiny leaf insect was still hanging out in the rose bush, but we had a big surprise….. there was a male spiny leaf insect with her! The picture below is of the male. He is much smaller and scrawnier than the female, and a dark brown in colour. The wings extend almost to the end of his abdomen. His head is the same shape as that of the females, but slightly smaller, and he does not appear to have as many spines on him.

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