Animals That Mimic Leaves

Leaves play a vital role in the survival of plants. They absorb light from the sun via chlorophyll in plant cell chloroplasts and use it to produce sugars. Some plants like pine trees and evergreens retain their leaves all year; others such as the oak tree shed their leaves every winter.

Given the pervasiveness and importance of leaves in forest biomes, it is not surprising that numerous animals camouflage themselves as leaves as a defense mechanism to avoid predators. Others use leaf camouflage or mimicry to surprise prey. Below are seven examples of animals that mimic leaves. The next time you pick up a leaf, make sure it is not actually one of these leaf impostors.

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Ghost Mantis

Ghost Mantis
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Ghost mantis (Phyllocrania paradoxa) insects of prey disguise themselves as decaying leaves. From the brown color to the jagged edges on its body and limbs, the ghost mantis blends in perfectly with its environment. The mantis enjoys eating a variety of insects including fruit flies and other flying insects, mealworms, and baby crickets. When threatened, it will often lie motionless on the ground and not move even if touched, or it will rapidly display its wings to frighten predators. The ghost mantis inhabits dry open areas, trees, bushes and shrubs across Africa and South Europe.

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Indian Leafwing Butterfly

Indian Leafwing Butterfly
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Despite its name, the Indian Leafwing (Kallima paralekta) is native to Indonesia. These butterflies camouflage themselves as dead leaves when they close their wings. They live in tropical forest regions and come in a variety of colors including gray, brown, red, olive green, and pale yellow. The shading of their wings mimic features of leaves such as the midrib and petioles. The shading often contains patches that resemble mildew or other fungi growing on dead leaves. Rather than consuming flower nectar, the Indian Leafwing prefers to eat rotten fruit.

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Gaboon Viper

Gaboon viper
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The Gaboon viper (Bitis gabonica) is a snake that can be found on tropical forest floors in Africa. This apex predator is high on the food chain. With its enormous fangs and four to five-foot body, this venomous viper prefers to strike at night and moves slowly to maintain its cover while stalking prey. If it detects trouble, the snake will freeze attempting to hide among dead leaves on the ground. Its color pattern makes the snake difficult to detect for both potential predators and prey. The Gaboon viper typically feeds on birds and small mammals.

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Satanic Leaf-Tailed Gecko

Leaf-tailed Gecko
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Home to the island of Madagascar, the nocturnal satanic leaf-tailed gecko (Uroplatus phantasticas) spends its days hanging motionless from branches in the rainforest. During the night, it consumes a diet consisting of crickets, flies, spiders, cockroaches, and snails. This gecko is known for its remarkable resemblance to a withered leaf, which helps it stay camouflaged during the day from predators and hidden during the night from prey. Leaf-tailed geckos take aggressive stances when threatened, such as opening their mouths widely and emitting loud cries to ward off threats.

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Amazonian Horned Frog

Amazonian Horned Frog
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The Amazonian horned frog (Ceratophrys cornuta) makes its home in South American rainforests. Their coloration and horn-like extensions make these frogs almost impossible to distinguish from the surrounding leaves on the ground. The frogs stay camouflaged in the leaves to ambush prey such as small reptiles, mice and other frogs. Amazonian horned frogs are aggressive and will try to eat almost anything that moves past their large mouths. Adult Amazonian horned frogs have no known animal predators.

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Leaf Insects

Leaf Insect
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Leaf insects (Phyllium philippinicum) have broad, flat bodies and appear as leaves. The Leaf insect inhabits rainforests in South Asia, islands of the Indian Ocean, and Australia. They range in size from 28 mm to 100 mm with females usually being larger than males. Leaf insect body parts mimic leaf colors and structures such as veins and the midrib. They can also mimic damaged leaves in that they have markings on parts of their body that appear as holes. Leaf insect movement imitates that of a leaf swaying from side to side as if caught in a breeze. Their leaf-like appearance helps them to hide from predators. Leaf insects reproduce sexually, but females can also reproduce by parthenogenesis.

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Robert Oelman/Moment/Getty Images

Katydids, also called long-horned grasshoppers, derive their name from the unique chirping sound they make by rubbing their wings together. Their chirping sounds like the syllables "ka-ty-did". Katydids prefer to eat leaves atop trees and bushes to avoid predators. Katydids mimic leaves in fine detail. They possess flat bodies and markings that resemble leaf veins and decay spots. When alarmed, katydids will remain still hoping to evade detection. If threatened, they will fly away. Predators of these insects include spiders, frogs, snakes, and birds. Katydids can be found in forests and thickets throughout North America.

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Your Citation
Bailey, Regina. "Animals That Mimic Leaves." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Bailey, Regina. (2023, April 5). Animals That Mimic Leaves. Retrieved from Bailey, Regina. "Animals That Mimic Leaves." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 5, 2023).