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The Great Pretenders

The 26th Phylliidae Convention

The Phylliidae Study Group from The Institute of Critical Zoologists has been studying camouflage insects for more than 50 years. The group holds regular meetings and presents displays at all the major entomological exhibitions in the world. The organisation places emphasis on study by rearing and captive breeding and has a panel of breeders who distribute livestock of different cultures to other members.


Leaf insects are part of the superfamily Phylliidae which belongs to the order Phasmatodae. The name of the order derives from the Latin ‘phasma’ meaning phantom, apparition, spectre or ghost. The majority of the species camouflage themselves as sticks and leaves and are hardly detectable.


The life of the Phylliidae is one shrouded in mimicry and pretense. Study of these species is extremely difficult as one may never know what one is really studying. Besides mimicking leaves and stems of its foodplant, their eggs mimic seeds. This allows their eggs to be taken into ants’ nests by the ants, hence protecting the eggs from parasitic wasps. The hatchling Phylliidae nymphs mimic the behavior and shape of an ant the moment it is born in the nest.


One of the continuing efforts of the Phylliidae Study Group is in the hybridising of new cultures of Phylliidaes.


Recent advancements in technology have allowed the group to create hybrids which mimic its foodplant (host plants) like never before. These new hybrids are so well-camouflaged that detection becomes extremely difficult even to skilled observers. The breeders pride themselves in not only morphing the insects to mimic as much of its host plant as possible but in certain cases, the plants are bred to look more like the insects as well.


The best of these hybrids come together every year at the Phylliidae Convention in Tokyo, Japan, where the species are shown along with their foodplants and their proud owners. A panel of judges, made up of respectable Phasmid scientists from around the world, will judge the winning Phylliidae according to the aesthetic appearance of each individual together with its foodplant.


These pages document and present the recent winners of the 2009 Phylliidae Convention in Tokyo as reflected in a special edition of the Phylliidae Study Group quarterly journal, Volume 135. Selected articles from the volume are also published here on this site. We are very honoured to have Kawasato Nobuhiro as a guest editor of this volume.


The images show the winning species perched on their foodplants. Also shown are some of the comments of the judges on their thoughts of the winning entries of 2009. All the remarks and images are collated and presented in a paper by Hiroshi Abe, a Phylliidae specialist (and the winner of the 26th Phylliidae Convention) here at The Institute of Critical Zoologists.


The Phylliidaes, posed in front of a green backdrop in the convention, are almost undetectable but they are present. They are unwary, exposed; but in a way, they still refuse our gaze because of their ability to camouflage, pretend and mimic its surroundings.


The images were taken by Zhao Renhui at the 2009 Convention in Ueno Hall 6, Tokyo.


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26th Phylliidae Convention, 2009, Leaf Insect

Postcard from the 2009 Phylliidae Convention


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