|Common Name||Walking Leaf|
The family Phylliidae (often misspelled Phyllidae) contains the extant true leaf insects or walking leaves, which include some of the most remarkably camouflaged leaf mimics in the entire animal kingdom. They occur from South Asia through Southeast Asia to Australia. At present, there is no consensus as to the preferred classification of this group; some sources treat Phylliidae as a much larger taxon, containing the members of what are presently considered to be several different families.
Leaf insects are camouflaged (using mimicry) to take on the appearance of leaves. They do this so accurately that predators often are not able to distinguish them from real leaves. In some species the edge of the leaf insect's body even has the appearance of bite marks. To further confuse predators, when the leaf insect walks, it rocks back and forth, to mimic a real leaf being blown by the wind.
The scholar Antonio Pigafetta probably was the first to document the creature. Sailing with Ferdinand Magellan's circumnavigational expedition, he studied and chronicled the fauna on the island of Cimbonbon as the fleet hauled ashore for repairs.
In this island are also found certain trees, the leaves of which, when they fall, are animated, and walk. They are like the leaves of the mulberry tree, but not so long; they have the leaf stalkshort and pointed, and near the leaf stalk they have on each side two feet. If they are touched they escape, but if crushed they do not give out blood. I kept one for nine days in a box. When I opened it the leaf went round the box.
A 47 million year old fossil of Eophyllium messelensis, a prehistoric ancestor of Phylliidae, displays many of the same characteristics of modern leaf insects, indicating that this family has changed little over time.