Backyard Buddies
Spiny Leaf Insect

Photo: David Sindel

Spiny Leaf Insect

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If you are in Queensland or northern New South Wales in January, you might be lucky enough to spot one of the most interesting insects that Australia is home to.

Don't be alarmed by this weird looking buddy. The Spiny Leaf Insect is also known as Giant Prickly Stick Insect or Macleay's Spectre Stick Insect. The name may change, but their odd appearance stays the same.

When laying her eggs, the female flicks the eggs from her abdomen down to the ground. The eggs of the stick insect resemble seeds, and ants often carry them away to their nests, as the eggs contain an edible cap which the ants love. After 6 months or more protected underground, the eggs hatch.

The Spiny Leaf Insect is a master of disguise from birth, as it avoids detection in the ant's nest by strongly resembling and even smelling like the ants themselves.

Adult Spiny Leaf Insects may look like crumpled paper, dead gum leaves or strange origami, but disguise and camouflage is their first line of defence against predators.

Spiny Leaf Insects use their appearance and smells rather than a bite or speed to defend themselves. They're not very fast, like most stick insects, which means that if you are patient and gentle, you'll be able to have a good long look at these wonderful creatures.

Spiny Leaf Insects can release a defensive odour that smells different to humans than it does to their predators. To us, it can smell like peanut butter, toffee or vinegar. Their predators smell something very unpleasant.

Another form of self-defence these insects use is to sway back and forth, resembling a leaf in the wind in an attempt to fool onlookers.

There are a few important differences between the male and the female Spiny Leaf Insect. The female is much bigger and stockier than the male, which is slender and has long wings.

The male has wings, but the female doesn't. If threatened, a male will draw up and fly away, but the female can only use her intimidating spikes and armour to ward off threats

.Did you know?

If no males are around, the female is able to reproduce by herself. This process, known as parthenogenesis, means that eggs take up to nine months to hatch and only produce females. They are clones of the mother.


These stick insects are vegetarians. If you'd like them around your garden, make sure you provide eucalyptus, rose and wattle trees.


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Photo: OEH