Reub's journey

17 July 2017

When John is gone

John returned from Borneo some days ago, full of stories about his students and the places they went, the things they learned. The tropical forests of Malaysian Borneo are some of the last great pockets of diversity on the this planet, and his class was lucky to be able to be there for 3-plus weeks this summer.

He has the best pictures! I'm pretty jealous of his photos.

While he was gone I managed to entertain myself quite nicely. I saw Wonder Woman with a book enthusiast who had also enjoyed The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore. I cooked. I visited a vineyard and had sci-fi-night  with my son-in-law. (Black Mirror is stunning. So are the old Twilight Zone episodes.) I figured out how to use an electric drill. Mowed the yard twice. Went running. Did yoga. Planned a sewing project. All of these things are quite laudable, right? But when John goes off for long periods of time, I tend to strange acquisitions.

Once when he was gone I adopted a black lab. This time was different. Will you hold it against me if I start to talk about... bugs...really large insects?

Because while John was gone exploring one of earth's most exotic places, I acquired one of earth's most spectacular insects: Extasoma tiaratum, "Macleay's Spectre," or the "Spiny Leaf Insect," native to Australia. Her legs look like leaves.

Of the planet's wildly diverse collection of creatures, some 90 percent of species are reckoned to belong to the class Insecta.  It's good to get to get to know just one of them, and the chance presented itself. I named her Phyllis. She is a Phasmid, from the family Phasmatidae, the stick insects who are closely related to leaf bugs. As an aside I want to add that leaf bugs were first noted during Magellan's voyage around the world. His naturalist, Antonio Pigafella, while in the Phillipines, wrote:

 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 stalk short 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. I believe they live upon air.

Phyllis is gentle. She doesn't want to hurt anything, and cannot bite or sting.  She does have a complicated mouth, and makes neat work of eating hawthorn, blackberry, and oak leaves. She pretends to be a scorpion when she is afraid, and when really threatened, exudes the scent of... toffee? I haven't witnessed this yet, but that's what they say. Toffee. It is difficult to fear toffee.

She spends her days sleeping, pretending to be a bunch of leaves, occasionally swinging in a make-believe breeze. She seems to know me and I'm astonished by her awareness.

Most of Phyllis's kind are females. They do not need males to procreate: parthenogenesis is the name of the game, and Phyllis has begun to lay eggs. They take nine months to hatch, just like a human. Just one or two a day, which I don't keep.  I'm in this for the short term, I guess.


  1. how cool! how long do they live? and do you keep her in an aquarium and how do you feed her? fresh leaves every day? OK, now I want one.

    1. They live for maybe 2 years or so, a long time for an insect. I keep her in a terrarium that is higher than it is wide, but an aquarium turned on end would work too. Fresh leaves every second or third day, stuck in a little jar of water to stay fresh. Spritz with a mist of water every other day. Substrate of bark chunks. She is low maintenance. If you were here I'd give you some eggs to hatch!

  2. You sure do entertain yourself in unusual ways. That's quite the interesting insect!

    1. I do admit that Phyllis is unusual. Want some eggs?

  3. Shouldn't you let at least one egg hatch? Poor Phyllis is wondering why she is all alone.

  4. Haha! John says the same thing! I dunno. Maybe. Do I really want to watch over an egg for nine months? If it were a male though, it would be worth a lot of money.


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