successfully breeding Phyllium

   the Free-Standing Setup  
   Food Plants  
   Spraying water  
   Males mature (and die) way before females do...  
   Longevity of males  
   Obtaining fertilized eggs / avoiding parthenogenetic cultures  
   Overpopulation, "cannibalism"  
   Good to know  
   More interesting facts about Phyllium


some phasmid breeders tend to think that Phyllium species are hard to breed. Often a high mortality in the first instar(s) is lamented, as hatchlings or older nymphs do not start or continue feeding even though good-enough food plants are available to them. Or the males mature (and die) long before the females do. These can indeed be frustrating situations - but there are solutions. Phyllium are really not difficult to be bred, if some details are observed

the Free-Standing Setup

For a long time Phyllium have been my personal bugaboo amongst phasmids too. I failed with most Phyllium species, even though I was quite successful with many other "difficult" species. Therefore I avoided Phyllium for a long time. But then Joachim Bresseel (BE) brought back eggs of a supposedly new Phyllium species from Vietnam (Phyllium  sp. "Cat Tien"). And to my dismay he asked me to breed it. Fortunately I accepted the challange. This was the trigger for me to try out new ways to breed Phyllium, with stunnig results. Just some simple ajustments, and all Phyllium species I've had in culture since then thrive very well. Even Phyllium giganteum is now a very easy species for me

Hopefully my simple approach, the Free-Standing Setup, will help other breeders with their "problematic" Phyllium species too:

  • use a netting cage. I use Aerariums (which are also available from Bioform in Germany). These are not really cheap, but of great quality, very durable and they have a "see-through" side. But other (cheaper) netting cages should also do the trick
  • cut away all the edges of the food plant leaves you put in the cage for the freshly hatched nymphs and throughout the L1 stage
  • fix two wooden sticks to the water jar, in which you put the food plants. This can be done with rubber bands or a adhesive tape
  • fix the food plant(s) with clothespegs to the wooden sticks. A longer food plant stem can be fixed in a curve or even a full loop onto both wooden sticks
  • the food plant leaves shall not touch the wall or ceiling of the cage (thus it is called free-standing). If leaves stick out too much, then they can also be fixed with clothespegs to the wooden sticks or the food plant stem itself
  • as with any phasmid culture, avoid overcrowed situations
  • a humidity level of about 65 to 70 % rH (within the cage) is good enough, and nymphs will moult with ease. Just make sure that humidity will not drop way below this level, e.g. not below 55 - 60 % rH. For some breeders this could be an issue in winter, if your cages are in a heated room (more on humidity below)
  • use a ventilator to creat a soft breeze, at intervals of about 15 minutes on / off
  • put the netting cage in a place with light. Phyllium should not be kept in complete dark rooms, as they usually crawl towards light
  • temperature range from about 20 °C (night or winter) to about 25 °C (day or summer). It is better to avoid temperatures above 27 - 28°C. I do never have as many losses as during a summer's heatwave, when temperatures in my phasmid room can raise up to 30°C
  • Phyllium nymphs are rather active during the first few days after hatching, running around quite a lot. Out in nature they hatch from eggs laying on the forest floor - while their food plants are high up in the forest canopy. So running (up towards the light) is a necessity for them. Therefore many nymphs will leave the free-standing plant and end up on the cage's wall while running about. Thus every evening, just after dusk, we put all those strolling nymphs back on the Free-Standing food plants
  • why is best to put them back just after dusk? Freshly hatched and young Phyllium nymphs are mainly day-active and sit quitely during the night! So they will "wake up" on the free-standing food plant in the morning, and first thing they do is to explore that plant
  • spray them with chlorine-free (!) water (best in the evening, just before or after dusk, when the strolling nymphs have been put back on the free-standing food plant)
  • I use a tropical black-water conditioner in the spraying water (50 drops per liter, Dennerle TR7 Tropic or Tetra ToruMin). It seems to me that this "black water" supplement helps getting Phyllium nymphs to start feeding. It could add some flavour which they like
  • sprayed water shall dry up within a few hours. Do not keep Phyllium (neither nymphs nor adults) in a constantly wet environment
  • once they start to feed, they usually settle down quickly and stop running around
  • when the nymphs are a bit older (like in L3 - L4) you can arrange the food plants differently in their cage, or put the nymphs into a Faunabox. By then the Free-Standing setup is no more needed 

This Setup works like a charm for me, and I could breed (so far) more than 20 different Phyllium species / cultures in the past few years. For example Phyllium rubrum "Tapah, red coxae" prooves to a bit more difficult for other breeders - while it is just another easy Phyllium species for me

Why does the Free-Standing Setup work?
Phyllium nymphs might be more tempted to start feeding, as they are constantly in contact with the leaves. Especially when they climb over a leaf edge, then one can observe that they try it out whether it is something edible. Another possiblitiy might be that the (micro-) climatic conditions of a Free-Standing setup suits their needs better, as Phyllium species are suspected to mainly be  tree-top dwellers

Food plants

  • I found that (so far) all Phyllium species accept bramble (Rubus spp.) easily, especially if the Free-Standing-Setup is applied. And they also thrive on that food plant
  • but feeding Phyllium on bramble can pose a problem during springtime (at least here in Switzerland). In late winter and early spring Phyllium often do not feed well or even flat out refuse to feed on the remaining "old", last year's bramble leaves. These old bramble leaves might taste differently (thus they do not "like" them) and are most probably of low(er) nutritional value. Additionally Phyllium often not like to feed on the very new bramble leaves in spring. Therefore it can be somewhat tricky to feed Phyllium on bramble during spring time, although bramble is a good food plant during the rest of the year
  • to avoid this situation, I am now feeding Phyllium cultures which hatch in late summer, autumn or winter exclusively with Salal (Gaultheria shallon). The quality of Salal is much more consistant during the year. And then in late spring, when the bramble leaves are ripe again, then I offer again bramble to all my Phyllium cultures. The drawback is that one has to buy Salal which might be a bit more costly - especially when one is breeding quite a number of Phyllium species
  • if hatchlings refuse to feed on Salal, then one can try out these plants:
    • bramble (Rubus spp.)
    • strawberry leaves (Fragaria spp.)
    • raspberry (Rubus ideaeus)
    • dog rose (Rosa canina)
    • Guava (Psidium guajava)
    • oak (Quercus, summer- and wintergreen species)


  • a humidity of about 65 - 70 % rH is good enough for nymphs, they will moult and grow up without problems
  • an often heard rumor, that humidity must be very high for Phyllium nymphs to moult successfully is simply not true. It seems that Phyllium are mainly to be found up the tree tops, where it is windy and the humidity up there is not as high as in other parts of the tropical rain forest
  • I just found that adult males do better if kept in a cage with high humidity (80+% rH)
  • having said this, a high humidity is also OK. Just contrary to popular hearsay, a very high humidity is no absolute necessity
  • if humidity can not be kept above 60% rH, then one should reduce the ventilation areas on the cage and have a wet paper on the cage floor

Spraying water

another false yet often repeated rumor is, that Phyllium (nymphs or adults) should not be sprayed on with water directly. That is definitly not true, and these phasmids would have gone extinct a long time ago if they were so sensitive against water. I am spraying all Phyllium directly (nymphs as well as adults), and they are wet all over afterwards. Actually they like it !

  • do not use chlorinated water, such water is harmful for humans and potentially dangerous for phasmids too
  • do not spray too often, let the water always dry up before you spray again
  • I use a tropical black-water conditioner (50 drops per liter, Dennerle TR7 Tropic or Tetra ToruMin) in the spraying water. Such "black water" conditioner are sold in pet shops (for fish keeping) and it seems to me that this plant extract helps in getting freshly hatched nymphs to start feeding. Maybe it add some flavour which they like?

Males mature (and die) way before females do ...

as males have one moult less than females (which is normal for phasmids), it happens that males are adult quite some time before the females. Thus there is some chance that they will die before the females mature, which could result in a parthenogenetic culture. How to avoid this:

  • sex Phyllium nymphs as soon as possible. In L2 or L3 it is quite easy to see the difference between male and female nymphs
  • if possible, keep male nymphs at a lower temperature (e.g. 18 - 20°C) than the female nymphs
  • incubate some freshly laid eggs at a lower temperature (e.g. 15 - 16°C) for about 1 - 2 months. This will increase the overall incubation time, and greatly increase the chance to have adults males ready at the right time. This trick should be done with "young", freshly laid eggs, not with eggs which are close to hatching !
  • collect eggs for incubation over a period of several weeks, then the next generation will naturally have nymphs of different age
  • freshly adult males can also be kept at a lower temperature (like around 18°C), in order to keep them alive for a longer time
  • and it is not uncommon that, from the very same batch of eggs, some nymphs can hatch a long time (even many months) after the first nymphs hatched. So do not give up on the unhatched eggs

Longevity of males

another widespread yet again false rumor is that Phyllium males are generally very short-lived. If kept in a cage with a higher humidity (80+ % rH), males usually live for 2 - 3 months or even longer. If Phyllium males die too quickly all the time, then something is off with the culture conditions

Obtaining fertilized eggs / avoiding parthenogenetic cultures

  • parthenogenetic cultures are less interesting and sometimes of lesser vitality (reduced hatching ratio, weaker individuals)
  • therefore serious breeders strive to maintain sexual cultures
  • nevertheless it happenes especially with Phyllium species, that they go parthenogenetic - why?
  • one reason is that the males might be adult way before the females get adult. How to deal with this, see paragraphs above
  • another reason is that breeders tend to put too many females with only a few or even just one male. If there are more females than males in the cage, then some females might not be fertilized. And thus they will lay parthenogenetic eggs. The result is, that some of the eggs the breeder puts aside for the next generation (or distributes to other breeders) will be non-fertilized parthenogenetic eggs. And thus in the next generation, males might be even more scarce ! Especially if breeders can not distinguish between male and female nymphs at an early stage of developement - and keep the male nymphs cooler. So one can easily imagine that such a culture will soon be parthenogenetic only
  • so do not put more females than males in a cage, actually it is even better to have more males than females
  • our goal should always be to have a healthy culture with fertilized eggs. Never should our goal be to "produce" as many eggs as possible
  • and obviously we do never distribute eggs of a parthenogenetic culture, if there are still sexual cultures around with other breeders. That would be cheating!

Overpopulation, "cannibalism"

Phyllium species are prone to what one might call "cannibalism". As an example, in the photo below are two Phyllium sp. "Bukit Daun" females, a species which is very prone to this behaviour. The female on the left is badly affected, while the one on the left is unscathed

  • most probably this is just an accidential behaviour, which happens when there are too many specimens in the same cage and /or there are not enough food plants
  • often it is just the female's abdomens which is nibbled off, while the males are unscathed
  • the culprits are mainly the males which feed on the female's abdomen
  • it is possible that the males, during their mating position, find it difficult to reach to the food plants. So it is more convenient for them to start feeding on the females abdomen
  • some species are more prone to this behaviour (like Phyllium ericoriai "Ibong Sapa"), while it happens rarely in other species (like Phyllium sp. "Tapah, red coxae")
  • even though this seems not to be a very serious injury, one should strive to avoid this and thus keep Phyllium in a spacious cage with a lot of food plants. Out in nature, the popoulation density is never as high as it is in our cages !
  • and this is another good reason why one should not keep several species in the same cage, as with several species in the same cage overpopulation is much more likely
  • one could also keep the males seperate and regularly bring males and females together for some days
  • some species are more prone to this behaviour, e.g. Phyllium jacobsoni "Halimun", Phyllium westwoodii "Tha Pla Duk", Phyllium giganteum "Tapah", Phyllium ericoriai "Jbong Sapa"
  • yet other species are a bit less prone to show this behaviour, e.g. Phyllium sp. "Tapah, red coxae"

Good to know ...

  • do not incubate Phyllium eggs too moist, they are quite prone to get mouldy. A medium humidity is good enough. They will even hatch if kept on a dry surface just exposed to an air humidity around 60 - 70 % rH
  • the Cup-Incubation-method works perfectly for Phyllium eggs
  • so far nymphs of all Phyllium species I have bred hatched during daytime, usually some hours after sunrise ("lights on in my phasmid room") till around noon
    • therefore a near-natural incubation setup shall include a daily change of day-night (light-darkness)
    • do not move the incubation container in the early morning hours, otherwise one might disturb the hatching process
    • as they are hatching in broad daylight, and not under the screen of night, it makes sense that they are blackish-brown upon hatching - and not yet green. A blackish-brown little nymph climbing out of the leaf litter on the forest floor and running up a barky tree is not as easily spotted by a potential predator as a green nymph would be
  • it can easily take several days (up to one week) before freshly hatched nymphs start to feed. This is survival capability is very essential out in nature, as all too often hatching nymphs won't find their food plants quickly. They hatch from eggs often laying on the forest floor, and their food plant is up in the forest canopy. So it can be a long search before they find their food plant
  • young Phyllium nymphs are mainly day-active, while older nymphs and adults are both day and night active
  • Phyllium have a tendency to go up and up and up. Thus they often prefer the uppermost food plant leaves, while not touching the leaves in the middle or even lower part of the cage. To accomodate this behaviour, it is best to arrange the food plants in the upper part of the cage. This also helps to minimize that they feed on eachother
  • older nymphs and adults do well in a cage with lesser ventilation
  • both nymphs and adults benefit when there is a ventilator, which runs several times a day
  • all Phyllium cultures must be be kept strictly seperate at all stages of their developement, in order to avoid any possibility of hybridisation

More interesting facts about Phyllium

  • just after hatching, Phyllium nymphs expand / broaden their abdomen quite a bit (while stick-like phasmid species mainly extend their length just after hatching). While they expand their abdomen, they move it in a wavy motion. Here two videos:
    1) Phyllium giganteum "Tapah" nymph (real-time):  (by Bruno Kneubühler)
    2) Phyllium giganteum nymph (time lapse):   (by Hsin-Hsiung Chen)
  • adult  males can fly for some distance, so keep the windows closed
  • due to their broad yet still light-weight body, older nymphs (especially females) can actually glide when they fall down a long distance. Like this they might even cover quite a distance, if they are blown out of a tree top during a storm. This does no more work for adult females, as they are too heavy
  • eggs of many phasmid species are covered with fringes or hair-like expansions
    • so far eggs of all Phyllium (Phyllium) species I had in culture have such fringes, while eggs of Phyllium (Pulchriphyllium) lack such fringes. Future will show whether this is true for other species of either subgenus too
    • these fringes can be rather long (for example in Ph. hausleithneri) or rather short (as in the Ph. westwoodii species group)
    • these fringes seem be a valuable taxonomic criterion
    • on freshly laid eggs, these fringes are not yet expanded. They will expand, when the eggs will be in contact with a humid or wet envrionment for some time. In the pic below the expansion of fringes on Phyllium sp. "Tapah Hills, red coxae" is illustrated. In this species the whole process takes about 2 hours, while it is much shorter in other species (e.g. Ph. hausleithneri "Tapah Hills" about 1 hour only):

    • unexpanded fringes on freshly laid eggs of Phyllium hausleithneri "Tapah Hills" and Phyllium sp. "Tapah Hills, red coxae":

    • expanded fringes on eggs of Phyllium hausleithneri "Tapah Hills" and Phyllium sp. "Tapah Hills, red coxae", after being in contact with a humid substrate for some time:

    • the potential use of these fringes could be that they anchor the eggs when they expand the egg ends up in layer of moss. And this could be a vital protection, as moss provides some shelter (e.g. from being spotted by predators) and supplies some humidity
    • furthermore do these fringes have the capacity to "draw water", like blotting paper. Here a time lapes vid of this process (in reality the whole process took about 12 minutes):
      Phyllium celebicum "Sulawesi" eggs blotting paper effect
  • overall Phyllium egg morphology (with expanded and non-expanded fringes) seems to be a valuable yet overlooked taxonomic criterion. As an example, the differences of eggs of Phyllium hausleithneri "Tapah Hills" and Phyllium sp. "Tapah Hills, red coxae" are depicted below. Both these species occur in the same area (Tapah Hills, Perak, Peninsular Malaysia):

Bruno Kneubuehler

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