Walking Leaves

Walking leaves are something we associate with a science fiction movie. In this case, our photography turns science fiction to fact! During an Untamed Photography workshop/tour session deep in the heart of the Peruvian Amazon Rainforest, many miles upstream of the Tambopata River, we encounter many small creatures of extraordinary shapes and sizes simply asking to be photographed!

Take for example, the Leaf Mimicking Katydid shown above. This stunning creation of nature truly expresses how design can really work in the natural world. Notice how this Katydid resembles a living or dead leaf. The detail to look like a leaf is extraordinarily accurate to what would be a living leaf in true form. When it comes to wanting to hide in the Rainforest and avoiding predators to stay alive, this insect is the master when it comes to design and behaviour.

This particular insect is a great subject to photograph on one of Untamed Photography’s photographic workshop tutorials because it remains so still. This trick enables the Katydid to become a part of the surroundings, being highly impressive! Guest photographers learn how to frame, shoot, and capture great shots of the creature’s texture and varied shapes.

Here we have examples from such shoots. With our SLR 70 & 7D’s set to ISO 200, our shutter speed at 100 and the FSTOP at 11, we capture some great shots of the insects side-on, really expressing their textures in comparison to the surroundings of the lush forest. Throughout the tutorial, numerous shots were taken, and guests learn tricks of the trade photographic techniques. The colours of each Leaf Mimicking Katydid and patterns vary, mimicking living leaves, dead leaves and even decaying leaves with mould growing on them. Truly fascinating to the eye!

Fact: In humid tropical areas such as Peru, these miracles of nature are part of a group of insects known as Pterochrozini, which mimic leaves. Amazingly, the species not only mimics newly green leaves, these insects have perfected the art of decaying and chewed up leaves. Some insects even have holes really perfecting the art of looking like a decaying leaf. What is even more impressive, within a single species, no two individuals are alike. In fact, they vary so widely in appearance that nearly 25% were discovered and described more than once under different names. Now why would a species exhibit so much diversity? The principle is that predators of the Leaf-Mimic Katydids are primates. Predatory primates such as the Capuchin are very smart and systematically comb through vegetation looking for tasty katydids. If all katydids imitated a leaf the same way, the monkeys would quickly learn how to identify a fake leaf. But when every individual’s appearance is different, the task becomes much more complex for the predator.

The peacock Katydid, a member of the Leaf Mimicking Katydid family is certainly one of our favourites when it comes down to behaviour and camouflage. This Katydid shown below distinctly shows rotting leaves that, to most, are not appealing to be predated on giving this larger species a high chance of survival. When approached, this species acts in the most unusual way. The insect will turn its back to the predator and the wings will spread open wide showing off its patterns. As you can see below the patterns represent eyes, looking somewhat like owl eyes that may look intimidating to smaller predators allowing the Katydid to stand a chance of survival.

So, when it comes to a unique insect in the Amazon rainforest, the Leaf Mimic Katydid, especially the Peacock Katydid, is truly one of the top when it comes to camouflage and behaviour.

Photographs by photographer and guide: Mark A Fernley