A breeder's experience with the Free-Standing Setup

by Tim Van Molle (Belgium)

My view on the Free Standing Setup (FSS) or "a different approach to minimize the loss of freshly born Phyllium nymphs."

My experience

In the years I'm breeding Phyllium, I noticed some species are more difficult to start eating than others. It's not necessarily because of the food plant choices or their quality. I like to compare it to the character differences you can witness with newborns of different Phyllium species. Some are very much on the run and fearlessly crawl over you, others freeze up and others will fake their death very convincingly (like Ph. ericoriai for example). Anyway, back to difficulty level in getting the nymphs start to feed ...

I've tried the FSS a few times over the years, but have to confess I gave up very quickly as I didn't really need a new method cause I never had issues with many deaths.

The turning point

was when I got nymphs of Phyllium rubrum “Tapah”. Hatching ratio wasn't great, so I had to try to get every nymph to stay alive. I've tried pretty much everything I could think of:

  • my normal setup with food plant leaves touching all sides, bramble with cut edges
  • next, a net cage with food touching all sides, now also with Guava (Psidium guajava)
  • after that, I used a net cage where the leaves did not touch the sides and included a few older nymphs of another species, also offered strawberry since I read that could work

They eat, poop, live for 10-14 days. But then they died anyway, while a few kept running around every day. Finally my last resort was to use a very large glass exo-terra terrarium. According to the FSS, I placed the food plants in the middle of the cage (no netting cage here), with just a few leaves of everything they should accept/eat. And then - it worked ! Nymph's dying and roaming around stopped.

Lesson learned

now I'm a total believer in the FSS, with this experience it proved that it is well worth the work of putting the nymphs back on the food plants (every night). For me the best results were in the large enclosure where there is at least 15cm of room between the edges of the food plant and all sides of the cage. Even though they can't reach the cage sides when they are 5 cm away, still they will try more frequently. And by doing so, they fall on the ground and so they leave the food plant too.

Now – further testing
From then on, I used the FSS or all my newborn Phyllium. The results are amazing as only 10% would die. A few casualties is unavoidable – 3 dead nymphs in 30 that still leaves 27 alive.

Currently I'm breeding all of these with the FSS:

  • Phyllium hausleithneri “Bukit Daun”
  • Phyllium elegans “Nanga Nanga”
  • Phyllium ericoriai “Ibons Sapa”
  • Phyllium sp. “Bidoup Nui Ba”
  • Phyllium celebicum “Sulawesi”

It's normal to find 3 - 5 nymphs walking around every day, especially since new ones are born daily too. But once I stop putting in newborns, the walking around stops as well, because the ones walking around are mainly the freshly hatched ones which still have no color. Once I stop putting in more freshly hatched nymphs (do not overcrowed the cage), they stay on the food plant the entire time. Maybe one nymph per day would still walk around, it may have accidentally dropped down.

On a side note: they don't always fall. I've seen L1 nymphs of the Ph. elegans "Nanga Nanga" literally jump (in a large arched manner) from the leaves on the floor. It's a real spectacular sight to see.

Anyway, you can rest assured – that every nymph settles down within some days.


The work of placing the nymphs back on the food with the last natural light, will result in a significant amount of surviving nymphs. I want to point out something important: you only need to put them back once a day, resist chasing them around the entire day and stressing them out. This is not necessary.
You should have no troubles in getting many couples from each breeding, and by buying at least 30 eggs, you will have plenty to choose from. Once they are L2 - L3, you can make the food touch all sides again (especially the roof, since they are tree dwellers).

So, if your setup (light, circulation and humidity) is ok, but you still experience too many Phyllium nymphs dying, than it is time to give the FSS a try. You'll invest a minute per day putting a few nymphs back on the food, but the reward will last for the entire generation. ????