Stick With Me!
One of the most interesting of all insects is the Walking Stick. It so closely resembles a stick that it can hide in plain sight. It is good that God has given these insects this talent for hiding since they are considered fine food for birds and small mammals. Could you find it when hiding in the sticks?
Hint: Look for antennae.
With the Sticks Gone:
When alone, it looks like this:
The walking stick insects belong to the family of insects known as the Phasmidae. These insects are mostly found in the southern regions of the United States and many forms exist in the tropical regions of the world. Some grow to immense sizes. Some are as small as 1/2 inch, but others reach sizes over a ft. in length. One of the newest species, found in Borneo, out-did the others in length. It was actually 22 inches when its legs where extended. Wow!
I’d Give An Arm or a Leg for That!
One of the most interesting things about these insects is that they often drop a leg when some other creature is attacking. They have an amazing God given ability to regrow these parts through regeneration. Since these insects must shed their skins several times during their development, whenever a new skin is in place it is complete with the missing legs that were broken off in the earlier stages. This process is known as molting and is used by most insects in their development.
Why Are You Eating Your Old Clothes?
Immediately after molting is the most dangerous time for walking stick insects. At that time their skins are very soft an need to harden in the air for a time before they become more durable. Many of the tiny nymphs actually eat their cast off skins since they are a sure sign to predators that their owners are nearby. In this way the protein that makes up their old skin gets recycled as well.
That’s Nothing! Wait Until You Learn About This Trick!
One other amazing feature of these insects is their ability to reproduce parthenogenetically, without the need for males. Since this is possible, the majority of stick insects you will find are female. However, they still can mate with the few males that are out there. When they do only about half of the babies will be male. A captive walking stick insect can give birth to around a hundred female babies. “Why so many?” You might ask. Even though these insects are good at camouflage, they still are eaten by a wide variety of other creatures. Only a small portion of the offspring will make it to maturity.
Here is a baby one I found on a Coleus plant on my front porch. It is only 1/2 ” long.
Another Cool Trick:
It has been observed that these insects further their deception as twigs by moving back and forth with the wind like the surrounding vegetation. By rocking back and forth they look just like part of the plants they are on.
What About Offensive Weapons?
Though the walking sticks are exceptionally good at hiding they still are not defenseless! Some species, mostly tropical, even have the ability to shoot out a foul-smelling fluid that is also very bitter and in some instances even irritating to the skin of the predators seeking to eat them. This fluid is often aimed at the eyes and can cause discomfort though usually not lasting effects on the creatures sprayed with it. The species in the U.S., however, are not usually known for this behavior.
As you can see in the above and below picture, this walking stick is not harmful.
We Don’t Bite….Just Tickle!
Is It Raining?
In some areas of the forests the dropping “seed-like” eggs of the walking sticks are so numerous that it sounds like rain drops falling. The tiny eggs fall into the leaf litter below and hatch out in the Spring time. (It has been discovered that a few species of walking sticks actually produce a glue-like substance which they use to attach their eggs to stems and leaves.) When they emerge, those on the ground, crawl up trees in the surrounding forest and feed on leaves. Walking sticks are vegetarians, herbivores.
Calling All Ants!
Some walking sticks have a neat way to get ants to protect their young. So how do they do it? The eggs of some species of walking sticks are covered with a fatty tissue called a capitulum at one end. This substance is highly desired as food for ants. When an ant finds the egg she takes it back to the nest where just the capitulum is eaten. The rest of the egg stays inside the ants’ nest where not many predators will wander due to the stings of the insects in the nest. In this manner the walking sticks remain protected until they hatch and climb out of the nest and into the trees around.
If All Else Fails….Just Play Dead!
Some walking sticks actually have another trick up their sleeves. They have discovered that by playing dead birds and other creatures find them uninteresting as food. This behavior has a special name. It is called “thanatosis”. Now there’s a word you don’t hear every day!
What Else Can You Find Out About These Strange Insects?:
Some of this information was found by reading an article written by Debbie Hadley entiltled: 10 Interesting Facts About Stick Insects. You can find this and other articles on line with a simple search. Why not do some research on your own to learn more. See if you can find some in your neighborhood. Hint: I often find them in the fall on the outside of my house. It seems they are near the end of their growing seasons then and climb high to drop their eggs. They are much more visible against the siding of the house.