Have you ever looked at part of a plant only to discover it’s actually an insect? Walkingsticks, also known as stick-bugs, are insects that have mastered the art of camouflage. With long, skinny bodies that are usually green or brown in color (or even able to change color!), these bugs easily blend in with the surrounding foliage that they’re chomping down on. They’re truly deserving of their name. But while they can be hard to spot, they’re very distinct once discovered.
Walkingsticks have some fascinating traits and abilities. For example, many of them are quite long. In fact, the longest insect in the world is a walkingstick (Phobaeticus chani) that can reach 56 centimeters (22 inches) in length! Walkingsticks can also reproduce without needing males. This process is called parthenogenesis (it’s a form of asexual reproduction). Basically, eggs laid by a female that has not mated turn into more female walkingsticks, while a mated egg may become a male insect. Males of some species have not even been discovered. They also have some impressive survival traits, including being able to re-grow lost limbs, “play dead,” and secrete chemical compounds that can sting, burn, or taste bad to a would-be predator. Despite this, they still make relatively safe (and entertaining) pets. (And it probably won’t surprise the reader to learn that I’ve enjoyed having some of these critters as pets before.)
Walkingsticks make up an order of insects called Phasmatodea, which mostly live in Southeast Asia, South America, and Australia, but can also be found in parts of the United States. (Last year, a remarkable story circulated about unique giant walkingsticks that were found on a tiny, rocky island off of Australia, living on a single little bush – while this is an extreme example, walkingsticks are often found in localized populations.) Because walkingsticks are herbivores (they devour plant leaves), it’s probably not surprising to find that within the insect group as a whole, the Phasmatodea are most closely related to termites, lice, cockroaches, locusts, and similar insects.
So next time you’re walking by a plant and something catches your attention out of the corner of your eye, you may want to investigate further to make sure you haven’t overlooked a captivating critter!
For further reading:
- Teisha J. Rowland’s book Biology Bytes: Digestible Essays on Animals Both Commonplace and Bizarre
- Robert Krulwich’s article “Six-Legged Giant Finds Secret Hideaway, Hides for 80 Years“
- “Stick Insects” from National Geographic
- “Walkingstick” from the Department of Entomology, Texas A&M University
- “Walking Stick” from BugFacts.net