I was in luck as I approached the Nature Center at Blendon Woods Metro Park in Columbus. A staff member told me that she was just about to release a walking stick into the wild, and she asked me if I’d like to watch. You’ll note that the insect above has a pincer like appendage at the end of its abdomen. She explained to me that this meant this particular insect was a male walking stick. The appendage is used to grip the female while mating. Another difference between the sexes is that the male is brown, while the female is greenish-brown. The male is also smaller than the female with the male being about 3 inches long, while the female grows up to 3.75 inches.
Walkingsticks can release a noxious smelling liquid when alarmed. Happily the one pictured here was not alarmed due to the gentle handling of the park naturalist.
The above photo shows how long the antennae are. Supposedly each antenna is 2/3 the length of the body, but the antenna over the woman’s hand above looks like it’s even longer than the insect’s body. When the naturalist released it on the stone pillar below, the insect stood still, but gently swayed this way and that. The naturalist told me that it was pretending to be a stick that’s being pushed about by the breeze. That contradicts what I’ve seen written at a number of other web sites where the authors have said that the insect holds itself still as it attempts to pretend to be a stick. I wish I would have switched my camera to movie mode.
After being released the little guy proceeded to crawl up a post that was holding up the roof of the building’s porch. The naturalist thought that was perhaps not going to provide the newly released insect the best opportunity to protect himself via camouflage, so she moved him over to a shrub. I’m guessing that’s what she would have done right away if she weren’t giving me a chance to photograph him. I must say it was way harder photographing him once he was in the shrub. It was difficult to instruct my auto-focus as to what I wanted it to focus on.
He would be even harder to see if he were amongst brown twigs, but he’s already much harder to pick out.
Walkingsticks live in deciduous forests where the eat the foliage of trees and shrubs. They are especially fond of the leaves of hazelnut and oak trees. They are nocturnal so they do most of their eating at night. Large populations can be troublesome, defoliating trees, shrubs and even crops. But fortunately since they are flightless (no wings) and move slowly, the defoliated areas are extremely localized.
The female lays eggs in the fall dropping eggs one at a time from the tree tops. The eggs fall into the leaf litter which protects them over the winter. In the spring the nymph breaks out of one end of the egg. It looks structurally similar to the adult except it’s much smaller and colored a pale green. By late summer it is mature and ready to mate.
I’ve mentioned two ways that Walkingsticks deal with predators (camouflage and foul-smelling liquid). It actually has another method of surviving a predator. If grasped by a limb, it can break the limb off and get away. It is one of the few insects that can grow the limb back.
Considering how effective the insect’s camouflage is, you’d have to be a pretty sharp-eyed predator to notice a Walkingstick. The following animals are among the predators that feed on Walkingsticks:
- Common Grackle
- Eastern Gray Squirrel
- Eastern Chipmunk
- Five-lined Skink
- American Robin
- American Crow
- Carolina Chickadee
- Blue Jay
- White-breasted Nuthatch
- Wild Turkey
And with that, I couldn’t resist publishing a mini-gallery of some of the predators.
According to Jon Fouskaris of PetBugs.com, the Walkingstick is one of the bugs that you are allowed to legally collect and keep as pets in a terrarium. Feeding them is as easy as collecting leaves. They can live up to a year, but it is hard to keep them going through winter due to the lack of deciduous leaves then.
- Walkingstick, published by the Ohio History Channel
- Species Diapheromera femorata – Northern Walkingstick, published by BugGuide.net, a great site which I review here.
- Stick Insect, published by National Geographic
- Northern Walkingstick, published by Fairfax County Public Schools
- Northern Walking Stick, published by Jon Fouskaris at PetBugs.com
- Common Walkingstick, published by Wikipedia.