Remember a few months ago when I told you it was turtle-hurtle season? Haven't seen a turtle in these parts all month but there's a new guy in town. And gal. And she's wayyy bigger than he is.
I'm talking about walking sticks.
Normally a female walking stick is larger than a male. She's like the load bearer, not that these bulk-less bugs weigh much more than .008 ounces, but still, she's carrying all the weight.
Phasmids generally mimic their surroundings in color, normally green or brown, although some species are brilliantly colored or striped. Many have wings, some quite beautiful, some stumpy. In the southwest corner of Missouri we have boring walking sticks that resemble a feeble twig. Oddly enough, though, they don't stay in the trees. For some reason they have a fondness for the backyard deck of our house and the outside walls of my greenhouse. And the screens on the windows. Seriously, as I'm sitting in my office typing this, a lone walking stick is groping its way down my window screen. A screen that in no way resembles a tree.
And they do this during the day which belies everything I read about these critters. All research sources agreed that walking sticks:
1) are mainly nocturnal creatures
2) spend their days in what I would describe as a state of
3) hide under plants
It's like a Where's Waldo? picture. Nearly impossible to find in this patch of thorns
Depending on the species, a single impregnated female lays from 100 to 1,200 eggs that look like tiny seeds.
They breathe through a thoracic and abdominal spiracle, (a fancy word for a vent), not through their mouths
They have two compound eyes which have multiple lenses and photosensitive cells that can resolve images, motion and color
They also have two antenna, which sense chemical odors, temperature variations and probe physical surroundings
A female can reproduce by herself, (no male sticks need apply), BUT if she goes that route she will produce only other females. If a male is involved, there's a 50/50% chance that they'll have a brood of males
like a female walking stick: flying solo
(I never pass up the opportunity to use a jet-in-flight photo!)
They can play dead, for the same reason as above. No predator wants to eat a dead stick.
Apparently walking sticks are tasty, nutrient yummy treats to their predators, which are many: birds, reptiles, spiders, bats and primates. Since bats hunt at night using their supersonic echo hearing, it's easy for them to track walking sticks by the noises they make. Bats are the only animal not outwitted by a walking stick's camouflage.
Now, about the mating ritual, of which I have unwillingly witnessed many times, but what can I do? The stick pairs are right out in the open and when they're joined they can remain that way for several hours or days or even weeks. Not to be crass or disrespectful of the future begetting of a zillion infant walking sticks, when I see an adult pair, say, hanging upside down under the porch railing on Thursday and they're still there on Sunday, I can't help but wonder (A) aren't they bored?, and (B) what the heck are they thinking about? (well, they do have brains!)
Two weekends ago the MOTH-BNTB (for newcomers that stands for man-of-the-house-but-not-the-boss), and I had several family members visiting. It was a lovely day, nice enough to sit on the deck and enjoy the view, fresh air and temperate climate. A pair of walking sticks were sunning themselves on the top railing and another rather amorous pair were slinking up the wooden swing, a swing occupied by one of my uncles and his wife. Just when it looked like the female stick navigating the journey was going to go under the swing, she detoured and took some giant steps up and over the armrest. Another couple of those steps and she'd run into my uncle's arm. Rather than shoo them away, I picked up the pair to relocate them and either knocked the male off the female or he took a flying leap. Whichever it was, they were separated and dropped to the deck. Everyone cried out in dismay.....really, they did. And I looked like the bad guy for splitting them up. My effort to play re-matchmaker failed because the two went their separate ways (and rather hastily at that). Hours later, after our company had departed, I went back out to the deck, curious about the walking sticks I had so rudely interrupted. The female hadn't moved. The male had disappeared.
This is going to sound strange, but I've wondered, uh, too many times, if before this clumsy human wrenched them apart, did they enough time together to make baby sticks?
So, what are your thoughts on these insects? Do they elicit disgust or appreciation?