Stupendous Stick Insects

A young stick insect spotted by Jean and Fred on Flickr!

I thought stick insects were super rare and only lived in the jungle or something, but apparently they live everywhere but Antarctica. I wonder how many sticks I’ve passed by that weren’t actually sticks at all?

Also known as walking sticks (how punny), stick insects are famous for their incredible camouflage and ability to almost flawlessly mimic sticks and twigs. Many stick insects can also change the color of their bodies to better blend in with their surroundings. Interestingly, though, the wings that some sticks insects possess can be quite extravagant (and now I’m laughing imagining flying sticks). Some stick insects will flash open these vibrant appendages to startle and confuse their predators.

Unfortunately, blending in with the environment can’t fool animals who use echolocation, such as bats. When camouflage alone isn’t enough, the stick insect is yet another arthropod that likes to throw up or ooze nasty-smelling liquid to discourage predators from eating it. Some can even spit at their enemies to temporarily blind them, or slash at them with their arm spikes! If that doesn’t work either, the stick insect may abruptly freeze and drop to the ground like a cartoon possum. Not only does this method convince its enemies that the stick insect has suddenly died, but even if they still want to eat it, they may not be able to find it in the leaf litter below.

When it comes time to lay her eggs, some female stick insects will fling each egg away as soon as it’s laid. That way, even if a predator finds one egg, it may not be able to find the rest. Stick insect eggs are also camouflaged to resemble seeds, which may not cut down on predation by birds but does deter animals on the hunt for arthropods; except for ants, that is.

Interestingly, the ants don’t actually eat the baby stick insects. Instead, they bring the eggs back to their colony and eat the eggs’ nutritious capitula. The eggs are then discarded, but stay in the colony until they hatch, protected from predators and the elements. After leaving the ant colony, stick insects will undergo several instars before reaching their adult size, and may live as long as two years.

There are over 3000 species of stick insects, one of which is actually the longest insect in the world! Discovered in 1989, Chan’s Megastick was first discovered in Indonesia and is over 22 inches long (still 14 inches if you don’t count the legs). Not all stick insects are giants, though – one of the smaller species is less than an inch long.

Apparently that tiny stick insect is one of the North American species, and I bet I’ll still end up seeing one of them before I spot a luna moth. Those pie fairies are obnoxiously elusive.

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