In the mantis family?
location: Glassell Park, Los Angeles, CA
June 4, 2011 11:48 AM
Ed. Note: The following is a transcription from Daniel’s voicemail
It’s Helene. I don’t believe what I’m looking at. This is the strangest thing. If there wasn’t two little scrawny legs bent in the back I wouldn’t think it was a living thing. It’s remarkable. I’m taking photos. I’ll be sending them to you. Bye.
This is a Walkingstick or Phasmid. Alas, your photo does not contain the necessary details to ascertain for certain the species identity, though there are allegedly only three species of Walkingsticks in the Los Angeles Basin according to Charles Hogue in his landmark book Insects of the Los Angeles Basin. This Walkingstick actually has three pairs of legs and the front pair is held in such a manner as to hide the details of the antennae. We believe this is most likely a Western Shorthorned Walkingstick, Parabacillus hesperus, which you can view on BugGuide. Walkingsticks feed on vegetation, and they blend in so well with the twigs of the plants that they are almost never seen. According to Hogue, the primary host plants in Los Angeles include “burroweed (Haplopappus), globemallow (Sphaeralcea), mountain mahogany (Cercocarpus), and buckwheat (Eriogonum).
Ed. Note: Helene eventually wrote in this account”
I saw this beautiful Walking stick INSECT* on my house near my front door this morning and I just went wild. (S)he’s 6” long and simply amazing. At first I thought it was looking to eat the moths and bugs that are drawn to the porch light just a few inches above it. But when I looked it up I noticed it’s in the Phasmatodea family and, as such, is an herbivore.
It’s slow moving and has only changed direction by 45 degrees in the last 6 hours. It’s got a long way to go to get back to the garden.
* The anagram that Helene used was not NICEST, and in an effort to save her any embarrassment, we have made a spelling correction. In Helene’s defense, insects have no taboo regarding procreation with siblings.
Update: June 5, 2011
We decided a trip to Helene’s house, about a mile from our offices, was a great way to spend Sunday morning, and we took a camera. We nudged this critter and were thrilled to see that it was indeed a Western Shorthorned Walkingstick. Helene was concerned that it was near the porch light for 24 hours and there was nothing on the side of the house for it to eat. Helene didn’t believe she had any of the listed food plants growing in her yard, so we asked if Helene would mind if we relocated her Walkingstick to nearby Elyria Canyon Park where there is some healthy buckwheat growing. Helene agreed and provided an empty yoghurt container to use for the transport. The Walkingstick was coaxed into the container and Helene had punched air holes into the lid with a kitchen knife. We aborted our plans to go to the PCC swapmeet and decided instead to head directly to Elyria Canyon Park. Not 30 seconds after being released onto a very large stand of buckwheat, the Western Shorthorned Walkingstick began to munch on the blossoms. We believe she is a female based on this closeup view of the end of the abdomen from BugGuide which matches our little beauty.
Ed. Note: We wonder if perhaps since Helene lives in a high fire zone hillside that nearby brush clearance might have resulted in this Phasmid being displaced from its original habitat, causing it to seek shelter at Helene’s porch light. We will further question Helene on this matter.
Good morning Daniel,
First, thank you for lending your support to the Walkingstick and helping to relocate her to a more appropriate environment. I’m sure she’s a much happier girl now.
I do live in a high fire zone area and the hillside above me was cleared about 2 or 3 weeks back. Where our Walkingstick was found was a good 25 yards from that open hillside. I also wonder if the moderate to high winds we had last week could have contributed to her being transported to my front porch. However she got there it must have been a treacherous journey because she had to cross a lot of brick and cedar siding to reach my porch light.
If the hillside above you was cleared, bundled brush might have been dragged near your porch. If the Walkingstick was left behind but no longer had anything to eat, she may have been on a quest to locate food. Her immediate nibbling at the buckwheat blossoms upon her introduction into Elyria Canyon Park is a good indication she was without food for some time. Wind can always be a factor in insect distribution, though the Western Shorthorned Walkingstick is a wingless species.