Walkingsticks are fascinating insects known for their elongated bodies and ability to camouflage themselves amongst branches and foliage.
The primary species found in North America is the Northern Walkingstick (Diapheromera femorata).
These insects typically measure between 3.5-4 inches in length and are wingless in most cases.
Though intriguing, a common question that arises with encountering these creatures is whether or not they are poisonous.
The term “poisonous” can mean a few different things in our context.
In the case of walking sticks, it is important to note that they are not venomous and do not have harmful toxins that can be transferred through bites or stings.
However, it’s always a good idea to practice caution around any unfamiliar insects or animals, as individual reactions can vary.
Are Walking Sticks Poisonous
Venom and Chemical Spray
Walking sticks are insects known for their impressive camouflage abilities.
The majority of walking stick species, like the Northern Walkingstick, do not possess venom or a harmful sting.
However, some walking stick species have a defense mechanism involving a chemical spray. This spray contains a toxic substance that deters predators.
Harmful Effects on Humans and Animals
While most walking sticks are considered harmless, those that use chemical spray as a means of defense have the potential to cause harm to humans and animals.
- For humans, direct contact with the spray may lead to temporary blindness or irritation of the eyes and skin.
- Animals that come across these walking sticks might also feel the negative effects of the toxic spray.
|Harmful to humans
|Potentially (chemical spray)
|Harmful to animals
|Potentially (chemical spray)
Different Species of Walking Sticks
Stick Insects and Twig Mimicry
Stick insects, also known as phasmids, belong to the Phasmatodea order of insects.
Examples of such insects include the Northern walkingstick (Diapheromera femorata), which is wingless and native to North America.
They have a unique feature of their thorax making up one-half of their body length, allowing them to blend in with twigs.
Some characteristics of stick insects:
- Long, slender legs
- Long thread-like antennae
Leaf Insects and Camouflage
Leaf insects, also belonging to the Phasmatodea order, have evolved to resemble leaves for camouflage.
They have a flat, broad body, and their legs have leaf-like structures. This allows them to hide among foliage from predators.
Some features of leaf insects:
- Flat, broad body
- Leaf-like structures on legs
A comparison table between stick insects and leaf insects:
|Northern walkingstick (D. femorata)
Defense Mechanisms and Predators
Coloration and Body Structure
Walking sticks rely on their camouflage to protect themselves from predators.
They have a few features that help them blend into their surroundings:
- Resemble twigs or branches
- Light brown or green color
- Elongated, thin body
These features make it difficult for predators such as birds, spiders, reptiles, ants, and bats to detect them.
Other Adaptive Features
In addition to camouflage, walking sticks possess other defense mechanisms.
One notable feature is autotomy, which allows them to shed their appendages to escape predators.
Some walking stick species have chemical defenses.
|Resembles twigs or branches
|Varies by species
|Shed appendages for escape
|Not common in all insects
|Some species (e.g., Florida walkingsticks)
|Varies by species
By using a combination of these defense mechanisms, walking sticks effectively protect themselves in the wild.
Habitat and Conservation Concerns
Natural Habitats and Range
Walking sticks are fascinating insects with a variety of species worldwide.
The common walking stick found in the southeastern United States ranges in length from 2 2/3 to 4 inches. These insects thrive in:
Threats and Conservation Efforts
Walking sticks face several threats, such as:
- Habitat destruction: As forests and woodlands are cleared for urban development, their natural habitat is lost.
- Pesticide use: The use of chemicals in agriculture and gardens can harm walking sticks and their environment.
Conservation efforts focus on:
- Promoting sustainable land use practices
- Reducing pesticide use
- Preserving green spaces in urban areas
Green and brown walking sticks differ in color, allowing them to blend in with their surroundings. Below is a comparison table of their characteristics:
|Green Walking Stick
|Brown Walking Stick
These insects play a crucial role in the ecosystem, and conservation initiatives help protect their habitat, ensuring their survival.
Walking Stick Insects as Pets
Pet Trade and Captivity Requirements
Walking stick insects are popular pets in the pet trade due to their unique appearance and docile nature.
Their ideal captivity requirements include:
- Terrarium size: A tall terrarium with adequate ventilation
- Temperature: Mild and consistent, around 70-85°F
- Humidity: Moderate, about 60-70%
- Diet: Primarily leaves from various plants, such as bramble, oak, and rose
Potential Risks for Pet Owners
Although walking stick insects are generally considered safe pets, they still come with some potential risks for pet owners:
- Escape: Walkingsticks are excellent at camouflage, making them difficult to find if they escape their enclosure
- Predation: Mother nature may lead other pets or insects to prey on walking stick insects
Walking stick insects can be compared to other pet invertebrates, like praying mantises and tarantulas, in terms of their specific care requirements:
|Size of Terrarium
|Tall and ventilated
|Tall and ventilated
|Small insects (live)
|Wide and ventilated
|Insects, small vertebrates
While walking stick insects might not be for everyone, they are an interesting choice for those looking to explore the fascinating world of invertebrate pets.
Reproduction and Development
Mating and Eggs
Northern walkingsticks (Diapheromera femorata) exhibit interesting reproductive behaviors.
Males search for females, who release pheromones to attract them.
Once they find a partner, the pair mates, and the female lays her eggs. Here are some key features of their reproduction:
- Males are smaller than females
- Females lay eggs individually or in small groups
- Some species are capable of parthenogenetic reproduction, where females produce offspring without mating
Growth and Maturity
The life cycle of a walking stick begins as an egg, followed by several nymph stages, and eventually reaches maturity.
The process involves a series of molts, during which the nymph sheds its old exoskeleton and emerges with a new one.
Growth and maturity details include:
- After hatching, nymphs resemble small adults
- Nymphs molt multiple times before reaching maturity
- Molting frequency varies among species
Here’s a comparison between nymphs and adults:
Interesting Facts about Walking Sticks
Some interesting facts about walking sticks include their ability to regenerate limbs, size variations, and unique species found in different regions.
- Walking sticks can regenerate limbs if they lose one, which is an amazing survival adaptation.
- They come in various sizes, with one Texas species, Megaphasma dentricus, being the longest insect, almost 7 inches long.
One notable species of walking stick is the Eurycantha horrida, which has leg spines that add to its defensive capabilities.
Another interesting species is the two-striped walking stick, especially found in Florida, known for its unique markings and ability to release defensive chemicals.
Here’s a quick comparison of the two species:
|Leg spines for defense
|Two-striped Walking Stick
|Distinct markings, releases chemicals
- Walking sticks display remarkable abilities like limb regeneration and camouflage.
- There are various species of walking sticks, each with unique characteristics.
- Leg spines and chemical defenses are some examples of their survival adaptations.
In conclusion, Walkingsticks are not generally considered poisonous.
They are herbivorous insects known for their remarkable camouflage that resembles twigs or branches.
While they do have some defense mechanisms, such as spines or the ability to exude foul-smelling liquids, they are not toxic to humans.
Their primary method of defense is to blend into their surroundings to avoid being eaten by predators.
Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.
Letter 1 – Children’s Stick Insect from Australia
Can u name this insect please?
January 6, 2010
Large flying insect landed in pool (and assumed drowned). we live in northern Sydney area (Australia) with loads of bush surrounding area.
Thank you, Craig
What a gorgeous female Children’s Stick Insect she is. It is sad she met such an untimely end. We identified the species, Tropidoderus childrenii on the Brisbane Insect website, and then found a nice Oz Animals page that indicates:
“Children’s Stick Insect is a medium sized stick insect. Females are larger and bulkier than males, and usually green, but can also be pinkish or cream. The wings are yellowish with bright patches of yellow and blue at the base. Males are slender and light reddish brown.
Both males and both the males and females have two pairs of wings. Males are strong fliers, but females are too bulky to fly well. They rely on camouflage to avoid predators.
When threatened, Children’s Stick Insect will spread its wings showing the yellow and blue markings. Nymphs have a yellow stripe running along the length of the body. When at rest, the nymphs will align themselves on the leaf so yellow stripe aligns with the leaf midvein.”
Peter Miller’s website states the Children’s Stick Insect is also called a Yellow Winged Spectre. The Children’s Stick Insect feeds on the leaves of eucalyptus.
Thanks Daniel really appreciate it cheers Craig
Letter 2 – Chilincoco: Walkingstick from Honduras might be new species!!!
Honduras: Huge beetle
Location: El Piliguin, Honduras, Central America
November 17, 2011 11:38 am
Evening Mr. Bugman, I recently encountered this huge beetle in Piliguin Mountain, Honduras, Central America. It appears to be a Rove Beetle of some sort, however it far exceeds the size descriptions i have come across.
It was hidden under rocky terrain and the approximate length was around 9.0-10.0 cm. (90-100 mm). Thank you in advance 🙂
This positively gorgeous creature is a Walkingstick or Phasmid. Our initial search did not provide any conclusive species or genus identification, but your individual reminds us of an Ecuadorean Walkingstick we posted in the past from the genus Monticomorpha.
Most of the species in the genus have a range limited to Andean highlands, but your email indicates that this individual was found on a mountain. We suspect your individual is closely related and perhaps a member of the same genus, and possibly an undescribed species or a known species with an undocumented range.
We hope we are able to turn up something conclusive for you. The Phasmatodea.com site has some photos of mounted specimens and names of the genus members.
Often red and black coloration is considered aposomatic or warning coloration, and there are Walkingsticks in the family Pseudophasmatidae, that includes Monticomorpha, that are capable of spraying a noxious chemical with amazing accuracy, including the North American Muskmare.
December 6, 2011
A comment posted today indicates that this lovely Walkingstick is in the genus Autolyca and that chances are good it is a species new to science.
January 9, 2014
We just received a comment in Spanish from Leonel who wrote: “En Honduras a este fásmido se le conocce con el nombre de “chilincoco” y se considera venoso por su secreción.”
If our Spanish isn’t too rusty, we believe this state: In Honduras this phasmid is called by the name “chilincoco” and it is considered venomous because of its secretions. This lends weight to our speculation that like the Muskmare, it can produce a noxious spray.
Letter 3 – Female Arizona Walkingstick
Subject: Stick Insect Identification
Location: Yavapai County
November 9, 2015 6:13 pm
I found a beautiful walking stick (4 inches head to tail) this morning in Skull Valley, Arizona. This is in Yavapai County and is considered high desert. I’ve done quite a bit of online research to find an identification, but have come up without any real answers.
Closest I could guess is that it is a Northern Walking Stick, but the antennae are very long (about 1.5 inches). The insect is a grey color and has really unique banding on its legs. Please let me know what you think this critter is! Thank you!
Signature: Tiffany Johnson
We believe, after browsing through images on BugGuide, that we have identified your individual as an Arizona Walkingstick, Diapheromera arizonensis, a species reported solely from the state of Arizona on BugGuide.
Thank you so very much for your research. You provide such a wonderful resource for the bug-curious. Again, thank you for your time and help!
Letter 4 – Giant Stick Insect from South Africa
Subject: Massive Stick Bug!
Location: Marloth Park, South Africa
May 13, 2014 10:45 am
Kenda here. A friend of mine, Jo, is more than happy to share his photo of a Stick Bug that he took in Marloth Park, South Africa.
My, that is a large Giant Stick Insect, and the arm provides a great sense of scale. We hope to provide a species identification when we have additional time to conduct some research.
We quickly found a reference to Bactrododema krugeri on the Siyabona Africa website where it states: “The giant stick insect, Bactrododema krugeri, was only recently named. This amazing insect is almost 30cm long when its legs are stretched out.
The female stick insect has a longer body than the male, with a length of 193mm compared to 163mm. However, when legs are taken into account the male is 295mm long compared to the female’s 226mm.
It took a British stick insect enthusiast to realise that it was a new species and to name the large insect – Paul Brock, author of several books on stick insects, visited South Africa last year.
During his travels he visited the Kruger National Park, the Transvaal Museum and the National Collection in Pretoria. With his expert knowledge, he realised that a specimen collected by Leo Braack in a knobthorn in Skukuza Camp was a new species. It had previously been thought to be another similar species in the insect collections.”
Thank you, Bugman! Very interesting information. I’ll tell my friend, Jo, who will be happy to know he contributed to providing an image of a what appears to be a new species. Stick bugs are already amazing, but this one is incredible!
Letter 5 – Darwin Stick Insect from Australia
Goliath Stick Insect – short on legs
Location: Boodjamulla National Park, Queensland, Australia
October 13, 2010 7:06 am
this is just to enjoy: attached a couple of pics of a beautiful Goliath Stick Insect, taken 19.04.2010 in Boodjamulla National Park, Queensland, Australia.
It was huge – that is a large man’s large hand beside it – and seemed to be in good health even with two legs missing…
(i resized the pictures for uploading, if you would like the originals, just say the word)
Signature: St. Jules
Dear St. Jules,
The Goliath Stick Insect, Eurycnema goliath, is an impressive creature, even if shy a few legs. More information on one of Australia’s largest Phasmids can be found on Oz Animals.
December 6, 2011
Thanks to a comment, we have been informed that this is a Darwin Stick Insect, Eurycnema osiris, and we found an illustration by Emily S. Samstra who does Science Illustration.
Though FlickR is not necessarily a reliable source, we did find this information: “This phasmid (Eurycnema osiris) is extremely common in the Northern Territory and may be found in many domestic gardens. have been rearing this species very easily for quite some time now and have distributed it to many people in the PSG.
It thrives on acacia, cypress pine, eucalyptus and guava. Body length: male 115-134 mm, female 170-221 mm. Coloration: Green in female with bold pink longitudinal band on mesonotum, greenish brown in male.” That would indicate that this image is a female and perhaps the pink stripe that is barely visible was the identifying feature.
Letter 6 – Giant Prickly Stick Insect
Subject: Preying Mantis
Location: Queensland, Australia
September 21, 2012 6:15 pm
I believe that this photo taken by my brother in his garden in Australia, if of an esxstatosoma tiaratum.
Are these found anywhere else?
You have correctly identified though misspelled this creature as Extatosoma tiaratum, but it is not a Preying Mantis. It is a Phasmid or Stick Insect. It is commonly called the Giant Prickly Stick Insect or Macleay’s Spectre Stick Insect and it is found in Australia and New Guinea according to the Keeping Insects care sheet.
The Keeping Insects care sheet provides this information on Breeding the Giant Prickly Stick Insect: “Males and females are easily distinguishable. Adult females are big, heavy and do not have large wings. The males are long and slender and have very long wings that reach past the abdomen.
Males have very long antennae, this can already be seen in young nymphs (L5 onwards). The differences in size and body type become more and more evident as the nymphs grow. Extatosoma tiaratum can reproduce both parthenogenetically and sexually. When the female does not mate, she will lay eggs that develop into females.
When she does mate, she will lay eggs that will develop into both males and females. The nymphs born from parthenogenic eggs are often weaker and the eggs need almost twice the time to hatch than fertilized eggs do.”
Because Extatosoma tiaratum is a popular pet, there are numerous other care sheets available online including Phasmids in Cyberspace, Whisper of Wolf, Exotic Pets and Reptile Expert. Your individual appears to be one of the forms that mimics lichen.
Letter 7 – Common Stick Grasshopper from South Africa
Subject: unknown grasshopper in the Cederberg Mountains
Location: Cederberg Mountains, Western Cape, South Africa
January 1, 2014 11:44 am
We were on holiday in the Cederberg Mountains and found this grasshopper – we cannot identify him using the books we have. Does anyone know what he is?
Signature: Emma Theron
We began working on your identification yesterday, but we were never able to complete the posting. The antennae on your Grasshopper are very distinctive, and we found a similar looking Stick Grasshopper from South Africa, but with different coloration, on PHotographs from South Africa, however, it is not identified by a scientific name.
We also located a similar but unidentified Grasshopper on FlickR. There is a small photo posted to Birding in Africa that is identified as a Common Stick Grasshopper, Acrida acuminata. Images of mounted specimens and a range map are available on Orthoptera Species File.
There is a very amazing photo on Natures World of Wonder South Africa. All online images seem to be green, and we don’t know if your brown individual is a different species, or a color variation. It might also be an immature specimen.
Thanks so much for the info Daniel – I looked up Common Stick Grasshopper in our boom (Field Guide to Insects of South Africa) and it has this to say (Large, elongate, green or straw-coloured (occasionally striped) with yellow or purplish hind wings.
It was definitely a straw colour with stripes so that must be it!
Thanks for the update Emma.
Letter 8 – A Mating Frenzy of Two-Lined Walkingsticks
A lek of two-lined walking sticks?
You run a great website, and I was able to use it to identify these insects as Two-lined Walkingsticks, Anisomorpha buprestoides.
But I’ve never seen them in a group like this, so I thought you might be interested in seeing them. Have you ever seen them do this? A whole bunch of walking sticks were grouped together on a palm frond which vines had curled over somewhat.
They were making clicking sounds and it looked like the males were fighting with each other to mate, hitting each other with their front legs. Here are the pictures, which
I took at Biven’s Arm Nature Park in Gainesville, FL.
We are impressed with what looks to be a mating frenzy of Muskmares. We will see if Eric Eaton has an opinion on this strange occurrence.
Letter 9 – Andean Insect: Walkingstick
Andean insect with funny tail
March 23, 2010
Found this guy In the Ecuadorian Andes mountains around 12 or 13,000 feet. He seemed to be looking down into a hole in the moss and moved very little.
No other bugs present that I could see. Saw one other walking but didn’t take a picture. It seems that the tail lays flat when they walk.
Cajas National Park, Cuenca, Ecuador
We wish you had a photo from the front as well as the rear. We don’t know for certain, but we believe this may be a Rove Beetle. We hope to get some confirmation.
Update: January 4, 2011
An identification request that just arrived leads us to believe that this is more likely a Phasmid or Walkingstick than a Rove Beetle.
Letter 10 – Another Walkingstick from Puerto Rico
Location: Patillas, Puerto Rico
March 19, 2011 7:43 am
Thanks for id help with this beautiful walking stick.
Patillas, Puerto Rico, elev 600m.
About 4 inches long and nearly half a cm wide.
Signature: 3t Vakil
Hi again 3t Vakil,
We are not entirely convinced this is a distinct species from your previous submission. It may be an immature specimen, and often there is variability in coloration within a species. Hopefully we will be able to provide you with a species identification in the future.
Letter 11 – Brazilian Stick Mantis we believe
File uploading failed
February 2, 2010
What kind of mantis is this?
I found this mantis(I presume) on the livingroom floor in Brasil. Can you tell me what kind it is?
I’ve put it on a branch to take a beter picture without noticing that there was another mantis on it allready(I only found out when I looked at the pics on the computer). I hope they didn’t eat eachother…
We are very happy we wrote back to you and were able to guide you into uploading your images. Upon viewing your photos, we were struck by the visual similarities to Brunner’s Mantis from Texas, an unusual species is a race of females that reproduces parthenogenically, without the need for insemination by a male. The closest relatives are in South America.
We believe this might be the Brazilian Stick Mantis, Brunneria brasiliensis, though we have no images to verify that identification. According to BugGuide, Brunner’s Mantis can be identified by: “distinctive fine serations along sides of thorax …. Thick antennal base characterizes this species. Wings reduced–flightless.”
Your specimen appears to have the fine serrations along the thorax, and the wings are similar to the Brunner’s Mantis images on BugGuide. The EyePlorer website indicates “Brunneria brasiliensis, common name Brazilian Stick Mantis, is a species of praying mantis found in Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay” but credits Wikipedia with the information.
Perhaps one of our readers will be able to confirm this information and identification.
Letter 12 – Children’s Stick Insect from Australia
Subject: Children’s Stick Insect
Location: Yarra Ranges near Melbourne, Victoria Australia
June 24, 2014 10:10 pm
Thank you for allowing me to use the image of the Children’s stick insect on Craig’s hand attributing to Craig and your website.
On the 16th of February 2014 when we found this none of the twenty people at our Camp (Camp Eureka) had ever seen a children’s stick insect before even though our total ages added together came close to 1000 years.
We were extremely intrigued and had it correctly identified at the Melbourne Museum.
Signature: Marie Goonan
You are most welcome Marie,
Did the museum provide the identification based on your image or did you actually supply the Children’s Stick Insect in the flesh?
I have copied in these emails to tell you that the stick insect flew away, while we were not watching, and after we had taken a small twig out of its wing. So we just supplied a photo to the museum..
Thanks for the additional information Marie.
Letter 13 – Gall Wasp walking on snow
December 30, 2009
I took a walk in the woods this month in western New York and found many little critters on top of the snow. I would appreciate any help you might be able to give in identifying.
The trails are on a 600-acre wetland preserve and most of the pictures were taken in mixed woods of pine, hemlock, cherry, maple, oak, etc. that surround a very slow-moving marshy pond.
All of the pictures can be found on my blog (which links to bigger versions on Flickr): http://winterwoman.net/2009/12/23/snow-critters/
There were some spiders, too… Can you help with them?
Thanks in advance for your help!
Wetland preserve, western New York State on Dec 22, 2009
While the creatures in your photographs are all similar in that they were discovered in the snow, taxonomically (and that is how we try to organize on our website) they are unrelated. We are going to split them up and post them independently of one another.
We are most curious about the first image, which is obviously a Hymenopteran, but not an ant. We did a web search of “wingless wasp in snow” and were led to a BugGuide page on Gall Wasps. Interestingly, there was an individual found in Massachusetts also walking on the snow in January 2008.
It was identified as being in the family Cynipidae, but the species was not identified. Gall Wasps are most difficult to identify to the species level. The posting contained this comment from Richard Vernier:
“More accurately a so-called ‘agamous’ female. Just like palaearctic Biorrhiza pallida, this winter generation contains only females, who lay eggs inside winter buds of oak-trees, after having grown-up at the roots of the same host plant.”
Wow. You’re my hero. thanks a billion. Now I’m going to have to write a blog post about the wonderful folks over at What’s that Bug!!!
Here’s my blog post:
Letter 14 – Brunner’s Stick Mantis
Thank you for your answer. What’s praying mantis is this?. My son caught it on the tire of our car two weeks ago.
Your Web-Page must win an Award because it is the Best Web-Page that I have ever seen to know more about insects, and every one of the Pictures are excellents. Congratulations !. Way to Go !.
Jorge Lopez Collado
College Station, Texas.
Thanks for the compliment Jorge,
We believe this might be a Grasslike Mantis in the Genus Thesprotia. We checked with Eric Eaton for confirmation and here is his answer:
“Can’t really tell. Unless there is more than one species, though, Thesprotia graminis is only found from FL to MS, according to Jacques, which may be outdated. “
Ed. Note: Thanks to a comment, we now know that this is a Brunner’s Stick Mantis.
Letter 15 – Common Stick Grasshopper from Mkuze
Geographic location of the bug: Ghostmountain Lodge, Mkuze
Time: 08:30 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: Hi,
The creature I made a photo of “walked” in the garden of the Ghostmountain Lodge in Mkuze, when I was there on December the 24th last year. I would love to know the name of it. Many thanks in advance
How you want your letter signed: C.P.
We are happy you have identified your Slant Faced Grasshopper. Based on the image posted to Know Your Insects, we agree with at least the genus. We will attempt additional research.
BioDiversity India does not list South Africa as part of the global range of the species. Most observations on iSpot are only identified to the genus level and those that are identified to the species are Acrida acuminata, called the Common Stick Grasshopper on iSpot.
Letter 16 – Female Titan Stick Insect from Australia
Subject: Big stick insect!
Geographic location of the bug: Valdora QLD Australia
Time: 08:40 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: Can you please tell me what this massive insect is? At a guess it’s about 250mm long.
How you want your letter signed: Eric
Size alone is not a diagnostic feature for Stick Insects in Australia, which seems to be the home of several of the largest Stick Insects in the world. Do you by chance have a dorsal view that shows the head? That would be helpful.
The Brisbane Insect site has images of some large Stick Insects from Australia. We will post your images as Unidentified and perhaps one of our readers more familiar with Australian fauna will provide a species identification.
Update: Comment from Michael Connors:
An adult female Titan Stick Insect (Acrophylla titan) – the long wavy cerci and the dark spots on the underside are diagnostic features.
ED. Note: According to the Brisbane Insect site: “Titan Stick Insects are giant insect, they are the longest insect in Australia. The female adult body length is about 230mm.”
Thanks heaps for taking the time to look it up and get back to me! You guys are awesome:)