Walking sticks are fascinating creatures, known for their unique appearance and impressive ability to blend in with their surroundings. These insects are slow-moving and stick-like, with long, slender legs and thread-like antennae. Their color, form, and behavior allow them to hide from predators, making them quite intriguing to observe in the wild.
Many people encounter walking sticks while hiking or exploring natural areas, and wonder if these unusual insects may bite or pose any danger. In general, walking sticks are not known for aggressive behavior and do not possess strong jaws or venomous bites. While they may be curious about the insects, it’s important to remember that walking sticks are primarily herbivores, feeding on leaves and vegetation.
Walking Stick Insects: Overview
Species and Size
Walking stick insects belong to the order Phasmatodea and come in various species. The northern walkingstick (Diapheromera femorata) is a common species in North America, with a length of 3 ½ to 4 inches1. Another species is the twostriped walkingstick (Anisomorpha buprestoides), with females averaging 67.7 mm in length and males being smaller at an average of 41.7 mm2.
Appearance and Habitat
These insects are slow-moving, wingless, and stick-like, featuring long, slender legs and long thread-like antennae3. Their color ranges from green to brown, which allows them to blend in with their surroundings for camouflage4. Walking sticks are commonly found in forests and grasslands5.
Range and Distribution
Walking stick insects can be found in various regions, with the northern walkingstick being common in North America1, and the twostriped walkingstick being prevalent in the southeastern United States2. They’re typically found in forest or grassland environments5.
Comparison Table of Species
|Species||Size (Average Length)||Habitat|
|Northern Walkingstick||3 ½ to 4 inches||Forests, grasslands|
|Twostriped Walkingstick||67.7 mm (females); 41.7 mm (males)||Forests, grasslands|
Behavior and Adaptations
Camouflage and Mimicry
Walking sticks are masters of camouflage. Their appearance closely resembles:
- Leaves: Their body shape and color mimic leaves, making them blend easily with foliage.
- Twig/twigs: To resemble small branches, walking sticks have elongated bodies and legs.
These adaptations allow walking sticks to hide from predators in trees.
Swaying and Playing Dead
Two common behaviors of walking sticks are swaying and playing dead.
Swaying: These insects often sway back and forth when stationary, giving the illusion of a twig or branch blowing in the wind. This clever trick further enhances their camouflage.
Playing dead: When threatened, walking sticks may drop to the ground and remain motionless. This defense behavior decreases their chances of being detected by predators.
|Swaying||Enhance camouflage in trees||Resembling a twig blowing in wind|
|Playing dead||Escape detection by predators||Dropping to the ground|
In summary, walking sticks’ behavior and adaptations enhance their ability to blend into their environment and avoid predators.
Diet and Predators
Walking sticks are herbivorous insects, meaning they feed primarily on plants. Their diet consists mainly of leaves, making them harmless to humans, as they do not bite. Examples of plants they commonly consume include:
- Oak trees
- Cherry trees
- Hazelnut trees
Despite their harmless nature, walking sticks face various predators in their environment. Some common predators include:
- Birds: Various bird species, such as songbirds and shrikes, are known to prey on walking sticks.
- Reptiles: Lizards and small snakes are among the reptiles that prey on these insects.
- Spiders: Web-building spiders, like orb-weavers, often capture walking sticks in their webs.
- Bats: Insectivorous bats have been observed hunting walking sticks during the night.
Here’s a comparison table highlighting the common predators:
|Birds||Sight-based hunting from the trees|
|Reptiles||Active ground hunting|
|Spiders||Trapping in webs|
|Bats||Catching insects in mid-flight|
In conclusion, walking sticks are herbivorous insects that don’t pose any risk to humans, as they do not bite. They are part of the ecosystem’s food chain, where they have their own predators, including various species of birds, reptiles, spiders, and bats.
Reproduction and Mating
Walking sticks reproduce through a process involving mating rituals. Males search for females and engage in courtship behaviors to attract a mate. During mating, internal fertilization occurs by inserting the male intromittent organ into the female genital tract to deposit sperm1.
Here are some features of mating in walking sticks:
- Internal fertilization
- Courtship behaviors by males
- Males typically smaller than females5
Parthenogenesis in Females
An interesting aspect of walking stick reproduction is parthenogenesis, wherein females can reproduce asexually without the need for a male partner. In this case, the eggs produced are parthenogenetic, and the offspring emerge as nymphs that are genetically identical to the mother3.
Characteristics of parthenogenetic reproduction in walking sticks:
- Asexual reproduction
- Offspring are genetically identical to the mother
- Females can lay eggs without mating
|Sexual Reproduction||Increased genetic diversity in offspring||Requires finding a mate|
|Parthenogenesis||Females can reproduce without a male partner||Lack of genetic diversity4|
In summary, walking sticks have specific mating rituals involving courtship behaviors and internal fertilization. However, females are also capable of parthenogenesis, allowing them to reproduce without a mate. Each method has its own advantages and disadvantages, depending on the availability of suitable mates and the need for genetic diversity in offspring.
Do Walking Sticks Bite?
Biting and Stinging Abilities
Walking stick bugs, known for their stick-like appearance, are generally considered harmless creatures. Although they don’t possess stinging or venomous abilities, the Anisomorpha buprestoides species can deliver a defensive spray that may cause irritation. They rarely employ biting as a defense mechanism, but if it does happen, the damage is incredibly minimal.
For readers’ convenience, here’s a comparison table summarizing their abilities:
|Feature||Walking Stick Bug|
|Defense Mechanism||Defensive Spray|
Threat to Humans
Since walking sticks lack venom and stinging abilities, they pose virtually no threat to humans. The bites, if they do occur, are not harmful and barely noticeable. However, if you encounter an Anisomorpha buprestoides, avoid provoking it as its defensive spray may cause eye or skin irritation. Here are some of their key characteristics:
- Mostly harmless to humans
- Stick-like appearance with long legs and antennae
- Effective camouflage to blend in with their surroundings
- Defensive spray as their primary defense mechanism (Anisomorpha buprestoides)
In conclusion, walking stick bugs are not known for biting or causing harm to humans, making them interesting and relatively safe insects to observe in nature.
Walking sticks, when threatened, may protect themselves by releasing a chemical spray. This spray is a combination of foul-smelling chemicals used to deter predators. Examples of such substances include:
- Poisonous defensive venom
- Acidic compounds
These sprays are typically released from glands located near the walking stick’s head, adding an extra layer of defense.
Another way walking sticks defend themselves is through their unique threat poses. Some species spread their wings wide as a warning to predators, while others arch their bodies to show off their spines. These poses make them appear larger and more intimidating, thus discouraging predators from attacking.
Walking sticks also use their antennae for defense. They can move these elongated appendages in various directions to confuse or distract potential threats. By doing so, they create the illusion of being a more significant or dangerous creature, giving predators second thoughts about attacking them.
|Chemical Sprays||Poisonous venom||Effective deterrent against predators||May harm the user|
|Threat Poses||Spreading wings||No chemicals involved, less chance of self-harm||Less effective|
|Antennae||Waving||Non-aggressive, easy to perform, versatile defense||Limited effect|
Features of walking stick defense mechanisms:
- Chemical sprays
- Threat poses
- Antennae movements
Characteristics of walking stick defense mechanisms:
Remember, various species of walking sticks have different combinations of these defense mechanisms in their survival toolkit, but all aim to effectively protect themselves from potential threats with their unique adaptations.
Walking Sticks as Pets
Caring for Pet Walking Sticks
Walking sticks, also known as phasmids or leaf insects, are fascinating creatures that can make unique and low-maintenance pets. Their needs in captivity are simple, but proper care is essential for their health and comfort.
- Housing: A well-ventilated enclosure, such as a mesh cage, is crucial for your pet walking stick to thrive.
- Temperature: Maintain a temperature of 70-80°F for their optimum growth.
- Humidity: Maintain humidity by misting their enclosure regularly.
- Food: Feed them with suitable plant leaves, such as bramble, eucalyptus, or oak.
Walking sticks are generally observing pets, using their exceptional sight and holding their body still, camouflaged among plant leaves. They are rarely handled, as their fragile bodies can be easily damaged.
Possible Dangers for Pets
While walking sticks are relatively harmless creatures, they may still pose some dangers to other pets or humans in certain situations.
- Mandibles: Walking sticks have small but strong mandibles that could potentially bite if they feel threatened. However, this is rare and poses little risk for pet owners.
- Chemical spray: Some species can release an irritating chemical spray when threatened. This spray can burn or cause temporary blindness if it comes in contact with the eyes.
- Pet trade: In the pet trade, phasmids are seen as low-maintenance and may sometimes be caught in the wild for sale, potentially harming their natural populations.
Phasmids are more suitable pets for people who appreciate observing natural behavior, rather than those looking for constant interaction, such as with a dog. They are fascinating alternatives to pets like praying mantises and are more delicate than other insect pets.
Comparison Table: Walking Stick vs. Praying Mantis
|Feature||Walking Stick||Praying Mantis|
|Appearance||Resembles a twig or leaf, camouflaging among foliage||Unique, triangular head with large eyes|
|Handling||Rarely handled due to fragility||Can be handled with caution|
|Diet||Herbivorous, feeding on plant leaves||Carnivorous, feeding on live insects|
|Maintenance||Low-maintenance; requires proper humidity||Moderate maintenance; needs live food|
|Lifespan||Typically 1-2 years||6-12 months|
|Interaction with humans||Mostly observing; unlikely to bite||May bite if threatened|
Remember, it’s essential to research and provide adequate care for walking sticks as pets, ensuring their proper diet, temperature, and humidity while remaining mindful of potential risks they may pose to other pets or humans.
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 – Handle with Care!!!: Northern Two-Striped Walkingstick
June 27, 2010
The first two photos were taken last August. When we saw the first walking stick on the wall of our patio, we assumed it was a male. Then a week later I saw two of them mating (second photo, Bug Love) and realized the one on the patio had been the female.
I was weed eating in the garden yesterday and noticed movement ahead of me and then saw a walking stick climbing out of the way. I stopped what I was doing and bent to pick it up and move it so it wouldn’t get hurt, but noticed it was already missing some legs (see third photo). I’m pretty sure I *didn’t* do that with the weed eater (at least I hope I didn’t), but wonder how it could have happened and what are her chances now? Also, what kind of walking stick is it? I kept reading about striped, spitting walking sticks, but these don’t have stripes.
Houston area, Texas
You Walkingsticks are in the genus Anisomorpha, most likely the Northern Two-Striped Walkingstick based on photos posted to BugGuide. You should handle with care. BugGuide provided the following critical information: “Members of this genus can deliver a chemical spray to the eyes that can cause corneal damage.” You can get additional information on the Texas Walkingstick website.
Letter 2 – Maria Palito or Stick Mary from Dominican Republic
Subject: Only curiosity…
Location: Jarabacoa, Dominican Republic
April 15, 2014 7:24 am
Many warm greetings from the Dominican Republic. I saw this beautiful insect resting over the ceiling at the country house of a friend. All the time we spent on the terrace, this curious insect remained in that position. If it’s possible, can Whatsthatbug can give me any information on this peculiar insect.
Thanks in advance
Your file name was correct. This is a Stick Insect or Walkingstick in the order Phasmida. It appears a Stick Insect appeared on a Dominican Republic stamp in 1999 according to Asahi-net. We will continue to attempt to identify the species of Stick Insect you submitted.
Daniel, many thanks for your information and your support.
Letter 3 – Goliath Stick Insect from Australia
Sun, Jan 4, 2009 at 4:25 PM
Hi There Bugman!!
I found your email address on a site and wondered if you could help with the identification of the attached bug he is 6 – 7″ long and very calm and happy to be on my porch – not sure if I like him there though!!!
With not too much effort, we identified your Stick Insect as the Goliath Stick Insect, Eurycnemma goliath which feeds on the leaves of eucalyptus trees. We first located it on the Brisbane Insect Web Site, which incidates “Goliath Stick Insects are the master of camouflage. We notice that they have at least the following methods to hide themselves from predators;
1. Their bodies, colour and shape made them look like part of the plant.
2. When staying motionless, they always put their front legs in front of their head, to made themselves look more like part of the plant.
3. They usually feed at night, during the day time they just hang motionless on the plants.
4. They eat the whole leaf, usually they do not leave part of the leaf uneaten, like most grasshoppers do.
5. Even when they move, they simulate the swaying motion, like the movement caused by the wind blowing.
6. Their eggs, called ova, look like seeds, so the predators do not notice the insect by the seeds.
7. They discard their dropping, called frass, very far away so that the predators do not notice the insect.”
Then we found more information on raising it in captivity on the Microcosmos Website. Also, we believe he is a she.
Letter 4 – Giant Stick Mantis and Wandering Violin Mantis from India
Is this a wasp nest? I found these stick insects too.
March 25, 2010
This nest was built in a shaded nook outdoors at our house in Hyderabad, India.
These stick insects were found in our garden in Hyderabad.
We are splitting your letter into two different postings. We are excited about your two Preying Mantis photos. One is a Giant Stick Mantis or Indian Grass Mantis, Schizocephala bicornis, and you can read about it on the USA Mantis website. Your second mantis appears to be a Wandering Violin Mantis, or Indian Rose Mantis, and you can read more about it on Mantis Photos website.
Letter 5 – Mating Mayer’s Walkingsticks: Rare species from the Florida Keys
Subject: Phasmid Halopus meyeri
Location: Florida Keys
May 5, 2014 12:09 pm
I’ve found some Phasmids in the keys and it was suggested I put pics of them up on BugGuide.net but couldn’t seem to find a real person to help so I thought I’d share here…
Here is Haplopus meyeri…I don’t think they have been posted here before.
Signature: Tim Borski
BugGuide is a far more egalitarian website than our own as anyone can post images to BugGuide, while here at What’s That Bug?, we are control freaks that individually select which images and letters to post. Your submission has us very curious, but it brings up many more questions than we can answer. First, the name in your subject differs from the name in the body of your message where there is an additional “p”. Furthermore, we cannot locate any information on the web regarding either spelling except a Facebook posting on the Invertebrate Studies Institute’s Facebook Page, and the entry cites you as the donor who provided a mating pair. The information provided there, which includes yet a different name spelling with an “a” replacing one “e” in the species name, is: “RARE phasmid species from the Florida Keys – CUTE baby one! Haplopus mayeri ! We just had 2 hatch from eggs today! Earlier in 2013 we were generously sent 1 adult mating pair by Tim Borski! You can see one of them feeding on the only foodplant that they are reported to eat: a semi-rare plant called “Bay Cedar” (Suriana maritima). We are hoping to find other plants that it can eat and breed them. Eventually we would like to do a population survey to see if this species is actually endangered or threatened. The species lives in areas near the Florida coast in places like Biscayne National Park and the keys – prime real estate!” Where did you get your Phasmid or Walkingstick identified? We are guessing that Haplopus mayeri is the proper spelling.
Armed with that information, we returned to internet research and we located your images on FieldHerpForum and one of your comments contains the identification Haplopus (Aplopus) mayeri, however, there is no source cited. Phasmida has images of mounted specimens, including holotype and paratype images. Taxonomy and other information including the common name Mayer’s Walkingstick can be located at Encyclopedia of Life, ITIS, Animal Diversity Web and Global Species. There are very few images of living specimens online, and we feel very lucky that you are allowing us to post your images.
I apologize for the inconsistencies but I was frustrated with BugGuide and typing fast…just trying to salvage my efforts in futility there. Here’s a pic of a mating pair.
Btw, it was my pic on FHF.
Sorry for the confusion,
You already sent us this image. Where did you get the proper identification?
Dr Aaron T. Dossey at Invertebrate Studies Institute. I have many pics of them, including the eggs. I sent them to Aaron and he hatched some. I was told they fed on Bay cedar but Aaron told me they were eating Black berry leaves(?) Tthe last one I found (a week or so ago) was on a Sea grape tree. I was hunting snakes after dark and one of my boys encountered it. I brought it home and it fed off those leaves until I sent her to Aaron. She was a sub adult. Btw, thank you for following up and being helpful.
Letter 6 – Giant Stick Mantis or India Grass Mantis from India
Subject: Indian Mantis species
Location: Gujarat, India
July 15, 2016 11:27 pm
This mantis looks like a blade of grass. Antenna are aligned straight with the body to look like a blade of dry/dead grass. What species is it? Not sure if it is Indian Stick Mantis.
Signature: Nitin Solanki
In a previous posting of this species, we identified it as a Giant Stick Mantis or Indian Grass Mantis, Schizocephala bicornis. According to Project Noah, both common names are used. Bug Nation has some very nice images of the species.
Letter 7 – Giant Walking Stick
BIG Texas Phasmid – Megaphasma?
July 3, 2010
I submitted some blurry pictures the other day, but she is still in the neighborhood, and she’s so pretty, I just had to take some better snaps to share her. She is 6 inches from head to tail, closer to 12 with the legs. Her coloration doesn’t match the Megaphasmae on BugGuide, she’s much more drab than the red and green monsters I’ve seen before. But her antenna arrangement does look like one of the Diapheromeridae, and at that size and heft, what else could she be in Central Texas? She really is gorgeous and very tolerant of me sticking my camera in her face. I hope you enjoy the sharper photos!
Melvis & Laugh
San Antonio, TX
Dear Melvis & Laugh,
We are happy to post your photo of a Giant Walking Stick, Megaphasma dentricrus. We decided to link to BugGuide, and we found you had already posted your photo there. Linking to BugGuide does bring up one interesting question for us. This species is classified in the order Phasmida, the Walkingsticks, yet the common name for the species uses a noun and modifier rather than the compound word. We are curious why this species is commonly called a Walking Stick rather than a Walkingstick.
Letter 8 – Giant Walkingstick
This is the most unusual stick bug I have seen to date; it is about 9 inches long and the color is really green.
Our sources list the Giant Walkingstick, Megaphasma dentricus, as reaching 5 7/8 inches, so your specimen is a trophey for sure.
Letter 9 – Giant Walkingstick
Barton Creek Bug
May 28, 2010
We saw this bug on the side of Barton Creek in Austin, Texas. Five minutes after we took the photograph he was eaten alive by a great tailed grackle.
Congratulations on your sighting of a Giant Walkingstick, which is the “Longest North American insect, females to 180 mm (7 inches)” according to BugGuide.
Letter 10 – Giant Walkingstick
walking stick species?
Location: southern indiana
September 10, 2011 8:38 pm
Is this a ordinary walking stick ? I have never seen one look like this with so much color & for some reason it loves my Sycamore tree as you can see. thxs
Your insect is a Giant Walkingstick, Megaphasma denticrus, and we quickly identified it on BugGuide which notes: “Color is variable, greenish to reddish-brown, sometimes with white on legs.” The claspers on the end of the abdomen indicate that this is a male.
Letter 11 – Giant Walkingstick
Subject: Giant walking stick-huge female I believe
Location: New Braunfels, Texas
July 16, 2013 6:20 pm
Hi bugman, I thought you might like these photos of a very large giant walking stick I encountered a few weeks ago. She was easily probably 7 inches or so long without the front legs stretched out. She was quite tame and did not seem to mind having her picture taken. I hope you enjoy the photos as much as I enjoy your website!
Thank you for sending us your images of a Giant Walkingstick, Megaphasma denticrus, which according to BugGuide, is the: “Longest North American insect, females to 180 mm (7 inches). Helfer (1962)(1) gives range of 76-150 mm. Per study conducted by Maginnis et al. (2008), females ranged from 105-135 mm and males ranged from 90-125 mm.” The person is great to give our readers an idea of the scale of a Giant Walkingstick.
Thank you so much for posting my photos. The person is me by the way. I forgot to mention that in the original message.
Letter 12 – Giant Walkingstick
Subject: Walking branch ha!
Location: San Antonio, Texas
July 30, 2013 12:36 am
I found this big,scary, strong I think female walking stick. From what I can tell I think its female. What I want to know is what species is it exactly and what is its diet? I think it might be the mighty giant walking stick. The one they call the largest insect in the U.S.. Please help me figure this out experts.
You are absolutely correct that this is a female Giant Walkingstick, Megaphasma dentricrus. According to the Animal Diversity Web Information Sheet: “In this species, males are extremely rare, sometimes with as few as one male per 1,000 females.” The eating habits are described as: “This species tends to feed on foliage of grasses and woody plants, especially on grapevines and oaks. It will also feed on leaves of trees and can occasionally cause deforestation. After hatching from their eggs in the springtime, young nymphs feed mainly on understory shrubs. Among the adults, several host plants are primarily fed upon such as the basswood, the birch, dogwood, hackberry, hickory, oak, pecan, and wild cherry. (Drees and Jackman, 1998)”
Letter 13 – Giant Walkingsticks Mating
I went to let the dog out and discovered these two on my door handle…I have been around walking sticks my whole life but have never seen any this brilliant. Is there a reason for their brilliant color or are they a different variety than the plain brown ones? You probably can’t tell by the picture but the female was huge. We don’t see them that big here very often. Thanks
You didn’t tell us where “here” is, so we are guessing Texas. We are thrilled to get your highly detailed photo of Giant Walkingsticks, Megaphasma dentricus, mating. You can even make out the spiny ridge along the lower surface of the femora. This is the largest North American Walkingstick.
Letter 14 – Goliath Stick Insect found dead in Australia
Large ‘Alien’ looking Insect
April 18, 2010
Hi, the attached ‘insect’ was found dead in 2005 in Brisbane’s Western Suburbs. I thought I had lost the photos until now. Having never seen anything that so closely resembles the main character of the film Alien, and I am not talking about Sigourney Weaver here, I was wondering if you could id this insect as something natural rather than as a hungry visitor from another planet. The closest match I have been able to find is the ‘Goliath Stick Insect’ – really lame name by the way – but I have not seen any photo’s that match the hideous head and plus the doco states it grows to 7 inches not 9. It was reasonably weighty and as you can see, when straitened out, it was around 9 inches long. We found it on our driveway. There are a lot of Gum trees nearby. It’s abdomen was full of what looked like maggots and it was certainly putting out a strong ‘rotting meat’ odour so I assume it was fly-blown and not full of offspring. If it was offspring – you will find them at the city dump or wherever it is that the wheelie bins are emptied.
Brisbane Western Suburbs