Phasmid: All You Need to Know in a Nutshell

Phasmids, also known as stick insects or walking sticks, are fascinating insects that belong to the order Phasmatodea. They are well-known for their impressive camouflage abilities, which allow them to blend seamlessly into their surroundings, often resembling twigs, leaves, or branches. There are over 3,000 species of Phasmids found across the globe, primarily in tropical and subtropical regions.

These insects have a unique way of navigating their environment, thanks to their elongated bodies and slow, deliberate movements. They are primarily nocturnal and herbivorous, feeding on the leaves of various plant species. Some interesting examples of Phasmids include the giant prickly stick insect and the spiny leaf insect. In West Indian folklore, Phasmids are even considered “God-Horses,” as it is believed that God often rides them from place to place according to this source.

In the realm of genetic research, the term “phasmid” also refers to a type of DNA molecule that combines properties of plasmids and bacteriophage vectors. These molecules prove to be efficient tools for constructing and analyzing gene libraries within Escherichia coli cells as described in this study.

Understanding Phasmids

Defining Phasmids

Phasmids, also known as Phasmatodea or Phasmida, are insects known for their remarkable camouflage. They often resemble twigs, sticks, and leaves, allowing them to blend in with their environment. These fascinating insects belong to a group of insects called stick insects.

Some key features of Phasmids include:

  • Long, slender body shape
  • Ability to blend in with their surroundings
  • Simple metamorphosis (nymphs resemble adults)
  • Mostly herbivorous diet

Diversity in Phasmids

There is great diversity within the Phasmid family. For example, some species are incredibly adept at mimicking their environment, while others have unique color-changing abilities. Pigment granules in their epidermis can disperse at night or on cool days, causing the cuticle to darken and absorb more heat.

Aspect Example 1 Example 2
Mimicry Resemble twigs, sticks, and leaves Change color to match surroundings
Diet Mostly herbivorous Occasionally omnivorous

A deeper understanding of the Phasmid family’s diversity can be gained through molecular phylogeny, the study of evolutionary relationships among organisms. This research allows scientists to better comprehend Phasmid evolution and classification, as their physical adaptations can sometimes make taxonomic classification difficult due to convergent evolution.

Physical Characteristics

Camouflage and Mimicry

Phasmids are known for their remarkable camouflage abilities. They are often referred to as leaf insects or stick insects, due to their resemblance to leaves, sticks, and twigs. These insects have developed various techniques, like:

  • Match their surroundings by mimicking the color of leaves, sticks, and twigs
  • Some species even have fake veins, spots, or blemishes to resemble leaves more closely
  • Adaptive behavior, such as swaying to look like a twig moving in the wind

Variety in Size and Colors

Phasmids come in a wide range of sizes and colors, mostly found in tropical and subtropical climates. Here are some characteristics:

  • Length can range from under an inch to over a foot long!
  • Most exhibit shades of green, brown, or beige to blend in with their environment
  • Color variations are affected by several factors, including diet, temperature, and humidity
Comparison Parameters Leaf Insects Stick Insects
Appearance Close resemblance to leaves Strong resemblance to sticks or twigs
Size Smaller in comparison to stick insects Usually longer and larger than leaf insects
Coloration Mostly green and shades resembling leaves Browns, beiges and colors matching their habitat

Phasmids’ spines and color variations aid their survival, helping them remain hidden from predators. For example, some species even change colors during their life cycle or molt to match seasonal changes.

Life Cycle and Reproduction

Eggs and Nymphs

Phasmids, commonly known as stick insects, undergo a fascinating life cycle. The process begins with eggs, which often resemble seeds or plant material, providing excellent camouflage. Females can lay hundreds of eggs, which can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months to hatch.

When the eggs hatch, they reveal tiny replicas of adult phasmids, known as nymphs. These nymphs grow rapidly, shedding their exoskeleton several times through a process called molting.

Metamorphosis and Lifespan

Unlike many insects, phasmids experience an incomplete metamorphosis. This means their life cycle consists of an egg, nymph, and adult stage, without a pupal stage. They transform gradually, with each molt bringing them closer to their adult form.

Phasmids’ lifespan can vary significantly between species. Some may live for only a few months, while others can survive for over a year.

Reproduction and Parthenogenesis

Reproduction in phasmids can occur both sexually and asexually. Males and females typically mate, with the females laying fertilized eggs afterward. However, some species of phasmids can also reproduce through parthenogenesis, a process in which females produce offspring without the need for fertilization by males.

In summary:

  • Phasmid life cycle: egg, nymph and adult stages
  • Eggs are well-camouflaged and resemble plant material
  • Nymphs shed their exoskeleton through molting
  • Lifespan ranges from a few months to over a year
  • Two reproduction methods: sexual and parthenogenesis

Habitat and Distribution

Geographical Distribution

Phasmids, also known as stick and leaf insects, are predominantly found in tropical and subtropical climates. They have a wide distribution, with over 2,500 species worldwide. For instance, Australia is a hotspot for phasmid diversity, hosting a variety of unique species.

Preferred Environments

Phasmids are mainly herbivorous insects that live on their host plants. They prefer environments with an abundance of vegetation, as this allows them to blend in with their surroundings and evade predators. Their preferred habitats include:

  • Forests
  • Woodlands
  • Grasslands

Some features of phasmids include:

  • Camouflage: ability to mimic leaves and sticks
  • Slow movement: to blend in with their environment
  • Long, slender bodies: for effective camouflage

A comparison of two phasmid habitats:

Habitat Location Notable Species
Tropical forest Central and South America Extatosoma tiaratum
Australian bush Australia Carausius morosus

Phasmids face various predators such as birds, spiders, and mantises. Their exceptional camouflage abilities often protect them from these threats. However, when they do become prey, it helps maintain the balance in ecosystems by controlling phasmid populations.

To sum up, phasmids are diverse and fascinating insects that can be found in a range of regions, particularly tropical habitats. Their unique characteristics make them well-adapted to survive in a variety of environments and contribute to their role in the ecosystem.

Popular Phasmid Species

Giant Spiny Stick Insect

The Giant Spiny Stick Insect, also known as Eurycantha calcarata, is a large and distinctive species of Phasmid. Native to Papua New Guinea, this fascinating insect can reach a length of up to 8 inches.

  • Features:
    • Long and cylindrical body
    • Strong legs with large spines
    • Males possess curved spines behind their hind legs
    • Females have a larger abdomen and a long ovipositor

Extatosoma Tiaratum

Extatosoma tiaratum, also known as the Australian Walking Stick, is a species of stick insect native to Australia. They are well-known for their remarkable camouflage abilities, resembling dried leaves or branches.

  • Characteristics:
    • Length of up to 7.8 inches
    • Females are larger and heavier than males
    • Densely covered in small spines and lobes
    • Can regenerate lost limbs during molting

Spiny Leaf Insects

Spiny Leaf Insects, belonging to the genus Aretaon, are unique Phasmids known for their incredible leaf-like appearance which aids their camouflage. These insects are primarily found in tropical and subtropical climates.

  • Features:
    • Body length of up to 5 inches
    • Possess a flat, broad body
    • Females exhibit large, leaf-like lobes on their legs and abdomen
    • Males are slender and more stick-like in appearance
Species Length Native Location Camouflage
Giant Spiny Stick Insect Up to 8 in Papua New Guinea Minimal
Extatosoma Tiaratum (Australian Walking Stick) Up to 7.8 in Australia Excellent
Spiny Leaf Insects Up to 5 in Tropical/Subtropical Exceptional

Phasmids as Pets

Phasmid Care Sheets

Phasmids, or stick insects, can make interesting and low-maintenance pets. Before purchasing one, it’s essential to review a Phasmid care sheet to learn about their specific requirements and behaviors.

Housing and Climatic Requirements

Phasmids thrive in a controlled environment that mimics their natural habitat. The ideal housing setup includes:

  • A well-ventilated enclosure
  • Adequate climbing options
  • Substrate to maintain humidity

Climatic requirements vary between species, but generally, they prefer:

  • Temperature: 70-90°F (21-32°C)
  • Humidity: 50-80%

Phasmids should be kept out of direct sunlight, as excessive heat can be harmful.

Feeding and Maintenance

Feeding phasmids is quite simple. They mostly consume leaves, with some species preferring eucalyptus or bramble leaves. Providing fresh leaves every few days ensures proper nutrition. Maintaining enclosure cleanliness is crucial to prevent infections and parasites.

Phasmids are not commonly found in pet stores, but reputable breeders can provide healthy individuals. Remember to research the specific needs of a phasmid species before bringing it home as a pet!

Reader Emails

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 – Mystery: Phasmid Eggs in Australia hatch into two species.

 

Unknown insect
Location: Australia
November 29, 2010 4:39 am
This little guy has turned up in the enclosed container that our spiny stick insect eggs are in. It’s very different to the babies that have come fron the eggs.
Signature: Andrew

Hatchling Phasmid: Macleay's Spectre Stick Insect

Dear Andrew,
Your inquiry brings up numerous questions in our mind because the insect pictured is an immature Phasmid or Stick Insect.  We can’t help but wonder where your spiny stick insect eggs came from.  Did you collect them or purchase them?  Were they purchased from a supplier?  It might be possible that the supplier deals in numerous species, and a stray egg was included in your batch.  What did the other hatchlings look like?  Since Stick Insects are vegetarian, you can probably raise this guy with the others.

Identification courtesy of Karl
Hi Daniel and Andrew:
It looks like a Macleay’s Spectre Stick Insect (Extatosoma tiaratum), a native of the Australian east coast. Giant Prickly Stick Insect and Australian Spiny Stick Insect are also common names for this species. It appears to be quite popular among Phasmid fanciers so there is quite a lot of information on the internet.  The young nymphs are apparently ant mimics, and the adults are quite spectacular. Regards.  Karl

Update from Andrew
Dear Daniel,
Thanks very much for your help and quick response.
Quite strange as the eggs were all collected from the same spiny leaf female that we previously had.
This was the only one we’ve had so I’m puzzled by the different species.
A pic of one of the others is attached. This seems to have a similar body shape to our previous one.
Thanks again for your assistance.
Andrew

Stick Insect Hatchling, or Mantis????

Dear Andrew and Karl,
Now we are even more confused, and we believe this warrants tagging as a Mystery.  First to Karl, thanks for doing the research on the original image of the Phasmid hatchling and for providing us with links.  Now to Andrew, please clarify your species of spiny leaf female.  Is it the species that Karl has linked to,
Extatosoma tiaratum, or is it some other species?  Was it a wild collected female? or Was it purchased?  The reason we are persisting in our questions is that the new image you have attached of the others actually looks more like a Mantis hatchling to us.  If it is in fact a Phasmid hatchling, we would like to identify it.  Thanks for any further information you are able to provide.

December 1, 2010
Hi Guys,
Once again thank you for your help.
The species that Karl has linked is the correct one. They look identical to the previous one we had.
I bought it from a pet shop and have kept about 100 of the eggs so i can wait and see what comes from the other eggs.
The smaller mantis looking one was the first to appear and we then put in some eucalyptus leaves to feed it. The larger one that you have identified as the stick insect then turned up.
My wife is convinced that the leaves were clean from foreign insects when she did this, as they were washed and wiped.
Thank you both for your help, i’m more than happy to keep you updated with photos.
Regards
Andrew

Letter 2 – Fantasy Phasmid is a Hoax

 

Subject: What the hell is this?!
Location: Southern Wisconsin
December 13, 2012 1:42 pm
A friend of mine found this under his desk.
He describes it as ”about six inches long and faster than I can chase it with a shoe.”
Signature: Lucy

Fantasy Phasmid

Dear Lucy,
We fear you have been taken in by a hoax perpetuated by your friend who we suspect is either a whiz at photoshop or who is interested in special effects.  The raw material for this concocted creature is a Phasmid or Stick Insect, but there are four additional legs that have been added through some software imaging program.  Insects only have three pairs of legs and this creature has five pairs of legs.  The Lord Howe Island Stick Insect pictured on the Australian Museum website is an example of what a typical large Stick Insect should look like.  The Giant Spiny Stick Insect picture on Insect Zoo is a closer match and it is described with the following colorful excerpt:  “Sci-fi makeup artists and costume designers must get their ideas from this thing. At least 6 inches long, this alien-like insect had the girth of a broomstick with sturdy antennae, bulging eyes and a variety of rubbery textures across its back. If anything like that ever appeared in my house, I’d most definitely have to check myself into an outpatient facility.”  The Australian Museum website also have photos of the Giant Spiny Stick Insect, 
Eurycantha calcarata, which we believe is the inspiration for your friend’s hoax.  We would also like to point out that Phasmids are not generally describes as moving “faster than I can chase it.”  Their movements tend to be slow and plodding.

Letter 3 – Panamanian Mystery Phasmid

 

Hi!
I am living in the country of Panama and work in a limestone quarry located inside some pretty dense rain forest. I see all kinds of weird unidentifiable (By me anyways!) bugs and had nobody to ask about them. I don’t like to kill them; only photograph them. I have several different bugs collected. Some very, very strange ones too. I would love to know more about them. Here are some pictures of one of them. I love the way this one "hides". Pretty impressive. It was taken in March of 2004. I have others, but I think I can only fit one at a time.
Thank you,
Lisa Palm
Buena Vista, Colon, Panama
PS. Oh yeah… I would love to know if it is poisonous

Hi Again Lisa,
We are loving all the exotica you are sending from Panama. We went back to your original letter on this one. That letter was waiting for our limited allotment of attention as we do not have a definitive answer for you. We suspect this is some species of Phasmid, the order that contains Walkingstick and Timemas. Some Walkingsticks, including the Musk Mare from the American South, can spray a noxious fluid that will temporarily irritate the eyes. We would like Eric Eaton to take a look at this critter because we always turn to him when we are in doubt.

Letter 4 – Phasmid from Costa Rica: Prisopus species

 

Subject: what that bug?
Location: san isidro, costa rica
February 5, 2015 10:51 am
i would really like to know this bug s name!
Signature: anouki

Phasmid
Phasmid

Dear Anouki,
This is a Phasmid in the Order Phasmida, and members are called Walkingsticks or Stick Insects.  We will try to determine a species name for you.

Letter 5 – Phasmid from Hong Kong, we believe

 

Subject: Please help to name this bug
Location: Lantua Island, Hong Kong SAR, China
December 17, 2015 7:15 am
Hi,
Could you please help to identify that bug? It’s really rare to me. Thanks a lot!
Signature: Jackson Liu

Walkingstick
Walkingstick

Dear Jackson,
This appears to be a Phasmid, commonly called a Walkingstick or Stick Insect.  We were not able to locate a species name for you.  Perhaps one of our readers will provide additional information.

Dear Daniel,
Thanks a lot. I once thought it to be walkingstick alike, while I am not quite familiar with their common feature. I am more clear now. Really thanks! 🙂

Letter 6 – Phasmid from Peruvian Amazon: Oreophoetes peruana

 

Subject: Walking stick from Peru
Location: Peru
March 9, 2014 8:00 am
Hello I took this photo of this phasmodea “walking stick” in a rainforest of Amazon in Peru, near Iquitos. I d like to know the ID if possible, thanks a lot!
Signature: Jiri Hodecek

Walkingstick
Walkingstick:  male Oreophoetes peruana

Hi Jiri,
This is sure an interesting looking and rather distinctive Walkingstick in the order Phasmida, but our initial attempts at a more specific identification have proven fruitless.  We are posting your image and we will enlist the assistance of our readership on this matter.  We could not locate any matching images on Insetologia, our sister site from Brazil.

Hello, thank u for a fast answer. Yeah I was not able to ID this one and I have much more photos of interesting insects from Peru. However I dont want to flood ur website with my posts :).
Mgr. Jiří Hodeček

Update: 
Thanks to a comment from Alan, we are able to provide a link to Reptilica that has a photo of a sexually dimorphic pair of
Oreophoetes peruana which shows this red coloration in the male.

Letter 7 – Phasmid from Costa Rica

 

Costa Rica flying phasmid?
Location:  Monteverde, Costa Rica
October 10, 2010 1:31 pm
Hello fine sir.
While my family and I were in Monteverde, Costa Rica this August, among the more more common nocturnal insects were these pretty little green & yellow & red critters. They were about 2 inches long from head to red-spotted rear (with another 2 inches or so of delicate antenna). I would guess that they were phasmids, but they also reminded me of some tree crickets I’ve seen, including the graceful way they flew. Whaddya think?
Signature:  John

Phasmid from Costa Rica

Hi John,
We are uncertain if this is a Phasmid or an Orthopteran.  Perhaps Karl who travels to Costa Rica can supply a response.  We will also try to contact Piotr Naskrecki, an expert in Longhorned Orthopterans if he recognizes this species.

Piotr Naskrecki Responds
Hi Daniel,
Definitely a phasmid. It looks like Anthericonia (Pseudophasmatidae), possibly A. anketeschkei, which was recently described from Monteverde.
Cheers,
Piotr

Ed. NOte:
We located an image on Flickr and some on Phasmatodea.com that look quite similar.

Wow, you guys are incredible. Thank you very much! The photos of A. anketeschkei on Phasmatodea.com look precisely like the ones I saw.
Piotr, your book The Smaller Majority is one of my favorite wildlife photography books and an inspiration to me to improve my own camera skills (not to mention spend more time in the wild). I had already used it to identify the fantastical Copiphora rhinoceros that we saw at Sueño Azul resort in Sarapiqui.
Daniel and Piotr, thanks again for taking your time to help the rest of us.
John Sullivan
www.wildherps.com
I will be visiting your paypal link very soon.

Letter 8 – Spiny Leaf Insect: Australian Phasmid

 

Flesh Fly, Phasmid and moth
Hello there… I sent a photo of a Flesh Fly from Sydney to you yesterday – although at that time I didn’t know what kind of fly it was. I don’t think I saw any spiny leaf insects on your website, so here’s a link to an article I’ve written which shows my daughter’s classroom pets (phasmids), the flesh fly again, and an unknown small moth.. (please help on that last count 🙂 Cheers,
Chris.

Hi Chris,
Sorry, we are really able to only post a fraction of the letters we receive. Your letter requires downloading and posting photos to three different pages on our site as well as the homepage, a taks that will take nearly a half an hour, right now the allotted time we have for the entire website. We are posting your Spiny Leaf Insect, Extatosoma tiaratum, and linking to your site.

Letter 9 – Toxic Ecuadorean Phasmid

 

insect from 12300 feet in Andes – Tambopaxi near Cotopaxi volcano
The insects on your web pages have such fascinating morphology and many are so beautiful. Thank you for a wonderful web site. I contacted you earlier about Dutch bugs – I thought you might like to see a beautiful insect (although only adequately photographed) from Tambopaxi which is at 12,300 feet in the Ecuadorian Andes – this is close to the 19,300 foot Cotopaxi volcano. These insects were found under a rock by my son in April 2006. From memory the largest was about 4 cm long. If you know what they are I would love to know. Best Wishes,
Yours sincerely,
Richard

Hi Richard,
Our best guess here is probably some species of Phasmid or Walkingstick. They are rather awesome looking creatures. Eric Eaton wrote to confirm our identification, but sadly, we have lost his exact words. He added that this is probably a toxic species based on the coloration.

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

    View all posts
  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

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13 thoughts on “Phasmid: All You Need to Know in a Nutshell”

    • Thanks for the source information Cesar. Sadly, we have no control over the ethics of the people who send us submissions, and with the viral potential of the internet, it can be very difficult to trace images back to the source.

      Reply
  1. Surely the second insect posted is a Mantodea, it will feed only on another insects, and for sure, it didn’t came from E. tiaratum eggs!

    Reply
    • Thanks Pedro,
      WE agree, though it is still a mysterious appearance. We suspect the only possibility is that it was introduced with leaves.

      Reply
  2. I live around this area and keep several different species of phasmid and mantis. The first image is definitely of an Extatosoma tiaratum nymph, and from what I can see the second image is newly hatched False Garden Mantis (Pseudomantis albofimbriata).
    Hope this helps

    Reply
  3. Hi there. It appears to be a male Oreophotes, possibly O.peruana. They are one of the phasmids in culture in Europe and the UK, and they feed on various species of fern. Females and juveniles are green with yellow longitudinal stripes.

    Reply

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