I think stick bugs fascinate just about anyone who encounters the little ‘copycats’. This year my friends and me saw more than usual. I have found the more you know about something, the more you appreciate it. In that vein I would like to educate us all about some little known stick bug facts.
1. Stick insects can ‘give up’ a leg and regenerate their limbs to escape attacks by predators.
Using a special muscle to break it off at a weak joint, they lose a leg but gain their life. Young stick insects will regenerate the missing limb the next time they molt. An adult stick insect can even force itself to molt again to get a replacement leg.
2. Stick insects can reproduce parthenogenetically, meaning no need for males.
Females who have never had a mate produce eggs that become more females. When a male does mate with a female, there’s a 50/50 chance their offspring will be male. There are species of stick insects where no males have ever been seen.
3. Stick insects look and act like sticks.
Stick insects blend in as they perch on twigs and branches. Some even have lichen-like markings to make their disguise more complete. These clever stick insects imitate twigs swaying in the wind by rocking back and forth as they move.
4. Stick insect eggs look like seeds scattered on the forest floor.
They typically drop eggs randomly on the forest floor, leaving their young to fend for themselves. Her eggs resemble seeds, so they are less likely to get eaten. Some stick insects hide their eggs, sticking them to leaves or bark, or putting them in the soil.
5. Nymphs usually eat their molted skin.
Once a nymph has molted, it’s vulnerable to predators. The castoff skin nearby is a dead giveaway to enemies, so the nymph will quickly eat the exoskeleton to get rid of the evidence. The stick insect nymph also gets protein from eating its molted skin.
6. Stick insects aren’t defenseless.
Sometimes they will regurgitate a nasty substance so they taste awful to a hungry predator. Others bleed, oozing a foul-smelling hemolymph from joints in their body. Some of the large, tropical stick insects may use their leg spines for defense. Stick insects may even direct a chemical spray to ward off enemies.
7. Stick insect eggs may attract ants, which they then use as babysitters.
Stick insect eggs that resemble hard seeds have a special, fatty capsule called a capitulum at one end. Ants eat the capitulum, and carry the stick insect eggs back to their nests. They toss the eggs onto their garbage dump where they continue to incubate safe from predators. The nymphs hatch and leave.
8. Not all stick insects are brown.
Some stick insects are like a chameleon, depending on the background where they’re at rest, they change color. Stick insects may have bright colors on their wings, when a predator approaches, the stick insect will flash the wings, then hide them again, leaving the predator confused and unable to relocate its target.
9. Fido is not the only one who can play dead.
A threatened stick insect will abruptly drop from wherever it’s perched, fall to the ground, and stay very still. This behavior is called thanatosis. A bird or mouse either can’t find them or prefers them alive, so they move on.
10. Stick insects hold a record.
In 2008, a newly discovered stick insect species from Borneo broke the record for longest insect. The Chan’s megastick, Phobaeticus cnhai, measures an amazing 22 inches with legs extended, with a body length of 14 inches.