Common Walking Stick (Diapheromera femorata)

Animals that rely on camouflage are always pretty impressive. I’ve blogged about some species that adopt amazing disguises, including the kerengga ant-like jumper, the common potoo, and the pearly wood-nymph. Today’s animal fits right in with these masters of disguise.

Common walking sticks are found in a wide range of North America. They live as far north as Alberta, as far west as New Mexico, and south into Florida. These are actually the only stick insects living in Canada, so if you see one there, you now know what species it is! They mainly reside in forests, especially those that are abundant in oak and hazelnut trees, the leaves of which are their main source of food. They are also found in fields, gardens, and yards. I guess if you have ‘common’ in your name, you should do your best to live up to it.

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So stick-like! Image credit: Andrew C. via Wikipedia 

Those of you who have seen walking sticks before know that they are pretty strange looking insects. They have extremely long and thin bodies, which are 75 – 95mm long, with females being larger than males. They have long antenna and legs, and while at rest, the front pair of legs is extended forward, to help disguise the insect. Male walking sticks are brown in colour, while females are more green.

Of course, the best way to describe walking sticks is that they look like twigs. This is their main defence against predators, and it’s quite effective. At least, I know I would have trouble finding a common walking stick in a tree. There are some animals that do feed on walking sticks, such as crows and robins. When a predator is near, walking sticks freeze and tuck their legs in, posing as an unappetizing twig until the danger has passed.

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A pair of walking stick trying to mate. Image credit: William Paxton via Wikipedia

The breeding season in common walking sticks is in the fall, so that the eggs can hatch in the spring. The mating habits of this species are not known, but in other walking stick species, males adopt a very annoying courtship style: they grab onto the back of a female and stay there until she is ready to mate — which can take weeks. Once a female’s eggs are fertilized, she drops them from the trees onto the forest floor, one egg at a time. There the eggs stay until they hatch, which can be in spring or even a year later.

While walking sticks aren’t the prettiest of insects, they are certainly excellent imitators. They are also quite common, to the point of being pests (they defoliate trees), so these neat creatures are happily doing quite well for themselves.

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