My granddaughter found an interesting insect on her patio this weekend. She is nine and loves "bugs". She had her mother take a picture of it and send it to me so I can tell her what it is and why it had a baby riding on its back.
What Lin had found is a walking stick. To be precise, she had found a female walking stick who had a hitchhiker on its back. The hitchhiker wasn't a baby, it was a male. Ah, what an opportunity for talking about the birds and the walking sticks to a nine year old. I don't believe my daughter took advantage of the perfect lead, but that really is not the point of this piece.
Walking sticks are really neat insects. They are members of the family Phasmatidae and can be quite large. The one pictured here, that my granddaughter found is nearly six inches long. Well, the female is. The hitchhiking male is more like two and a half inches. They look very much like a small plant twig which is great camouflage. Their movement is also very slow and steady which adds to their ability to remain inconspicuous. They also often remain motionless for long periods. When disturbed, they often extend their legs and antenna which increases their appearance of being a twig.
Since they feed on leaves, they are considered a pest. In some areas they can be found in large enough numbers that they can be a problem.
The female is a very indifferent mother. She hardly slows down to lay her eggs and they just fall to the earth below. You would think that the eggs would quickly become food for other insects, birds, or other animals, but usually they are picked up by ants who take them to their underground nests. The ants do feed on a portion of the egg called capitulum which is an appendage at the end of the egg. (Isn't evolution fascinating?) The eggs remain in the ant's nest over the winter and then hatch in the Spring.
What an interesting life cycle.
If you look closely while you are out in the woods, you will find some fascinating organisms. It is fun to try to identify them and then learn about them and their life cycles. So many of these creatures have intriguing features in their habits, life cycles, or life history. There are so many details and interactions with other organisms that make even these weird little "bugs" worthy of spending time learning more about them.