A Stick-y Situation

Two paths diverged in the Nature Conservancy’s Sandyland Sanctuary; as I stood, deciding which to follow, I noticed some pretty, ruffled foliage. I didn’t recognize the plant, but I liked the way the twig lying across it had provided the third side of a natural triangle.

Then, I realized that the twig seemed to be looking at me. It wasn’t a twig at all, but an insect: a Giant Walkingstick (Megaphasma denticrus). If you enlarge the photo, you can see what I imagine to be an appraising look in its eye.

Officially the longest insect species in North America, the creatures can reach six inches or more in length; from toe to outstretched toe, this one measured about eight inches long. It may have been a female, since female walkingsticks typically are larger than the males.

Found in woods, forests, and grasslands of the Southern United States, Giant Walkingsticks are common in Texas, but can be found as far north as Indiana and Iowa. They prefer a moist environment,  and generally are found on trees or shrubs.

A wonderful example of mimicry in nature, walkingsticks closely resemble twigs of the plants where they choose to rest. When motionless, they’re far less obvious to predators; their nearly undetectable presence has led to their continued reproduction and expansion throughout the Southern United States.

Both male and female adults are wingless and slow moving. Adults tend to be greenish to reddish brown, sometimes with pale legs. Immature nymphs, though smaller, resemble adults;  they’re often green, and sometimes resemble juniper twigs.

Noturnal creatures, Giant Walkingsticks feed on leaves throughout the night. When I found this one at a relatively early hour of the morning, it may have just settled in for a post-dinner nap.

Comments always are welcome.

69 thoughts on “A Stick-y Situation

    1. It’s awfully early for you to be so clever! I bow to your creativity, which never fails to branch into unexpected territory!

      (ps: Steve responded to your comment, too, but it got misplaced and may not show up in your notifications.)

    1. This is the first one I’ve seen in nature, although I have come across a couple of them in more obvious spots, like the side of a building. Apparently they can be coaxed onto human arms or legs; that would be even more fun.

      1. I’ve seen them here in NZ plenty of times, brown ones and green ones and hugely varying in size. That article is sure interesting, “Three New Zealand species of stick-insects, or phasmids (from the Greek ‘phasma’ meaning phantom or apparition), have become naturalised in the UK over the last 100 years, and almost all are in south west England. This means that they live and reproduce here in the UK in the wild.”

        1. It’s interesting to track plants’ journeys around the world, isn’t it? It not only was a surprise to learn there aren’t native walkingsticks in Britain, but the fact that the species there came from your part of the world was even better. I think you might have some that are even larger; this one’s only the largest in North America.

    1. That slitty little eye makes me smile every time I look at it. You’re right that it’s well disguised. No bulging fly-eye here; as flat as it is, it does seem to disappear into the creature’s head.

    1. I’m sure there are plenty of them around, especially since Texas is said to have a sizable population. They certainly are masters of disguise, but I’m going to take a second look at apparently out-of-place twigs in the future.

    1. Can’t you imagine this one saying, “Here’s looking at you, kid”? Or, slightly revised: “Of all the bushes in all the world, she walks up to mine…”

    1. It was a great reminder that bees and butterflies aren’t the only cool insects in the world. And speaking of insects, guess what I saw today? A pair of love bugs. I think they’re going to start looking for shelter in the very near future!

  1. That “survival of the fittest” thing — we think of “fit” as strong, healthy, but it can mean “the best at” — in this case, looking like a twig. Nature continually prunes all those who are not good enough at it to live long enough to reproduce.

    1. I’ve never thought of it in that way, but “the best at” is a perfectly reasonable way to judge fitness, and pruning makes for a great metaphor when it comes to the survival of these walkingsticks. Of course, we could say that the ones that survive have better than average stick-to-it-tiveness.

    1. I think I could outrun him pretty easily. After all, these are called ‘walkingsticks’ and not ‘running sticks’! I didn’t realize until I read a bit about them that many kids (of every age) keep them as pets. Apparently they do quite well in captivity, as long as you keep those leaves coming.

    1. I’d not seen one for years, so this was quite a treat. This species is said to be common in Texas, so I need to watch for them a little more closely. I couldn’t have asked for a better pose from this one!

  2. it’s a wonderful find, Linda. Walking sticks are incredible insects and never cease to fill me with admiration. I have never seen this particular species, and doubt that I will, so your record is extra special. If my memory serves me well the last stick insect I saw was in Ethiopia several years ago. Sadly, there were humans almost as skinny.

    1. When I did a little reading about these stick insects, I was amazed to learn there are about 3,000 species in the world, ranging from a half-inch in length to twenty inches. Their distribution is exceedingly interesting; Britain has no native species, but New Zealand does, and the three species in Britain that have naturalized there came from — New Zealand!

      And look what the scientists have been up to!

  3. I’ve seen these things!! They’re not exactly pretty, but they are fascinating creatures. And you’re right: they’re awfully adept at camouflage!

    1. See? We do share some things in common! And these are so interesting: gangly and awkward, but somehow endearing. I found several articles making the same point: they aren’t rare, but we often think they are because they’re so hard to spot. Now that I’ve seen this one, I’d love to find another, especially if it was walking around.

    1. We could add one more ‘S’ — for ‘swinging.’ These not only hide by looking like sticks, they’ll sometimes sway back and forth like a twig swinging in the breeze. I’d think that would make them more noticeable, but apparently it confuses some of their predators.

  4. Good eye, Linda! I’ve never seen a walking stick, to my knowledge, but given they hide in plain sight, it is no wonder. I also find the curly gold leaves intriguing… a senna perhaps?

    1. Those leaves are intriguing, and I don’t have a clue what they might be. I’m sure they’re not any of our native sennas; the leaves just aren’t right. Beyond that, the shrub (or tree, or whatever) was substantially taller than I am; the walking stick just happened to be near the ground. The plant had lost most of its leaves, and I don’t remember seeing more than a few other stragglers, but I really liked those ruffled edges.

    1. It was a funny experience. I spotted the ‘twig’ pretty quickly, but it took some time for my brain to catch up with my eye and tell me I was looking at an insect. Of course there’s no mistaking a walkingstick, but first I had to recognize it as fauna rather than flora!

    1. I think these things are cute as can be. I didn’t know that they’re often kept as pets, or that schools keep them around for the kids to observe. Apparently they’re quite docile and do well in captivity — who knew?

    1. They’re wonderful creatures. They remind me in some ways of the creatures we built with our Tinker Toys when I was a kid. I don’t know if this species is capable of jumping, but some of them are, and there are some species in tropical areas that have brightly colored underwings that they flash at predators to confuse them. Magical, indeed!

  5. Really nice eye to have spotted it, and equally nice for us to be able to critique it from the comfort of our homes! What would we do if others didn’t share their discoveries? It can become infectious – and the walking stick made me think of the mantids – equally unique.

    Today someone helped me with a mystery bird identification. I told the eBird friend, ‘I call it the gecko bird. It sounds just like geckos, but I have no idea where to start to identify the sound.’

    He replied, ‘You’ve just described the Elegant Crescentchest – a rare bird to see!’

    I found some audios on ebird, and yes/verdad, if you want to know what a gecko sounds like, start here with the crescentchest:


    1. Where have I been? I wasn’t aware that geckos made any sound at all. I wonder if your geckos chatter more than the ones we have here, or that I remember from Liberia. I must say, that’s a beautiful little bird; the ‘elegant’ part of its name suits it well.

      I rarely see a praying mantis; in fact, I can’t remember the last time I did. On the other hand, katydids abound, and I often see their nymphs. Someday, I hope to get a really good photo of a katydid nymph cleaning its antennae!

      1. Oh yes, the geckos here are very loud! One either loves them or – not. I love it, a bit like someone clucking for a horse to speed up.. this week my internet time is very limited – working on the bird study deadline…. and resuming art classes at the museo — and now looking at news about the quito landslides/mudslides/flooding.

        1. I hadn’t heard one word about Quito. Of course, our news is filled with politicians pointing fingers at one another and some celebrity or other offending someone or other. Pfft. Anyway: I looked up the news reports online, and discovered a true disaster. If nothing else, I hope the rains have ended for the time being, so the first efforts at recovery are made somewhat easier.

    1. This is the first I’ve found ‘in nature,’ so to speak. The others I’ve seen have been out in the open, like on the side of a building, where they’re much easier to spot. When I realized what I was looking at, I had to laugh.

    1. I’ve always liked this, from Henri Cartier-Bresson: “You just have to live, and life will give you pictures.” It might be equally true that “you just have to look, and nature will give you wonders.” I never in the world would have gone out that day thinking, “I believe I’ll try and find a walkingstick.” But I went out, and looked, and there it was!

  6. LOL.. As soon as I looked at your ‘stick’ I thought, “That’s no stick. That’s one of those stick insects.”

    While I’ve not seen the giant version, I have seen smaller ones, as well as stick mantises. So cool!

    1. They are cool. It always tickles me when I make eye contact with something like this. It’s so obvious that, however we describe it, they certainly have consciousness and an awareness of their environment — more than we do, perhaps. It sure was an unexpected — but delightful — find.

    1. And there’s something special about finding one in nature. The unexpectedness of the encounter, the element of surprise, adds to the experience. On those occasions, we truly do get ‘stopped in our tracks,’ and it’s wonderful.

  7. I studied the photo for a while before reading any of your words, so I think I may have had a similar reaction to you when I finally realized what I was seeing. At first it was the patterns, the shapes. But it really does become something so much more when you realize one of the sticks is actually an insect. Fantastic find!

    1. The ruffled leaves and the lovely, triangular pattern really are eye-catching, aren’t they? I’m glad you had the experience of looking without preconceptions — whenever that happens to me, it’s always a good reminder that second and third glances (or even a little serious studying) can help to reveal things we miss at first glance. One of the things I’ve learned about these creatures is that their ability to ‘disappear’ into the landscape is wonderfully effective — except when it comes to bats. The bat’s ability to echolocate means they can find these even when visual searchers miss them. Amazing!

    1. He’s a clever one; he often makes me laugh. After I realized what I was looking at, it still took me a while to adjust to how long it was. The size certainly made an identification easier. The largest ‘anything’ stands out in a crowd!

  8. This is an outstanding natural history shot for both its evidence of the walking stick’s mimicry of its host and wonderful compositional design. I’ve seen a walking stick (that I was aware of) just once quite a number of years ago. Good for you and your observational skills at seeing this. Whatever plant the leaf is representative of, it’s a wonderful perch for the insect.

    1. This was a fun experience all the way around. There’s nothing like suddenly realizing, “It’s alive!” Photographically, I couldn’t have asked for a better pose from the critter. Now, I need to go back and see if I have different photos of those leaves. I’d love to figure out what they are. The good news is that I know the exact spot where I found it, so I can easily check around — provided the tree or shrub hasn’t been part of a clearing operation.

      I was browsing through photos from the area, and I found what I think is another walking stick photo. I need to check with BugGuide and see whether it’s a different species or a different stage of growth. It’s smaller, and differenty marked, so it could be either.

      1. Yes, that must have been a wonderful feeling to look at a “stick” and realize that it was indeed, Alive!.
        It is amazing how different some insects can look as larvae compared to their adult stage. I hope someone on BG.N is able to help with the ID. Do you use iNaturalist. Sometimes it can help with leaves.

  9. I’d have gone for the ruffly looking foliage too!!! It would have taken a look or two to see the true nature of that twig. Natural camouflage is truly a thing to behold…..or not!!

    1. The plant would have made for a nice photo whatever it was, but of course once I snapped to and figured out that the ‘twig’ was giving me the eye, that ruffly foliage lost pride of place. Bitterns and Wilson’s Snipes have that camouflage thing down pretty well, too. I was lucky enough to see my third snipe recently, but I think I might have missed it had a Killdeer not been so interested in it!

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