Six surprising facts about walkingstick insects

Our Texas insect expert answers common questions about bugs.

By Laura RiceJanuary 5, 2022 1:41 pm, , ,

Walkingsticks, also known as stick bugs or stick insects, essentially look like a stick. They are very long, thin, have very long legs, and they’re usually a yellowish to brown to green, depending on the species. If you’re familiar with these insects at all, none of that information will be especially surprising to you. But Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert Wizzie Brown says there are a lot of interesting facts about walkingsticks that you likely don’t know.

Walkingsticks can get big – really big

“These insects are typically going to be anywhere from about an inch to 12 inches in length. But there are some species in the world that can reach up to almost 2 feet in length, so they’re huge. The females are going to be larger in size than the males. And sometimes people will see a female stick bug with a male stick bug on her back and they think that that’s the baby that’s riding around on the mom. It’s not. That’s the male. It’s just that there is that sexual dimorphism where there are different sizes.”

Walkingsticks have a pretty cool camouflaging trick

“These are going to rely on essentially camouflage to deter predators from eating them. So they essentially look like a stick, and that helps them to blend into the plant material that they’re on. And not only do they look just like a stick. They also have this motion where they’ll sway back and forth, and it looks like they’re kind of moving with the plant as the wind blows through the plant material. It’s super cool.”

Some walkingstick species have other predator deterrents

“So some walking sticks … have a smelly substance that they will exude to deter predators, while others have a chemical that can actually temporarily blind predators that they will squirt out the tip of their abdomen. There are other species that will drop legs and that will distract the predator, and then they can then regrow those legs back with the next molt.

And then … some of them are going to have wings, and those ones are going to have very bright colors on them. And so what they’ll use those for is they’ll open their wings really quickly when a predator is nearby and it flashes that bright color and some of them will have eye spots on there, and it’s to scare away or startle that predator.”

Walkingsticks may be sneakily eating your plants

“So these are plant-feeding insects. They are going to essentially bite and chew the plants just like we would be biting and chewing like a salad or something. … So the immature or nymphs are going to be active in the daytime, but the adults are generally going to be feeding on your plants at night. So if you have something that is feeding on your plants and you don’t necessarily see it during the daytime, it’s always a good idea to go out there and take a look at night on whatever plants being eaten because there’s a lot of stuff that’s going to be feeding on those plants at nighttime. And we might not necessarily see them during the day because they’re hiding.”

Walkingstick females can reproduce on their own

“Something that I find really, really cool about walkingsticks is they are one of our insect groups that are capable of reproducing parthenogenetically. And, essentially, that means that the females can have unfertilized eggs that will hatch and grow into new insects so they don’t have to necessarily mate with that male stick insect for it to actually produce eggs and offspring.”

Walkingsticks live longer than many other insects

“The eggs for these are typically going to be laid in hidden locations, or they will drop them singly to the ground. That way, it’s harder for things to find them to eat those eggs. And then it takes about three to 12 months, again, depending on species and environmental conditions, it takes them three to 12 months to reach adulthood, and then those adults can actually live up to two years. So really, really long lifespan and really super cool insects to keep around.”

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