A Tale of Two Sticks
Actually two sets of two sticks.
Every year recently when the first cold weather hits in fall I have seen Walking Stick insects near the cold concrete back entrance to my workplace. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, imagine a master of camouflage, which is expert at appearing to be a branch and twigs. It’s likely you’ve seen them and not known it, in fact.
I suppose the creatures appear at our back door because they are seeking some warmth, but after a few days they end up squashed or caught in a spiderweb, or otherwise demised. I had often thought of rescuing one (up until this year I think I’ve usually seen one each year) by removing it to nicer surroundings, but only in 2009 did I find out that some people do actually keep these as pets. They do not live a long time – usually one year or less. Enough time to grow, mate, leave eggs for next spring, and die. They are insects. That’s what they do.
So I read up on how people take care of the little critters (vertical cage/tank, sticks to climb upon, leaves to eat - bramble, rose, raspberry, blackberry, sassafras, oak – romaine lettuce in a pinch but only if you soak and rinse it thoroughly to remove residual pesticides). There are quite a few WebPages where I was able to learn how to do this. Apparently some elementary school teachers raise sticks in order to teach kids about insects. I even found an email discussion list (Sticktalk !). Of course I joined it! You knew I would!
SO when one showed up this last September after our first chilly weekend, I was ready – I used a “sawed-off” plastic gallon water jug and a clear plastic bag to capture and hold it through the workday, then on my way home I bought a small fish-tank with a screen top, turned it on its side and filled it with wild rose branches in a cup of water. All was good. My specimen was a classic 5-inch long twig-looking thing but was missing some legs – not uncommon I read when the bird bites, a leg gets let go.
I used the most excellent site bugguide.net to figure out that I had adopted a male Diapheromera femorata: The Northern Walkingstick. Most of the thousands of species of stick- and leaf-imitating insects are tropical but we have a couple of species in North America and D. femorata is by far the most common. Here is a load of images from bugguide.net : http://bugguide.net/node/view/34736/bgimage
That week I had all of my Audit Team members up in NJ for a meeting and so they all got to see me get all excited over a bug. I decided this critter would be our audit mascot and named him …. “Audie.” About a week later another male showed up at work – a little smaller – also missing a leg. A little less-inspired, I named him “Junior” and home he came. A few days later, Audie passed away – no connection I think – they are not aggressive towards one another and have no equipment (like teeth) to bite each other – they are strictly herbivores with mouth-parts something like grasshoppers. But not too many days after that Junior passed away also. And so I was stickless. But it had been fun, they had died in comfortable environs with plenty to eat, and I had everything I needed, and had learned all I needed to know, …. so I cleaned up the tank to be ready for next year. Then …. two weeks later … the next thing you know……
On Nov 2 a female showed up at work. The females are a much lighter and greener color and they have fatter bodies than their twiggy brethren. This one had all three legs on her right side, but on the left, only two-thirds of her front leg and no middle or back leg. But she still seemed to get around pretty well - pretty sturdy and resilient, in fact. The name “Hermione” popped into my brain for no clear reason – some assumed it was from Harry Potter, but actually the image in my mind had more connection to the elderly actress Hermione Gingold. ( http://media.linkara.com/_images_/verticales/8/0/9/7/imagen_hermione_gingold_0102_0.jpg
Then another week later there was a fourth find: named Luna (yes, this time after Harry Potter!), but she seemed quite weak from the moment I found her and did not survive 24 hours.
But Hermione lived with us for a full month and, wonder of wonders, soon began dropping eggs at the rate of 3 to 5 eggs per day. I now have 140 of her potential offspring. These eggs are cute tiny little two-toned footballs, and the pictures I’ve seen of hatchlings are even cuter. Here are some great images of eggs and hatchings I’ve robbed from the net… http://westjersey.org/sticks/
And now, the home movie….. This video was taken Nov 29, 2009, one week before Hermione died. http://vimeo.com/8152108 … Usually Hermione stayed motionless during the day, (as sticks are wont to do), and then rambled and fed at night, but this time I caught her in motion with enough light to video.
So most people have written me off as a hopeless eccentric for keeping any kind of insect at all. But I have made an observation about what I am calling “yoga people.” As I have described needing to find homes for surplus hatchlings (should a large percentage of the 140 live and thrive), most people have thought such homes unlikely to be found. But one day after yoga I was telling my sticky story and TWO of the people there (not from the same household) VOLUNTEERED when I got to this point that: “oh maybe we could take some and raise them!” This could be my new litmus test to sniff out people open to expanding their hearts in unusual directions. Are they open to making room for 5-inch leggy insects? Are you?
UPDATE: 2011 April 17: Only a handful of Hermione's eggs hatched in 2010 (Wenda, Egbert, Benita and Trisket), but only Wenda survived to adulthood. Because she never had a chance to mate, I was curious to see if any of Wenda's eggs would hatch, which would prove that this species is capable of reproducing asexually (also known as parthenogenesis). Wenda's eggs did not hatch, so while not a complete dis-proof, I am mostly convinced that Diapheromera femorata is only sexually reproducing.
BUT!!!! In Fall 2010, I brought home 2 female stick bugs (Alta and Swipe), and 5 males (Baba Looey, Snagglebutt, Wavy Gravy, Hoover, and Spot), from the Great Stick Bug Dying Grounds at work, and provided hospice care for them (and one male from a camp in Medford: Randy). Alta and Swipe left me many eggs and the hatch and survival rate has been phenomenal. Close to 80 or 90, and most have survived multiple moults.
My population explosion started hatching in February and I did not have food for them, so one of the Sticktalk people who lives in Beverly, NJ shared some frozen oak leaves with me. In return I've given him some of my over-supply. This retired school science teacher raises two species that are not native to South Jersey: Indian Walking Sticks (Carausius morosus : Carausius morosus http://bugguide.net/node/view/267361/bgimage ), and Leaf Insects (genus Phylliidae : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phylliidae). He has had a population explosion of Indian Stick Insects, and offered me some, but I don't want to raise anything that is not native to this area. I can always release individuals or eggs back to the environment here. I still have many if anyone is interested in raising some.