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vietnamese_walking_stickCommon Walking Stick

Diapheromera femorata

Description

Walking sticks are insects with long thin bodies.  They have six legs and two small antennae on the head.  The front two legs are used as “feelers” and are often held in front of the body.  Walking sticks are brown or green in color and closely resemble tree limbs.

Size

The walking sticks that are native to Illinois can grow to be up to 4 inches (10 cm) long.

Adaptations

The walking stick’s ability to camouflage is its best defense against predators.  To avoid being seen, walking sticks often feed at night and remain motionless during the day.  If they encounter a predator, walking sticks extend their front legs straight out past their heads and remain completely motionless to help them blend in with the branch they are standing on.

Diet

In the wild, walking sticks consume the leaves off of the trees they inhabit.  The walking sticks at Cosley Zoo are fed oak leaves, which are collected in the warmer months and frozen to ensure an adequate winter supply.

Reproduction

Walking sticks reproduce both sexually and asexually (meaning that they do not need a mate to reproduce).  Females drop eggs on the forest floor and leave them to hatch, which takes 2-6 months from the time the eggs are laid.  Young walking sticks reach adult size and are able to reproduce 3-4 months after hatching.

Shelter and Space Needs

Walking sticks are arboreal, spending the great majority of their lives in trees.  Trees provide food for these insects and also serve as their shelter.

Lifespan

Illinois walking sticks cannot survive the harsh winters as adults, and have a life expectancy of about six months, dying off in the winter and leaving their eggs to hatch the following spring.  In captivity, these walking sticks can live up to one year.

Relationship with Man

Walking sticks are common prey animals for many predators, including birds, reptiles, rodents, spiders, and other insects.  This makes them an important part of the food chain.

Fun Facts

  • There are about 3,000 species of walking sticks in the world.  They range in size from 1/2 inch to 13 inches long.
  • Because this type of walking stick can reproduce asexually, males are rare.  There are far more female than male walking sticks.
  • Walking sticks are part of the order Phasmatodea, which comes from the Latin word “phasma.”  This word means “ghost” and describes the remarkable ability of these insects to hide unseen by their predators.
  • Walking sticks are able to regenerate legs that have come off or that have been damaged.

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