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The Stick-Insects (Phasmida)

Introduction

Stick and Leaf-insects as their name implies are a medium sized order of insects most of which look like sticks or leaves. There are around 2 700 known species, most of which come from the tropics, though there are three New Zealand species currently living in England and about 20 European species. they are popular in many parts of the world as pets and there is a society of people The Phasmid Study Group dedicated to the studying and keeping of them. The longest insect in the world is a Stick-Insect called Pharnacia kirbyi and many other Stick-Insects are among the largest insects in the world i.e. Heteropteryx dilatata. Many species are capable of parthenogenic reproduction (i.e. the ova develop without fertilisation into females only, which can mature and repeat this process) most notably 'Carausius morosus' the 'Common, Indian or Laboratory Stick-Insect'.

 

They are hemimetabolous and generally elongate, though some forms (Leaf-Insects) are broad and flattened. Some forms are apterous (winged) though often only the male flies. They have biting and chewing mouthparts and are all phytophagous (leaf eating). They all posses compound eyes and some of the winged forms possess 2 ocelli. Their antennae are generally filiform ranging from 8 to over 100 segments and their cerci are short. They are often adorned with numerous spines and other protuberances.

Ecology

Stick-Insect eggs come in 2 main forms depending on whether they are dropped on the ground or placed in some less accessible spot. Those that are just dropped to the ground have a relatively large 'capitulum' this generally contains lipids and other substances attractive to ants, the ants take the eggs back to their nests, cut off the capitulum and feed it to their brood, the rest of the egg is then thrown into a garbage dump. The Stick-Insect eggs gain protection from birds and many other predators by being in the ant nest, and hatch quite happily inside the nest or buried in the garbage. In some species of Stick-Insect the newly hatched nymphs are 'ant mimics' i.e. Extatosoma tiaratum. This whole process is a remarkable example of plant mimicry on behalf of the Stick-Insects as many plants in similar habitats attach food bodies called 'eliasomes' to their seeds in order that ants should take them back to their nests. It is known that seeds that germinate inside ants nests tend to grow stronger and produce more seeds themselves than seeds of the same plant that germinate away from ants nests. Apart from protection from predators and parasites both eggs and seeds in ants nests are offered some degree of dispersal as well as some protection from fire. Other species of Stick-Insect lay their eggs in the soil (Aretaon Asperrimus), into hollow parts of plants (Graeffea crouanii), or glue them to parts of the plant such as leaves or the bark (Timema californica) and these tend to lack the capitulam or have it greatly reduced.

The eggs take anywhere from 3 months to over 18 months to hatch into miniature versions of the adult, accept that they have no wings. They are generally active and run around a lot, they climb to the top of, or to the end of a limb of the nearset vegetation. Most Stick-Insects have 5 larval instars in the male and 6 in the female, and take from about 3 months to over 12 months to reach maturity. The females are generally far larger than the males except in those species where the males actively compete for females as in Eurycantha calcarata where the males are nearly as big as the females, and Oncotophasma martini where they are slightly bigger. This is because the females produce the eggs which are relatively large and she needs a larger abdomen to make them in and a larger mouth to eat more food and a thus the rest of her body has to be larger too. The males in many species fly and have longer antennae to help them find the females. In a number of species of Stick-Insects the males guard the females after and some times before mating with them This is particularly evident in species such as, the American Walking Stick Anisomorpha bupestroides, Anisomorpha monstrosa and The Small Spiney Stick-Insect Aretaon Asperrimus, males of which will, in captivity at least, guard anything that looks remotely like a female of their species, such as a juvenile female of a different and larger species with which they can not possibly have mated. The life span of many species is about 1 year, however in many of the larger and slower growing species this may rise to more than two years after hatching.

Though most Stick-Insects rely on passive camouflage in order to avoid predators some of the larger species such as Eurycantha horrida have large spines on their hind legs which can serve as aggressive tools of self defence against predators, as well as in competition with other males. While the American Walking Stick Anisomorpha bupestroides and to a lesser extent Pink Wings Sipyloidea sipylus have a defensive chemical spray emitted from a special metathoracic gland, which in the case of American Walking Stick Anisomorpha bupestroides can cause temporary blindness and considerable pain to an adult.

 

 


 

Taxonomy

Order := Phasmida

Suborder := Anareolatae
Family := Heteronemiidae
Family := Phasmatidae
Suborder := Areolatae
Family := Timematidae
Family := Bacillidae
Family := Pseudophasmatidae
Family := Phyllidae

Book Review


The Amazing World of Stick and Leaf Insectsby Paul D Brock
Your First Stick Insect , by David Alderton
Stick Insects of Britain, Europe and the Mediterranean by Paul Brock.

Phasmids on the Web


Phasmid Study Group.
Keeping Stick Insects as Pets
The Sticklist A listserver for enthusiasts
The Phasmid Study Group Species List
Eggs and Classification: the Phasmid connection
Mark Watson's Stick Insect Page
Tropische Insekten halten und züchten In German and English.
A Stick Insect comes to visit! From Australia
Australian Museum on-line
Twostriped walkingstick
Walking Sticks: The Perfect Insect Pet
Northern Walking Stick Diapheromera femorata
Phasmids at the tree of life.
A Photo love story with Oreophoetes peruanus

Picture Parade


Heteropteryx dilatata PSG No 18 a 5th instar Female. JPG 16K
Eurycantha calcarata PSG No 23 a 5th instar Female. JPG 28K
Eurycantha calcarata PSG No 23 an Adult Male.JPG 35k
Eurycantha calcarata PSG No 23 the same guy again, this time with a pen for size .JPG 71k
Aretaon asperrimus PSG No 118 a 1st instar JPG 30K courtesy of Rob Lind
Aretaon asperrimus PSG No 118 a 2st instar ? JPG 51K courtesy of Rob Lind
Aretaon asperrimus PSG No 118 a 3st instar ? JPG 48K courtesy of Rob Lind
Aretaon asperrimus PSG No 118 a 4th instar Female. JPG 28K
Extatosoma tiaratum PSG No 9 a 1st instar JPG 43K courtesy of Rob Lind
Extatosoma tiaratum PSG No 9 a 1st instar JPG 39K courtesy of Rob Lind
Extatosoma tiaratum PSG No 9some ova JPG 59K courtesy of Rob Lind
Extatosoma tiaratum PSG No 9 a 3rd instar female, JPG 35K
Extatosoma tiaratum PSG No 9 Female Imago JPG 30K courtesy of Rob Lind
Extatosoma tiaratum PSG No 9Closeup of the head of the above. JPG 24K courtesy of Rob Lind
Heteropteryx dilatata PSG No 18some ova JPG 59K courtesy of Rob Lind
Guessus whatum PSG No ?An unidentified nymph JPG26K Curtesy of Rob Lind
Phillium bioculatum PSG No 10 JPG 23K courtesy of Ulrich Ziegler
Centrophasma hadrillus PSG No 146 Female Imago JPG 34K courtesy of Phil Bragg
Epidare nolimetangere PSG No 99 Female Imago JPG 20K courtesy of PHil Bragg
Haaniella grayii PSG No 125 Male JPG 40K courtesy of Phil Bragg
Pharncacia kirbyi PSG No Mating pair JPG 26K courtesy of Phil Bragg

Ova

Some scanning electron microscope images of Stick-Insect eggs courtesy of Klaus Lipinski. Klaus has his own Phasmid page (about ova mostly) and if you like looking at Phasmid eggs there are a lot more images there, the site is entirely in German.

 
The Warty Stick-Insect This species is scientifically un-named at the present. 60K JPG
Aplopus sp. 45K JPG
Baculum extradentatum 100K JPG
Calynda sp. 70K JPG
Eurycantha coriacea 52K JPG
Lamponius guerini 87K JPG
Lonchodes haematomus138K JPG
Lonchodes everetti 60K JPG
Paramenexenus laetus 53K JPG
Trachythorax maculicollis 67K JPG

Thanks to Phil Bragg PSG Membership No (445), Rob Lind PSG Membership No (315), Ulrich Ziegler PSG Membership No (233) and Klaus Lipinski for the images they have donated

 

 

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