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Wild Thing: Stick Figure

No worries - lackadaisical giant walking sticks don't care to bite you.

By Ben Hutchins

Texas is home to a number of really big “bugs” like giant redheaded centipedes, goliath beetles, giant swallowtail butterflies — even giant water bugs that can catch and eat small fish. Not surprisingly, Texas is also the best place to see the nation’s longest insect.

Although individuals may reach 7 inches in length, the giant walkingstick can be surprisingly well hidden. Leaf insects and stick insects like the giant walkingstick are famous for their spectacular camou­flage. Especially in the tropics, some of these amazing insects take camouflage to the next level, mimicking leaf-covered branches or lichen-covered twigs. Our giant walkingstick not only looks like a piece of vegetation but mimics one in movement, too, gently swaying from side to side to blend in with nearby leaves and twigs waving in the breeze.

walking stick

This strange appearance and peculiar movement may have given rise to the myth that giant walkingsticks are highly venomous. In reality, the giant walkingstick is not venomous; it’s not even known to bite.

Indeed, there is no better example of a gentle giant: They don’t scratch, sting or pinch, although their ability to autotomize legs (a defensive behavior where a leg pops off) can be disconcerting.

Autotomy isn’t the only unusual behavior exhibited by giant walkingsticks. Like many stick and leaf insects, giant walkingsticks are capable of parthenogenetic reproduction. What’s that? Unmated female walkingsticks can produce viable, female offspring on their own — no males required.

Males and females do mate, but, unlike many insects, males do not appear to compete for females, and females do not appear to be choosy about males. Indeed, one researcher suggested that mating among giant walkingsticks occurs on a “first-find, first-mate” basis. What giant walkingsticks lack in passion, however, they make up for with endurance; pairs have been observed mating for more than 60 consecutive hours.

walking stick

Giant walkingsticks seemingly have a lackadaisical outlook on life. They rarely fight, and don’t fly, jump, run or make sound. Losing a leg or two is apparently no big deal. Females lay eggs randomly, letting them fall to the ground, where they remain until hatching the following year — no adult supervision required.

Giant walkingsticks are not even picky eaters, and they have been found on a variety of trees and shrubs including mesquite, hackberry, oak, elm, juniper
and grapevines.

Home is never far away for the giant walkingstick. Part of the species’ charm may very well be its untroubled demeanor. These giants of the insect world are as alien in appearance as any creature in Texas, but they prefer to fade into the background and not cause a commotion.

 

Common Name
Giant walkingstick

Scientific Name
Megaphasma denticrus

Habitat
Varied species of trees and shrubs

Diet
Leaves of trees, grapevines and tall grasses

Did you know?
The largest walking stick ever reported is a whopping 22-inch-long specimen from Borneo

 

 

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See more wildlife articles on TP&W magazine's Texas wildlife page


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