Northern Walkingstick

2016 August 31

On June 19, 2016, after a night of camping in Traverse City, Sam told me that Rosie had found an interesting insect crawling on their tent on the mesh under the rain fly. “I think it’s a stick insect”, she said. And, she was right. It was a stick insect!

Just a little one, only about half an inch long. These pictures don’t do its camouflage justice, it was so thin and ephemeral that it was extremely hard to see.

So, we were all pretty excited about this, because I hadn’t seen one of these since I was a kid myself. And, I don’t think that they have made it up into the Upper Peninsula yet, so we weren’t likely to get another chance to see one anytime soon. So we put it in a little plastic box with an oak leaf, and brought it home to see if we could raise it up.

After we got home, we put it in a bigger box (one of those Ziploc disposable sandwich boxes), and gave it a fresh leaf every day. It molted within a week, getting about 50% bigger.



Basically, it would spend about 10% of its time eating (mainly at night) and 90% of its time standing around pretending to be a stick. If the box was opened, it would sway gently side to side, pretending to be blown about by the wind.

It then molted pretty much once a week, almost like clockwork. It didn’t change much from molt to molt, aside from getting bigger. Here’s the third instar (after molting twice):



Fourth instar:




At some point in the fourth instar, it lost one of its front legs. I don’t know how, I suppose it just got snagged on something and fell off. These insects are pretty fragile little things. It didn’t seem to be inconvenienced at all by its loss, and losing a leg is probably one of their main defensive maneuvers.

Fifth Instar:



By this time, it was getting pretty big, and if it was a male it probably would have stopped here. But then it molted one last time, to this enormous adult insect:

The body was just about 4 inches long, and by this time it was pretty clear that we had a female.,side.with.leg

Especially since, about a week after her last molt in early August, she commenced laying eggs. She just kind of dropped them to the bottom of the cage. They look rather remarkably like some kind of plant seed, and she laid maybe a dozen per day.


So, this is pretty easy to identify, because there is only one species of walkingstick found in Michigan: the Northern Walkingstick, Diapheromera femorata. It is also pretty easy to see why they aren’t in the Upper Peninsula yet: they haven’t got wings, and the way that they lay eggs doesn’t lend itself to being moved around by human activity, so they’ll have to walk up here. They are the only local representative of the order Phasmatodea, which are a mostly-tropical order of generally large insects that have specialized in pretending to be sticks and leaves. They are popular to keep as pets because they are relatively easy to feed, harmless, and quite large, although a lot of species are illegal to keep in the US without a special permit. This is because they have the potential to be significant forest pests. In large numbers, they can defoliate trees. The Northern Walkingstick is one of the few species that can be kept legally, because it is a native species and is therefore already around anyway. One of the reasons why walkingsticks as a class are of concern as invasive species is that many of the species in this order are capable of parthenogenesis – if there are no males around, the females lay eggs that hatch out into clones of herself.

I haven’t been able to find out whether the Northern Walkingstick is one of the species that can do the parthenogenesis thing, so I don’t know if her eggs are fertile, but I intend to find out. She’s giving us lots of eggs, and will probably continue laying them into October, so we are trying various means to overwinter them to see if we can get any to hatch in the spring. Probably nothing will happen, but if it does, then we will be able to maintain pet walkingsticks for as long as we like!

4 Responses
  1. Carole permalink
    August 31, 2016

    Nice piece

  2. September 1, 2016

    Thanks, Carole

    We aren’t quite sure how long this insect is going to live, she seems to be quite content to continue laying eggs until we run out of oak leaves to feed her. Unfortunately, that is going to happen in about a month when all the oak trees drop their leaves. I’ve read that the adults can make do on things like romaine lettuce, maybe we can try that instead.

  3. Mark Sturtevant permalink
    October 7, 2016

    Cool! I would love to find one of these. I live in Grand Blanc, Mi, and so there may be a chance. I had been occasionally shaking out oak tree branches, hoping to shake one out. So maybe one day.

  4. shiannah nieves permalink
    November 22, 2018

    hi what kind is this

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