When one of your children is passionate about insects, it’s amazing how much there is to learn. As my young son came into possession of a stick bug last fall, it became necessary to research the care and keeping of this treasured pet, and in doing so I stumbled upon an article that described some fascinating habits of these creatures. Here I will present to you the points of interest in the article so you can see why I think we should all aspire to be more like the stick insect.
- Stick insects possess the ability to regenerate limbs. Yes, that’s right: like the starfish, earthworm, spider, and axolotl, the walking stick is bound and determined to keep apace. They use a specialized muscle to detach the limb at a weak joint if it’s in the clutches of a predator, shedding the leg in a defensive gambit called autotomy. The juveniles of the species can then grow a new leg during their next molt. Some adult stick insects are even able to initiate the molting process specifically with the objective of replacing the limb.
TAKEAWAY: They are resourceful, resilient, and very much in tune with their bodies.
- Utilizing the rare process of parthenogenesis, female stick insects can reproduce without the help of a male. Their unfertilized eggs, of which a single insect can lay hundreds, will mature into other females, and scientists have actually identified a species of stick insect in which no single male has been found.
TAKEAWAY: They are so self-sufficient that one single individual contains within itself the potential not just to regenerate itself, but to regenerate an entire population.
- Stick insects are so effective at camouflage that their name is borrowed from the natural element their bodies are built to resemble. Not only do they structurally imitate the form of a twig, but they also can change color to blend even more seamlessly into their environment, some even putting on a mottled look to appear lichen-like. Their movements, too, are dictated by this penchant for mimicry, as they can sway and rock as if being undulated by a passing breeze.
TAKEAWAY: These creatures are masters of self-protection, practicing their defensive expertise in a way that is at once peaceful, inoffensive, humble, and harmless.
- Not only do the bugs themselves borrow their appearance from the botanical world, but also their eggs are designed to look like proto-plants, which is to say, seeds, ostensibly so they’ll escape the attention of a carnivorous predator. The mother stick insect, guided by that eternal beacon of instinct, lays the eggs as one would sow a crop of wild oats, spreading them out to decrease the possibility that a hungrily prowling threat would come upon them and devour the whole clutch in one fell swoop.
TAKEAWAY: These mothers are doing their best. There’s a lot to admire about that. They also understand that inserting a healthy amount of space in between their children favors survival.
- Like all members of the entomological and arachnid orders, stick insects are most susceptible to predation after they’ve shed their exoskeleton because the fresh cuticle on display takes some time to toughen and grow darker. To protect themselves after a molt, nymphs will actually eat the skin they’ve just shed in an effort to destroy proof of the process, removing it from the visibility of hungry insectivores. Bonus: the protein in the shed layer is self-recycled, strengthening the individual from the outside to the inside and out again. By ingesting what they’ve just cast off, stick insects literally feed themselves on themselves. Just imagine if, instead of handing down or consigning clothing our children outgrow, we could feed it to them as a nutritious, power-packed snack?
TAKEAWAY: Even in their youth, these animals are both canny about self-preservation as well as instinctively predisposed as first-order conservationists. These guys have six legs but almost zero footprint! Humans, take a knee.
TO BE CONTINUED…