On August 8th we found a northern, or common walkingstick in our biodiversity garden! I was so excited I almost called the Mayor!* Walkingsticks and other stick insects belong to the insect order Phasmatodea, and most species are tropical. I have seen many stick insects during my field excursions in the tropical forests of Ecuador and Costa Rica, but this is the first wild native walkingstick that I have seen in Ontario. It is the only species of walkingstick native to Ontario (Marshall 2006).
Walkingsticks are interesting animals because they exhibit "crypsis": they are camouflaged to blend into their surroundings. They spend most of their lives on their food plants, and they are camouflaged to look like the plant parts that they live on. One of the most entertaining aspects of crypsis is behavioral. To avoid being found by predators, cryptic animals must not only look like their surroundings, they must act like their surroundings. In order to look and act like a stick, or plant stem, a walkingstick can hold its body completely still for a long period of time. They can also move their bodies in such a way as to mimic a plant stem swaying in the breeze.
* A joke between me and my five-year-old son, who has been wanting to call the Mayor of London for
Northern Walkingstick, Diapheromera femorata
Images and video: London, Ontario, 8 August 2011, NM Zitani
Our five-year-old son with walkingstick (29 seconds)
Showing swaying movement (23 seconds)
Holding still...jumps (18 seconds)
Crawling on my hand (25 seconds)
Crawling onto camera (16 seconds)
Can you find the cryptic walkingstick in this garden photo?
Where are you, walkingstick?
Literature Cited: Marshall, Stephen A. 2006. Insects: Their Natural History and Diversity, Firefly books, 732 pp.