Cochise County Insects: The Northern Walking Stick

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One afternoon last fall (2012), Gato (the younger of our two cats) became fixated on one of my bedroom windows.  No wonder.  A northern walking stick bug, Diapheromera Femorata, was hanging motionless on the screen.  At a distance, this insect could be mistaken for a browned-out, nearly dead praying mantis.

Up close, there’s not that much resemblance.

I’d seen a few walking sticks around the place but never had the chance to take pictures.

“Awesome!”  I breathed, snapped a photo from inside–which turned out to be unsurprisingly worthless–and trundled my tail out and around the building.

It was a good thing for the stick bug that cooler weather had arrived, even in Cochise County.  The window was completely closed.  If it had been open, Gato’s jumping at the slender insect would have certainly knocked it loose from the screen.  It might not have been hurt by the paw-thump (to the screen) or the fall (to the earth),  but you never know.  Their defenses do not include being armored like a battle tank.

Mostly they look like sticks to escape attention, have a few moves that help with the camouflage, and sometimes excrete nasty chemicals or ooze blood from their legs.  Or at least, so say the experts.  But those slender bodies could most certainly be easily snapped like a…twig.

While I was taking photos, Gato kept studying his new friend through the glass, which produced an  absolutely awesome picture.

Gato and the walking stick, studying each other in mutual fascination.

Walking sticks seem to fascinate kids and adults alike, which would probably amuse the bugs if they knew it.  All they want is to be left alone to do their thing as herbivores, avoiding getting eaten by predators and making more baby walking sticks.

Practicing to make those babies is a very big thing for them, too.  They sometimes mate for as long as 3 hours to (ahem!) three weeks at a time–or even longer.  Talk about being “hooked at the hip”…except that they don’t possess much in the way of hips, of course.

Even up close, the walking stick still looks like a stick.

A curious fact (trivia) about stick insects:  There are approximately 3,000 known species.  Despite that count coming from all around the planet, it’s a remarkable tribute to their natural camouflage that we humans tend to notice them so rarely.  We (my wife and I) consider it a special blessing that this one was for whatever reason drawn to our window screen and willing to pose for the camera.