Cochise County Insects: A Five Legged Northern Walking Stick in Mid-November

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Okay, so this is southern Cochise County, Arizona. An active northern walking stick, Diapheromera femorata, is still a bit of a surprise on November 12.

That it had lost a leg, thus becoming a five legged northern walking stick bug, is less surprising. Only the last of the survivors from summer are still out and about. Most insects who’ve lasted this long have taken hits along the way. The grasshoppers are nearly all dead and gone now. Black widow spiders (not insects, of course) are still in the groove except for those that turn up too close to the house and wind up meeting the business end of my favorite #2 shovel, Stan Spade. Few ants are seen, most of them having gone into hibernation in anticipation of the coming winter.

Beyond that, it was windy as the dickens today, blowing hard from the east-southeast.

Today’s northern walking stick didn’t have to worry about wind, though. It was moving across the surface of the concrete pad I poured for the back porch last Saturday. That’s on the west side of the dwelling, totally protected from the wind.

The missing leg wasn’t noticed at first. After all, an insect losing one of six legs–especially a middle leg, as in this case–is not quite as catastrophic for a bug as losing one of two legs is for a bird or a human.

This was only the second northern walking stick we’d seen on the property. The other encounter happened one year ago, also in the fall, within a few yards of today’s sighting. That individual was hanging on my office window screen. It had all six of its legs, but I managed to snap only three photos worth publishing.

Our 2013 visitor might have fewer legs, but I vowed to take many, many more pictures.

Our second sighting of a northern walking stick insect on our property.

Our second sighting of a northern walking stick insect on our property.

The stick bug seemed to be compensating for its missing limb quite well, moving right along. It looked like a great photo op. With all that motion–and the insect seeming unconcerned by my looming presence–it should be possible to get pictures from various angles, showing the critter in numerous different positions.

The northern walking stick didn't seem much bothered by its missing limb, compensating effectively as it traveled across the concrete.

The northern walking stick didn’t seem much bothered by its missing limb, compensating effectively as it traveled across the concrete.

A bit of maneuvering allowed for a head-on shot, showing the bug coming toward the camera. I’d never before had the chance to “face” a walking stick, northern or otherwise.

Interestingly enough, when you really get right in front of the oncoming insect, it looks rather spidery. This is obviously due to the leg structure plus the fact that when you’re face to face, the elongated twig-like body is not that obvious.

The northern walking stick begins angling toward the camera...

The northern walking stick begins angling toward the camera…

...closer...

…closer…

...until, finally, we're face to face. (Well, face to camera lens.)  The body is not spidery, but those oncoming legs sure are.

…until, finally, we’re face to face. (Well, face to camera lens.) The body is not spidery, but those oncoming legs sure are.

For the first time, I got to take a look at the face of a walking stick bug. And guess what–they really do have faces! The camera didn’t perfectly focus on the bug’s face, of course. Even for a Canon PowerShot, there are more “interesting” body parts on which to focus than a moving stick bug face.

Better than nothing, though.

I began to wonder: Would a northern stick bug find a friendly human to be worth climbing? You know, like a praying mantis does. It seemed worth finding out, so I kept shifting until the walking stick’s angle of approach led it straight to my left shoe.

Which, amazingly enough, had been shined today. In fact, the right shoe had been shined, too. I’d had an appointment with an attorney earlier in the day, see, and….

Maybe it was the Kiwi shoe wax? At any rate, sure enough, the little northern walking stick didn’t even hesitate but began climbing shoe, sock, and pants leg.

Ghost32, flesh and blood (and cloth) Mount Everest for adventurous insects.

The 5 legged northern walking stick approaches my left shoe.

The 5 legged northern walking stick approaches my left shoe.

Up the shoe it goes.

Up the shoe it goes.

I pulled the pant leg tight so the walking stick could come up the outside of my jeans.

I pulled the pant leg tight so the walking stick could come up the outside of my jeans.

The insect made steady progress, right on up to knee level.

The insect made steady progress, right on up to knee level.

Check out the length of those antennae!

Check out the length of those antennae!

Up near the knee of my jeans, the northern walking stick decided it had gone far enough. It sort of reared up, tested the atmosphere, then (after thinking it over for a while) turned around and started back down.

Now, if you’ve ever done any sort of climbing at all, you know that going down is often a riskier proposition than going up. After all, that’s how kittens get stuck in trees, novice climbers freeze on sheer rock faces, and all that.

Besides, that missing leg could really be a problem on the downhill run, could it not?

I thought so, and apparently the bug did, too. Progress was slow, hesitant, and uncertain. The tail end of the body, normally extended straight back in twig fashion, was now curled up over the forward half, almost like a scorpion.

It didn’t take a rocket scientist to realize this creature was in fear of its life, deeply frightened that it might slip and take a dangerous fall.

"This," the walking stick decided, "is high enough.  Time to head back down."

“This,” the walking stick decided, “is high enough. Time to head back down.”

Making the turn.

Making the turn.

After watching the walking stick try to ease back down the jeans leg, its body deeply curved from either fear or gravity (or both), I decided it was time to offer the little critter a hand.

After watching the walking stick try to ease back down the jeans leg, its body deeply curved from either fear or gravity (or both), I decided it was time to offer the little critter a hand.

It didn’t take me long to decide the little stick bug was in trouble, so I offered to give it a hand, a ride back down to level ground. It seemed to appreciate the ride. After being deposited gently on the gravel rocks on the south side of the concrete pad, it went calmly about its northern walking stick bug business.

Whatever that might be.

Moving on, the 5 legged northern walking stick goes on calmly about its business, whatever that might be.

Moving on, the 5 legged northern walking stick goes on calmly about its business, whatever that might be.

That would normally be the end of the story. However, when I went to pick up the garden hose to spray the curing concrete down with a mist of water, there was another surprise lying in wait. Or rather, standing in wait.

A late autumn female praying mantis had decided to join the Survivor Bugs Parade.

She was just standing there like mantids do, kind of leaning on the garden hose a little for support. This insect had all six of her legs, but one antenna was gone and the other one wasn’t looking much better. I got the impression she was blind; there were “eye places” but no little black dots to indicate vision capacity, nor did she follow my movements with those blind eyes the way a sighted praying mantis usually does.

When I spoke gently to her and then (equally gently) shifted the hose away from her forelimbs, she never moved a muscle. If she never moves again until she falls over dead, I would not be surprised.

However, had the five legged northern walking stick come within range, perhaps inadvertently brushing against her in its travels, it would have been grabbed right up and eaten, head first, without a doubt. A praying mantis, even on her last legs and stone blind to boot, would never turn down free protein.

Thus was I relieved that I’d set the walking stick down on the other side of the concrete pad from the praying mantis’s position, and that the five legged bug had been traveling away to the south the last time I’d seen it.

What happens in the wilds is Mother Nature’s business, but friends don’t deliberately help friends eat friends.

The female praying mantis on November 12, seemingly blind, making what is quite likely her last stand.

The female praying mantis on November 12, seemingly blind, making what is quite likely her last stand.

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2 thoughts on “Cochise County Insects: A Five Legged Northern Walking Stick in Mid-November

  1. Your articles on bugs are so fascinating. I can only remember seeing one walking stick bug before. I have seen many of the mantises before though. My sons were fascinated with them and would keep them in a plastic jug for a few days. They were not allowed to keep them for long. We made them turn them loose after studying them for a few days. We figured that was long enough to torture the bugs. They liked to study the little creatures and try to figure out what they would eat. We made them research it too.

  2. Your LTO (Limited Torture Only) system sounds pretty workable.

    Glad you like my bug posts. I find the little critters fascinating, too, which no doubt comes through a bit in the writing. We’ve certainly got enough of them around here to study.

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