If you’ve ever explored the greenhouse at Brooklyn Children’s Museum, you may have spotted our most elusive creatures, the walking sticks. Then again, they’re easy to miss! These bugs are masters of camouflage, and their bizarre traits don’t stop there. We delved into the strange world of stick and leaf mimics in our “Phantastic Phasmids” program and here are a few surprising facts we learned about the order of insects Phasmatodea .
Most phasmids are females, and if a male mate is not readily available , the females have the ability to produce clones, an animal phenomenon called parthenogenesis. They lay hundreds of eggs containing exact female replicas of themselves!
One…Two…Three Times a Mimic.
Stick bugs share a special mutualistic relationship with ants. Ants love to feed their \ larvae the special nutrient-rich part of a seed called the elaiosome. After they’ve fed their young, they dispose of the seed in an environment perfect for germination. The stick bug eggs mimic the look of a seed, complete with a fatty cap like a seed’s elaiosome. By imitating the crux of the mutualistic relationship between ants and seeds, the stick bug gains a safe anthill home for its eggs to hatch and thrive while the ants still benefit from the nutrients of that expendable knob on the stick bug’s egg. What an opportunist — the phasmid piggy-backs on an already beautifully established mutually beneficial relationship between plants and ants!
And get this — when the egg first hatches inside the anthill, it even resembles an ant! The stick bug ant-mimic crawls out of the anthill to its safe habitat in the trees.
Our visitors love having these alien creatures walk across their hands. Sometimes their uncanny resemblance to sticks doesn’t really strike the kids until they’re able to get an up-close view of their long branchy legs.
One fun activity to try with your students is to make a phasmid collage. Have the kids go outside and collect a few sticks and leaves that have fallen from trees or other plants. When you get back to the classroom, use glue to compose a phasmid that would remain expertly hidden from any predators seeking a buggy snack. We used these leaf and stick bug templates to get the kids started with their collages. Email us at gogreen [at] brooklynkids.org if you would like a copy of these templates for your classroom.
Learn more about phasmids and see some cool walking stick videos at our sister blog Brooklyn Greenhouse.