Photo: Stick insect

Stick insects are among the best camouflaged of all creatures, with a body shape that mimics the branches of their home.

Photograph by Robert Sisson

Map

Map: Stick insect range

Stick Insect Range

Fast Facts

Type:
Bug
Diet:
Herbivore
Average life span in the wild:
Up to 3 years
Size:
0.46 to 12.9 in (11.6 to 328 mm)
Did you know?
Stick insects are part of the Phasmida order, the name of which is derived from a Greek word meaning “apparition.”
Size relative to a tea cup:
Illustration: Stick insect compared with tea cup

As its name suggests, the stick insect resembles the twigs among which it lives, providing it with one of the most efficient natural camouflages on Earth. It and the equally inconspicuous leaf insect comprise the Phasmida order, of which there are approximately 3,000 species.

Stick insect species, often called walking sticks, range in size from the tiny, half-inch-long (11.6-millimeter-long) Timema cristinae of North America, to the formidable 13-inch-long (328-millimeter-long) Phobaeticus kirbyi of Borneo. This giant measures over 21 inches (55 centimeters) with its legs outstretched, making it one of the world’s longest insects. Females are normally larger than males.

Phasmids generally mimic their surroundings in color, normally green or brown, although some species are brilliantly colored and others conspicuously striped. Many stick insects have wings, some spectacularly beautiful, while others resemble little more than a stump. A number of species have spines and tubercles on their bodies.

Found predominantly in the tropics and subtropics—although several species live in temperate regions—stick insects thrive in forests and grasslands, where they feed on leaves. Mainly nocturnal creatures, they spend much of their day motionless, hidden under plants.

Many stick insects feign death to thwart predators, and some will shed the occasional limb to escape an enemy’s grasp. Others swipe at predators with their spine-covered legs, while one North American species, Anisomorpha buprestoides, emits a putrid-smelling fluid.

Little is known about stick insects, making it difficult to declare the vulnerability of their status in the wild. The pet trade presents a potential threat, along with the popular practice of framing their carcasses, like butterflies.

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