The scientific name for stick insects is Phasmatodea, from the Greek word phasma (“phantom”), which refers to this insect’s ability to hide in plain sight — they look exactly like sticks. There are about 3,000 species of stick insects, but the only one that lives in Michigan is the Northern Walkingstick. The adult female is green or greenish-brown and about four inches long: the adult male is brown and usually smaller, about three inches long.
These insects are herbivorous, feeding mainly on the leaves of trees, especially oaks and hazelnuts. They eat at any time of day, but mostly at night between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m. Northern Walking sticks mate in late summer after lengthy courtships that last for weeks at a time. During these non-stop mating sessions, the partners remain attached to each other, rarely letting go. About a week after mating, females go up into the treetops and drop hundreds of eggs that free-fall to the ground and remain there for an entire year before hatching in the spring of the following year. When no males are available, females lay sometimes unfertilized eggs, which produce female offspring that are exact copies of the mother.
Northern Walkingsticks don’t have distinct larval and adult stages. When it emerges from its egg in the spring, the young insect looks like a miniature version of the adult. Throughout the summer, it continues to grow, repeatedly shedding off its old exoskeleton, eating it, and then creating an entirely new one. In the early fall, after several months and many molts, it reaches adulthood.
Northern Walkingsticks are hunted by squirrels, chipmunks, turkeys, songbirds, and bats. Bats are the most successful hunters. They feed at night when Northern Walkingsticks are active and hunt by echolocation rather than by sight, so they aren’t fooled by the insect’s camouflage. They send out sound waves that bounce off the moving insect, then swoop in for a meal.