Phasmatodea (stick insects)
Should we ever wandered in the wilderness during our field trip, I actually had a secret agenda. Back in Montpellier I’ve been rearing stick insects for about three years and really got into it. It all started when in August 2013, I spotted one phasmid on the wall of my apartment. I live on the ground floor of a residential building, next to a park, so I do have a lot of bugs on my terrace. But as it happens it was the first time I ever spotted a stick insect. I didn’t recognize it at first and after showing it to my kids I released it in the garden. But I spotted another one, a couple of weeks later. And another one a week after that. By then I had time to get some documentation and I decided to keep them and try to raise them at home for pedagogical purposes with my son.
In France, there are mainly 3 species of stick insects, and I wasn’t quite sure which one mines were. As I was building the cages and starting up my populations, I kept finding more. And when they eventually laid eggs, I could identify them and I realized that I had an exotic species from Vietnam that was probably released by careless insect keepers. And now it had the potential to become invasive. The particular species is Ramulus sp. PSG144 (see also here). It is very prolific and I keep finding them in the parc near my place since then. Although never elsewhere, so it might be a local invasion only for now.
However it is how I started my insect culture hobby. At the moment I keep 3 species of stick insects : Ramulus sp., Medauroidea extradentata (also a very popular stick insect pet in schools) and a more local (French) and slightly more challenging Clonopsis gallica. All with very huge population numbers that I try to keep under 50 in order not to invade my home, my office and my lab.
But I’m always game to try new species. So naturally, going to Florida, I looked if there was any particular stick insect to
collect observe. I never realized that’s where you can find Anisomorpha buprestoides, aka the Florida Stick or the Two Striped Walking Stick. Less camouflaged than the ones I was used to, I really wanted to see the sexual dimorphism (mines were all parthenogenetic) and the chemical defense. Apparently these insects are capable of spraying their aggressors with a toxic compound (an aldehyde named anisomorphal).
That’s when, on La Chua trail, after surviving the vicious gator attacks, we spotted them (actually, Marie did, even though she didn’t realize what kind of bug it was). I was genuinely pleased.
When I tried to capture one, I forgot what I read, so I was very surprised when I found myself sprayed (fortunately on the skin of the hand) with a strongly odorant liquid. That was pretty funny. You can see on the gallery below that they looked pretty big compared to our hands.
We found several couples an the bushes along the trail but we also noticed a few isolated males on tree leaves. We didn’t see scores at the times but it really seemed like these isolated males were parasitized by some tachinid flies (probably Phasmophaga meridionalis). You can spot them on the pictures below.
As it happened, our favorite mascot in the lab was Freddy the praying mantis. It was named after Freddy Krueger, because when we were giving it preys, nothing was happening, except the next morning they were all gone. We have several Mantodea species in France, and I personally had in culture Mantis religiosa (the regular praying mantis), Iris oratoria, a close relative, and more unusual, a small (about an inch long for the adult female) pale Ameles decolor, and finally my favorite one, in the Empusinae family : the Empusa pennata, a devil looking mantis.
On La Chua trail, I was really happy to spot two species unknown to me.
First : Brunneria borealis, a wingless parthenogenetic mantis with very peculiar antennae.
Second : Thesprotia graminis (see here and here) or grass-like mantis. We spotted a few of them on the wooden planks above the basins. Way smaller than Brunneria, they were quite rapidly moving around, hiding under the handrail, with their front legs extended (and not folded like most « praying » mantises) similar to what a phasmid would do. And indeed it really looked like a pale brown stick. It seemed that we spotted a wingless female (cued also by the small antennae).
You can see below how happy I am to hold this little mantis.
Thanks again to Marie for the photo credit on this page. Hers were all the nicer pictures that didn’t have a phone format 🙂
PS: strictly adhering to the Nagoya protocol now in vigor in many countries, I resolved myself not to bring any live or dead specimen home. Although it is the right thing to do, I can’t help but feel a little sad not being able to breed the Florida stick. I console myself in thinking that I won’t have my kids suffering from severe eye rash due to mishandling the insects and being sprayed aldehydes in their faces…