This Incredible Stick Insect Demonstrates Why It Deserves Its Name

Written by Sharon Parry
Published: November 30, 2023
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This extraordinary insect has taken the art of looking like a stick to a new level! There is no way you would know it was a living creature if you found it on the forest floor, which is the general idea. These insects use a technique called masquerading to protect themselves from predators. They take on the appearance of objects that are of no interest to the predator – such as a stick. This particular species, Hermagoras sigillatus, is found in tropical forests with plenty of sticks to hide amongst. It has hidden its outline by tucking its legs close to its body. Then, it closes its two front legs to hide its antennae, which can often be a giveaway!

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What Exactly Is a Stick Insect?

Stick insects are members of the Phasmatodea order – they are not a single species. It is a term used to describe a group of insects that use their ability to look like sticks as protection. There are more than 3,000 different species of stick insect, and they are found worldwide on every continent except Antarctica. In terms of habitat, you will nearly always find them in grasslands, woodland, and forests where they can blend in. Some have evolved to look like a particular plant. Others have growths that look like buds or lichen. Others can alter their pigmentation to match their surroundings.

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Many stick insect species are in South America and Southeast Asia. Borneo has a vibrant population of stick insects. Most of them are nocturnal and spend the day looking like a stick! At night, they eat leaves, using their powerful mandibles to carve up the plant material. Birds, reptiles, primates, and spiders constantly predate them. Stick insects are also eaten by small mammals if they are spotted.

How Do Stick Insects Normally Evade Predators?

Phasmatodea stick insect

Phasmatodea stick insects look precisely like a part of a plant.

©Al’fred/Shutterstock.com

Stick insects have developed other practical defense techniques, such as camouflage. Some have sharp spines, while others can produce noxious odors. A further approach is to startle predators with loud noises and aggressive movements. A stick moving aggressively is enough to put off a lot of animals!

If the predator looks away for just a second, the insect adopts their ‘stick mode’ and drops to the forest floor amongst all the other sticks, where they will be impossible to find!

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Mark Brandon/Shutterstock.com


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About the Author

Dr Sharon Parry is a writer at A-Z animals where her primary focus is on dogs, animal behavior, and research. Sharon holds a PhD from Leeds University, UK which she earned in 1998 and has been working as a science writer for the last 15 years. A resident of Wales, UK, Sharon loves taking care of her spaniel named Dexter and hiking around coastlines and mountains.

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