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Walkingstick, Leaf Insect, Stick Insect
Phasmida, Phasmatodea
Diapheromera femorata, Phyllium bioculatum


Walkingsticks belong to the order Phasmatodea. The Phasmida are a captivating group of insects that come in all sorts of strange shapes and sizes. They often match their surrounding habitat, looking like sticks, tree bark or leaves. Tropical species may have color patterns that match moss and lichens, while others look exactly like the sticks or leaves they hang onto.

Local varieties in the Midwestern United States are typically stick-like in appearance with gray, green or brown coloration. Their environmental matching adaptation, or camouflage, is called crypsis. Walking sticks are mainly protected from their predators and natural enemies due to this mimicry, but they can also play dead. There are some species that move suddenly to startle an attacker, or even spray them with an irritant!

Common Northern walking stick, Diapheromera femorata
Common Northern walking stick, Diapheromera femorata

Thousands of Phasmida have been identified, some of which are quite large. This group includes some of the world's biggest insects. In fact, a specimen from Borneo was documented as being 55 centimeters (over one and one-half feet) in length.
Now, that's one big bug!


Walking sticks and walking leaf insects live in a wide range of habitats, from temperate to tropical and forest to grassland, but their diversity is greatest in the tropics. In the tropics they can be found in their most exotic leaf-like forms. In temperate climates, like North America, they generally have a stick-like appearance. Phasmida mainly eat flowering plants, but some eat gymnosperms or ferns. In North America, the Phasmatodea eat the leaves of plants, but rarely do much damage to their food source.

Walking stick, juvenile, baby, nymph
Walking stick, juvenile, baby, nymph

walkingstick, Diapheromera femorata
walkingstick, Diapheromera femorata

A good classification system for the walking sticks and walking leaves has yet to be developed. In other insect orders, a family level identification tells a great deal about the insect, but for species of Phasmida, it may not. Despite this, in Europe, North America, Japan, New Zealand, and a few other parts of the world, these insects have been studied extensively enough to allow identification of species by public entomology enthusiasts and photographers, such as myself.

Walkingstick, camouflage, crypsis
Walkingstick, camouflage, crypsis


It can be difficult to determine the gender of individual walking sticks and leaf insects unless they're found mating in natural conditions where it's easier to tell them apart. Most stick insects reproduce sexually, requiring a male to fertilize the female egg, however, some species are parthenogenetic.

Parthenogenesis is when a female lays an egg that hasn't been fertilized by a male, yet it still develops into a new insect. In 2006, it was discovered that Komodo dragons can do this as well. A dragon named Flora, of the Chester Zoo in England, gave virgin birth to 5 hatchling dragons.

Leaf insect, Phyllium bioculatum
Leaf insect, Phyllium bioculatum

Walking stick and leaf insect eggs resemble plant seeds and are usually laid one at a time. They aren't that gentle with them as the eggs are often dropped, tossed, buried, or glued to a leaf. Despite this, the eggs develop into adults over the course of hatching and several molts. Their life cycle can range from several months to several years, depending on the particular species.



Next time you're out for a nature hike, or even in the back yard, keep an eye out for these fascinating insects. It's not often you see a stick that walks!

Andrew Williams / CritterZone.com
Literature cited
Carde, Ring T. 2003 Encyclopedia of Insects Academic Press pgs.865-866
Salsbury, Glenn A., White, Stephan C. 2000 Insects in Kansas
Kansas Department of Agriculture, pg.55
The walkingstick, leaf insect, stick insect, Phasmida and Phasmatodea pictures on this page are available for commercial stock photography license. All text and photos that appear on this webpage are copyrighted and may not be copied or used in any way without permission from CritterZone.

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Leaf insect, Phyllium bioculatum, head, closeup, portrait
Leaf insect, Phyllium bioculatum, head, closeup, portrait