I’ve been partial toward stick insects since my husband and I hiked a Florida park, where sporadic high-pitched whines crossed the trail in waves. Sometimes the sound was nearly imperceptible, then slowly grew in volume. At its peak, the sound matched the whir of green aliens in outer space movies.
Late that afternoon, we noticed something among the palmetto fronds. A large swarm of black-and-white walkingsticks! Our jaws dropped in realization. They were mating, and they were everywhere!
But now we were living in Arkansas and, at our country home, I often “rescued” walkingsticks attracted to the porch light. At dawn, I’d gather the stragglers and return them to bushes and bramble.
One autumn morning, I noticed a dot on the bedroom wall. I leaned in for a closer look, then closer still. A tiny, translucent creature with six long legs. A nymphling walkingstick! I’d never seen one so tiny! It was less an a quarter-inch long.
I considered taking it outside, but heavy frost was expected. Maybe, I thought, I could keep it alive until spring.
I found a little container to put it in and tried to coax the little animal onto my fingernail. But it did something odd. Instead of probing my finger with its antennae or legs, it drew its front legs up and leaned back, as a cornered spider might do.
I counted the legs again. One, two, three, four, five, six. Insect, not arachnid.
But, in any case, my finger was scaring it. So I slipped a bit of paper beneath the nymph, and then placed the paper in the container.
With the youngster secured, I went to the pet store and bought a proper, see-through bug house. I lined the floor with a paper towel, and added some twigs. On a cardboard platter, I served lettuce and a chunk of apple.
Days went by, but my little walking stick showed no interest in climbing the twigs or eating the leaves. However, it pushed its face into the apple and stayed like this for an hour or more. Later, when I removed the apple, the fruit appeared untouched; no damage to its surface.
More days. More rejected greens. More apple sucking.
After 10 days, only apple was served. I watched the tiny creature as it went from one slice to another.
Yet, for all of its slurping, it failed to grow. Two months later, it was essentially unchanged.
Maybe it wasn’t a walking stick. I started browsing the internet, looking for pictures that resembled my pet. And there it was! But these were baby… assassin bugs?
My insect was a killer? A carnivore?
I didn’t want to believe it; but there was one way to know for sure.
I went back to the pet store and bought six baby crickets.
“Sorry guys, but I have to know.” I dumped them into the cage and immediately baby stick alerted; turned toward them.
As one cricket made its way across the paper towel, baby stick scrambled after it; Pounced and violently wrestled the intruder, then jumped away.
The cricket fumbled; collapsed; twitched; became still in seconds.
Stick scrambled forward; plunged its tube face into its kill. Sucked the intruder dry in surprisingly short time.
Once sated, it joined the other insects. Showed no interest in eating more. Seemed to rejoice in the companionship.
A misread on my part, since assassin bugs are ambush predators. They sit quietly, usually in an active location, until something passes within arm’s reach.
Two days later the weather warmed. Baby assassin and four surviving crickets were released.
I was relieved to be rid of the violence, yet amazed at the resilience of this tiny nymph. It had survived in isolation and sustained itself on sugar water until something more suitable became available.
And understanding often leads to appreciation. Now, in addition to stick insects, I have an affinity for assassin bugs.
Twostriped walkingstick: Anisomorpha buprestoides. University of Florida, Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Wheel bugs and other assassin bugs. Texas A&M, Agrilife Extension, Insects in the City.