Thursday, October 25, 2012

One Long Stick

Fall is my favorite time of year on Bull Creek.  In addition to the obvious changing colors, wildlife is active, moths and butterflies are flying in between cold snaps, and lots of the animals are on the prowl, preparing for the cold to come.

After the rain last evening, we took to the woods in search of mushrooms.  Apparently they had fruited out with the last rain and all we found was a scattering of jelly ears.  These soft moist mushrooms grow on the downed trunks of trees we felled in the timber stand improvement areas.  Although not edible, they always bring a smile when petting the moist rubbery surface.

The highlight of the day came when our friend Debbie asked, "What is that on the tree?"  She was pointing to a walking stick of unusual size.  Unlike many walking sticks, it had vivid red streaks along its back and bright green front legs.  Even more dramatic, it was over 5 inches long, not counting its antennae.

And what antennae they were!  They were far longer than its legs and it flailed them about, trying to determine if we were a threat.   He began "racing" up and down the trunk, turning around when I put my finger in his path.  Walking sticks are usually very slow and deliberate in their moves, but this one seemed to be trying out for NASCAR.

Male clasper
I say "he" based on the structures at the end of his abdomen.  These are called "claspers" and males use them to hold the female during mating.  This seems to be a favorite walking stick activity and many fall days most walking sticks are in this embrace for hours at a time.

While many walking sticks are hard to identify by species, this one was easy.  A quick search of showed an identical example, the Giant Walking Stick, Megaphasma denticrus.  A specimen was pictured at the Arkansas site Nature in the Ozarks.  Another photograph along with good information was posted by Ted MacRae of Taney County.

As the name implies, this walking stick is really big, the longest insect species in North America.  Females can reach over six inches, so as a male our guy was slightly shorter.  The colors can vary from tan to dark brown and our specimen was all the more impressive for his color contrasts. In addition to their size, they can be distinguished by their antennae which are longer than their legs.  They also have rows of teeth-like hooks on the underside of the middle femur which I couldn't photograph.

Adult walking sticks usually are in the highest branches of trees.  When threatened, they drop to the ground as a defense.  Those we see on tree trunks are usually making their way back up to where the leaves are.  I had never seen a walking stick scurry around like this one as seen in this video.

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