It is not often you catch a glimpse of a stick insect out and about like this one I found basking on a wall a couple of years ago.
Members of the order Phasmatodea, these insects are also commonly called walkingsticks.
Why would I be featuring walkingsticks in a blog about ants?
Actually walkingsticks and ants have a very cool relationship, and it is one of my favorite stories to share.
Female walkingsticks are not particularly good mothers. When they lay their eggs, they simply drop them from the trees as they are feeding. This doesn’t seem like a safe strategy for making sure the eggs hatch, but female walkingsticks are relying on the services of a nanny on the ground to take care of their eggs.
Walkingstick eggs resemble seeds. In fact, the eggs have a knob on one end, called a capitulum, which looks and functions like an elasiosome of a seed. Ants find the eggs and drag them back to the safety of their underground nest. The ants remove and eat the capitulum, but generally leave the rest of the egg intact. After the walkingstick eggs develop in the nest, sometimes even overwintering there, the young walkingsticks emerge and crawl away from their protected nursery.
David Attenborough has a wonderful discussion of this in his BBC video, Life in the Undergrowth:
Just think, we might not have some types of walkingsticks if it weren’t for the services of ants. And you wonder why I’m “wild about ants.” 🙂