The literature tells us that in the Middle Ages, witches succeeded in making a twig walk, a twig that was named “devil’s stick,” and that some of them were burned at the stake for that particular bit of witchcraft. In reality it was probably a small stick insect slowly making its way out of a pile of twigs. Stick Insect, walking stick or common walking stick, these are all names to designate an insect in the family Phasmidae, a group that imitates a twig, a branch or a leaf to perfection.
Being raised at the Insectarium
For a number of years, Phasmidae have been raised both at the Insectarium and elsewhere in the world by scientists or amateurs, who study their behavior or just have them around for the pleasure of it. However, very few people know that the only species of the group found in Canada lives in Québec. That species can be found on Mount Royal, in Gatineau Park and near the American border. In nature it feeds primarily on oak, whereas in captivity, raspberry bush (Rubus sp.) or linden tree (Tilia sp.) are offered it for nourishment. The female is bigger than the male, but does not possess the male’s beautiful colors.
Adults mate at the end of summer and the female drops her eggs from the top of an oak tree. Those eggs will spend the winter under the litter. At the start of the following spring, small insects will begin to feed on plants at the foot of the tree before slowly making their way up it to repeat the cycle again and again.
At the Insectarium, through the forcing of the cold period and the acceleration or slowing down of the life cycle, it’s now possible to see a spectacular and little known species (Diapheromera femorata) from our insect fauna practically all year long.
Written in collaboration with Paul Harrison.