STICKING TO THE MOUNTAINS: NATURE’S TINY ACTORS
Hiking back, a bit breathless and winded from the crisp mountain air and altitude, my eyes were drawn to a light tan stick on our window. We had just hiked through mountain trials and there was plenty of sticks and leaf litter everywhere but there was something about this particular twig . . .
For one thing it was vertical on the window screen and the oddness of it made me stop to take a closer look. Quickly looking around for a source plant, I noticed that there weren’t any trees nearby that would match that type of thin light tan stick. The closest trees where more evergreen and oak-like than this reedy looking tan twig. As I drew closer, I grinned. I had fallen for the illusion–it was not a dead twig as I had originally thought. It was not even from a plant. It was a living moving and incredibly fragile stick insect!
This wild “stick bug” was almost as long as my hand and was just hanging out on our screen. We had walked through forests and trees for hours earlier and had only heard some bird calls from a distance. I had been a bit disappointed that we hadn’t seen much of anything interesting or unusual on our hike. But now here I was right back at our cabin and here was an animal I had never seen in the wild. And it had never even crossed my mind to think that stick insects were native to Running Springs, California. Did you know that stick insects can live in most of the world? They are found (in different shapes, sizes, and colors) from North America to Southeast Asia, the tropics to the subtropical regions of our world.
These insects vary in shape and size often because of their habitat. Stick insects use a defensive technique called “mimicry” which means they are known to imitate something else to avoid being eaten. While they may look very different depending on where they live and the plants that are in their home, they all tend to hide under leaves, come out at night and rock back and forth (like praying mantises and like plants moving in the breeze).
It was incredibly thrilling for me to see one of our native and incredibly “shy” species out in broad daylight. And even though I consider myself smarter than the average bird (which would find a stick insect delicious for dinner), this little bug could on first glance fool me too! It amazes me to think just how effective good mimicry or good imitation can be. And to think that an animal smaller than my hand could have become so talented at acting.
Until next week! Don’t forget, you don’t have to step too far outside your front door to find nature!