[Sign Up Now] to Receive Our FREE Daily SCVTV-SCVNews Digest by E-Mail

Inside
Weather
Santa Clarita CA
Clear
Clear
51°F
 
Calendar
Today in
S.C.V. History
December 16
1902 - Hi Jolly (Hadji Ali), Gen. E.F. Beale's Syrian camel driver, dies at Quartzsite, Ariz. [story]


Let's Go Outside | Commentary by Evelyne Vandersande
| Thursday, Aug 20, 2015

evelynevandersande_mugA few weeks ago I was at the Placerita Nature Center when a docent, all excited, asked me if I had seen the walking stick. Well, we have a nice collection of fancy walking sticks in the gift shop. They sell slowly, and although they are really pretty, many of our visitors come prepared with their own. So I was not sure what all of the excitement was about. Did we get a new shipment? A new style? One that sparkled?

She must have realized by my puzzled look that I was lost – so she grabbed my hand and brought me to the front of Apollo’s cage. Apollo is our resident turkey vulture. Here was a walking stick hanging on the side of the cage.

The walking stick is one of the oldest forms of insect known to man. The first form of walking stick can be traced to 200 million years ago during the geologic time called the Triassic age. It is a long, strange-looking insect that appears to be made of a few dry twigs.

walkingstick2It is such an expert at camouflage that you really have to look closely to make sure it is an insect. If I had given the cage only a passing glance, I would have thought a little twig was caught in the cage and would not have looked again.

To make the situation even trickier, the body of the walking stick seemed to be swaying gently in the wind, the way a branch would move. That is another way they camouflage their body, taking cues from their environment. They actually bend their knees to make this little movement. It is hard to notice a walking stick unless it is isolated on a window screen or, in this case, on the side of the cage.

If it feels threatened, it plays dead, falling to the ground like a dead twig. If you were a bird, intrigued to eat it, you would shrug it off and look for a real lunch … or at least this is what the walking stick is hoping for.

walkingstick1Like a lizard which can sacrifice its tail, some walking stick species can even sacrifice a leg to escape from a predator, and the leg will grow back in a few weeks.

They are usually nocturnal, feeding and otherwise active at night, so that makes it even harder to spot them. Their body length ranges from 1/2 inch to 13 inches.

They can be found in many parts of the United States but are most plentiful in the warmest part of the country and are known by many colorful names: devil’s riding horse, devil’s darning needle or witches’ horse. Its taxonomic name comes from the Greek word “phasma,” meaning phantom or apparition. I think this name was particularly well chosen, and I’ll bet you will this so, too, if you look at the photos.

It looks like a stick but the body is formed of three parts: the head, thorax and abdomen. In the head there is the brain and mouth, but no apparatus for breathing. They breathe through the thorax and abdomen using structures called “spiracles.”

They have eyes that can detect images, motion and color, as well as antenna that can sense hot or cold and can check on smells. They have three pairs of long legs ending in small claws and a suction pad on their feet, helping them climb even on smooth surfaces.

They eat plants and seem more interested in the leafy part of the plant. Certain species eat only one type of plant, so it can be a problem for that plant if there is a large infestation of walking sticks. However, because they do not have wings, the insects’ reach to higher parts of the plant is usually limited.

walkingstick3They are the prey of birds, reptiles, spiders, rodents, praying mantis, and because they are nocturnal, bats eat them, too.

The life span of a walking stick is usually about a year, so mating and producing eggs is important for their survival. The couple, while mating, can be attached together for hours, days or even weeks. But even if the female cannot find a partner, she can still have viable eggs.

Eggs produced without a male can only become female walking sticks. Animals that can reproduce asexually are described as having the characteristic of “parthenogenesis.” That can be a very useful way for a species to survive one or two difficult seasons in one specific area, but it cannot last for much longer than that, I imagine.

The eggs are dropped to the ground into leaf litter. For some species, the eggs are even buried in the ground by ants – a good way to have them protected from predators. They look like seeds, so being hidden underground is just perfect. In springtime, the eggs hatch, the nymph climbs into a tree to become an adult, and the whole circle starts again.

Walking sticks are strange creatures. They have perfected the art of mimicry, since they look in almost every respect like a small twig. The purpose of mimicry is to trick your enemies into thinking you are not good to eat. (Why eat a twig?)

It is obvious that their appearance helps the walking stick deter many predators, but some other animals use mimicry not only in copying appearance, but even making the sound of another animal to survive. The robber fly (without a stinger) makes the same sound as the bumblebee (with a stinger). If you are a predator, you do not want to check too closely; you have learned you do not want to get stung, so you will leave the robber fly alone.\

walkingstick4Some butterflies are poisonous, and birds have learned not to eat them – but some other butterflies have similar patterns and color and take the benefit of that notoriety to stay alive.

Sometimes, a dangerous or venomous animal will develop a bright color pattern, and it usually means stay away. Red and yellow are meaningful colors in this respect. I am thinking of the coral snakes that really advertise, “do not touch me,” with its red and yellow bands. However, there are quite a few harmless copycat snakes with similar patterns, riding on the help those colors provide. The more they resemble the deadly snake, the more they will succeed.

With all of this discussion, it’s worth remembering that this evolution is a long process. Nothing in nature happens quickly. However, if all survivors of the predators had those specific markings in common, those are the traits that are going to become prevalent for the species, helping them to survive and passing those genes to the future generations.

Just like we dress up for Halloween, assuming a new identity and playing at being someone else, these animals that look like a stick, a piece of bark, a stone or a different dangerous animal do that for survival and have certainly refined their technique.

I doubt the walking stick will still be there the next time you visit the Nature Center – but remember that something you see might not be quite what you assume it is.

Take the time to look carefully, and you might get a great surprise like I did.

 

Evelyne Vandersande has been a docent at the Placerita Canyon Nature Center for 28 years. She lives in Newhall.

 

 

 

 

Comment On This Story
COMMENT POLICY: We welcome comments from individuals and businesses. All comments are moderated. Comments are subject to rejection if they are vulgar, combative, or in poor taste.
REAL NAMES ONLY: All posters must use their real individual or business name. This applies equally to Twitter account holders who use a nickname.

1 Comment

  1. Glenda Perl Glenda Perl says:

    Excellent and educational article, Evelyne Vandersande! Thx for sharing!

Leave a Comment


Opinion Section Policy
All opinions and ideas are welcome. Factually inaccurate, libelous, defamatory, profane or hateful statements are not. Your words must be your own. All commentary is subject to editing for legibility. There is no length limit, but the shorter, the better the odds of people reading it. "Local" SCV-related topics are preferred. Send commentary to: LETTERS (at) SCVNEWS.COM. Author's full name, community name, phone number and e-mail address are required. Phone numbers and e-mail addresses are not published except at author's request. Acknowledgment of submission does not guarantee publication.
Read More From...
RECENT COMMENTARY
Sunday, Dec 10, 2017
Derelict since the 1994 earthquake, the Pioneer Oil Refinery in Newhall was the first productive oil refinery in the American West and is believed to be the oldest existing refinery in the world today. Unfunded restoration plans have come and gone. Now that the surrounding property is under development, will the promises be kept?
Friday, Dec 8, 2017
A National Memorial designation for St. Francis Dam will honor those who lost their lives in the nation’s worst engineering disaster and the role it played in ushering in a new era of oversight for dam construction.
Thursday, Dec 7, 2017
Eliminating net neutrality would allow Internet service providers such as Verizon, Comcast, Spectrum and AT&T to create a “slow lane” and a “fast lane” on the Internet, prioritizing certain companies over others and dictating what websites you’re able to visit and at what speed, or even blocking you entirely from visiting certain websites of your choice.
Monday, Dec 4, 2017
In his monthly message for December 2017, Santa Clarita City Manager Ken Striplin encourages residents to shop and party locally during the holidays to keep the cash in our community.
Friday, Dec 1, 2017
The big day is almost upon us and a year of celebrations is wrapping up. On December 15, 2017 our city will officially be 30 years old.
Thursday, Nov 30, 2017
Create and decorate your own holiday wreaths, centerpieces, candles and ornaments using a large assortment of fresh-cut greenery, pine cones and other beautiful natural treasures this weekend at the Placerita Canyon Nature Center.

Latest Additions to SCVNews.com
1902 - Hi Jolly (Hadji Ali), Gen. E.F. Beale's Syrian camel driver, dies at Quartzsite, Ariz. [story]
The National Weather Service has called a Fire Weather Watch for this weekend for Los Angeles and Ventura County mountains and valleys including the Santa Clarita Valley due to gusty northeast wind and low relative humidity.
Weekend Fire Weather Watch Called for SCV
Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station deputies arrested a 21-year-old man who had an outstanding warrant and was allegedly in possession of cocaine in Canyon Country early Thursday.
Bicyclist Arrested for Warrant, Cocaine in Canyon Country
Valencia-based Princess Cruises, voted the #1 international cruise line in Japan, announced its 2019 program featuring Japanese-built Diamond Princess returning for her sixth season, sailing roundtrip from Tokyo (Yokohama) and Kobe.
Princess Cruises Unveils 2019 Japan Cruise Program
Valencia-based Princess Cruises released its 2019 Canada and New England cruise schedule, featuring Regal Princess and Caribbean Princess on the line’s largest fall deployment and the opportunity to visit Greenland roundtrip from New York
Princess Cruises Sets Fall 2019 Cruises to Canada, New England
The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department looks back at five years of work by its Domestic Highway Enforcement Team, which has disrupted the operations of the drug cartels by confiscating millions of dollars in illegal drugs and drug money.
Elite LASD Drug Enforcement Team Disrupts Cartel Operations
College of the Canyons quarterback Andrew Brito, wide receiver Desean Holmes and linebacker KJ Latu have been named to the 2017 Region III All-California Community College Football Team.
Brito, Holmes, Latu Represent Cougars on All-State Team
Tickets and sponsorships are now available for the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce's 2018 awards ceremony and installation of new officers at Tournament Players Club in Valencia on Friday night, January 26.
Jan. 26: SCV Chamber of Commerce 2018 Awards, Installation Gala
Sponsorships are now open for the Santa Clarita Valley Economic Development Corporation's 2018 Economic Outlook Conference, set for Thursday, March 8, 2018 at a location to be announced shortly.
SCV 2018 Economic Outlook Conference Tickets, Sponsorships Open
SetPoint Medical, a Valencia-based biomedical company developing therapy for chronic inflammatory diseases, has received approval from the FDA to initiate a pilot trial in the U.S. for patients with drug-refractory rheumatoid arthritis.
FDA OK’s SetPoint Bioelectronic Therapy Study for Rheumatoid Arthritis
Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr., representing the United States - and states and regions leading on climate across the globe - joined world leaders at the One Planet Summit Tuesday, the two-year anniversary of the Paris Agreement.
Brown in Paris: ‘We Can’t Wait for White House to Wake Up’
The regular Planning Commission meeting scheduled for Tuesday, December 19 has been canceled, according to a notification from the city of Santa Clarita today.
City Cancels Dec. 19 Planning Commission Meeting
The next meeting of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is set for Tuesday, December 19, starting at 9:30 a.m.
Dec. 19: L.A. County Board of Supervisors Meeting
L.A. County's Bringing Our Loved Ones Home Task Force officials unveiled their final recommendations, endorsing a plan to use a voluntary system of trackable bracelets to find people prone to wandering, like those suffering from Alzheimer’s or autism.
County Task Force Calls for Tracking Bracelets to Locate Lost Individuals
The Community Development Commission of the county of Los Angeles looks back on 35 years of advancing its core program areas: affordable housing and housing, community and economic development.
County Community Development Commission Marks 35th Anniversary
Metro is seeking two new members to join the Measure M Independent Taxpayer Oversight Committee.
Metro Seeks 2 New Measure M Oversight Committee Members
The California Air Resources Board approved a $663 million low-carbon transportation plan Thursday to increase the use of clean cars, heavy-duty trucks, buses and freight equipment.
Air Resources Board OK’s $663 Million for Clean Vehicles
The Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station has released its public safety and crime information report for Saugus (Zone 4) for December 4-10, 2017.
Crime Blotter: Shoplifting, Petty Theft in Saugus
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has filed his strong opposition to the Trump Administration’s illegal attempt to suspend the 2015 Clean Water Rule for two years.
California AG, 10 Others Oppose Feds’ Suspension of Clean Water Rule
Conservation groups on Friday lobbied a federal judge for permission to join a fight between the federal government and a ranching association over a trio of California amphibian species.
Conservationists Lobby to Join Fray Over Frog Habitat
1987 - Incorporation: Santa Clarita officially becomes a city [story]
With an offense that challenged the program’s single-season goals record, The Master’s University women’s soccer team was almost almost never out of any game it played: The Mustangs were always within striking range.
Lady Mustangs Within Range of Directors’ Cup Top Spots
When Ed Jackiewicz met Tera Trujillo in spring 2015, she was studying at a desk she’d carried to the corner of the California State University, Northridge soccer field, in a “time out” of sorts, unable to practice because she’d just earned a D in an economics class.
CSUN’s “Under Armour Faculty” Promotes Academic Success in Student-Athletes
When Rafael Munoz recalls his time at the Layer 8 Computer Security Club at California State University, Northridge, he feels proud and thankful.
CSUN’s Tech Education Makes Top 10 List
The city of Santa Clarita Arts and Events division is currently seeking proposals for solo exhibits for 2018 in the gallery space at The MAIN, the City’s newest arts venue in Old Town Newhall.
City Seeking Artists for 2018 Solo Exhibits
NORTHRIDGE, Calif.---CSUN Men's Basketball returns to the road for the final time in the non-conference season this weekend.
CSUN to Face-Off Against Formal Rival Eastern Washington
Here is a list of Santa Clarita arts-related events for Friday:
Dec. 15: Santa Clarita Arts Calendar
This Friday and Saturday (Dec. 15-16), The Sharon Disney Lund School of Dance brings their annual Winter Dance Concert to the REDCAT stage.
Dec. 15, 16: Sharon Disney Lund School of Dance Concert at REDCAT
The William S. Hart Union High School District Governing Board has approved naming Dr. Collyn Nielsen as Chief Administrative Officer and Jan Hayes-Rennels as Director of Special Programs and Staff Development.
Hart Appoints Nielsen, Hayes-Rennels to District Office Positions
NORTHRIDGE, Calif. - The CSUN men's volleyball team was picked to finish third in the inaugural Big West Men's Volleyball Preseason Coaches Poll announced Thursday.
Big West Pre-Season Coaches Poll Puts Matadors Volleyball at No. 3
A 44-year-old transient was arrested by SCV Sheriff's Station deputies Wednesday afternoon after he allegedly tried to pick up his 8-year-old niece from a school in Santa Clarita.
Suspect Arrested in Attempted Kidnapping
It was a night to honor exceptional mentors at California State University, Northridge, but the five recipients of the 2017 Don Dorsey Excellence in Mentoring Awards just wanted to talk about their students.
CSUN Pays Tribute to Mentors Who Have Made a Difference
The words leapt right off the page and hung in the air, heavy, encircling the audience. Their creator stood, offering his gifts of verse — shared in a powerful baritone voice.
Literary Star Power Comes to CSUN
While critical fire conditions continue through Friday, the final numbers for the Rye Fire have been released.
Officials Release Final Numbers on Rye Fire
The William S. Hart Union High School District Governing Board held it’s annual reorganizational meeting Wednesday night, naming Steve Sturgeon as Board President.
Steve Sturgeon Named 2018 Hart Board President
Castaic Elementary School is collecting gently used children's clothing and toys for the victims of the Creek Fire in Sylmar.
Local School Collecting Clothes, Toys for Creek Fire Victims