Walking Stick Bugs

Facts, Identification & Control

Scientific Name

Family Phasmidae

Appearance / Identification

The walking stick family in North America is made up of about 30 species. They are fairly easy to recognize due to their long, slender body, legs and close resemblance to a tree twig. Walking sticks in the U.S. vary in length from about two to eight inches. Most are without wings (except a Florida species) and are colored brown, tan, gray or green. Imagine a stick with long legs and antennae and you get the picture of a walking stick. They are experts at camouflage and often are easily overlooked since they blend in so well with their habitat. Also, they are known to move their body in a manner that mimics the motion of a tree branch when blown by a breeze. Walking sticks are such experts at camouflage that most of us are unaware of their occurrence, until they show up someplace like a window screen, on a vehicle or on another such inanimate object.

Walking sticks are also known by several colloquial names including devil’s riding horse, prairie alligator, witch’s horse and musk mare. While found in most parts of the U.S., they are more plentiful in the southern parts of the country.

Behavior, Diet & Habits

Adults are mostly nocturnal and feed on tree or shrub leaves at night. The feeding activity of a very large walking stick may cause host plant damage. The damage is usually minor unless defoliation occurs repeatedly over the course of several years. Walking sticks are opportunistic feeders, but some species feed on a single, preferred plant species. For example, the giant walking stick of Texas feeds primarily on oaks and grapevines found in river bottom habitats, while the short-horned walking stick of California and Arizona prefer to feed on certain weed species. Despite their superb job of hiding, walking sticks are found and preyed upon by birds, rodents and praying mantises.

The walking stick’s life cycle is very interesting. The insect’s egg stage overwinters through the cold months, but the adults die when temperatures reach freezing. When the weather warms, the eggs hatch and the newly hatched nymphs climb into the trees and shrubs where they complete their immature stages and become sexually mature adults. After mating, the female drops her eggs into the leaf litter on the ground below her. Although the female may not find a male partner, she still produces fertile eggs that she drops to the ground. However, each of these eggs produced without male fertilization will become only female adults.

More Information

As mentioned above, normally the presence of walking sticks does not create a situation that requires attention or control efforts. However, anytime a homeowner needs advice and help with control, it is prudent to contact a pest management professional who can answer questions and give expert guidance about what to do.

The two-striped walking stick, Anisomortha buprestiordes A. buprestiordes defends itself from predators, people or pets by squirting a strong smelling, milky-like fluid reported to be painful if contacting the eyes of humans and pets. While reports indicate that actual contact with the walking stick is needed to cause it to spray, others report that even when the walking stick is just disturbed, it will shoot out the spray. In any event, exposure to this spray should be treated as a medical incident and be handled by a physician or veterinarian, immediately.