As I finished up weeding the hillside next to the house last week I was surprised by something moving in the leaves of the groundcover. I was relieved to find a most unusual insect – a walkingstick! I had just been talking to someone about not seeing any Praying mantis or Katydids so far this summer and then this little walking stick appears.
According to Whitney Cranshaw, author of “Garden Insects of North America”, the walkingsticks (Diapheromera femorata) are unusual insects most notable for their extremely elongate form. All develop by feeding on leaves, but injuries rarely are serious. Walkingsticks most attract attention as curiosities. Twenty-nine species of walkingsticks occur in North America, but most are rarely observed. The most common species in the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains states is the prairie walkingstick (D.velii). Hosts include: Oak, black cherry, elm, basswood, and black locust are favored plants. Paper birch, aspen, dogwood, and hickory are occasional hosts. Distribution is over much of the area east of the Great Plains except the most southern states. It is most numerous around the Great Lakes. Full grown adults reach a length of about three inches. They are highly variable in color and may be nearly pure green, gray or brown, or mottled.
Walkingsticks hatch in late spring from eggs resting on soil. In forests the young nymphs usually feed first on the leaves of low-growing plants and later move to trees as they get older. Adults are present by midsummer, and the females drop their seedlike black eggs indiscriminately until frost. In southern areas of the range these eggs usually hatch the following spring, but in the northern states and Canada they remain dormant until the second season.
Nymphs and adults chew leaves. Damage is usually minor, but occasional outbreaks in forests can cause significant defoliation.
I moved the walkingstick to a safer location so that I could continue to pull weeds. The next day I had to relocate a walkingstick that had landed on the windshield of my truck!
Butterflies are busy gathering nectar, hummingbirds are enjoying the Magic lilies, and I have spotted a couple hummingbird moths close to the butterfly bush. This is a special time in the garden – get outside and enjoy it.
Don’t forget to email your gardening questions to OSUE Brown County Master Gardener Volunteer Mike Hannah at firstname.lastname@example.org.