Stick bug anti-stress therapy!

Last Friday (25th of January 2019), I had a very interesting opportunity – to be the part of a small biological gathering (open to everyone!) where we could talk about upcoming exams and learn something about adorable stick bugs! As a biologist, I immediately jumped at this opportunity, because I was also thinking about perhaps adopting some as pets. This whole event was organized by student members of BIUS – Biology Students Association of Faculty of Science, Department of Biology. BIUS is a student’s association whose goal is to provide its members with extracurricular biological activities. There are many sections dedicated to different biological fields and organisms: mammals, birds, genetics, bioinformatics, education, bats, beetles, butterflies, herbs, spiders, biospeleology… You can also be a part of more than one section and visit workshops and lectures. Apart from sections, BIUS organizes field trips, symposiums, and is publishing a biological student journal – In Vivo. We have our small place at one of the faculty building, where we usually meet, present, and store tools and other, various, biological necessities.

paličnjak (1)Picture 1. A stick bug!

Anyway, back to the stick bugs! Stick bugs, also known as walking sticks, bug sticks or Phasmida, are an order of insects that morphologically resembles, you guessed it, sticks! Although, there are also some leafy representatives, in this post I will only write about Vietnamese walking stick (Baculum extradentatum or Medauroidea extradentata – if someone knows which Latin name is currently in use, please let me know in the comments!). All our sticks were kindly provided by colleagues from BIUS – they keep them in neat terrariums with plenty of blackberry, rose, or bramble bushes, since they feed on their leaves. Stick bugs have no wings, but they have very elongated brown body and three pairs of gentle legs and this antennae on their heads. What is interesting about them is the way females can reproduce – parthenogenetically! Parthenogenesis is a specific way of reproduction, often described as asexual reproduction, since the occurrence of embryos happens without the fertilization. Parthenogenesis is noted in plants, some invertebrates, and even in some mammalian species. In this instance, it means that female stick bugs lay eggs that hatch after a few months.

Picture 2. Therapy in progress – stick bugs gently walking on our hands.

So, how exactly did this therapy work? We put the stick bugs on our hands and watched them move. When they walk on your bare skin, it feels like very small cotton swabs are caressing your palms. Also, since stick bugs are so delicate, you must be still and calm. Stick bugs don’t bite, but they somewhat like to explore – you can expect them to climb on your shirt. It seems that they prefer to be on the top of the branches, so you can pretend that your hand is a tree: just put it up, keep still, and the stick bug will camp on the top of it. Oh, and the cutest thing is the way you give them water – you are supposed to put just a tiny droplet on the tip of your finger, bring it closer to the stick bug, and watch it drink peacefully. Trust me, it’s more relaxing than you can imagine 😊 In the end, I didn’t adopt any of them (for now), but I’m thinking about it. The only problem with that are the eggs – if you are not careful enough, soon you will have too many stick bugs you can handle, and throwing them, or the eggs outside, in a local park or a forest, is not a good idea! These stick bugs are not native to Croatia (or the rest of the Europe) and could be considered as invasive species. In other words, they could cause serious problems to the ecosystem, even though they usually can’t survive our cold winters. However, it would be irresponsible to deal with them in this way, and it is recommended to clean their terrariums often, and safely dispose of the eggs by putting them in the freezer.

What are your thoughts about these cute bugs? Would you like to pet and/or adopt some? If you already have them, please share your story how did you acquire them and whether they are demanding pets!

P.s. I’m also preparing a short video about them – I’m currently learning the ropes of video editing, so please be patient!

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