Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Stick Insects "Doing what comes natur'lly"

When I was a youngster, in Melbourne, I remember this song as 
the "naughtiest" thing I had ever heard.

"Folks are dumb where I come from,
They ain't had any learning.
Still they're happy as can be
Doin' what comes naturally (doin' what comes naturally).
Folks like us could never fuss
With schools and books and learning.
Still we've gone from A to Z,
Doin' what comes naturally (doin' what comes naturally)
You don't have to know how to read or write
When you're out with a feller in the pale moonlight.
You don't have to look in a book to find out
What he thinks of the moon and what is on his mind.
That comes naturally (that comes naturally)."

For some reason, given the strict Catholic background of my family, we were allowed to sing this song around the house, seemingly without giving offence. Strange that. My Mother was tone deaf (seriously so) and maybe she liked Ethel Merman's slightly atonal singing? Who knows?
I fondly remember hearing that George Gershwin "made her promise never to work with a singing teacher" Good advice, that! If your voice has a unique tone, and style, exploit it, don't let someone train it out of you.

Anyway, what's all this about?
(Click on the images to enlarge them)
A mating pair of Robinson's Stick-insects
Note the dramatic size difference between
the small male and the large female.
That size difference between the sexes
is quite a common factor
in many species of Stick-insects.
(but not as obvious in

the Lord Howe Island Phasmids)

These Stick-insects (Phasmids) were mating on my friends Matt and Cat's front door last night, when I came to pick Matt up to go to our Tuesday night Trivia Session at Three Creeks Cafe. To explain, the glass door served to silhouette these Stick-insects, so although they are only quite small, they were clearly visible, even in the dark  (with the light on in the house behind them).

I noticed these insects when I knocked on the door, and as they were still "engaged" several hours later, when we came back from Trivia Night, I sought permission to get some shots. As that involved using the Flash outside their front door, I knew I needed to seek permission, lest I alarm Cat and the kiddies. Anyway, it was all pretty discrete, and no concern was expressed. Certainly, no harm was done to the Stick-insects. They were still "engaged" when I left.
Head and antennae of the female
Robinson's Stick-insect.
Note the orange mouth parts
and the long antennae
(with light bands across them)

This is a male which I had seen on my own front porch, earlier on during the day.
Male Robinson's Stick-insect
I would never have dared to ID this fellow from the poor quality photo I had of it. About the only detail I had been able to make out was the long antennae with faint banding evident. (In the picture, the two antennae are held together, between the two front legs. It makes it seem like it has 3 front legs, but that's never going to be right, is it?)

But with the much larger female turning up in the evening (three doors up the road) I had a bit more to work with.

I got out my copy of "The Complete Field Guide to Stick and Leaf Insects of Australia" by Paul D Brock and Jack W Hasenpusch and started to track through looking firstly at the illustrations and then the distribution maps (many tropical or West Australian species can easily be ruled out).
The Field Guide is also available in an eBook version.
You can even read a review of this Field Guide by "Snail" (my Blogging colleague) at her Blog site.

I was fortunate that after I had written about the Lord Howe Island Stick-insects, a few months ago, I had been contacted directly by Paul Brock. Paul works as a Scientific Associate at the Natural History Museum in London, and is a world authority on Stick and Leaf Insects. Anyway, with my mating pair I decided to follow up a comment Paul had made in his email to me, that he had visited Robertson several years ago and had found a number of specimens of Candovia robinsoni (which seem to have ended up in the Australian Museum). These (confusingly named - in the circumstances) - Robinson's Stick-insects in and around Robertson. He commented that they were "common" in the local Robertson Nature Reserve (which is just down the end of my street) and at the Barren Grounds Nature Reserve. He also commented that these insects could easily be found at night. (Yet another entomologist who swears that night time is the best time to chase insects!).
Anyway, I fired off a quick email this morning to Paul, in London, with two of these images, and got a reply back several hours later, confirming my tentative ID of my pair of Stick-insects as Candovia robinsoni.  

Yeah! Its always good to have got the ID right, and then to get it confirmed by an expert.

He also confirmed that this species does not have wings (for my pair are presumably both "mature" and yet neither has wings), unlike some Phasmids which have dramatic wings.
It is always appreciated when serious entomologists and other specialists are prepared to assist the likes of myself, an amateur naturalist, doing my best to get a decent ID (but I sometimes get it wrong). In this case, my thanks go to Paul Brock for his advice.

Incidentally, it seems to be a season for Stick-insects as Joy, another Blogger, (from the north coast of NSW) has just reported on finding a much larger Stick-insect than mine. And so has my Facebook friend Murray, from the South Coast of NSW.


Joy Window said...

Well done on the ID-ing. I must admit I hesitate to even try to ID insects as it seems such an overwhelming task. Must buy that phasmid book and try to ID mine. Thanks for your suggestions on what mine might be. It appeared on the back wall of the house after my husband mowed the back lawn and seriously cut back a large philodendron, the same one I released the previous, bigger stick insect into.

catmint said...

fascinating post, Denis. I didn't realize some stick insects had wings and could fly. They weren't very clever in an evolutionary survival way to choose such a poorly camouflaged spot to do what comes naturally. (I remember that song too, my parents didn't mind it either but drew the line when I discovered Bessie Smith).

I appreciate the post below sharing the submissions to the MDBA. I thought I had commented but my comment disappeared - I'll try not to get paranoid about this.


Denis Wilson said...

Thanks Joy and Catmint.
Wow - Bessie Smith songs in the Kitchen, Catmint? That's a bridge too far, for my lot.
Some of the Stick insects have really pretty wings.
When I see my little ones having to walk everywhere, developing wings seems like a good idea.
Joy, I understand why you think they are the same species, but I doubt it>
Check Brisbane Insects and Spiders website for many Stick Insects.
This is the direct link for the Spur-legged Stick Insect>
Check out the shots with closed wings, then the pinned specimen.

Joy Window said...

Yes, I agree mine is the spur-legged. Must look at that website more often. Thanks!

Denis Wilson said...

Glad you got there, Joy.
Happy to have assisted.
That web site is far from perfect, but better than many others which just show 6 or 8 species.
Seems to be the season for Stick Insects at present. Maybe the recent rains?

Holly Green said...

I took a photo recently of a couple of stick insects cuddling on a piece of rope. In broad daylight. Little acrobats. I had a photo shoot with a bachelor stick insect the other day, a very lively fellow, and have just noticed a tribe of them living on the flax bush. I've never seen so many. I'm starting to doubt what I've read about them. The ones here are definitely not shy reclusive stick impersonators... (I'm in New Zealand.)