UF/IFAS Okeechobee County Extension Service

458 Highway 98 North

Okeechobee, FL 34972-2578

Phone: (863) 763-6469

E- mail: indianco@ufl.edu 

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October 6, 2005

Feature Article - for release the week of October 9, 2005

Dan Culbert - Extension Horticulture Agent

Beware of Shooting Walking Sticks

Guess Im lucky.  A few years ago I was training some Master Gardeners and encountered a Wheel-bug on a flowering shrub.  The pretty colors and unusual shape were intriguing.   I allowed it to walk on my fingers and showed the volunteers up close what they looked like, and then retuned it to the shrub.   Later on, I discovered that this predator insect can pack a very painful sting.  I found that to be a close call.

Beware -  Wheel bugs can sting! Photo by James Castner, UF/IFAS

This past week I uncovered another insect a walkingstick - hanging out in my Florida Yard.  I carefully picked them up (there were two), and moved them off the branch I was trimming.  Ive now found out that this Florida critter also has some hidden danger it can forcefully shoot a caustic juice at attacking creatures that can result in very painful eye stings.  So maybe its time to review what we know about walkingsticks another interesting creature in our Florida Yard.

Walkingsticks are close relatives to grasshoppers, crickets, palmetto bugs and preying mantids. In Florida, the local kind of walkingstick is known as the two-striped walking stick, Anisomorpha buprestoidesThis featured insect has been reported throughout Florida and around the Gulf Coastal Plain west to Texas.  Other names applied to these stick insects in general include devil's riding horse, prairie alligator, stick bug, witch's horse, devil's darning needle, scorpion, and the musk mare.

The Florida native Two-striped walkingstick is often found in mating pairs. The female is the larger insect. Photo courtesy of Michael Thomas, FDACS-DPI

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A different color form of the Two-striped Walking stick has been reported in the area of Ocala National Forest. Photo courtesy of Michael Thomas, FDACS-DPI

Walkingsticks are among the longest insects in the world one exotic species has been measured at 22 inches!   However, the local two-striped females average only 2 inches in length, while the males are smaller and more slender, averaging 1 inches.  Generally these insects are dark brown with two long yellowish stripes running down the length of their back.  However, there is a strikingly distinct black and white color form that is found only in the area of the Ocala National Forest.  Check the color quickly if you are collecting them, as they discolor upon death.

A second species of walking sticks occur in the southeastern U.S., but has not been seen in   Florida. It is smaller in size and lighter in color, and lacks the stripes. Other species of walkingsticks occur in the US and across the globe.  Some are even used as pets!

Some years the number of these insects is greater than in others.  Duval County Horticulture Agent Terry DelValle reported that in the fall of 2003, the populations of this insect were higher than normal in Jacksonville.  An entomologist (C. Tozier) also reported a large local population of these insects north of Ocala just a few hours before Hurricane Charley stormed through last summer.

Typically, they do not eat so many leaves with their chewing mouthparts that they need to be controlled; pesticide use against these insects is not suggested.  These insects feed on leaves of trees and shrubs with some of their favorites listed as crape myrtles, roses, oaks, rosemary, lyonia and Ligustrum shrubs.  

Since these insects show gradual or incomplete metamorphosis, they slowly get larger through the growing season, and are most likely to be seen in the late summer and fall.  Often the larger female can be seen with a smaller one attached (male).  The male will mate and hold on to the female for long periods of time it is thought that this is a way for the male to be certain that other males will not mate with that female.  Eggs are usually laid in the fall on the ground in a pit and covered with sand.

Our local walkingstick has a couple of defensive mechanism that Floridians should know about.  Their first line of defense is to look like a dead stick, and so are often overlooked.  In some cases they vibrate, as if the wind was blowing. 

But, if they are physically disturbed, they secrete a foul smelling milky fluid from two pores of the thorax. They also have the ability to force a stream from their body as far as a foot in distance.  Researchers have found that this secretion contains substances that can produce a powerful burning sensation if it gets into the eyes.

For those that have had such an encounter, (see stories below!) the recommended treatment is to wash the eye with large amounts of water and take over-the-counter analgesics for pain. For severe symptoms, a trip to the eye doctor may be necessary.  A individuals in Texas was reported to have vision problems for up to five days. A report from Brevard County last month says that another person was sprayed in the eyes by this insect. 

An urban legend has been circulating that an exotic walkingstick from Belize (or sometimes Brazil) that was found in Texas and is spreading east.  According to UF Entomologist Tom Fasulo, while there are plenty of Central and South American walkingsticks, they are not in Texas - at least not yet. This story is a hoax - however, it is based upon some truth.  While there is no known invasion of alien poison-spitting walkingsticks, our local native two-striped walkingstick can spray a secretion that can cause pain and impair vision.

So, if you see a live dead stick in your Florida Yard, observe it if you wish, but dont bug it.  Ive placed more information on our Okeechobee web page, http://okeechobee.ifas.ufl.edu.  If you need additional information on walkingsticks, please email us at okeechobee@ifas.ufl.edu or call us at 863-763-6469.  Local residents can stop by our office at 458 Hwy 98 North in Okeechobee, and visit our Okeechobee County Master Gardeners .

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Trade names, where used, are given for the purpose of providing specific information. They do not constitute an endorsement or guarantee of products named, nor does it imply criticism of products not named. The Florida Cooperative Extension Service - Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer authorized to provide research, educational information, and other services to individuals and institutions that function without regard to race, color, sex, age, handicap, or national origin.  Florida Cooperative Extension Service / IFAS / University of Florida.  Millie Ferrer-Chancy, Interim Dean Last update: 09/14/2011 .  This page is maintained by Dan Culbert  Hit Counter

references

Branscome, Deanna.  Chapter 33 - Longest. University of Florida Book of Insect Records. Gainesville: Department of Entomology & Nematology, April 17, 1998. http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/walker/ufbir/chapters/chapter_33.shtml 

DelValle, Terry B "Twostriped Walking Stick." In: A New Leaf (Duval County Extension Newsletter) Vol. 4, issue 6, November/December 2003.

Fasulo,Thomas R. - "Arthropod Hoaxes" Pest Alert. Gainesville: UF/IFAS Extension Service, 12/04/03. http://entnemdept.ifas.ufl.edu/pestalert/hoaxes.htm 

Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association (GLAZA).  Vietnamese Walkingstick, 2008. [shows a video of this insect !]  http://lazoo.org/animals/invertebrates/vietwalkingstick/ 

Peterson, Patrick "Ouch! The sting of growth - Insects use a painful defense against Brevard residents" Melbourne: Florida Today  September 17, 2005  http://www.floridatoday.com/

Thomas,  Michael C. The Twostriped Walkingstick, Anisomorpha buprestoides (Entomology Circular No. 408)  Gainesville: FDACS/DPI, Sept/Oct 2001. http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/IN590 and  http://www.freshfromflorida.com/pi/enpp/ento/entcirc/ent408.pdf 

Thomas, M.C. and Fasulo, T.R.  Twostriped walkingstick (Featured Creatures). EENY-314.  Gainesville: UF/IFAS Extension Service, November 2003 http://entnemdept.ifas.ufl.edu/creatures/misc/walkingstick.htm 

Tozier, Christopher.  Behavioral activity of Anisomorpha buprestoides possibly associated with Hurricane CharleyFlorida Entomologist.  88 (1), March 2005. http://www.fcla.edu/FlaEnt/fe88p106.pdf 

Questions/ Answers and stories of encounters with Walkingsticks

1980 Mystery Solved...

I have been trying to find out what type of bug sprayed me in the eyes back in October 1980.  I was living down in Florida at the time, building a new home just north of Ocala near a small town called Sparr.  I had seen a black and white bug while working earlier in the day and didn't want to kill it thinking the bug had a baby on it's back.  Later on I saw it again, briefly, about a foot or two away.  I didn't mess with it but continued forming a footer for a foundation we were getting ready to pour.  As I turned I saw the bug again and suddenly felt a spray hit my left eye.  It burned immediately and upon opening the right eye it proceeded to spray that eye too.  Needless to say it burned terribly.  I washed it out with water for about 10 minutes and had no more pain after about 30 minutes.  Of course I went back and found the bug and ended it's day on the spot.

 I don't know if this will interest you in any way, but thought I should share it with you.  God bless.

Jesus Christ is Lord,  Pastor Dan Yankunas - Stillwater, Oklahoma.

My Daughter is a critter collector - Lake County, Florida - October 2008:

Two months ago I moved to Lake County from Broward County with my 9-year-old daughter.  My daughter is a "critter collector".  She loves bugs, reptiles and other small animals.  Our patio is filled with butterflies, lizards and katydids.  Last night we were outside walking our dogs when she came across a new and interesting insect.  It was black and yellow and very large and it had the same type of smaller bug riding its back.  We had no idea what kind of bug this was and even thought the smaller bug was a baby.  I ran in the house to get a container to put the bug in when my daughter started screaming.  She said something squirted in her eye and I panicked.  I had no idea what happened and we ran in the house.  I told her to flush her eyes out and I would check the internet to find out what type of bug we saw.  After a few minutes, I found the culprit and immediately called the local pharmacist to see what we should do.  We were told to call poison control who was quite familiar with this species of grasshopper (sic.).  Apparently, my daughter wasn't the only person in Lake County to have experienced the squirting walking stick.  She said I should continue to flush her eyes out and monitor her for a few hours.  It's three hours later and she is doing fine.

While I am not happy this happened to my daughter, I am glad that I know about these insects.  Now we will keep our distance.

Fortunately, the katydid my daughter found is harmless because she really likes it.  I forgot the exact type of katydid, but it is a bright green color and looks like a leaf. 

 

"a cool new thing to check out" in Myrtle Beach, SC - October 2007:

Our 7 yr. old daughter just got stung in the eyes by a stick bug's poison. I found your site (after calling my ER friend) and just wanted to report to you that at this time of year there are many of these bugs around wooded areas in our state as well. She just thought it was a cool new thing to check out. What a rude surprise she got. We flushed her eyes for 5-10 minutes, gave her a little Benedryl per the Dr's instructions. I told her it is the bug's way of defending itself against owls, hawks and other predators (which we have been studying.) Her eyes are red around the outside and of course red and watery from crying. She is very tough so it must actually hurt quite a bit. We will report to you any further effects on her.   

"Don't put sticks in cages" -  an email I received from Odessa, FL 10/2006:

I just wanted to let you know that my daughter just got sprayed by a walking stick bug this afternoon.  I had put them (it was a male-female pair) in her bug box and she was getting a close look at it through the screen when it sprayed her.  She immediately started shrieking and crying so I rushed her inside and THOROUGHLY rinsed out both of her eyes and hands.  Thankfully, she showed no reaction after that.

After it was all over my daughter said she still liked the bug and she wasn't mad at it (her words).  Kids are really amazing.

When my wife came home and learned of the incident, she got online and came across your website. Who knew that just looking could prove so dangerous?  I guess that's what we get for living in Florida.

And now for the really weird news...  After my daughter got sprayed, we called my parents to let them know what happened.  They baby-sit my daughter  and we didn't want my Dad to make the same mistake of showing her the neat looking, and potentially dangerous, bug.  When I got home, my parents reported that their dog was sniffing around my yard and stumbled across another walking stick bug.  My Dad got there just in time to see the dog get sprayed in the face and run away!  

What are the odds that we have two occurrences in as many days? By the way, the dog was fine.  Apparently she was just startled and probably didn't get a direct hit in the eyes.

It just amazes me that an insect I've never paid any attention to before caused two separate issues in just two days.  On the plus side, it seems that the evolutionary defense mechanism works well and will keep this creature around for years to come.  

Maybe I'll start walking around with goggles on...