(I haven’t posted a blog in a while because an update/upgrade caused problems in editing this blog. We figure out how to fix it this morning.)
Meet the Timema!
It’s not every day that I see an insect from a genus that was previously unknown to me. The Timema, or short-bodied walking stick! I know about regular walking sticks, the long-bodied wingless insect that looks just like it’s name, an imitation stick with six legs. But the existence of the Timema was a revelation.
One foggy morning, a few weeks ago, I wandered onto our back deck, a small platform 10 feet off the ground abutting one of our massive redwood trees. On the white door was a large – not huge but noticeable, maybe 2” – green wingless insect. On closer examination, it was actually two insects, one riding the back of the other.
I was flummoxed; what could this creature be? It was not like anything I had seen before. Because it was wingless and most (but not all) adult insects have wings, I guessed they were immature/nymph stage insects. Maybe a grasshopper or katydid. But they lacked those large back jumping legs. And why were they different sizes? The critter on top was considerably smaller than the one on the bottom.
Chris and I both grabbed cameras for a photo shoot before they skedaddled back to whence they came. The white of the door frame nicely contrasted them like a “photo ark” image by Joel Sartore. Photo Ark
I posted the photos on Facebook, hoping to crowd source an identification. I also sent an inquiry to a website: whatsthatbug.com. A friend sent my Facebook post to her entomology buddies, The Bug Chicks, at Texas A & M University. I heard back from the Chicks and the website about the same time; they both said I had the fortune to witness (and photograph) the elusive timema. Who knew these critters lurked in the redwood forest surrounding my home all this time? What other mysterious beings are out there?
To make it more interesting, these were a mating pair, probably post-coitus. After sex the smaller male rides on top of the larger female for as long as five days! This is called “mate guarding.” For an amusing human reenactment of this unique walking stick behavior, see this video by The Bug Chicks. https://vimeo.com/59447990. Also, its interesting to note that many Timemas are parthenogenetic, meaning females can reproduce without male participation by making clones of themselves instead. Neat trick!
Timemas live in the far western United States, mostly in California. There are many kinds, each with a favored host plant. There are timemas on redwoods, oaks, douglas firs, manzanitas, and other trees. Some are green and others are tan, brown or gray, whatever color camouflages them best for their chosen lifestyle. Mine were very green and very possibly redwood specialists. I feel blessed to have seen this mating pair, since I could easily have gone a lifetime without even knowing they existed.
(By the way, can anyone tell me how timema is pronounced? Which syllable is accented? Long or short vowels?)
Please help us restore balance to our beleaguered planet so our many amazing and varied inhabitants – like timemas – can continue to thrive!
Have you ever seen a timema?