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Anyone with a fascination for insects might be interested in stick insects as pets. Indeed, these interesting creatures are great starter pets for children. Nevertheless, there might also be those who are a still a little squeamish about insects so before jumping in want to know can stick insects fly. Some people can tolerate insects that keep their feet firmly on the ground; flying insects is a whole different ball game though. So, can stick insects fly?
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Do Stick Insects Fly?
In a general sense, stick insects do not fly. However, there are some species that have wings and, as such, the ability to ‘fly’. Of those that do have wings, it is only the males that have and use them.
If you are thinking about buying stick insects as pets but would prefer them not to be able to fly, just select a species that does not have wings. It is as simple as that.
Most people are not aware that there are around 3,000 distinct species of stick insect in the world. And since the vast majority of these do not have wings and cannot fly, it is generally assumed that all stick insects do not fly when in fact some can and do. Another interesting fact in relation to stick insects and flying is that only males of the specific species can fly.
The reason for this is actually quite simple. When it comes to mating, the onus is firmly on the male and as he may have to travel quite a distance to find a female, he will have the ability to fly. Nonetheless, not all male stick insects have to travel very far to locate a mate. These are the species that generally do not have wings. They have never needed wings, so these have not evolved.
Although the stick insects that do have wings use them to find a mate, they also utilise them to evade predators. When necessary, stick insects with wings fly away when threatened or are under attack, although most prefer to use other defensive mechanisms, such as the ability to camouflage themselves.
If previous to reading this article you wondered why female stick insects do not have wings, now you know – females have never needed to fly. She does not need to locate a mate as a male will come to her. As well as this, most female stick insects carry eggs in their abdomen and are therefore too heavy to fly.
Why Do Stick Insects Fly?
Stick insects fly for two reasons: to breed and to evade predators.
The main reason, naturally, is that males have to find a female to breed with. They will often need to travel large distances in order to do this.
As anyone who owns a stick insect knows, they do not move especially fast. If the males didn’t have wings, the species would likely die out because the majority wouldn’t find a female. Males live only half as long as females do as well, so their time is somewhat limited.
Flying is not necessary for some species as they have no need to travel large distances to find females, so they never developed wings.
The other reason that stick insects fly is that they need to get away when predators are about.
How Some Stick Insects Defend Themselves
Stick insects may look vulnerable to all manner of predators, but they have multiple ways in which they can defend themselves in the event a predator comes calling.
The first and most obvious way is that they camouflage themselves. You’ll notice that your stick insect changes how it looks according to the environment it is living in. When there are a lot of leaves in the vicinity, it might turn a certain shade of green.
If they’re resting on a branch they will turn a shade of brown.
Many of their most common predators, such as birds, don’t have the sight to distinguish between a leaf and a resting stick insect. In most cases, this protects the insects from harm. It’s also why they only move at night so as to not ruin their camouflage.
The second way in which they defend themselves is through spikes on their back legs. Take note that only some stick insects, such as the giant spiny stick insect, have evolved to develop spikes. But even they can only fight back against relatively small predators.
A third and final defensive mechanism held by some stick insects is the ability to fly.
They can fly surprisingly large distances, but typically it will not be constant flight. They’ll regularly stop to rest or to land on certain things. As with all stick insects, they much prefer to camouflage themselves than to actively fly away. Flying causes them to use a lot of energy, which is why they only do it when they really have to.
Why Don’t Females Have Wings?
The answer to this is simple. They have never needed to evolve wings for the purposes of finding a mate.
Evolution follows the principle that a species must focus on either finding food or finding a mate. Since stick insects developed such good camouflage, females haven’t needed to develop wings. And the males come to them, so they have no need to go out and find a mate themselves.
Will My Stick Insects Fly at Home?
This is difficult to answer because it depends on a variety of factors. For this example, we are going to assume that you do not have a massively large enclosure and that you’re trying to actively breed stick insects.
It’s highly unlikely that you’ll ever see your males fly as they have no need to. Their food is always close, and they do not have to look to find females.
Furthermore, there are no predators in sight. If they do occasionally fly then it will be because they have been startled. For example, if you try to pick them up and they don’t notice you they may mistake your hand for a predator and attempt to fly away.
Do Wings Differ in Male Stick Insects?
Absolutely! Some are little more than stumps, whereas others have beautiful wings. One example of this is the red winged stick insect, which has wings ranging from red to pink to orange.
You’ll notice that in the case of this species, the wings are much smaller than the rest of the body. The evolution of wings in stick insects are a curious thing because scientists are not exactly sure why specific stick insects appear to have wings, lose their wings, and then gain them back.
This is one of the mysteries of evolution and one that has baffled scientists. It’s clear why some species have them and some don’t, but there’s evidence to show that within the same species all stick insects once had wings.
We can see this as some stick insects only have little stubs for wings, whereas others have fully formed wings.