Wednesday, August 12, 2015

A Stick Bug Mystery

When Animal Care recently received a shipment of stick insects identified as Baculum extradentatum, (Giant Vietnamese stick insects), we naturally assumed that would be what we were getting. We were planning on adding this shipment of walking sticks to our current population to add in some genetic diversity and hopefully a few males to our all-female parthenogenic group.

As soon as we unpacked this new group of phasmids, it was clear that they were not the same as our current population. Perhaps we were looking at males instead of all the females we are accustomed to. But soon we realized that there were more differences. We were looking at a new species.

When we receive a new species of stick insect, we don’t simply slap a new sign onto a cage. These animals have the potential to become as invasive as the Indian stick insects in California. We first needed to figure out what species these insects were and then make sure we had a permit for them – fast! Otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to keep the new shipment.

Thanks to the powers of the Internet, Lead Animal Caretaker Lauren Bloomenthal contacted phasmid authority, Paul Brock, of London’s Natural History Museum. With full body photographs and a couple of shots of the insect’s head and genitalia, the expert soon replied with a name: Lonchodiodes samarensis. Their common name is Colorful Samar walking stick and "colorful" they are!

Unfortunately, even though we had a name, this species still wasn’t on our permits, so their fate was still up in the air. Life Sciences Manager Sarah Moore contacted our officer with the United States Department of Agriculture and explained our situation, fearing that nothing could be done to keep these animals. But he wrote back to say that the USDA would add the phasmids to our permit. We could keep and display these beautiful stick insects! Perhaps our excellent record of care worked in our favor to make this possible.

Lonchodiodes samarensis are now on display in the Insect Village. They are originally native to the Northern Province of the Island of Samar in the Philippines. Very little information is known about this species but we look forward to learning more about them as we see them grow and thrive in their new home.


  1. This informative blog identifies the origin of these new insects as "a Northern Province of the Island of Samar in the Philippines." Samar was where my father (and the blog author's grandfather) was stationed with the U.S. Navy during World War II. Perhaps he saw Lonchodiodes samarensis in their native habitat during his tour of duty.

  2. Fascinating!

    Can you please add some more information about the shipment?

    Specifically, where did these sticks come from and how did the shippers end up with a different species than they thought they had?

  3. Hi Bug Love. Although Lauren was very commendable in spotting that these insects were different than the ones we already have, she would be the first to admit that she noticed only because she had both species together at the same time. Vietnamese stick insects and Lonchodiodes samarensis are close relatives, whose identity we needed an expert to help clarify. It is likely that previous owners accepted the name they were given for the insects - as we probably would have if we didn't already have a colony.