A Needle in a Haystack
Stick insects are one of nature’s most remarkable disappearing acts. But not this one, which parked itself in the carport for a few days before relocating to the car.
Crypsis works best against a complex background, not concrete blocks and duco. But standing out was not a problem on this occasion. The carport provided daytime shelter from the gangs of Pied Currawongs, Hornbill Friarbirds and Black-faced Cuckoo-shrikes, marauding Mad Max-style through the neighbourhood. They hunted through the trees, unaware of the potential meal hidden by the corrugated iron roof.
This is Wülfing’s Stick Insect (Acrophylla wuelfingi, Phasmatidae), one of Australia’s longest insects. George Robert Gray described the genus Acrophylla in 1835, including eleven species, all from Australia. Among the species in Gray’s work was Acrophylla titan from SE Queensland and NE New South Wales, which is now commonly kept as a pet.
But Wülfing’s Stick Insect wasn’t described for another 73 years. Josef Redtenbacher named it after Wolff von Wülfing, a German merchant in Jakarta (as Batavia), Java, who first observed parthenogenesis (virgin birth) in phasmids.
In naming it, Redtenbacher wrote:
Ich widme diese schone Art dem ersten Beobachter parthenogenetischer Fortpflanzung bei den Phasmiden, Herrn Kaufmann WOLFF V. WULFING in Batavia.
[I dedicate this beautiful species to the first observer of parthenogenetic reproduction among the phasmids, merchant Mr WOLFF V. WÜLFING in Batavia.]
Is it beautiful? Maybe. It is certainly striking when isolated from its natural habitat.
This species eats eucalypt and acacia leaves. Although these trees aren’t common around here, there is plenty of alternative food — guava. The fruit is popular with parrots and possums, and the leaves with stick insects.