Of sticks and leaves !

Nature is all about eating and being eaten. This also means that creatures out there are always on alert! To prevent their predators from spotting them, they have to blend in with their surroundings and be inconspicuous. Even if this is achieved, there is no guarantee that a well camouflaged creature will never be spotted and therefore escape being eaten.

I had written a photo story about two years ago wherein I had featured some creatures exhibiting amazing camouflage. But here I am going to talk about two related creatures which have taken camouflage to a completely different level.

During a recent visit to the forests, I was scanning the vegetation carefully hoping to see some of the creatures that could be hiding amidst the leaves and twigs. A while passed before I thought I saw a little movement. As I peered through the leaves I noticed a stick insect! I have seen the ‘walking’ insect, as it is often referred to. Nevertheless it’s a eureka moment each time I manage to spot one in spite of its superb camouflage!

I coaxed the stick insect to move on to an exposed branch so that I could photograph the entire stick lest you would think I was trying to fool you. After a couple of frames, the stick insect was encouraged to go back to its hiding.

The stick insect rests in such a way that it is difficult even for trained eyes to discern its presence.

The stick insect rests in such a way that it is difficult even for trained eyes to discern its presence.

Later that evening we decided that we would try and locate the creature that we heard the previous night. It made subtle whistling sounds and we were intrigued by it. We walked on the trail led by our ears and torches to light our path.  Finally, we managed to see a grasshopper sitting under a leaf up on the tree and producing the sound that had foxed us.

As we traced back our path, my friend who was with me was generally scanning the vegetation at all levels on either side of our path. She suddenly stopped and switched off the torch and said ‘I need a treat’. And she switched on her torch. The bright beam of light was trained on a creature that I have been aching to see for decades – a leaf insect!! My joy knew no bounds. The leaf insect was up on a tree. But it stood out from amid the leaves of the tree in the beam of light.

I ran up to my room and returned with my camera. I had to use a 100-400 mm lens to shoot the leaf insect. What a beauty it was!

The leaf insect stood out prominently amidst leaves when a torch was shone on it.

The leaf insect stood out prominently amidst leaves when a torch was shone on it.

The following morning, I went looking for the leaf insect and scanned each leaf carefully hoping to see the creature in day light. Either the leaf insect was too good with its camouflage or I failed miserably in my efforts. A little later, there was excitement as another friend spotted the leaf insect. Had it moved into the open offering a better view now or was my friend’s spotting skills better? I would never know.

Again the big lens was pressed into service and I shot a few frames.

Beautifully blending in amidst foliage in daylight.

Beautifully blending in amidst foliage in daylight.

I had to put away the camera and stop admiring this marvelous insect as I was getting late for the next scheduled engagement. Hope I will not have to wait very long to see this wonderful insect again.

Both the stick insect and the leaf insect belong to the insect order Phasmida containing about 2500 species of phasmids in the world. These are essentially insects that feed on leaves and are typically nocturnal. All of these insects resemble the foliage amidst which they spend a lot of time. Leaf and stick insects enjoy a very wide distribution with a concentration in the tropics.

So, the next time you happen to be in the woods, consider suspecting every twig and leaf – who knows, you may get lucky to espy one of these lovely creatures!

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