So far, this may be the oddest looking insect I have come across while living in Central Florida. This lovely lady, along with her companion in tow, is called a devil rider. She is a walking stick, although a plump one and is more conspicuous than other walking sticks due to her size and color. When I first laid eyes upon this giant insect, I thought for sure she had to be my ally in the gardening world. Unfortunately I was wrong.
Although walking sticks are usually clumped together with mantids (praying mantis), they are actually opposites. While mantids feed on other insects, walking sticks feed on plant material. Although they do eat quite a bit, the damage they leave is minimal and rarely noticed. They usually remain unseen because most walking sticks are extremely thin and can hide well in whatever tree or shrub they are feeding on. The devil rider is not your usual walking stick.
They are usually 3-4″ long and about a 1/4-1/2″ at its widest point. They almost resemble a lizard due to their size and make up. Devil riders are black with two yellow-orange stripes down its back , six legs and antennae that is right in front of its head. The body tapers down to a nub, which looks somewhat like they once had a tail which was cut off. The oddest looking part is the scrawny “tail” that looks like it is attached to the lower part of the back. It’s not a tail, it is the male!
As with a lot of bugs and spiders, the male is smaller than the female. In this case, quite a bit smaller, about a quarter of the size of the female. He rides along for the sole purpose of mating and spends the majority of his life doing so. It is much easier than trying to find multiple females, since walking sticks are flightless and usually not the quickest. So they hitch a ride and mate multiple times with the same female. This is why it is named the devil rider. Another common name is also the musk-mare.
As for dangers to humans, I don’t think there is much to be concerned about. They do not sting or bite, there is no venom to cause harm. When startled, they move about quickly, but it must take a lot to startle them because I’ve taken some pretty close up shots with my camera and they didn’t even move. One couple has been hanging out near the azaleas right by my front door and doesn’t move a bit. As a defense mechanism they can squirt a liquid that can cause temporary blindness if squirted into the eye of a bird or mammal that is trying to make a meal of the couple. The liquid also has a horrible smell and can be irritating if it gets on you.
So all in all, this insect is neither a help nor hindrance. It’s just a little odd looking, which makes it a great conversation piece when showing off your garden.
Deyrup, Mark. Florida’s Fabulous Insects.World Publications. 2000. Pg.44