For the very large group of people for whom this heading means nothing, last Saturday I went to the annual general meeting of the Phasmid Study Group at the Natural History Museum in London. For those who do not know what a phasmid is – phasmids are the scientific name for the group known as stick insects (walking sticks in the US).
I joined the PSG a few years ago when they did a display here at the zoo. I have always been interested in animals of all kinds, and until you see the range of species it is hard to appreciate the range of camouflage options these creatures use.
Membership of the PSG is open to all – annual membership is 12 pounds and gives a quarterly newsletter and access to a very extensive database of information, as well as a livestock list – eggs of many species can be sent through the post.
Stick insects are most closely related to the grasshoppers and crickets, and probably first appeared in the Cretaceous, as most of them feed on flowering plants and these did not appear until that point. They have a fairly straightforward life history, the newly hatched nymphs progressing smoothly towards the adult form with no major changes in the way that butterflies and moths do for example. However, many species are either sometimes or permanently parthenogenetic, with adult females laying fertile eggs without mating. In species with males, the males are often winged and the females wingless.
We have several species of phasmid here at Bristol. In Bugworld we have the Giant stick insect (Pharnacia), The Malay Jungle Nymph ((Heteropteryx), Leaf Insects (Phyllium) and Macleay’s Spectre (Extatosoma). The volunteers also have a colony of the Giant Spiny Stick (Eurycantha) that we use in Animal Encounters.
To get back to the AGM, the meeting had the usual reports from various secretaries, and two slide shows, one from a collecting expedition to the Philippines from which they brought back several species to study and culture, and a report from one of the academic members of the PSG from the International Congress of Entomology held last year in Dubai.
The last part of the meeting was a livestock distribution. As anyone who has kept phasmids knows, many species are quite prolific, and the January and July meetings are an opportunity to bring in surplus stock and exchange them for new and interesting species. I brought home several new species this time, which I will endeavour to breed. One of those I have bred is the “Black Beauty” Peruphasma schultei (picture at head of post). Although only from a restricted area in Peru, it is extremely prolific and easy to keep in captivity, and its beautiful colours (which are designed to warn off potential predators of a toxic spray it can produce) have made it one of the more popular recent discoveries.