Walking Sticks and Butterflies

By Melinda VanLone | Photos

Sep 05

walking stick, insect, bug, Houston, Museum of Natural Sciences

Whenever I travel someplace, I always try to squeeze in something unique to the area. Something touristy, something you probably never do if you live in the place. When I ended up in Houston for a day, I managed to cram in a visit to the BRC (Big Red…er, male chicken.), Hermann Park, and the Museum of Natural Sciences. I went there first because it was air conditioned (what can I say, it’s August in Texas). But then I saw they have a butterfly exhibit, and I instantly plunked over $8 to see it.

You might notice this is not a picture of a butterfly. I have plenty of those too, but this was an experience I just don’t have every day. While I was walking through, taking photos and communing with fluttering winged things, I saw a couple of men off to the side of the path. They sat amidst the green leaves, chatting, trying to stay cool in the tropical moist air. I smiled, prepared to walk by, when one of them stood up and held out his hand.

“Have you ever seen one of these?”

I nearly shrieked. No, no I haven’t. And if I had, I’m pretty sure I’d have sprinted in the other direction.

“Don’t worry, she doesn’t bite. She’s an herbivore. She only eats leaves.”

“But she has a tail like a scorpion!” I managed to stand still, although every ounce of my body was shouting “run!” at me.

“No, she really doesn’t. That’s just her defensive posture. This end here…” he tickled the end, which made her curl it more…”is where she releases her eggs, along with the operculum, which ants like as a food source. The ants take the operculum and egg, and carry the bundle back to their nest. They eat the operculum, the egg is left alone to hatch. When the baby comes out, the ants think it’s one of them and leave it alone. It lives protected there until it’s old enough to go out into the world.”

Now isn’t that an amazing life cycle? This is the creepiest looking bug, but the dance of life is nothing short of beautiful. She lives on trees, where when she’s extended she blends right in with the leaves and tree bark. You’d walk right by and never notice her. Just another stick here…nothing to see.

And yet, during her life she aids the tree by spreading the seeds, aids the ants by providing food for them, who in turn eat the plant destroying bugs off the leaves, take the egg back to the nest to protect it until the egg hatches and the whole thing begins again.

bug, walking stick, Houston, natural sciences museum

Is it a bug, or a leaf?

He asked me if I wanted to touch her. I told him no. No, definitely not.

“She’s soft.”

“She’s creepy.”

He shrugged, but smiled. Obviously he’s encountered this reaction before. I did give him a big smile in return, and thanked him for sharing his passion with me. I couldn’t be more grateful for the volunteers who spend their day in that hot, steamy place, sharing their love of nature with people like me. And I’m pretty sure I have a new character for a future book. The question is, which is it…the man, or the bug?

Maybe it’s both!

And now, in case you were creeped out by the bugs too, here’s a prettier bug to look at:

butterfly, Houston, Natural Sciences Museum, bug

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