22 Feb 2019

Meet a Giant Stick Insect (and other creepy-crawlies)

Ardd Fotaneg · Botanic Garden

By Lydia Cocks

Insects aren’t everyone’s favourite creatures but without them the world wouldn’t exist as we know it.

So, why not head down to the Great Glasshouse this February half-term to learn all about the fantastic world of minibeasts and why they are so important.

There will be opportunities to handle some real minibeasts as well as lots of information about our tropical butterflies, the pollinator research going on at the Garden, and what you can do to help support minibeasts at home!

Who will be there?

New Guinea Spiny Stick Insects – Eurycantha calcarata
Percy, Fred, Bertha, and Brünhilda
These stick insects are unusual as they spend a lot of their time on the ground instead of in the trees. They’re normally asleep under logs during the day and wake up at night to munch on leaves. They’re very sociable and you can often find them cuddled up together when asleep.

Guadeloupe Stick Insects – Lamponius guerini
These stick insects come from an island in the Caribbean Sea. They love climbing and munching on bramble, which is their favourite food. These ones are still growing and are too small for handling at the moment but you can still come and meet them. Once they’re fully grown they’ll be 9cm long!
Their camouflage is excellent so come and see how many you can spot!

Leaf Insects – Phyllium philippinicum
Leaf insects are one of the most incredible mimics in the natural world. Their entire bodies are flattened and thin enough that you can shine a light through them! They also go to the effort of wiggling as they walk to look like leaves swaying in the wind.

Stag Beetle – Prosopocoilus giraffe
Mr Grumps
You may be familiar with our British stag beetles. We actually have two species, the stag beetle (Lucanus cervus) and the lesser stag beetle (Dorcus parallelipipedus). Mr. Grumps is a tropical stag beetle from Asia, and is one of the largest stag beetle species in the world. Just like our British species he has a fringe of gold hairs around his joints.
He’s capable of giving a nip (hence his name) so you won’t be able to handle him but you can still come and say hello.

African Giant Black Millipede – Archispirostreptus gigas
Florence is a giant millipede who originates from the African rainforest (although she was bred in captivity). She’s already a couple of years old and nearly fully grown but could live for up to 10 years! She mostly eats decaying leaves but loves fruit and vegetables as a treat. Florence is incredibly friendly and loves meeting new people.

Burmese Beauty – Diploda sp.
Sausage is another type of giant millipede. She’s only a baby at the moment but once she’s fully grown she’ll be three times as big! She’s quite shy so you might have to look quite hard to see her in her tank.

Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches – Gromphadorhina portentosa
Cockroaches often get a bad name but, of the 4500 species worldwide, fewer than one percent of them are pests. Madagascar hissing cockroaches are delightful insects with complex social lives. They talk to each other through hissing sounds, and make an especially loud hiss to scare off predators (and people!). They’re more than happy to be picked up as long as your hands aren’t too cold!

Giant Flower Beetles – Mychorrina torquata ugandensis (larvae)
These guys won’t be winning any beauty contests just yet (talk about ugly duckings!) but, once they grow up into beetles, it’ll be a different story. Flower beetles spend a long time as larvae (up to a year!) before pupating and eventually becoming adults. The larvae are normally underground or burrowed into dead wood to it’s not often you get to see them.

So who’s the madman keeping all these insects?!
My name is Lydia Cox and I’m here at the Garden for a 12-month placement. I’m currently part way through my biology degree at the University of Reading but my background with insects goes back a lot further than my degree. I’ve been interested in insects for as long as I can remember (asparagus beetles and vapourer moths are fond childhood memories!) and for my eighth birthday all I wanted was a moth trap!
The first insects I reared were a couple of puss moth caterpillars, plucked from a willow tree in a friend’s garden. I was hooked from the start. Watching them grow, and change shape and colour fascinated me. Since then, I’ve reared all sorts of caterpillars which, as well as being lots of fun, is of real scientific importance as there is still limited knowledge about the behaviour and appearance of many of our British moth caterpillars, especially for the micro moths.
Although I’ve been rearing native species for a long time it was only relatively recently that I decided to branch out into tropical species (much to my housemates’ horror!). This has meant Atlas moths flying around my room, a considerable increase in the amount of fruit I buy, and some very concerned landlords…
If you want to learn more about the insects I keep and why I keep them then come and say hello!