Can Stick Insects really mate for 1400 hours?

insect threesome

I saw this tweet a while back, and it made me awfully curious:

stick insects can have sex for 1400 hours

Is that true? Because that seems like not a very smart thing to do, if you are a large and tasty insect. Or, in this case, two large leaf-eating insects belonging to a group that specializes in being invisible to predators by looking like a stick.

Two sticks having sex is the sort of thing I’d notice, anyway.

mating insects

The risk of predation while you are  hooking up is a major issue. You can see from this photo that a fair amount of Kama Sutra-ish contortion is needed to successfully maneuver into place. This does tend to inhibit one’s ability to run away!

Several different sources repeated that stick insects remain paired for up to 79 days, but I was not able to find an original reference giving the details. Some of the references cited date back to 1910, so not surprising that I can’t get my hands on a digital copy.

From one paper describing mating behavior:

“The Indian stick insect Necroscia sparaxes may remain coupled for up to 79 days (a record for insects)…Intromission may occur only initially or intermittently. In either case, a substantial proportion of male time-investment is not spent in ejaculate transfer.

In captivity, Diapheromera veliei and D. covilleae pair for 3 to 136 hours and the penis may be inserted and removed up to 9 times. The genitalia are not in contact for ca. 40% of this period, and attachment is maintained by a male clasping organ.

I did find a clear, verifiable report of coupling for 136 hours (5¾ days), but what is important here is that the insects were NOT having sex (intromission, or penis in vag) the entire time.

It’s generally thought that the male hangs around in order to have repeated matings, but also to drive off other males. I found several reports of stick insect menage a trois (or sept) in the literature, including this etching of kinky stick insect activity.  The male is–literally–cock-blocking a competitor.

So, it’s probably correct to say that stick insects can remain paired for up to 79 days, even though we can’t verify that directly. It is less correct to say that they “have sex” for 79 days, just as it would not be technically correct to say you mated for 8 hours if you had sex at 10pm and again at 6am.  Well, unless you are into that tantric stuff, anyway.

And since 1400 hours = 58 days, the numbers don’t match up, and it is not correct that they mate for 1400 hours.   It’s more like 1,896 hours.

References:

Sivinski, J. (1978). Intrasexual Aggression in the Stick Insects Diapheromera Veliei and D. Covilleae and Sexual Dimorphism in the Phasmatodea, Psyche: A Journal of Entomology, 85 (4) 405. DOI: 10.1155/1978/35784

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Bug_girl has a PhD in Entomology, and is a pointy-headed former academic living in Ohio. She is obsessed with insects, but otherwise perfectly normal. Really! If you want a daily stream of cool info about bugs, follow her Facebook page or find her on Twitter.

16 Comments

  1. Avatar of Science Bulldog

    I am constantly impressed with your blog. It tends to gross me out :) but I am always fascinated with good science information especially on a topic I know absolutely nothing about.

  2. Avatar of rjblaskiewicz

    If you rub stick insects together for 5 days, will they start a fire?

  3. Avatar of marilove

    Stick bugs are so awesome.

  4. Avatar of scribe999

    Wait…no one else has thought this? C’mon:

    Horny little buggers.

  5. Avatar of dr. dr. professor

    That’s some sexy shit right there.

    Also, makes monogamy pretty easy when coitus occupies 20% of your lifespan.

  6. Avatar of weatherwax

    Does he eat anything special first? Oysters? Garlic?

  7. Avatar of jwray

    Cock-blocking is adaptive, therefore it’s okay, right?

  8. Avatar of mrmisconception

    Sting is green with envy right about now.

  9. Avatar of Buzz Parsec

    Saw what I thought was a very small praying mantis on my walk this morning. It was about 2 inches long, 1/8 inch diameter (excluding the long skinny legs, and the bug-eyes on the head) which looked just like the top insect in the 1st picture. It was green, not reddish brown, but I suppose there is lots of variation.

    I didn’t see it eat anything, so I don’t know if it was a carnivore or herbivore.

    Are stick insects and mantises closely related or is it just convergent evolution?

  10. Avatar of bug_girl

    Stick insects are more closely related to grasshoppers than Mandids.
    And Mantids are more closely related to roaches than anything else!

    http://tolweb.org/Neoptera/8267

  11. Avatar of Carl Fink

    And mantids are voracious predators.

  12. Avatar of Jack99

    79 days you say? Well that gives us all something to aim for!

    Seriously though, is that even feasible? Maybe it was a typo, such as “7 to 9″ days. How often does a stick insect need to eat and drink?

    As the nearest rival you found was more than 10 times less at 5.75 days, this observation seems like a rank outlier.

    Maybe there is scope for a new study there!

  13. Avatar of brianlu

    Stick insects are the coolest!
    http://www.lucitetreasures.com/product/BK312SIP.html

  14. Avatar of polomint38

    If you think that’s impressive, come meet up with the Polomint, it’s awesome.

  15. Avatar of dxman

    I would slightly reject the insinuation that you have to have penis-in-vagina to have sex/mating going on =) I mean starting at 10pm with a toilet break at 11pm and cigarette-break at midnight is still what I’d call 3 hours of sexy-times =).
    Pairing would be the holding hands before “male clasping organ”.

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