Kaufman's Field Guide to Insects of North America says that the Northern walking stick is fairly common. In fact, sometimes it undergoes population explosions, and forests seem to be crawling with them. I can't recall ever seeing one - until last weekend.
I was returning from emptying the compost, and as I opened the door this stick fell off the frame. Unremarkable except that then it started to stumble around as if in a drunken state. "No way," I muttered and scooped it up. It promptly squeezed my finger between its long legs, a feeling not unlike being pinched. They are very strong for their size quite a bear hug from such a thin insect.
It was missing a front leg, most likely a result of a run-in with my chickens. However, Kaufman also says that walking sticks are unlike other insects in the respect that they may be able to regenerate a lost leg. Whoa! Very cool.
The fact that I can see something new, especially something that is so common, is why the world never gets dull. On a completely different note (but it will tie in a moment from now), I got an iPod back in April. It was a frantic dash to the store the night before Bird-a-thon. I felt that I had to have birdsongs in hand to better my birding. Embarrassingly, there is little music on it, but there are many nature apps and all the birdsongs.
Back to insects now, specifically crickets. I recently uploaded the cricket and katydid calls of the most vocal members of those groups onto my little device. The day takes on an entirely different twist when you listen and think, "Oh, that's a Carolina ground cricket. And that sounds like a snowy tree cricket." When in doubt as to the source of a musical chirp, I can look and listen on my iPod. It facilitates my learning.
The interface of nature and technology is a strange one. For me, who has no Internet at home and a cellphone that my friends make fun of, being disconnected feels good. I like the quiet and the detachment. I do confess to liking the ability to carry four field guides and two audio field guides around in my pocket, though. I like finding something, looking at it, and then looking it up. The learning that takes place on the spot makes the knowledge deeper. In some ways, it's like having a silent naturalist always on hand.
The apps don't take the place of the hike, though. They don't tell me what to stop and look at, and as often as not I can't find in my iPod what I found on the trail. There is not really a substitute for my shelves of field guides, old fashioned paper and ink. But the iPod does fill a void. It enhances my learning, which makes me want to learn even more.
The Northern walking stick found a new home on a maple tree. While placing it there, I saw a neat beetle on the goldenrod. I was at home, so my instinct was to look at it, then go inside and grab the Kaufman's Guide off the shelf, not use the iPod. While I was doing that, I remembered a flower that I wanted to look up. And that gave rise to a question I had about crab spiders.
The natural world promotes learning all the time. That old saying "the more I learn, the less I know" is very accurate. There is something I learn every day, and I seem to learn more and more as time goes by. Perhaps my interests are changing? Or perhaps the humility of age results in an acceptance of ignorance. In any case, the pleasure that accompanies learning, whether from paper, person or iPod, constantly increases.
I will go and look more carefully for walking sticks now. And other insects, plants, and, well, everything. The world is full of discoveries and knowledge waiting to be found.
If you would like to learn more about the natural world, Audubon is the place. We have a few natural history field trips planned that will add to your own mental library, and the trails and center always offer new tidbits you may not have known. We are located at 1600 Riverside Road, just off Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The trails are open from dawn to dusk.
The center is open daily from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m., except Sundays when we open at 1 p.m. Visit jamestownaudubon.org or call 569-2345 for more information.
Sarah Hatfield is a naturalist at Audubon.