Should you happen to be wandering around a campsite in Kruger at night, direct your torch light into the trees – if your eyes are sharp enough you might catch a glimpse of South Africa's longest stick insect.
The giant stick insect, Bactrododema krugeri, was only recently named. This amazing insect is almost 30cm long when its legs are stretched out. The female stick insect has a longer body than the male, with a length of 193mm compared to 163mm. However, when legs are taken into account the male is 295mm long compared to the female's 226mm.
It took a British stick insect enthusiast to realise that it was a new species and to name the large insect – Paul Brock, author of several books on stick insects, visited South Africa last year. During his travels he visited the Kruger National Park, the Transvaal Museum and the National Collection in Pretoria. With his expert knowledge, he realised that a specimen collected by Leo Braack in a knobthorn in Skukuza Camp was a new species. It had previously been thought to be another similar species in the insect collections.
He recorded his findings in the Annals of the Transvaal Museum last year. Most large insect species have been known and named for several hundred years, so his discovery of B krugeri as a new species is remarkable.
Despite their seemingly clumsy body, some giant stick insects can fly. However, stick insects usually use their superb camouflage and lurk in treetops, moving very slowly and feeding on the leaves at night. Some species can change their colour throughout the day, becoming darker at night.
Stick insects tend to play dead if suddenly approached, and can lie immobile for hours. They can also lose their limbs if they are grabbed, and can then regrow them in some cases. Female stick insects lay eggs that look like seeds, which they drop onto the ground. Some stick insect species do not even need males to produce new insects – they can lay unfertilised eggs that develop into new individuals.
The largest stick insect in the world comes from Borneo, and is over 50cm long when its legs are stretched out. Although long, South Africa's giant stick insects weigh a lot less than other Asian species.