Animal Fact Sheets

JUNGLE NYMPH

(Heteropteryx dilatata)
 

Classification and Range

The jungle nymph (also known as the giant thorny phasmid) is found on the Malay Peninsula, especially in the Camaron Highlands of West Malaysia. It belongs in the family Phasmatidae, in the order Phasmatodea.* The phasmid order, with more than 2,500 stick and leaf insect species, includes Palopus titan, at more than 1-foot (30.3 cm) long, it is the largest known insect living today. Mantids, grasshoppers and cockroaches are closely related to the phasmids, and were previously classified in the same order.

Habitat

Tropical rain forest.

Physical Characteristics

Among most stick insect species, there is sexual dimorphism (males are different in appearance and size from females). A mature female has a bright, light green color and a length of about 7 inches (18 cm). She can't fly, but uses her small, pinkish colored wings to make a startling hissing sound, or hides them under leaflike wing cases. Her abdomen broadens from a slender mesothorax, then narrows to a point. A slight, toothed flare along each side of her exoskeleton, plus many thornlike spines dotting her body and legs, effectively mimic thorny vegetation. Males are smaller, growing to about 4 inches (10 cm) in length, and can fly. Brown wing cases with a bark-like appearance cover their mottled brown, cylindrical bodies and conceal large, reddish-purple wings. Both males and females have thin antennae, small heads and strong legs.

Life Span

In captivity, adults live at least 12 months. Their life span in the wild is unknown.

Diet

In the wild: In the Wild: Guava leaves and those of other large-leafed tropical plants. Blackberry bramble leaves, oak leaves and other plants.

Reproduction

Jungle nymph eggs resemble chocolate brown, 1/8th-inch (3.2 mm) diameter seeds. The mobile males search out females to mate with, which then lay more than 100 eggs by ovipositing, or burying them into the soil. Hatching occurs 12-16 months later, usually in the spring. This, and some other phasmid species' eggs, can hatch more than a year after they're laid, driving populations to high levels every other year. Delayed hatching may actually protect jungle nymphs from over-predation. Predators form strong, lifelong prey search images in their first year of foraging. During those years when the phasmid populations are low, young predators are less likely to learn to recognize them.

Life Cycle

Hatchling nymphs are about 1-inch (2.6 cm) long, and resemble miniature adults. The young hatch at night by pushing open a specialized egg cap, called an operculum, then climb the nearest stem and wait. The next night they begin their search for food plants. Females mature after molting their exoskeletons six times, males after five.

Once full-grown, hissing cockroaches exhibit sexual dimorphism, which means that the males and females act or look differently. Male hissing cockroaches have a set of protrusions, resembling two humps, on the front of their body. They use these "horns" to ram other males when establishing or defending their territory.

Location at the Zoo

Different species of phasmids are displayed in the continually changing collection in Woodland Park Zoo's Bug World. You''ll go "buggy" while viewing exciting displays that take you on a journey to different bioclimatic zones around the world. You may come face-to-face with recycling cockroaches, assassin bugs, web-spinning spiders or scuba-diving beetles, to name only a few. The best way you'll find out which bugs you'll encounter is by visiting Bug World. Don't miss it!

Conservation Connection

These insects are still common in part of their known range. The substantial trade in them however, with thousands being exported for the pet trade, causes concern for the long-term survival of the species. In addition to the pet trade, the rain forests they live in are under severe pressure. Logging and conversion to agriculture threatens the habitats upon which thousands of species depend. Extinction threatens many insect species along with other animals and plants.

Humans need insects. Often unnoticed, jungle nymphs and other insects are essential for maintaining the balance in nature and health of the living world. Here are only a few of the benefits insects provide:

  • Bees, butterflies and other insects pollinate wild plants and our crops, ensuring the production of seeds and fruits required for the continued survival of plants and animals.
  • Earwigs, beetles and other insect scavengers clean up the environment by consuming decaying plants and animals. Nutrients are recycled back into the soil, helping future generations of plants to grow.
  • Many species of carnivorous beetles, ants and wasps eat other harmful insects that damage or destroy our crops and spread disease.
  • Burrowing insects aerate and enrich the soil.
  • Insects are a source of food for animals, including humans!
  • Insects produce products used by people, including honey, beeswax, silk and dyes, to name only a few.

 

How You Can Help!

Efforts to save threatened habitats require cooperation and support at international, national, regional and individual levels. You can help in this cause. Join and become active in Woodland Park Zoo and other conservation organizations of your choice. Recycle at home, school or work. Eliminate or reduce pesticide use. Don't buy products made from wild animal parts. If you really want to own a stick insect, learn about them first and be sure you get one that was captive bred.

To learn other ways you can help, contact Woodland Park Zoo at webkeeper@zoo.org about supporting conservation programs at the zoo. Learn other ways you can help conserve wildlife and habitats by visiting our How You Can Help page.

Sources and Suggested Reading

Miller, Geoff. 1999. Stick Insects. Grolier Educational.

For Kids!

Bockus, Dennis. 1999. Insects & Spiders. Eye-to-Eye Books, Somerville House, New York, N. Y.

 

Jungle Nymph Fascinating Facts

  • These insects can snap the two long sections of a rear leg together to defend themselves with a powerful, barbed pinch!
  • A young phasmid that loses a leg can regenerate a new, useful, but smaller leg at its next molt!
  • Some phasmids can reproduce asexually! In a process called parthenogenesis, the females lay eggs that are clones of themselves!
 
 
 
 

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