By Liz Summer, I Start Wondering Columnist
There is no need to travel to far and distant lands in order to catch a glimpse of bizarre and interesting creatures or minute monsters. Even in a city park, a sidewalk crack or sometimes invading home space, there is a parallel world of wildlife quite overlooked. This week, mid-June in Central Texas, has offered a series of sightings of miniature monsters that are just creatures that live among us. Here, two of them provide pleasing symmetry. One, a type of wild cockroach that is commonly labeled as a pest, hides delicately and shyly. The other, a stick insect that is generally regarded as pleasant and harmless, was well-armed for self-defense.
Hidden nestled in the cracks of a sidewalk – a leafy and delicate spring green cockroach. This is not the palmetto bug or German cockroach that colonizes poorly cleaned houses. This cockroach is neither a pest nor a carrier of pestilence. Instead, this is Panchlora nivea, commonly known as the Cuban Cockroach. Panchlora nivea, as a name, first refers to the “all green” coloring and secondly purity, like snow. Name origins aside, observing a creature like this is an opportunity to “drop the labels” and to “see what is” behind the thick veil of opinions and judgments that cloud perceptions. Once the repugnance of the word “cockroach” is overlooked, it is possible to see that these are no more noxious then a grasshopper and they live mostly in the wild. Here, she is delicately hiding in a crack in the sidewalk, avoiding my intrusive interests.
The Trooper Stickbugs
The second creature is neither innocuous nor shy. And yet, this insect was still hidden – hidden in plain view during a dusk walk through a park that is a popular greenway paralleling roads filled with apartments, shopping and eating establishments. The wide inviting sidewalk was busy with bikers, dog walkers and groups of people enjoying an evening stroll in the fine Texas summer evening.
I, too, was enjoying a walk, alone and yet together with all that is. Suddenly, I realized that what I initially thought to be, literally, sticks or tree debris were indeed sticks – walking sticks. Each 3- to 5-inch-long insect was confidently standing its ground among the busy foot traffic. So oblivious to danger, many were squished. Clearly, most of the pedestrians were equally oblivious to the insects – passing like ships in the night.
While I am familiar with stick insects, these were different from the usually thin specimens I have previously encountered. Each of these had a thick and robust body. Stick insects are generally harmless. Confidently, I picked one of the thicker sticks up in order to move it out of danger off the concrete and onto the grass. My reward was to be bombarded with a copious volume of noxious chemical. I moved her anyway, but treated additional ones with a bit more difference and respect. Sure enough, each one, when bothered, sprayed acrid liquid. With such a defense, it is no wonder each insect paraded with such confidence.
No matter how long I have lived here in Central Texas, there is always more to see and learn.