DEAR JOAN: A few days ago, I came upon a very unusual insect on our back screen door. I have lived in the Bay Area my whole life of 71 years, have spent considerable time in the outdoors, but never have I encountered this little creature before.

It's almost 5 inches long, slightly less than the thickness of a pencil, with antennae more than 2 inches long. It resembles a twig.

We looked up insects that look like twigs on the Internet and came up with similar looking insects, but their bodies were just a little thicker than a toothpick. This one was almost the thickness of a pencil.

Can you please identify this insect for me and provide me with more information about this fascinating, unusual little creature?

An Indian walking stick.
An Indian walking stick. (Courtesy of Nelle Neighbor-Alonzo)

Nelle Neighbor-Alonzo

Bay Area

DEAR NELLE: Your unusual visitor is a walking stick. They come in all sorts and sizes, thin as twigs and thick as pencils. What you identify as antenna are actually the front legs.

This appears to be an Indian walking stick, which is native to India and was introduced to Southern California sometime before 1991. Some boys raising them as pets released them and started an infestation.

It has been uncommon in Northern California. They can do some damage to the landscape, and females can lay thousands of eggs without the need of a mate.


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DEAR JOAN: I am wondering if there is a higher-than-usual number of skunks this year. I catch the scent in Hayward, Union City, Castro Valley; along the freeway, busy streets, parks. Any news on that?

Ruth B.

Bay Area

DEAR RUTH: I checked with some wildlife experts and they aren't aware of a skunk baby boom. I think it's more likely that the skunks that normally live outside urban areas are, like many wild animals, moving closer in to find food and water during the drought.

Mating season, when the skunk smell is most prevalent, is in the spring, and the babies usually stay with their mother until the next year, when they head out to find mates of their own.

I'm a little concerned by what the smell means at this time of the year. As skunks only spray during mating season or in self-defense, that means something has threatened a skunk, such as a dog, or that it has been injured or killed. Skunks have really bad eyesight, which makes them vulnerable, especially to cars.

DEAR JOAN: I've enjoyed my early morning walks in Knottinger Park for a quarter century now, observing animals from squirrels to raccoons, and birds from white egrets to red tails and Cooper's hawks. Recently, I experienced something that was truly a first for me in our urban setting.

Just south of the park's busy Bernal Avenue boundary, a large pregnant doe stepped out of the creek when I, unaware, walked within a few yards of her. I feared she would bound out into the fast commuter traffic, so I tried my best to herd her back into the park.

Please ask motorists to watch for large wild animals likely to cross busy roadways during this protracted drought.

Art Tenbrink

Pleasanton

DEAR ART: Great advice for motorists, especially, but also for hikers. Even familiar parks and trails are likely to have unusual visitors as the drought drags on. Proceed with care.

Contact Joan Morris at jmorris@bayareanewsgroup.com. Read the Animal Life blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/pets.