interactLearn English Story   Stick Insects
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Rob Morrison: We can only imagine what aliens from space would look like, but if Hollywood's only half right I have animals like aliens in my garden. Some in the pond and some in the grass around it. Even though they live in different places and eat different things, they look very similar because they both use the same trick to survive.

The stick insect looks bizarre but it's a harmless creature eating nothing but plants. It's a survivor because it's evolved a superb camouflage. The head, body and legs all closely resemble the twigs and grass where it lives so it easily escapes detection from birds that would eat it if they could find it. Even the feelers on its head are held together so they look like the spiky projection of a twig. But this wonderful camouflage would be useless unless its behaviour had evolved along with its looks. Unlike most insects, it sits extremely still unless it's really disturbed and even then it freezes again very quickly, making it almost impossible to spot against its background.

In the pond lives another creature that can compete as an alien look alike - the needle bug. Like the stick insect, it's ungainly, because it has also evolved to resemble the stems of plants, but in this case to avoid detection by animals that it wants to eat. It uses its 4 back legs to hold itself upside down in weeds or rocks while the front legs wave gently, imitating pond weed. Those huge eyes tell you that it has pretty good vision. If any small animal gets too close, the front feet will grab it while the needle bug plunges its sharp beak into the animal and sucks its juices out. Like the stick insect, the needle bug breathes air, but swimming to the surface for air would give its position away, so it uses a snorkel, breathing air through a long tube which grows from its tail. It's this snorkel which gives the needle bug its name.

These little aliens are not just in my garden - they're found all over the world, but because they are so well camouflaged, they're often missed, which is, after all, the point of good camouflage.
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