Stick insects part of office life

By Madeleine Caccianiga

A sticky situation looms within the walls of Greater Shepparton City Council’s offices on Welsford St — one of the four-legged insect variety.

Already home to some friendly yabbies, the RiverConnect team wanted to bring more life indoors.

On the lookout for a new pet, RiverConnect education project officer Allison Trethowan headed to Melbourne to attend the Reptile and Amphibian Expo in March.

‘‘A friend suggested stick insects and I immediately thought, ‘how boring’,’’ Ms Trethowan said.

Looking around the expo, Ms Trethowan came across a giant prickly stick insect stall run by two young girls.

‘‘I got talking to them and they had their own little business happening — they knew all about the insects, they could tell me all about the care, how they reproduce, how they eat, what they need, everything,’’ she said.

‘‘And they sold me.’’

Taking home three of the insects, Ms Trethowan named them Murtle, Hurtle and Burtle.

‘‘They were only about a couple of inches long and probably about a week old, two boys and a girl, Murtle,’’ she said.

Learning on the go and joining Facebook groups with stick insect enthusiasts, Ms Trethowan says she finds them fascinating to watch.

‘‘Only the males have wings and when I was cleaning the enclosure last week one of the guys decided to go for a fly around the council office, which was interesting,’’ she said with a laugh.

‘‘Most people were gone for the day but I did have to say to the people left. ‘please don’t squish that flying animal’.’’

Enjoying housing the pets on her work desk, Ms Trethowan said ‘‘the sticks’’ are low maintenance.

‘‘They really don’t do a lot, they don’t eat a lot, they are just really easy care and they’re not too distracting for me on my desk,’’ she said.

Creating a bit of fun at the Careers Day Out, the team hosted a competition with the students who attended.

‘‘I found a red shouldered phasmid stick insect the morning of the careers day, in Tallygaroopna, who is green, so the competition was to see if you could find the green one,’’ Ms Trethowan said.

‘‘Then we had a naming competition and that’s where the name Pablo came from — however we found out she is a girl so she is now Pabla, the girl version of Pablo.’’

Happy with the trio of prickly sticks, Ms Trethowan said she might release Pabla back into the wild one day.

‘‘Things could start to get a bit hectic if Murtle reproduces because the females can lay up to 200 eggs, with or without a male present,’’ she said.

‘‘She can lay eggs without mating with a male but those eggs can only develop into females and they are a bit weaker and take a lot longer to hatch — that’s just one of their funny, weird things that they do.’’

Admitted Murtle was probably her favourite, Ms Trethowan said she was ‘‘cute in an ugly way.’’

‘‘I get Murtle out every now and again and wander around the office and scare people,’’ she said.

Ms Trethowan said there had been a reduction in the number of insects in Australia.

‘‘They are really important in the whole cycle of things, including food and the break down of waste,’’ she said.

‘‘We get all excited about the the cute fluffy things and I would love to have a cute, fluffy thing in my office... but these guys are just as important.’’