In common with other orthomerias, the coloration of O. pandora is striking. The base color of males of this stick insect species is black with a bright orange tegmina. The hind wings are orange with black posterior stripes; the entire wings are reticulated with orange to red-salmon. But perhaps the most arresting feature is the pair of large blood-red eyes.

The female stick insects of this species are mostly a muddy brown with pale red hind wings and brown/black eyes. Females are bulkier and grow to about 6.5 cm, while the males are of a slighter build and shorter by slightly more than a centimeter. The nymphs are nowhere near the appearance of adults, being a glossy black with aqua-colored cross bands and reddish brown legs with pale markings.

This genus of stick insects is a member of the phasmid family Aschiphasmatidae, which are known to possess glands behind the head used to spray defensive chemicals in the event of a predatory attack, or curious humans.

In culture

Species of Orthomeria are not the easiest of phasmids to keep, requiring more space due to their more active lifestyles. As mentioned before, these are fast-moving insects, and merely opening the enclosure can trigger these animals to move frantically around. If the lid is too large, one can expect escapees.

I have fared dismally with these animals in the past but am now attempting to keep them again, using a glass and plastic screen enclosure measuring 3x2x2 feet and kept quite bare except for potted plants that provide cover and food. Hanging plants above the enclosure provide dappled shade and more humidity, particularly after the plants have been watered.

For substrate, you have two options: a “natural” one that is heavy in organics (e.g. coco peat), or vermiculite. It doesn’t really seem to matter except that phasmids drop their eggs on the ground and if you use soil or anything similar, then you may have a difficult time looking for the eggs. Another disadvantage when using soil or coco peat is that if cage humidity is too high and ventilation low, then the eggs may be attacked by molds.

A healthy population of spring tails (Collembola spp.) can keep molds at bay. A more simplified approach is to use vermiculite, which drastically reduces the chances of eggs getting moldy, and there is the added benefit of being able to see the eggs better than if these were sitting on soil.

Orthomeria, like many other genera, appreciate some light, although direct sunlight is best avoided. Likewise, loud music and frequent movements outside their enclosures can elevate their stress levels.

Behavior

Day or night, Orthomeria can be found either high on trees, or even at ground level amongst leaf litter, although rather occasionally. The resting pose is typically with the head oriented upwards.

In sharp contrast to many other phasmids, Orthomeria are fast moving and run in all directions when disturbed, prompting some people to comment that these are the cockroaches of the stick insect world. When grabbed, they may eject a defensive spray that actually smells somewhat like mint. While the ejecta may smell somewhat pleasant to humans, I am certain that such will not be the case to smaller animals. I have read and heard accounts that the defensive sprays are irritating to human eyes, but would not be keen on experiencing it for obvious reasons, but also because common sense dictates that anything that gets into human eyes is bound to be irritating anyway.

Such is the potency of Orthomeria sprays that reports of evaporating liquid is enough to cause a reaction to the eyes. However, I have yet to encounter an O. pandora that resorts to this kind of defensive behavior, and specimens when held are more apt to try and wrest free from the offending hand than anything else. Males will attempt to make short flights to get away from perceived threats.

I have been fortunate enough to have such phasmids inhabit my area, sometimes even seeing a few inside my property which is always a treat.

Origins

Orthomeria pandora was described in 1859 by John Obadiah Westwood as Ascepasma pandora and was based on specimens purchased from the prolific Hugh Cuming who collected extensively in the Philippines from 1836 to 1850; the type specimens are kept at the British Museum of Natural History. Specimens have also been collected from Ceram in Indonesia.

Food

InchordateOffered food plants include Ficus benjamina and F. ulmifolia, as well as Elatostema (Family Urticaceae).

When I take short walks around my area, I make it a point to gather appropriately-sized cuttings of other Ficus species to provide variety. Quite surprisingly, leaves of grapes (Vitis spp.) are accepted, even though these plants belong to an entirely different family (Vitaceae). Langka (Artocarpus heterophyllus), despite belonging to the same family where Ficus belongs (family Moraceae) is rejected, but it may be a good idea to try other food items belonging to this family, among them tipulo (A. blancoi), marang (A. odoratissimus), himbabao/ alukon (Broussonetia luzonica, the flowers of which are used as a vegetable especially in Ilocano dishes), and mulberry (Morus alba).

Other commonly offered food items to other stick insect genera and species such as guyabano (Annona muricata), gumamela (Hibiscus), mango (Mangifera spp.), guava (Psidium guajava), and rose (Rosa spp.) are not taken.

This appeared in Animal Scene magazine’s February 2019 issue.