Northern Two-Striped Walkingstick (Musk Mare)

Photo of mating pair of musk mares, on a gravel surface, viewed from above.
Scientific Name
Anisomorpha ferruginea
Pseudophasmatidae (striped walkingsticks) in the order Phasmida (walkingsticks)

The northern two-striped walkingstick is a tan, brown, or brownish-yellow, elongated insect lacking wings, resembling a short stick. Two-striped walkingsticks are chunkier than our other stick insects. They have 3 lengthwise stripes, though the side pair are often faint or diffuse; the stripe down the middle of the back is usually visible. The cerci (paired appendages at the tip of the abdomen) of females are short and stout. Females are much larger than males. Musk mares are usually seen as mating pairs, with the males riding on the backs of the females.

There are two species of musk mares in the southeast United States. The southern two-striped walkingstick (A. buprestoides) is not known from Missouri. It is a Gulf Coast species, ranging from Texas through Florida to South Carolina. It is larger, darker, and has 3 well-defined lengthwise black stripes. Its head is longer than it is wide. (The head of the northern species is about as long as it is wide, and the stripes on its body are much less distinct.)

Other Common Names
Devil’s Riding Horse
Length (excluding legs and antennae): 2 to 2¼ inches (females); 1 to 1½ inches (males).
Where To Find
image of Northern Two-Striped Walkingstick Musk Mare Devil's Riding Horse Distribution Map
Potentially statewide, but probably most common in the southern half of the state. Not historically common in Missouri, but reported in recent years from at least as north as the Missouri River. This species ranges from Texas and Kansas through Georgia and Virginia but is absent from Florida.
Though they spend the summer eating and growing in trees and shrubs, musk mares are well camouflaged and rarely noticed. They are usually seen in the fall, when they congregate in open areas to mate. Then, they are usually seen in pairs on the ground or on low vegetation, in the copulating position they are famous for. Be careful: When they feel threatened or are handled, they can spray an irritating, acrid liquid for defense. If it contacts your eyes, the burning sensation is said to feel like molten lead.
Like our more familiar walkingsticks, musk mares eat the leaves of trees and shrubs. Apparently they do not cause much noticeable damage to trees, at least in our area. They rely on their sticklike camouflage to hide them from predators, and if they are detected and attacked, they can spray an offensive, acrid fluid at their enemies.
Use great caution with these insects. When musk mares are pinched, poked, or otherwise feel threatened, they can squirt a smelly, milky, irritating fluid from glands just behind the head. They aim for the eyes, and their aim is amazingly accurate. In contact with eyes or other mucous membranes, it causes intense pain. If you’re squirted, flush your eye immediately with water. If you experience decreased vision, sensitivity to light, or other severe symptoms, seek medical attention.
Life Cycle
Mating and egg laying occur in late summer and fall. Even when they’re not copulating, the small males ride the backs of the much larger females; because they look like miniature jockeys on horses, they acquired the common names “musk mare,” “devil rider,” and others. It can take several days for them to finish mating. Unlike other stick insects, female musk mares apparently deposit their eggs in the soil, instead of dropping them randomly from trees.

The noxious spray of musk mares is well documented, so please use caution around these insects. It is best to simply leave them alone. There is a report of a dog suffering an ulcerated cornea after exposure to these chemicals, but that damage may have been self-inflicted in response to the pain.

Ozark folklorist Vance Randolph reported that Ozarkers instructed their children that it was "bad luck to 'pester' a Devil's horse" (an insect he assumed to be the same thing as a praying mantis), because "the creature is likely to spit tobacco juice in one's eye and perhaps cause blindness." Randolph rightfully questioned the notion of a praying mantis doing such a thing, but perhaps he didn't know about musk mares.

Musk mares help to limit the growth of vegetation. Over time, they help develop vigorous strains of plants that are least hindered by their leaf chomping. Although adult musk mares can repel predators with their spray, it is a safe bet that their eggs and young are devoured by many predators.
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Similar Species
About Land Invertebrates in Missouri
Invertebrates are animals without backbones, including earthworms, slugs, snails, and arthropods. Arthropods—invertebrates with “jointed legs” — are a group of invertebrates that includes crayfish, shrimp, millipedes, centipedes, mites, spiders, and insects. There may be as many as 10 million species of insects alive on earth today, and they probably constitute more than 90 percent all animal species.