Stick Insect caresheet
Australian or Giant Spiny Stick Insect (Extatosoma tiaratum).
There are nearly 3,000 species of stick insect (Phasmatodea) in the world. They all feed on vegetation and are one of the most popular forms of insect pets.
In general the more common species of stick insect can be kept together, though if you are breeding more difficult species then it pays to use separate cages to create individual requirements.
Most stick insects come from tropical or semi-tropical environments and are happiest between around 25°C, though the common Indian stick insect (Carausius morosus) and some of its relatives are happy at normal home temperatures of 17°C+. Heating is best achieved by maintaining a whole room at the desired temperature, if this is not possible an electric light bulb can be used over small cages. It is important to make sure the stick insects can not reach the light bulb as they will burn themselves. A red bulb should be used during the hours of darkness as this disturbs the stick insects far less.
Most stick insects are long thin animals which hang down from their food plants to shed their skins. It is therefore most important that the cage has sufficient depth to allow this. As a general rule it should be three times as high as the adult length of the stick insects to be kept in it. It is also useful to have it so designed that you can easily replace the food plant material whenever it is required taking into consideration that this will mostly be brambles (i.e. spiny Rubus sp.).
The stick Insect Bactrododema hecticum from South Africa.
Not all sticks insects share a common need for humidity. Some species such as Carausius morosus will be happy to live in a fairly open cage whereas others such as Epidares nolimetangere will require an almost if not totally enclosed cage with around 80% relative humidity. Regardless of this, all sticks insects need water and it is a good idea to thoroughly mist the inside of the cage including all the food plant material each evening.
Some stick insects such as Haaniella sp. need open water in a low bowl to drink. Don't be concerned if they leave their heads under water while drinking, remember that insects breathe through their thoracic and abdominal spiracles not through their mouth or nose like us. Note also that in some places tap water can harm some species so it doesn't hurt to use either rain water or to let the tap water stand for a day or two.
Almost all stick insects eat the leaves of bramble/blackberry and its relatives of the genus Rubus. Many such as the Indian or Laboratory stick insect (Carausius morosus), the Australian or Giant Spiny stick insect (Extatosoma tiaratum), the Thorn Legged stick insect (Eurycantha calcarata), the Small Spiny stick insect (Aretaon asperrimus) and the Jungle Nymph (Heteropteryx dilatata) will also enjoy plants like Oak (Quercus sp.) and Hawthorn (Crateagus monogyna). Some species, such as the Peruvian Fern Stick insect (Oreophoetes peruana, O. topoense etc), feed on bracken and other ferns.
It is important to make sure that your stick insects always have plenty of fresh food, and it is often wise to take from sites away from major road ways to avoid the poisoning effects of the traffic fumes. If this is unavoidable then the plant material should be washed before being offered to the stick insects.
Great care should be taken in handling stick insects at all times. Some species such as the Indian or Laboratory stick insect (Carausius morosus) and the Australian or Giant Spiny stick insect (Extatosoma tiaratum) are relatively sturdy and these should be used when allowing younger children or people who could be frightened to handle the stick insects.
Note that some species such as Pink Winged (Sipyloidea sipylus) tend to lose their legs very easily. Also it should be noted that some species such as the Australian or Giant Spiny stick insect (Extatosoma tiaratum), the Jungle Nymph (Heteropteryx dilatata) and particularly the Thorn Legged stick insect (Eurycantha calcarata) can and will pinch (with their thorny limbs) and bite if not used to being handled.
Other species such as the American Walking Stick (Anisomorpha bupestroides), Peruvian black beauty (Peruphasma schultei) and, to a lesser extent, Pink Winged (Sipyloidea sipylus) and Peruvian Fern Stick insects (Oreophoetes peruana) have a defensive chemical spray which in the case of American Walking Stick (Anisomorpha bupestroides) can cause temporary blindness and considerable pain to an adult. It is very important you know the precise species of stick insect before you buy them.
A number of species of stick insect, such as the Indian or Laboratory stick insect, are parthenogenic (i.e. the females lay unfertilised eggs which hatch into females which also lay unfertilised eggs). However, the majority of species require males and females.
All stick insects lay eggs, some just drop them onto the ground, some stick them under tree bark or into crevices and some bury them in the ground. If you keep the burying species such as the Thorn Legged stick insect or Epidares nolimetangere you will need to ensure the bottom of the cage has a container of damp peat-free compost (about 5cm deep) in it once the females are adult.
Stick insect eggs can take from between two months and a year to hatch depending on species. In general the larger species are the ones which take longest, though not always. You can either leave the eggs on the cage floor and let the stick insects hatch as they want, in this case it is useful to keep some common Woodlice such as Porcellio scaber in the cage to help keep down the fungus. Or you can collect the eggs each time you clean the cage and keep them in separate containers until they hatch. In this case the eggs of the burying species will need to be gently reburied about 1cm deep, and the rest will need to be kept on some absorbent material such as sand. All will need to be kept in a warm place and spraying with moisture occasionally will help. A careful/daily watch should be kept for moulds and mouldy ova/eggs removed, cleaned and then kept in a separate container.
The stick insect Eurycnema goliath from Australia.
Stick insects can lose limbs for a number of reasons and you should be careful to avoid any situation which may cause your stick insects to lose limbs. Some of the common causes of lost limbs include:
- Overcrowding - the stick insects bite or knock off legs of other stick insects in their cage. Your stick insects should have plenty of room in their cage and this is especially important when they're moulting.
- Fungal infection - if you suspect your stick insects have a fungal infection, thoroughly clean their cage and, if necessary, quarantine infected individuals.
- Rough handling - stick insects are fragile and, like all animals, should be handled with care and respect.
Stick insects undergo incomplete metamorphosis. It is possible for a stick insect to regrow a lost limb but only when they moult again. This means that, if your stick insect is an adult, then it won't be able to regrow the lost limb.
Further information on Stick insects and Leaf insects.
Essential reading from the Amateur Entomologists' Society
- Rearing and Studying Stick and Leaf-insects (Vol. 22)
- The Amazing World of Stick and Leaf insects (Vol. 26)
Remember: it is important that you know the needs and requirements of your pet before you obtain the animal. You should never, ever obtain an animal before researching its needs and preparing the housing and conditions.
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