Giant Prickly Stick Insect – Species Profile & Facts
While this insect is quite unique in the animal kingdom, its name doesn’t sound to ingenious, I’ll give you that. I don’t know who named it but they clearly had a bad day. Moving on, this insect is also known as Macleay’s Spectre Stick Insect, and you’ll see why. You’ll find it across New Guinea and Australia, stalking its prey under the disguise of a leafy stick.
The world of critters is richer than your wildest dreams. Insects like the Hercules Beetle, the Assassin Bug, the Titan Beetle, and Scorpion Fly are the stuff of nightmares but that’s right up my alley. The Giant Prickly Stick Insect (Extatosoma tiatarum) is a popular pet, if you can believe it.
Let’s see why!
Giant Prickly Stick Insect Natural Habitat
Giant Prickly Stick Insects live in tropical places like Australia and New Guinea. Research shows that it’s most common across New South Wales and Queensland, where it makes home out of eucalyptus trees. They particularly enjoy eucalyptus as a main meal of the day.
Despite its size, this spiky insect is quite adept at camouflaging itself. I mean, look at the thing – it already looks like a deep-fried leaf blown in the wind. Still, the Giant Prickly Stick Insect has its natural predators that hunt it all the time. When threatened, this critter offers an unexpected response. It bends its body in such a way that it looks like a scorpion ready to send its poisonous tail flying.
This is how it escapes the clutches of many predators who want to eat it. Quite clever on its part but that’s nature for you. Animal species have to adapt when lacking proper defensive measures. Pretense is just as good as the real thing when the attacker can’t make the difference.
Giant Prickly Stick Insect Characteristics
The Giant Prickly Stick Insect is a very intriguing specimen that’s worth discovering. As a prospective pet owner of such an insect, you ought to learn more about its characteristics. That is, if you want to take good care of it!
Think of husky and dry twigs combined with a brown-looking cactus. That’s the Giant Prickly Stick Insect for you. The middle section of its body is bulkier than the limbs, which appear as veritable spiky twigs.
Its feet have leaf-looking lobes that help the insect camouflage better in the trees. Interestingly enough, the Prickly Insect comes in many colors, including dark-brown, beige, and even green.
The overall color of the insect largely depends on its natural habitat and the living conditions. However, I’m not entirely sure about the specific connections between habitat and color. And you may not believe it, but the spikes? They are completely harmless to the touch. Appearances can be extremely deceiving with this insect, in a good way.
– Size & Growth
Giant Prickly Stick Insects ought to be pretty big, based on their name, right? Well, they are big when compared to other insects. Females reach a whopping 5.9 inches long and they are very bulky and thick. Their appendages are especially large, with large lobes on their legs. Males are smaller, only reaching 4.70-5.11 inches in length, and they’re also much more slender than females.
Males also have wings that they can use to fly, unlike females that can’t fly with their 1-inch-long wings. They weigh up to 3+ ounces when adults, as well. Some specimens even reach 8 inches in length if their genetics are particularly good. The growth rate of Giant Prickly Stick insects is also very rapid, considering these insects have an expected lifespan of 18 months or so.
This insect is as harmless as can be. But you wouldn’t know that just by looking at it. The thing looks quite scary, with all those spikes and antennae on its head. Plus, its Scorpion Mimicry ability is quite lifelike, and most predators give up eating this insect. They’d rather not take their chances and tangle with a poisonous scorpion. That’s it, I’m going to call this insect the Bluffing Insect.
It’s a nocturnal critter that won’t move too much during the day. At night, it’ll be most active and search for food that it can then digest during the day. At that time, you may see this insect waving in the wind to create the impression of a leaf. This is a natural defense mechanism that completes its visual camouflage.
Otherwise, the Giant Prickly Stick Insect is perfectly harmless. It doesn’t pose a threat to you or anyone else. Its prickly spikes are just for show, as well. You can pet it as much as you want, though I don’t know why you’d pet an insect. It’ll rarely feel threatened if it gets used to you but you may often see its Scorpion Mimicry at play.
When handling them, take extra care not to drop them from great heights because these insects are quite fragile.
As I said before, the Giant Prickly Stick Insect defends itself through illusion and bluff. It can camouflage itself perfectly thanks to the leaf-looking body that often sways in the wind. If you’re not looking careful, and no one never does that, you’ll easily mistake it for a leaf. Most predators to the same, which is why this insect is rarely confronted by life-threatening risks.
When a predator sees it, our sweet prickly friend adopts a scorpion-like pose and mimics the scorpion attacking poise. It lifts its tail up, curls its abdomen, and even lifts its front legs to mimic the scorpion’s pincers.
All for just a few seconds of intimidation that delivers a powerful psychologic impact to most predators. A poisonous scorpion is not something predators can handle, so they give up.
The Giant Prickly Stick Insect escapes yet another dangerous situation that may have been deadly for other insects. These insects adopt the same defense mechanism when in captivity, as well. If it feels threatened by your hand or by something else, it’ll try to intimidate you with its scorpion form.
– Life Cycle
Most Giant Prickly Stick Insects have a general lifespan of 18 months, and that’s only for females. Males die much younger, at around 6-8 months. If there’s one similarity between animal species I’ve found, it’s that females are bigger, stronger, and live longer than males. There’s a good biological reason for this but still, the discrimination is clearly noticeable.
If you take good care of your Prickly Stick Insects, you should expect a reasonable lifespan. As long as they have no health problems along the way, you’ll get to watch your insects grow for 1.5 years, approximately. But captivity tends to lower the lifespan of most animals, so you expect this as well.
Giant Prickly Stick Insect Care
The main point of this article is to school you into taking good care of Giant Prickly Stick Insects. We’ve talked about some of the characteristics of this insect. Now, it’s time to get down to business and be more specific:
– Diet & Nutrition
Insects have to eat as well, and the Giant Prickly Stick insect is no different. In its natural habitat, it eats eucalyptus leaves most of the time. That’s the bread and butter of these insects. However, if you can’t find eucalyptus leaves, you can make do with rose, raspberry, blackberry, oak, and hazel leaves.
The insects will chomp them down as soon as you place them in the cage.
Feed your insects once every 2-3 days but use only fresh leaves from the pet store. And make sure the leaves haven’t been sprayed with pesticides, especially eucalyptus leaves. If your insects don’t eat all the leaves before the next feeding time, remove the old ones because they may have become dry.
I recommend the following – take a plant, cut off a part of its stem with some leaves, and plant it in a vase of water. This way, it’ll stay fresh for longer. Alternatively, you can plant it in the substrate so the insects have easy access to it. Depending on how many insects you’re housing, you may need to feed them more than one plant at once.
As for hydration, Giant Prickly Stick Insects usually drink the dew on leaves. I wouldn’t place a water bowl in their enclosure because they’re more likely to drown than get hydrated. Ideally, you should spray the plant’s leaves before putting it in the enclosure.
This not only offers a source of hydration for the insects but also keeps the plant fresh for longer.
When building an enclosure for these insects, make it at least three times their body length in height (about 23 inches), and two times their width (around 15 inches). Terrariums and netting cages work just as well for these insects, fortunately. Personally, I use a terrarium so I can see them better.
Why keep insects when you can’t see them, after all?
From experience, I can tell you that, when building insect enclosures, height is more important than width. Make the enclosure reasonably big for the number of insects you want to house, as well. Remember that the terrarium needs a form of ventilation so there’s no humidity build-up. You wouldn’t want to deal with mold killing your insects one by one, right?
Climbing structures like twigs and branches can also help your insects feel at home. But you shouldn’t clog the living space with twigs and branches. Giant Prickly Stick Insects need a lot of open space to moult and feed.
As for substrate, these insects don’t really need one. If anything, you could use a substrate to control the humidity in the enclosure. I recommend white sand or coconut fiber, leaves vermiculite, or potting soil.
Giant Prickly Stick Insects can live at room temperature, so you won’t need to micromanage the temperature in the enclosure. Usually, a temperature between 68-86 °F is more than enough for them to thrive. During the night, you can even drop the temperature to a safe level of 59 °F. If it’s too cold, you’ll need a heater like a light bulb. Keep it on for a 12 by 12h cycle.
But you can also use natural light to heat up the terrarium. At the same time, I don’t recommend placing the enclosure in direct sunlight as it can lead to overheating. As for humidity, these stick insects need an average of 40-60% humidity, which is room humidity. If you’re using an artificial heating source, you’ll need to keep the humidity under control because heat dries out the enclosure pretty fast.
You can mist the substrate with some water from time to time. Keep the humidity level well under control so it’s not too dry that your insects die from dehydration. At the same time, too much humidity can lead to health problems and mold forming. You want neither of these results, so keep the humidity at a steady room level!
– Health Problems
There isn’t anything too specific you have to look out for. Generally, humidity problems lead to moulting difficulties for these insects. When the enclosure isn’t tall enough, the insects may encounter problems shedding their skin.
This will lead to stress and further medical problems. Generally, you’ll need to watch out for signs of lethargy or loss of appetite. Neither is normal in healthy insects. Loss of limbs is another potential problem for any insect. Handle them with care to prevent this!
Extatosoma tiaratum females are bulkier and bigger than their male counterparts. Their difference become more notable during their growth cycle from a nymph. If you plan on breeding your prickly insects, it’s quite easy. This species breeds parthenogenically and sexually. They can reproduce with a mate but it’s not necessary. Females can fertilize the eggs themselves.
The thing is that, when not mating, females only lay eggs that will hatch into female insects. She only uses her genetic material during the process. When mating with a male, the hatchlings can be both male and female. Moreover, eggs laid without mating take around 9 months to hatch, while eggs laid with mating take 4 months to hatch.
You can also incubate the eggs yourself, if you want to breed them professionally. Just pick off the eggs and separate them in a different enclosure. Then, you can better control the environmental conditions and increase the survival chances of nymphs. I recommend keeping the nymphs separate from the adults during the first two stages of life.
Mating happens naturally between a male and female. You won’t need to encourage them or do anything yourself. Eggs are dark-brown, mid-brown, or beige, and they’re slightly shiny.
Interestingly enough, you can artificially control the color of the nymphs as they grow. One of the rarest colors of Giant Prickly Stick Insects is the lichen color morph. You can control this color by keeping the nymphs in a separate enclosure filled with lichen.
This way, the nymphs will be forced to adopt a camouflage inspired from the color of the lichen.
Giant Prickly Stick Insects make for great pets, especially for insect lovers like me and you. It doesn’t take a PhD to properly care for these insects and provide them with the necessary living conditions.
If anything, Extatosoma tiaratum is easy to care for, especially when it comes to temperature and humidity. As long as the enclosure is tall enough and they have enough food and water, these insects will thrive!
Leave any questions below and I’ll be happy to reply!