How to Keep Stick Insects as Pet?

Stick insects, also called bug-sticks or walking sticks, are part of the order Phasmatodea. Their name is a pretty accurate description. What makes these bugs interesting is their stick-like appearance.

They’re also among the longest insects out there, with some species measuring over 25 inches (63cm) in length. The smallest ones average around 0.6 inches (1.5cm).

If you’re a fan of insects, especially goofy-looking ones, then stick insects are a great choice for you! They’re tame, peaceful, and easy to care for. They’re also herbivorous, so you don’t have to fear any bug bites.

They’re adaptable and don’t require constant monitoring. As long as you get the housing and environment right, you can let them alone for days at a time.

Housing

So, how exactly do you prepare an enclosure for these insects? Well, the most important thing to remember is space. Whether you choose a terrarium, a net cage, or a regular tank, your stick insects need enough space to move around and to hang upside-down. Vertical space is crucial during molting.

The best way to ensure your enclosure is adequate is to keep it at least three times as high as your stick insect’s body length. The length and width of the enclosure should also be 2-3 times the size of your pet insect’s body length. If you keep more than one bug-stick, it goes without saying that you’ll need more horizontal space to house them all.

It doesn’t matter what kind of enclosure you use, as long as it’s escape-proof and as long as there’s proper ventilation. Include a substrate like potting soil or even tissue paper. It helps absorb moisture and catch any of the waste from your insects.

Decorations can include leaves and sticks, anything that simulates a natural outdoor environment. Make sure there’s a mesh or a material with high adherence on the roof of the enclosure. Stick insects like hanging or dangling upside-down. That’s also the best position for molting.

Environment

Besides visually simulating a stick insect’s natural environment, you should also make the necessary preparations to make them feel at home. This means providing the proper heat and humidity for your pet insect. The optimal levels will depend on your specific insect species. You can monitor the temperature and humidity in the enclosure with the help of a Thermo-Hygrometer.

The most common stick insect kept as a pet is the Indian Stick Insect (with the scientific name “Carausius morosus”). If you’re going to buy stick insects, this is probably the one you’re going to find. This species needs a warm environment with temperatures ranging from 70-75°F (21-24°C).

The humidity level should be around 75%. Avoid using heating lamps, as these can negatively impact humidity levels. To maintain a suitable temperature, you can use heating pads instead. Increasing the humidity in the enclosure is as easy as misting the space a few times a day.

Diet & Nutrition

Stick Insects eat a simple diet consisting of leaves with a side of more leaves. However, considering these limited choices, they’re surprisingly picky eaters. Not all types of leaves are good choices for every species. While some species might rush to some leaves like kids to an ice-cream truck, others will completely ignore them.

Indian Stick Insect for example prefer oak, hawthorn, ivy, jasmine, and rose leaves. Make sure you properly identify your insect and provide a species-appropriate diet. Otherwise, your bug-sticks might get sick or not eat enough! Oh, and speaking of picky eaters, these insects also only eat fresh leaves.

So, make sure the food is always fresh off the branch. Replace older leaves as soon as they start drying out. To keep the leaves fresh for longer, you can keep small branches in a cup of water.

Most Stick Insects meet their hydration needs from the fresh leaves they eat. You should also lightly mist the leaves before feeding. The water droplets will provide some additional moisture for your insects.

Maintenance

Just as any other pet, Stick Insects need a clean environment to maintain good health. These insects are herbivorous, so they’re susceptible to health problems if exposed to mold, rot, or harmful bacteria. They produce quite a lot of waste, and when you combine that with warm temperatures and high humidity levels, this means you should be extra cautious!

I recommend replacing the substrate once a week. Whether you use tissue paper or soil, this should be an easy process. If you use pebbles, you can sieve the dirt out before reintroducing the substrate into the enclosure. If you use a terrarium, also make sure to clean the walls every once in a while.

And don’t forget the leaves! They start rotting quickly, so always remove them from the enclosure once they’ve started drying up. If you keep your leaves in a cup of water, also replace the water frequently to prevent harmful bacteria from growing.

Handling

Stick Insects like being handled, as long as you’re careful. Most species don’t sting or bite, so you can let them rest in your palm or walk across your arm. They’re fragile so you must handle them gently to avoid damage. Never pick them up by the legs.

If you must pick up Stick Insects, try gently grasping their body instead. You can also open your palm and lightly nudge the insect closer. It’s best to let it climb onto your hand by itself though. If your stick-bug isn’t used to being handled, it might get agitated and injure itself.

Stick Insect FAQ

So, you’re still interested and want to find out more details about Stick Insects as pets? I’ve compiled a list of answers to the most commonly asked questions. You can refer to this section for any additional information.

How Long do Stick Insects Live?

Stick Insects have an incomplete metamorphosis life cycle, going through three stages (egg, nymph, and adult). Typically, they live 4-10 months as nymphs and an additional 5 months to a year as adults. Different species have slightly different lifespans.

Larger species typically live longer than smaller ones. Females also live longer than males, usually close to twice as long. Insects kept in captivity have a longer lifespan than insects in the wild.

Proper nutrition and a suitable environment can also impact your Stick Insect’s lifespan. For example, while insects can grow larger and more quickly in a warmer environment, this quick growth also reduces their life expectancy.

Do Stick Insects Bite?

No, they don’t. But that’s only telling half the story. Remember that Stick Insects are herbivorous. This means they don’t have the bloodlust of mosquitoes or fleas. This also means that their microscopic teeth are meant for eating leaves, and not for penetrating human skin. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have other means of defending themselves.

Most Stick Insects have tiny leg spines they use when threatened. If you’re not handling your pet insect properly, it might pinch or sting you with its legs. Like many other bugs, certain species of Stick Insects also have chemical means of defense, although it’s unlikely that these secretions are dangerous for humans.

Are Stick Insects Poisonous?

Before answering this question, let’s clarify some things. There’s a difference between poisonous and venomous animals and insects. Venomous creatures spread their toxins when attacking prey. They deliver these toxins usually through stinging or biting.

Poisonous creatures only release toxic chemicals in self-defence. They do so to deter dangerous threats who might want to eat them. So, poison is especially dangerous if ingested. Stick insects aren’t poisonous, at least to us humans.

However, they do have chemical defenses. When threatened, Stick Insects spray a toxic substance at their attacker. Depending on the species, this substance can deter predators in different ways, either through a foul taste or smell.

Is it Legal to Keep Stick Insects?

Well, it depends on where you live and what species of Stick Insect you have. For example, in the US, it’s illegal to keep any non-local species. That’s because tropical species act as pests in the local environment. They breed easily so they grow in numbers relatively quickly. They thus pose a threat both to the vegetation as well as to other insects in the area. This leads to an imbalance in the local ecosystem.

You must first check state laws before importing non-native Stick Insect species. If state law permits keeping exotic Stick Insects as pets, you must then obtain a USDA permit to import your pet insect. Whether legal or not, you probably shouldn’t release an exotic species into the local environment. When your stick-bugs start breeding, you also shouldn’t dispose of the eggs outside!

Do Stick Insects Shed Their Skin?

Yes! This shedding process is called molting. A stick insect sheds its rigid skin, or the exoskeleton, around 6-9 times before reaching its full adult size. When molting, Stick Insects need plenty of vertical space to hang upside-down. That’s the safest position for effective molting.

After they’re done shedding, sometimes, the insects will eat their old skin. The number of times a Stick Insect will shed its skin depends on the species and sex of the insect. Some clear signs that molting’s about to begin include lack of appetite and a loss of body color, accompanied by tiny white spots on the skin.

How Big do Stick Insects Grow?

To answer this question, we need to ask ourselves how Stick insects grow. They cycle between feeding and inactivity. After having eaten enough to meet their growing nutrient needs, they are ready to start shedding their old skin. Because the skin of a Stick Insect is so rigid, the bug needs to dispose of it to allow its body to grow. After a period of inactivity, the insect will come out of the old skin larger than before.

This entire process is called molting. A Stick Insect will repeat the molting process multiple times throughout its nymph stage. Each time the bug’s body is ready to grow, the old skin needs to go. Typically, after molting 6-9 times throughout its early life, a Stick Insect reaches its adult size.

The full adult size depends on a variety of factors such as species, sex, and environment. Certain species grow larger than others, and females are typically larger than males. Stick Insects average anywhere between 1-12 inches (or 2.5 to 30 centimeters).

Phryganistria is the largest documented genus of Stick Insects, and of insects in general. The females can measure up to 25 inches (or 64 centimeters). On the other end of the spectrum, Cristinae is the smallest Stick Insect species, measuring no more than 1.18 inches (3 cm).

Can Stick Insects Regrow Their Leg?

Sometimes, a Stick Insect might accidentally lose one of its legs during molting, or due to an accident. This isn’t as bad as it sounds. In fact, Stick Insects often shed a wounded leg to survive an otherwise worse situation.

If a wounded leg is lost, the bug should be able to regrow its missing limb during the next molting process. Every time a limb is lost, the insect starts regenerating. If, however, the bug has already reached adulthood, that limb might be lost permanently.

Wrap Up

Stick Insects are a great choice for experienced insect keepers and newbies alike. If you’re interested in a niche, cool-looking pet, the Stick Insect would definitely be in my top 5 recommendations. They’re peaceful, quiet, easy to feed, and easy to care for.

You don’t need a lot of space or fancy gadgets to look after them. They’re also most active at night and you can go a few days without checking on them. They’re a great low-maintenance choice for someone with a busy schedule.

Stick Insects

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