How Long do Stick Insects Live?
Stick insects are members of the order of insects Phasmatodea. They come in a variety of sizes and colors, from tiny to over 13 inches long, and from light green to a dark earthy brown. They make perfect pets for insect enthusiasts and newbie insect keepers alike.
They’re low maintenance, shy, and peaceful. They don’t require a lot of prep or fancy enclosure set-ups, and you can even leave them alone for extended periods without having to worry about them.
However, you might be wondering, how long do these insects live?
They might make the perfect pet in any other way, but lifespan is a deciding factor for many pet owners. In this article, we’re going to talk about exactly that. I’ll give you an in-depth answer to this question, as well as some useful tips for extending your stick insect’s lifespan.
What is the Life Cycle of a Stick Insect?
Stick insects are rather unique in the sense that they’re a hemimetabolous species. What this means is that they go through an incomplete metamorphosis. So, their life cycle has only three stages– the egg stage, the nymph stage, and the adult stage.
However, they do not go through a pupal stage. Stick insects look more or less the same throughout their life cycles, but they keep growing larger until they reach adulthood. Typically, a stick insect molts 6-9 times throughout its lifetime, and the period in between the molts is when you can notice its growth spurts.
Stick insects adapt their life stages to the natural seasonal cycles. The insect’s egg stage lasts throughout winter when there are no predators like birds, rodents, or other insects to endanger the eggs.
The female usually lays around 100 small, oval eggs in late autumn or early winter. She may drop the eggs directly on the ground, bury them, or hide them under tree bark. In the wild, females die shortly after laying their eggs, while males die soon after reproducing.
Both sexes of the species start to die off when temperatures reach freezing, but females have a longer lifespan on average. While males live for 6-8 months, females may even reach lifespans of 18 months.
How to Care for Your Stick Insect to Live Longer?
The average lifespan of a stick insect is 12 months. As nymphs, they live around 4-10 months, while adult stick insects live 5-12 months. Whether they’ll be on the upper or lower end of this range depends on a few factors.
The most important ones include species, sex, and environment. Females usually live twice as long as males. Larger species are also longer-lived than smaller species. However, the sex and species of your stick insect aren’t something you can readily change.
You can replace your stick insects with a different species in the future after they’ll have completed their life cycle. But for the time being, let’s take a look at environmental factors and how they can extend the lifespan of stick insects. Here are the easiest and most important changes you can make to simulate the perfect environment for your pet insects.
– Feed Your Stick Insects a Proper Diet
Like other herbivorous insects, stick bugs eat leaves. However, not all plant leaves are made equal. For example, some recent studies comparing different feeding diets for stick bugs have shown that spinach is a poor source of nutrition.
Stick insects that were fed a diet centered around spinach leaves had poor growth and usually died within 100 days before even reaching adulthood. Surprisingly, organic lettuce was the best alternative diet, yielding decent growth and longevity results.
However, the best diet for stick insects is the one most closely resembling what they would eat in nature. The best leaves to feed your pets will depend on the species, but most stick insects enjoy hawthorn, oak, blackberry, rose, privet, and ivy leaves. Feeding your bugs a combination of these plants would be the best approach. Just remember that the leaves must always come from a safe source without pesticides or insecticides.
To maintain as much nutrition as possible, the leaves must always be fresh. You can cut off small branches and place them in a small container full of water. The water will keep the leaves fresh for longer. This will also save you some time because you won’t have to replace the leaves every 2-3 days. If you’re using a wide container, make sure to cover the open water surfaces. Otherwise, your bugs might accidentally fall and drown.
Finally, don’t forget proper hydration! Stick insects drink water droplets off the leaves surfaces. Mist the leaves daily to provide enough water for your bugs to drink. However, don’t overdo it! Misting the plants too much will drastically increase the moisture levels in the enclosure. This can create mold, which is hazardous for stick insects’ health.
– Keep The Enclosure Temperature Stable
This is by far the easiest part. All you have to do is maintain the enclosure at a stable temperature ranging between 63-77 °F. Ideally, stick insects thrive in a narrower temperature range of 70-75 °F, but a slight variation is alright, as long as you don’t go too low or too high.
For faster growth and development, you can stick to the higher end of this range. To increase your stick insects’ lifespans, however, you’ll have to stay on the lower temperature side. Just make sure the temperature doesn’t drop too low because this might lead to the opposite result.
You could easily manage this just by keeping the enclosure in a regular room. You shouldn’t require any supplementary heating to keep the temperature from dropping too low. But you’ll have to pay attention to temperature fluctuations throughout the seasons.
If it gets too hot during the summer, you might have to cool out the room. Alternatively, you might need to bump up the heat during winter if you live in a colder climate.
As a side note, keep the enclosure away from direct light exposure, especially during the summer months. Extended contact with direct sunlight might lead to overheating, which could kill your insects.
– Don’t Forget Enclosure Maintenance
Stick insects don’t require as much maintenance as other pets, but you’ll still have to ensure their enclosure is clean. Stick insects require warm and slightly humid conditions, and they produce a lot of waste. Without proper hygiene, this can quickly turn into a health disaster for your bugs.
I recommend performing at least a weekly cleaning. This is the best way to prevent mold and dangerous bacteria from growing and harming your pets’ health. This will include removing any old or dried leaves, getting rid of droppings, changing the water where you keep the leaves, replacing or cleaning the substrate, and thoroughly cleaning the walls, corners, and the floor of the enclosure.
You don’t have to worry about the skins left behind after molting, because stick insects often eat their skin.
If you use a substrate that absorbs a lot of moisture, like fiber or peat moss, I recommend replacing it entirely. If you’re using coarse sand or gravel, you can clean out the droppings using a sieve.
What is the Longest Living Stick Insect?
There are no specific species of stick insect that live longer than others. Females do tend to live twice as long as males, though. However, there’s a general rule of thumb when it comes to lifespan. The larger the stick insect species, the longer they live.
So, for instance, the Phobaeticus kirbyi of Borneo, which grows to impressive lengths of 13 inches, should be the longest-living species of stick insects. However, that may not be so for specific individuals of this species.
Either way, we know those stick insects kept in captivity tend to live longer than insects in the wild. That’s because there are fewer stressors and fewer risk factors in captivity than there are in the wild.
How Long can Stick Insect Live Without Food?
The answer to this question is that it depends. An older and larger stick insect can live for quite a while without food. That’s because they can live off of their body reserves. Younger nymphs might starve a lot quicker because they require more nourishment and energy to grow.
If you provide an adult stick insect with enough moisture, they could last for around a week without eating, maybe slightly more. After all, stick insects go for extended periods without food each time they molt.
They stop eating shortly before they start shedding their skin, and they continue their fasting period for a while after shedding. The entire process can last for up to 5 days. If you notice your stick insect lacks the appetite, this is probably the cause. However, you should always provide fresh food and change the leaves every 2-3 days.
As you saw, stick insects have an average lifespan of 12 months in the wild. In captivity, that number goes up a bit, especially if you take care of them closely. Generally, stick insects can live without food for a few but you shouldn’t make it a habit out of starving them. Females tend to live longer than males, as well!