Why do My Stick Insects Keep Dying?
Stick insects are rather hardy creatures, provided they live in optimal living conditions. You shouldn’t run into any problems if you provide them with balanced diets, ensure a warm and humid environment, and monitor their enclosure regularly.
However, things may not go as planned at all times. Sometimes, stick insects will die, and it’s up to you to determine why. Understanding the causes will allow you to prevent the same situation from occurring in the future with the next stick insects.
Today’s article will assess the various reasons for stick insects dying in captivity.
Reasons Stick Insects Usually Die
We will begin this list by eliminating species-specific natural death as one of the main culprits. As a general rule, stick insects have longer lifespans, according to their size. The bigger they are, the longer they tend to live and vice-versa.
When purchasing a stick insect, inform yourself on its average lifespan since some stick insects will only live for several months, while others can go for a year, a year, and a half or more. With that out of the way, your stick insects may die for a variety of reasons. These may include:
This is one of the main causes of death among terrarium stick insects. The truth is that stick insects are incredibly picky about their food. They only eat fresh leaves and will go so far as to reject their food if it doesn’t meet their standards, despite starving.
This means that the place where you’re sourcing the leaves is critical. Getting them from the side of a busy road can mean they contain poisonous fumes, leading your stick insects to fall sick or refuse food. Gathering them from adjacent properties can lead you to feed your stick insects pesticide-filled leaves.
Pesticide-infested leaves are one of the primary causes of death among stick insects, which is why it’s important only to feed them clean, fresh, and healthy leaves. Also, note that stick insects can eat a lot, meaning that you will have to supply them with fresh food regularly.
– Lack of Nutrients
Some stick insects prefer some leaves over others, while some species will straight up refuse to eat leaves that other species view as delicacies. It’s crucial to provide your stick insects food compatible with the species they belong to.
It’s even more important to offer them a varied diet since all stick insects will eat several types of leaves, each containing different nutrients. Failing to ensure a varied diet can lead stick insects to experience nutrient deprivation and die as a result.
Understand your insect’s preferred foods and follow their preferences to the letter. The stick insect should tell you what it wants to eat, not the other way around.
Stick insects do well in a wide range of temperatures. Their preferred environmental temperature rests between 70 and 75 F but can go as low as 60. The difference with stick insects is that environmental temperature is more than just a random comfort metric. Instead, the temperature will influence the stick insect’s quality of life and even lifespan.
The higher the temperature, the more its metabolism will accelerate. If your stick insect has died before its term, this may be an indicator of too high environmental temperature.
Stick insects require adequate humidity to remain active and healthy and prevent accidental deaths. The latter may occur during the molting phase when stick insects require more humidity than usual. Without that, the insect’s new exoskeleton may harden before the molting is complete, making it difficult for the insect to leave its old skin.
This can trap the stick insect in its old suit, causing it to lose limbs as it struggles to break free or even die due to complications.
Another problem would be dehydration since arid environments deprive the stick insect of vital water. Placing a water bowl in the insect’s enclosure may not prevent the problem since stick insects prefer to drink water accumulating on leaves and branches.
Stick insects require 2 primary environmental conditions to molt safely:
- Adequate space – Stick insects will look for the ideal place to molt, usually somewhere high, hanging from a branch. Not providing them with sufficient space can cause the insect to experience difficulties leaving its old exoskeleton.
- Proper humidity – The insect is very vulnerable during molting and requires plenty of environmental humidity to undergo the shedding safely. If the air is too dry, insect might not be able to crawl out of its old skin.
Some of the complications arriving with improper shedding include ripped limbs, fungal infections due to injuries, and death.
– Mate Aggression
Stick insects are generally docile and peaceful, minding their own business and only exhibiting aggression when threatened or scared. They will also become aggressive towards one another in specific circumstances. Females may display aggression towards males during molting if the latter attempts to mate with the female during this sensitive period.
The female will generally secrete a chemical designed to keep males away, but stick males are notoriously pushy. If the chemical doesn’t have the intended effect, the female will attack the male if it gets too close.
Some females will also lay eggs parthenogenetically (without prior male fertilization). Since a male hasn’t fertilized them in advance, the offspring will all be females. The female will become aggressive in case any male attempts to come close to the eggs for whatever reason.
As a side note, stick insects belonging to different species may also display aggression towards one another, as do males belonging to the same species if theythey lack enough space.
– Small Space
You can keep several stick insects in the same enclosure, so long as you provide them with enough space. Stick insects won’t move too much, so increasing the size of the enclosure will minimize the chances of them running into one another.
Keeping them in crowded areas can spell disaster fast, since stick insects will fight, often with fatal consequences. They do so to protect their safe spaces more than exhibit territorial behavior, but the real reason doesn’t matter that much anyway. Just know one stick insect needs a space 3 times higher and 2 times wider than its body’s length.
I suggest doubling these measurements for each stick insect you add into the mix.
Fortunately, stick insects don’t suffer from any life-threatening diseases. The most compelling health problem that could kill them relates to fungal infections. These occur if a dangerous pathogen reaches the insect’s enclosure and infects it.
In most cases, the limbs will be the first affected, which is good. Hopefully, the infection will cause the insect to lose its limb, which will grow back via subsequent shedding phases. The situation is more severe if the infection gets to spread to the rest of the body.
To contain it, I suggest quarantining the sick insect to protect the rest of the population (in case you have several insects in the same enclosure). Then, you need to cleanse the terrarium thoroughly to eliminate all traces of the pathogen. The sick insect needs to live in perfect living conditions, in a humid and warm environment, and plenty of fresh food.
Keep in mind, the insect may die despite all your efforts to the contrary. It’s pretty much a coin toss, but at least you will be doing your best to avoid the unfortunate scenario.
– Old Age
Finally, stick insects will die of old age, as most living creatures on Earth. The lifespan of stick insects will vary from species to species.
It can often be tricky to tell when a stick insect is about to die or already dead. That is because stick insects tend to be static by nature. They will simply rest on leaves and branches the entire day with little sign of activity, so inactivity isn’t necessarily a sign that something is wrong.
However, you can notice your stick insect struggling to move or climb, which is definitely an ominous sign. The conclusion is that much more obvious if the insect is getting close to its species’ average lifespan.
As a side note, stick insects can also play dead for hours when disturbed, so you might want to rule that out before pronouncing the death.
How Long do Stick Insects Live?
Some insect species live around 4-5 months as nymphs and around 4-5 months as adults. Others live twice as much.
As a general rule, female stick insects live twice as long as the adults, and bigger insects live longer than smaller ones.
How to Keep Your Stick Bugs Alive?
There are no special requirements to fulfill, aside from the basic stuff that we’re already discussed. For a TL:DR section, here are the crucial pointers to remember:
- Provide your stick insect(s) with adequate space and a plant-rich and vibrant habitat; ideally, it should mimic their natural environment
- Spray water in the enclosure to keep the humidity constant and balanced
- Provide the insect with plenty of fresh food
- Remove uneaten, dying leaves and cleanse the enclosure of droppings and dead matter
- Avoid exposing the insect to direct sunlight
- Keep the habitat’s temperature constant, somewhere around 70 to 75 F; the temperature and humidity requirements will vary between species
Stick insects make for ideal pets, so long as you provide them with adequate living conditions. They don’t bite, sting, are not poisonous or venomous (with notable exceptions), and don’t make noise.
Stick insects are ideal for people who want a more exotic and low-maintenance pet.