Do Stick Insects Play Dead?

Stick insects are amazing creatures that have grown in popularity as pets over the last few years. There are over 3,000 species available, each species displaying different appearances, sizes, and coloring. The smallest stick insect is 0.5 inches, while the largest can go up to 13 inches, almost 22, with its legs spread out.

Stick insects are phasmids that rely on camouflage to defend against predators since they don’t possess venom, poison, claws, fangs, or any other defensive mechanism. But not all people realize that the insect’s defensive behavior goes beyond mere camouflage. The insect will also display specific defensive behavior via its movement.

When resting or walking (which doesn’t happen too often), the stick insect will move slowly from side to side, mimicking a twig caught in the wind. This is a deceiving tactic designed to make the stick insect look like part of the environment.

The stick insect will play dead when everything else fails, remaining completely motionless, sometimes for hours. This commitment causes some stick insect owners to fear that the insect may have died. But when do they play dead, how do they do it, and how can you tell they’re just faking it?

Why do Stick Insects Play Dead?

Stick insects resort to this theatrical behavior when sensing danger nearby. The act of playing dead is a behavior known as thanatosis. The name comes from that of the famous God of death, Thanatos from ancient Greek myths, who would come to your deathbed to carry you to the Underworld. An eerie name for a fitting label.

The stick insect will remain motionless to avoid predators, allowing it to blend with the environment and minimizing its profile. Adult stick insects can render themselves virtually invisible thanks to their astounding camouflage. But, sometimes, that doesn’t work.

If the insect senses danger nearby, it will freeze up and fall to the ground, remaining perfectly still. The predator, whether it be an insect, bird, or small mammal, may lose track of the insect, increasing its chances of survival. Other predators only eat live food, so they will ignore dead insects, even if they manage to discover the stick insect’s not-so-dead body.

All in all, this is a necessary defensive mechanism, given that stick insects have no other means of protecting themselves except their impeccable camouflage.

Do Stick Insects Move at All?

Yes, but the movement is more like a hobby than a full-time job. They only move when they have some spare time from all that statue-roleplaying. And when they do move, it’s not exactly the most exhilarating thing you’ve ever witnessed.

Stick insects move slowly, often swinging from side to side, posing as twigs in the wind. That’s because most predators spot their prey when moving, a behavior which the stick insect attempts to via its gracious moving pattern.

An interesting fact about the insect’s locomotion system – its legs have different functions. The stick insect possesses 6 legs, each pair playing a different role. Researchers have noticed that the hind legs push the body forward, the middle ones are in charge of the brakes and steering, and the front ones play tactile purposes.

The insect’s low energy, sluggish movement, and lack of flying abilities actually increase its popularity as a pet. Many stick insect owners move the insects outside from time to time without fearing that they will run or fly away.

Why is My Stick Insect Not Moving?

If this is your first time going for a stick insect, it’s natural to feel concerned by its lack of activity. Most first-timers have different expectations when it comes to their stick insect’s activity levels. In reality, they aren’t exactly the most exhilarating insects to look at.

The stick insect is biologically programmed to minimize its visual print and rely on its camouflage to shield itself from predators. The fact that you’re keeping it in a safe terrarium means nothing to your insect. The insect can’t reason its surroundings; it will rely on its instincts to function as instructed by its biology.

Your stick insect should move more during nighttime, but will remain pretty much motionless during daytime. You should also know that stick insects have a so-called stick phase, where they will remain motionless for hours. This is typical behavior.

So long as your insect eats well, drinks water, and alternates the periods of inactivity with those of moderate movement, there’s nothing to worry about.

How do You Know if the Stick Insect is Dead?

Determining whether an insect is dead or alive can be a challenge since insect behavior is different from mammals’. This problem increases tenfold when it comes to insects resorting to thanatosis like the stick insect does. Considering that stick insects sometimes lay motionless for hours, how you can tell the difference between a live and a dead one?

An easy method would be to touch its maxillary or labial palps. These are small appendixes located under the insect’s mouth; use a needle and touch them with care to see what happens. These are sensitive organs that will immediately instigate a response from the insect. If the insect is still alive, that is.

If you can’t see the palps or can’t access them, touch its antennae instead. Living stick insects will react to the touch and move them out of the way. If nothing happens, you may have a deceased insect on your hands.

Other than that, simply observing your stick insect regularly should tell you if everything’s fine or not. Stick insects don’t lay motionless forever. They have to move to get their food and water and occasionally change positions.

You should also be able to tell when your stick insect shows signs of dying. They don’t typically die without warning; there are always foretelling signs that you can identify and assess. The most relevant one comes in the form of erratic movement. When moving, stick insects tend to sway back and forth or from side to side but generally maintain their composure.

There’s a problem if the insect shows erratic movement or appears to struggle to move its feet. You should expect these signs to occur as the insect gets close to its life’s natural limit.

Do Stick Insects Jump?

Not, but actually, yes. Most stick insects cannot jump since their bodies aren’t anatomically built for that. That being said, some Thailand winged stick insects can perform slight back and forward jumps when sensing danger. They also perform forward jumps to help them take off since vertical take-offs aren’t really an option.

So, don’t expect your stick insect to run, fly, or jump since all these activities are contrary to their biological setup. Stick insects rely on immobility to avoid predation, so they are not really interested in performing flashy movements.

That being said, they can climb. At a rather slow pace, but they can do it. So, house them in an enclosed terrarium, or at least make sure they can’t get out.

Conclusion

Stick insects make for amazing pets, so long as you provide them with optimal living conditions. Just know that they aren’t quite exciting to look at and that they play dead occasionally when sensing danger.

The problem is that everything could mean danger to them, including sudden moves in the room, noises, abrupt changes in lighting, etc. This is a natural behavior that shouldn’t worry you too much.

Except when the insect decides to actually die.

Stick Insects   Updated: January 20, 2022
avatar Welcome to Insectic, a blog to learn about insects and bugs. I'm Richard, and I've created this website to share my experience, knowledge, and passion with others.

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