Do Stick Insects Shed Their Skin?
Yes, they do. Stick insects have consistently grown in popularity over these past several years, and for good reasons. They are exotic, easy to care for, friendly, and have a unique look, making them the perfect pets for insect lovers, including children.
Today, we will examine one of the stick insect’s defining traits: skin shedding. Why do they do it, how many times will they shed their skin, and what should you expect during the process?
Let’s see what we can find out!
Why do Stick Insects Shed?
Skin shedding is part of the growth process. Multiple species of insects undergo molting due to their hard exoskeleton that doesn’t grow the way skin normally does. This means that the insect will grow a full exoskeleton underneath the existent one, then undergo molting to replace the old with the new.
The process is delicate, as the insect will take its time to extract its body from the old skin. If you have a stick insect at home, make sure you provide the creature with a humid environment. Spraying water in its habitat regularly is a must to ensure the insect remains healthy and happy. A humid habitat will help the insect shed its skin easier and prevent any complications along the way.
If the environment is too dry, the outer skin may remain rigid, and the separation will become impossible. The insect will remain trapped in its old skeleton and die because of it.
How Often Do Stick Insects Shed?
The stick insect will typically reach adulthood at around 6 months of age. During this time, the insect may shed its skin 6 to 9 times, depending on the species it belongs to. The insect will rank as a nymph during its first 6-8 molting phases, with the 7 to 8 molting marking its transformation between nymph to sub-adult.
The last molting phase will see the insect turning into an adult. The number of molts varies depending on the species. The Indian stick insect, for instance, will molt 6 times, while other species will undergo 9 molting phases.
How Long Does it Take for Stick Insects to Shed Their Skin?
The duration of the molting phases varies depending on the insect’s size, environmental factors, and potential complications that may arise during the process. On average, the molting phase may last between 30 and 60 minutes.
The preparation phase will last a lot longer than that, as the stick insect prepares for molting at least 24 hours prior. Sometimes, the insect’s behavior will change several days before molting, as the insect may refuse food and start to hang upside-down from branches.
How do You Know if Your Stick Insect is Molting?
Several signs will suggest that the stick insect is preparing for its incoming molting. These include:
- Lowered appetite – The insect may eat less and, at some point, refuse food altogether.
- Visible signs – The insect’s colors may become duller and even show shades of white.
- Visible wings – This only goes for winged species. If your stick insect has wings, you should see the contour of the new wings forming under the outer exoskeleton.
The insect will also find a more comfortable place to hang from a branch and prepare for molting. At this point, you should no longer disturbed the insect until the molting is complete.
What to do When Your Stick Insect is Shedding?
Whatever you do, don’t touch or manhandle it. Leave it alone to complete the molting process in peace. This is a sensitive period of its life when the insect is most vulnerable. This is why it will look for a secluded area to hide and molt in peace.
Its newly formed exoskeleton will also be soft and fragile, which is why you should avoid touching the insect immediately after molting. Allow it to dry out and harden its skin before grabbing it. I recommend taking at least 24 hours before touching the stick insect following molting.
Do Stick Insects Eat Their Shedded Skin?
Yes, the stick insect will often eat some or most of its old skin. It typically does so for fast access to nutrients after fasting several days before molting. It’s not something to worry about, as it’s natural behavior in the insect world.
You should see traces of leftover skin drying out in the terrarium in most cases.
Can Stick Insects Lose Their Leg During Molting?
Yes, it can happen since the molting phase is never easy. It is a delicate process during which the insect will extract its body out of the old carcass with grace and care. But things don’t always go as intended. If the insect’s leg gets stuck in the process, it will voluntarily detach it from its body to break free.
There are actually some interesting facts about this aspect that I should mention here, like:
- The insect won’t bleed out – One of the major concerns of most insect keepers is whether the insect will bleed out when losing a limb. It won’t. Unlike mammals, the stick insect’s body has developed differently. Its limbs contain special muscles that will contract and close the wound resulting from a limb separation.
- The limb will regenerate, but up to a point – The stick insect will regenerate its limb but only during molting. Since the insect doesn’t grow between 2 molting phases, it’s only during molting that its lost limbs will grow. Don’t expect the process to go from zero to 100%, however. The insect’s limb will reach its full size after several molting phases. Also, the lost limb will never grow back in adults since adult stick insects no longer undergo molting.
- This is a defense mechanism – Stick insects have developed an ingenuous mechanism of detaching their limbs as a defensive mechanism. If a predator catches them by their limbs, they can leave it behind and escape to live another day.
- Mishandling the insect may lead to lost limbs – If you hold the insect by its leg, it may detach it to escape. This can happen especially immediately after molting when the insect is weaker and more vulnerable.
Stick insects will shed their skin to grow from nymph to adults, after which they will stop growing. You should provide them with a humid environment to make sure the molting completes with no incidents.
As a side note, warmer-than-usual environments will shorten the insect’s lifespan or kill it directly. This means you should avoid direct sunlight, keep the insect in a warm room, and provide a healthy day/night cycle with light bulbs.