Time to read 8 minutes
Getting an exotic insect may be a great idea, and stick insects have been known to make great pets for children. However, make sure you learn as much as you can about caring for a stick insect beforehand and ensure that you can offer it a good home.
Stick insects can live up to a year or more, and during this time, they’ll probably breed and produce hundreds of eggs!
Will you be able to then look after more than one stick insect? Take all the basic needs into account first, then think again about whether you’re still committed to owning a stick insect.
About stick insects
Welcome to the world of stick insects! There are over 3,000 different stick insects, the most common type being the Indian or Laboratory stick insect (Caracusius Morosus).
The Indian stick insect usually is green or brown and will grow to about 80mm long — plus, they’ll tolerate lower temperatures than most other stick insects. The Indian stick insect is also usually female and doesn’t need males to lay fertile eggs — and when they do lay eggs that eventually hatch (could be around six to nine months later), it could result in an explosion of stick insects!
Like many other stick insects, the Giant Spiny stick insect (Extatosoma tiaratum) eats bramble, which is available throughout the year. It will also eat several different plants.
The Females grow to about 120mm long while males are smaller and slimmer. Females require males to help them lay fertile eggs.
Other types of stick insects can differ in appearance and size, but most tend to resemble small twigs and branches, which is their camouflage against other animals which may want to eat them.
Stick insects are primarily from tropical and subtropical regions around the world, such as
- South America,
- Some parts of Europe.
Do stick insects make good pets?
Stick insects make excellent pets for children as they’re odorless and dust free-They can be considered hypoallergenic pets.
Some of the stick insects have spines but won’t bite, and they don’t cause any allergic reactions associated with other pets.
They’re effortless to look after, and if you do look after them properly, they should live for up to a year after hatching — however, this depends on the species.
Stick insects can be pretty fascinating to watch, especially when they shed their ‘exoskeleton’ — which is a process that will happen several times throughout their life for them to grow.
Before buying a stick insect
Before choosing a stick insect as a pet, consider the following:
Stick insects can have lots of babies.
Stick insects will most definitely lay lots of eggs, resulting in many stick insect babies — and they don’t even need males to have them!
Make sure you check for eggs daily and freeze any unwanted ones. Baby stick insects can be very difficult to rehome and are given away as food for other animals.
Stick insects need the proper housing.
You can safely keep baby stick insects in plastic boxes; however, adult stick insects will need to live in a well-ventilated cage or vivarium.
A cage of about 30cm high or more should be adequate, as all stick insect species will need vertical space to be able to shed their skin properly — this can be very interesting to watch, but you must not disturb the insect while this is happening.
Your stick insect’s cage will also need to be kept at the right temperature, ideally, at least 20 degrees Celcius, for them to thrive.
Stick insects shed their exoskeleton.
To grow, the stick insect will shed its skin. They’ll generally hang from food plants or the ceiling of their cage to do this.
As interesting as this may be to watch, it is imperative not to disturb your stick insect while it is shedding, as any movement or knocking of the tank could cause it to fall, which could be fatal.
Once your stick insect has shredded its skin, you should not handle it for a few days as the new skin can be very soft, and any handling could cause damage. So making sure the stick insect can be left alone at this time is most important.
Stick insects require very gentle handling.
Stick insects are very delicate and must be handled with care.
If you decide to pick up your stick insect, hold their body and avoid touching the legs as they can fall off. You should keep any other household pets away from the insect while it is out tits cage, especially during handling.
Housing your stick insect
As most stick insects are long and thin, they’ll need a cage or vivarium of a sufficient height. This will need to be approximately three times as high as the total length of the fully grown stick insect. They’ll need this space at the time of shedding as they hang off the ceiling of their cage to do this. A mesh lid is ideal as this will keep good ventilation, and the stick insect will have something to climb on to when it is shedding its skin.
Do stick insects like humid environments?
Your stick insect will need to be kept in a warm room, and tropical species such as Extatosoma Tiaratum need to be held in temperatures above 20 degrees Celcius for them to thrive. Temperatures of less than 15 degrees Celcius can be dangerous.
However, the common Indian stick insect and some of its relatives are happy at room temperature (around 17 degrees).
Heating is best achieved by maintaining the room at the required temperature (i.e., using central household heating). Still, if this is not possible, an electric lightbulb can be used over small cages — ensure your stick insect cannot touch the bulb.
Very damp cages are susceptible to mold growth which is unhealthy for your stick insect. Avoid temperature extremes and don’t let their food die or dry out, as this could make your stick insect sick.
Do stick insects need water?
All stick insects need water, so make sure you give them a light misting with clean tepid water every day, including all the food plants in the cage as they will drink the water droplets from the plants. Please do not put a bowl of water into their cage as this may result in them drowning.
Decoration for your stick insects vivarium
It’s good to provide your stick insect with a few resting places to make his home more interesting, such as a nicely shaped branch and potted plants — but be aware that they will probably eat real plants.
If you decide to give real plants to your stick insect, make sure they are organic and not contaminated with pesticides or chemicals harmful to the insect.
Bits of leaves and branches from the roadside are not something you should use. Be sure to wash anything you do put into your stick insect’s cage so that they are clean, and continue to clean them every so often.
Things you’ll need before you buy a stick insect:
- Glass Vivarium
- House plant mister
- Kitchen roll / aquarium sand / soil
- Plants/branches and suitable food
- Book on stick insects
Feeding your stick insect
What does a stick insect eat?
Except for the Indian stick insect, most other species will only eat bramble leaves.
Indian stick insects and Giant Spiny stick insects will eat oak, rose, and hawthorn. They’ll be happy to eat older leaves which in some ways can be better for them than fresh leaves.
Collect the food plants from areas that have not been sprayed with insecticides and avoid plants near busy roads.
Place the insect food in a glass jar and make sure there’s some water in the jar. This will keep the food fresh for a few days but always replace their bramble or privet with fresh food after this time.
Most leaves and plants will be easy to find, so you may be able to go and pick your own rather than buying it.
Please note which areas to avoid picking the food from, and stick to areas free from chemicals. Always wash the leaves thoroughly before you give them to your stick insect.
Caring for your stick insect
Does a stick insect shed its skin? Why?
Stick insects shed their skin (or exoskeleton); this will happen several times throughout their lifetime.
Skin shedding is a process that helps them to grow.
Stick insects can be very vulnerable during this time, so they are best to be left alone and not disturbed.
If you would like to watch this process happening, make sure you are quiet and do not cause any sudden movement of their cage. If their cage is knocked on, you may cause the stick insect to fall from the top of a plant or ceiling of the cage, which can be fatal.
After they shed their skin, you must also be very careful and try not to handle the stick insect for a few days. The skin can still be very delicate, so don’t pick them up — encourage them to walk onto your fingers if you want to handle them.
How often should you clean out a stick insect’s vivarium?
Stick insects aren’t dirty pets — but do produce some ‘droppings,’ which ideally should be cleaned up every week.
Replace all substrate when you clean — this can be anything from damp kitchen roll, newspaper, a mixture of soil and peat, or sand. Wash your hands thoroughly after you have cleaned your stick insects’ cage.
Can stick insects be handled?
Stick insects are very delicate and must be handled with care.
Always lift them from their body, never the legs, as these will probably fall off. Alternatively, please encourage them to walk onto your fingers so they can sit in the palm of your hand or transfer them onto a new leaf or branch.
Always be gentle when placing them back into their cage, and try not to catch any of their legs. They can move quite fast when they want to, so avoid startling them and let them explore your hand or a new plant in their own time.
Do stick insects bite?
The Indian stick insects are harmless and will not bite. They are herbivores and can only nibble on leaves. Other (bigger) types of stick insects have been known to pinch with their limbs and sometimes bite; however, this usually is when they’ve been aggravated or aren’t used to being handled.
Can stick insects live together?
Stick insects are happy on their own but can also be kept together — or put together if you want them to mate (don’t forget the female Indian stick insect does not need a male to lay fertile eggs).
Nymphs can be kept in groups, but there’s a chance that it could quickly become overcrowded, which may result in them eating each other’s legs. If the stick insect is young, the legs may grow back but will be smaller than before.
If your stick insect has legs on both sides of its body, it’ll live quite happily with only three legs.
Is your stick insect healthy?
Providing that your stick insect cage does not get overcrowded or is kept in damp, stagnant conditions, they’re unlikely to get ill.
Very damp cages are susceptible to mold growth which is unhealthy for your pets. Avoid temperature extremes and don’t let their food plant die or dry out, as these are the most likely reasons for stick insects to die.
They grow by shedding their skin, and to do this, they’ll hang from the plants or the top of their cage — so make sure that their cage is big enough. If they have don’t have enough space, they can develop deformities as their new skin begins to harden; this shouldn’t affect their ability to survive, though.
Tips on keeping your stick insect healthy:
- Keep the cage well ventilated.
- Keep the insects and their food away from any chemicals.
- Wash all leaves thoroughly
- Only spray the leaves with water lightly — do not give them a water bowl. A light misting of water will prevent fungal growth on the leaves.
- Check the body of your stick insect for any signs of fungus. Wipe away if there is any so that it doesn’t reach their internal organs, which could cause death.