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There are approximately 3,000 species of stick insect world-wide and their Latin name, phasmatodea or phasmida, comes from the word “phasmos” meaning ghost.
Stick insects are relatively easy to care for and are an ideal first pet for children, under the supervision of an adult. They are usually green r brown in colour and their delicate twig-like appearance forms the perfect camouflage, allowing for them to “disappear” into their habitats.
Stick insects may be kept with other stick insects of the same species but overcrowding must be avoided at all costs. A retailer offering stick insects should be able to offer eggs, nymphs (immature adults) or adults. It is recommended to begin with nymphs, as eggs can take some time to hatch, and mature adults may only live a few months, if not weeks.
Stick insects shed their skin at regular intervals as they outgrow them. A stick insect about to shed its skin won’t eat for a few days and will hang upside down in its cage. Having moulted for the last time stick insects are approaching the end of their natural lifespan, which can be as short as a couple of months, although some females will survive over 6 months as adults.
They are generally nocturnal insects, mostly active at night. Stick insects normally stay healthy throughout their lives if they are kept in the right conditions. If you're worried about your pet’s health seek veterinary advice.
Before you bring your stick insects home their living quarters should be prepared – always think about security and space.
A converted aquarium, with a specifically – fitted ventilated lid, can house several stick insects. However, it must be tall enough to allow them to hang upside down to moult. IN general, cages should be at least 3 times as high as the adult insect that will be kept in it, and should be extended width wide the more stick insects you have. Your pet store should be able to advise you on a suitable accommodation for your particular species.
Most stick insects species require a temperature between 17 - 25°C (63 - 75°F), although it is recommended to research the ideal temperature for the species you are keeping. Small heat pad, best controlled by a thermostat, placed under the slightly raised housing is the safest and most efficient method to provide heat. Alternatively, housing can be heated by a heat lamp, but care must be taken to ensure your pet cannot touch the lamp, which may result in burns.
Newspaper or sheets of plain white paper are an easily replaceable floor covering. Alternatively, sand, peat, bark chips can be used, especially for these species that like to bury their eggs. The floor covering should be changed regularly, taken a great deal of care not to discard any wanted eggs.
The humidity requirements for stick insects vary between species but is typically quite high; up to 80% relative humidity for rain forest species.
Water is essential for stick insects, so is recommended to thoroughly mist the inside of the cage, including all plant food material, each evening.
Some stick insects need open water in a very shallow, low-side container to drink. Don’t be too concerned if they leave their heads underwater – insects breath through they thoracic and abdominal spiracles (breathing tubes), not through their mouths like humans. However, water provided in this way is not necessary for all species, so it important to research the needs of the species you are caring for.
It is worth noting that in some areas tap water can be harmful to certain species of stick insect, alternatively clean rain water can be used, or allow the tap water to stand in an open container for 24 hours to remove the trace of chlorine that will harm your pet.
FOOD AND WATER
Stick insects spend most of their lives climbing and feeding on leaves. Most species can be maintained on a diet of bramble leaves (blackberry) or rose. If picking leaves from the wild it is important to avoid any that have been treated with chemical sprays or near busy roads, and you should always wash them under running water before offering them to your pet.
Privet and ivy are available all year round and will be enjoyed by the common Indian stick insect and other species such as the Peruvian stick insect that will feed almost exclusively on privet.
The food, on a stem, should be places upright in the bottom of the cage in a container of water, which cannot be knocked over or the water accessed. Netting, sponge or cling film can be placed of the water to ensure smaller sticking insects do not fall in and drown. A few dry twigs cn be used as climbing frames too – place these as high in the cage as possible to allow your oet to hang from it when it need moult. A block of floral foam can be used to help keep the stems stable and also hold water.
Your pet should never be without food. As soon as all the leaves have been eaten from a branch, or they have become dry, replace with a fresh selection of leaves.
Stick insects have very delicately formed bodies and limbs and so must be handled with great care. Some stick insects will shed their legs if roughly handled. Nymphs can be moved by encouraging them to crawl on to a leaf and then picking up that leaf.
Stick insects cannot bite you, although some species have spikes on their legs for pinching predators, such as Eurycantha and Heteropteryx. Anisomorpha buprestoides have a defensive spray, which can harm the eyes, so be aware if caring for this species.
Stick insects lay eggs, which hatch out into nymphs, and go through a series of moults before become an adult. Females generally are larger as adults and stockier than males, and typically take longer to mature. In some species the females can reproduce without a male, laying genetic clones of themselves. For others once a female has been fertilised she will stay fertilised for her entire life.
Eggs are laid in various ways depending on the species; some are just scattered on the floor of the cage, some are buried, whilst others stick theirs to leaves – so great care should be taken when cleaning out your pet’s habitat. Stick insects can lie between 2 eggs per week or 15 per night, depending on the species. Be careful when cleaning your pet’s cage so any wanted eggs aren’t discarded.
Raising the temperature helps the breeding cycle but it can take from two months to a year before the nymphs emerge from their eggs.
Remove the eggs from the habitat and place them in a well – ventilated container, keeping them moist and at a maximum temperature of 30°C – but be very careful of mould. Check the eggs regularly to ensure no newly hatched nymphs escape. Once hatched, you can pave the nymphs back in the cage with the other stick insects straight away.
As the nymphs grow in size you may need to provide extra accommodations in order to avoid overcrowding. Rearing males at cooler temperatures (15 - 20°C) my help achieve mature specimens of both sexes at the same time.
· Vivarium or fine mesh container
· Light bulb
· Heat pad
· Water container
· Floor covering
· Leaf food – usually bramble
· A good book on stick insect care