If you are seriously considering stick insects as a low maintenance pet for either yourself or your kids, one of the questions you might be asking yourself is ‘do stick insects bite?’ After all, you or your kids are likely to want to hold the insect, so you could be worried that doing so could end up with a nasty nip.
Stick insects do not bite. They are herbivores and eat plants; as such, they have teeth designed for this purpose only (and when we say ‘teeth’, we are talking microscopic). Having said that, stick insects are not defenceless and some are capable of ‘pinching’ if they feel threatened.
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How do Stick Insects Stay Safe?
Like all creatures, stick insects need to be able to protect themselves from danger. One of the most obvious ways that a stick does protect itself is through its camouflage. These fascinating creatures look just like twigs or small sticks, hence the name. They are often ignored by predators because they are so inconspicuous. Most predators overlook them simply because they do not notice them.
Some stick insects have fake nodes while leaf insects even have leaf scars, all of which helps to protect them from danger and becoming a possible food source for predators. Some species sway from side to side, giving the impression that they are just a twig or leaf blowing in the wind. Others will remain motionless for long periods of time, especially if there is a predator about. Doing this allows them to go unnoticed. Nevertheless, some stick insects that have other ways of protecting themselves.
Take the jungle nymph, for instance. This large stick insect will attack with its back legs if it is threatened. It will raise its back legs in the air, balancing on its front legs. The back legs are covered in spines and it will snap them together to attack what it perceives as a predator. This can include human hands and fingers. If the jungle nymph traps your fingers or hand in its back legs, the spines could actually draw blood.
However, before it snaps its back legs, jungle nymph will usually use its wings to make a loud rustling sound. This is to warn predators of an impending attack. As you might imagine then, the jungle nymph is a species of stick insect that should be reserved for experienced keepers and is not really recommended as a pet for children or indeed inexperienced insect keepers.
The giant prickly stick insect uses a different tack when trying to deter would-be predators. It curls up its tail in such a way that it resembles a scorpion. As scorpions are poisonous, most predators will not risk attacking and will usually retreat.
The Anisomorpha, or two-striped stick insect, does not rely on camouflage. In fact, it has a distinctive yellow or orange pattern on its back. The colour is intended to warn predators of a potential risk. And with good reason; when under threat, this stick insect releases a chemical substance from glands on its meta thorax. The spray is usually directed towards the eyes of the predator (including the ‘human predator’) and can cause a burning sensation. It is actually capable of causing temporary blindness if not addressed immediately.
The Best Stick Insects as Pets
After reading some of the above, you might now be a little concerned about getting a stick insect as a pet for your child. Worry not though as the good news is that there are around 3,000 different types of stick insect species in the world and the vast majority are completely harmless. In fact, most use camouflage as their only method of defence, making them absolutely perfect as pets for youngsters.
Many small animals can make great pets, but stick insects really are low maintenance. They require very little time and effort from your children, or you for that matter, and the initial investment is low too.
If you are choosing a stick insect as a pet for your kids, the best initial choice has to be the Indian stick insect.
About the Indian Stick Insect
The Indian stick insect is perhaps one of the easiest stick insects to have as a pet because of how simple it is to take care of it. The Indian stick insect is also known as the laboratory stick insect, but its scientific name is Carausius morosus.
Indian stick insects vary in colour from brown to dull green and usually have red marks on the insides of their front legs. The red markings are designed as a warning to predators that are not fooled by the camouflage. Nevertheless, their normal defence mechanism is to drop to the ground like a twig and go rigid. They will stay like this for hours at a time if necessary. Once the threat passes, they will sway from side to side to give the impression of a twig blowing in the wind.
Indian stick insects typically live for about a year-and-a-half and grow to about four inches in length.
What Do You Need to Get Started?
To keep Indian stick insects, all you need is a suitable container; this could be a glass tank or plastic container with a mesh roof (Amazon has a great selection of stick insect enclosures; see some by clicking here). The mesh roof will allow for adequate ventilation as well as a place for the stick insects to hang from when moulting.
You will need a water sprayer to mist the tank every few days. This is necessary to keep the tank humid. Stick insects require a temperature between 20C and 30C; the humidity is necessary as it helps them shed their skins more easily.
You will need to keep a fresh food source in the container. Stick insects eat a variety of leaves, and to keep them fresh, it is advisable that you place the end of the stem in a container of water. However, because there is a risk that nymphs could fall into this container and drown, you should make sure is covered with some sort of net or mesh. Once you have all of the above, you are ready to buy your stick insects.
What to Expect from Indian Stick Insects
Unlike other pets such as hamsters, rabbits, cats, and dogs, stick insects don’t do very much. But as a first pet for kids, they are a superb choice. Stick insect ownership teaches a level of responsibility without it becoming too overwhelming.
Stick insects do not require daily feeding. This means you can go away for a weekend or a few days without worrying about them. You will not have to get someone to come and feed them once or twice a day like you would for most other pets.
The tank will require regular cleaning, but once a week is usually sufficient. Although some people place a substrate such as soil or sand at the bottom of the tank, there is no need for most stick insect species. When it comes to the Indian stick insect, tissue paper or newspaper is the ideal choice as it is inexpensive and easy to change, making it a great choice.
Although stick insects are typically nocturnal, they do occasionally move about during the day. Your children will also have the opportunity to see the full lifespan of the stick. The female Indian stick insect is capable of laying eggs without fertilisation from a male. These eggs will then hatch into clones of the female – so all will be female themselves.
Nymphs will shed their skins between five and nine times before reaching adulthood. It is only when they shed their skins, or moult as it is known, that they grow in size.
What to Feed Your Stick Insects
As mentioned already, stick insects are herbivores and only eat leaves. However, they do not eat all plants leaves, typically preferring things like bramble, privet, hawthorn, rose, and ivy leaves. When collecting leaves for your sticks, it is important to ensure that you are not taking plants from the side of a busy road or using leaves that have come directly from a garden centre. Stick insects are very susceptible to chemicals, and as most plants in garden centres are sprayed with insecticide, giving them to your stick insects could cause them to become ill, or even die. The same is true of plants collected from a roadside. Fumes from passing cars can linger on the plants and could be harmful to your pets.
If you have plants growing in your garden, you can try different types to see if your stick insects like them. The good thing about sticks is that they tend to avoid leaves that could be toxic to them. Although you are unlikely to see your pets actually eating the leaves, you can usually tell if they have been eating them when you check in the morning as the leaves will be damaged and ‘look’ eaten.
Can Stick Insects be Handled
Curious children often want to hold their stick insects, and the good news is that the Indian stick insect can be handled. If you are going to do this however, it is especially important to remember how fragile these creatures are.
Children can get spooked when the insects start to walk and may jump or pull their hand back, therefore the sticks should only be handled under adult supervision. It is easy to harm a stick insect and there is a risk of a limb being damaged or even torn off completely if they are handled too roughly. You should also make sure that your stick insect is not placed on any fabric that could catch a leg as this too could result in a limb being lost.
Parents thinking about getting their kids one often think about the question ‘do stick insects bite’, worrying about allowing their children to handle them. As you can see from above though, a stick insect will not bite your child. Moreover, the Indian stick insect in particular is harmless, relying on camouflage to stay safe. This means it is an ideal pet for young children.