Before going out and buying a stick insect as a pet, it is best to know a bit more about these creatures – especially if you have never owned a stick insect before. For example, you need to know things such as what they eat, where to house them, if they drink water, and the like; you may even ponder the question of how do stick insects change as they grow? Believe it or not, this is a common question and one that we will address in this article.
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What Do Stick Insects Look Like?
A stick insect is named such because of how it looks. Actually, there are more than 3,000 different species of stick and leaf insects, and together they make up what is known as the phasmatodea order. The word phasmatodea comes from the Greek word for apparition.
Stick insects resemble walking sticks or twigs while leaf insects look like leaves. All species of stick insect have six legs, and their body has three different sections: the head, thorax, and abdomen. In other words, the typical characteristics of an insect.
Perhaps the most notable thing about stick insects is the ability they have to effectively blend into their surroundings. Many species of stick insect, for example, have fake scars and bud-like appendages to help make them resemble real sticks and leaves. This obviously helps to camouflage them, protecting them from predators.
How Do Stick Insects Develop?
There is an assumption among many stick insect novices that they undergo a dramatic change as they grow and develop, in a similar way to how beetles and butterflies might. But stick insects do not change in this way. They are known as hemimetabolous insects, which means that they do not undergo a complete metamorphosis.
Development of hemimetabolous insects involves three stages: the egg, the nymph, and the adult. There is no pupal stage and the changes that they undergo are gradual. In fact, once stick insect nymphs have hatched, they already resemble the adult. The main difference between the nymph and the adult though is the fact that the nymph will not have wings or functional reproductive organs.
When a stick insect nymph hatches, it will be very small. Like the adults, it will have a hard, outer skin and can only grow whenever this skin is shed. Stick insects will typically shed their skin between six and nine times before reaching adulthood. The stage before a stick insect sheds its last skin is known as sub-adult.
How Long Do Stick Insects Live For?
The lifespan of a stick insect typically depends on the conditions in which it lives and the specific species. For example, larger stick insect species tend to live longer, and those kept in conditions similar to their natural habitat are likely to have longer lifespans as well.
In general, however, stick insects are usually nymphs for around four to ten months but upon reaching adulthood usually live for an additional five to twelve months. Female stick insects are also known to live for roughly twice as long as their male counterparts.
It is important to ensure that temperatures in the enclosure are optimum for your type of stick insect. It is recommended that temperatures are kept somewhere between 20oC and 30oC. If the temperature is too high, the stick insect is likely to develop much quicker, meaning a decreased lifespan.
How Big do Stick Insects Get?
As you might imagine, with there being thousands of different types of species of stick insect, they do tend to vary quite dramatically in size. Some sticks never grow longer than around half an inch while others can grow to a ‘massive’ 13 inches.
One of the longest stick insects is the Phobaeticus kirbyi, which is native to Borneo. With its legs fully outstretched, this massive insect measures more than 21 inches.
In general, the female of the species is larger than the male as it needs a larger body to carry eggs. They are heavier than the male too, which can hinder their ability to fly even though they will have wings. Male stick insects are usually thinner and shorter than the females but often have very strong wings that enable them to fly well.
Do Stick Insects Make Good Pets?
Stick insects are fascinating creatures and, as such, do make interesting pets, especially for children keen to have a pet but are not clued up as to what it involves. One of the great things about stick insects in terms of being a child’s pet is that they can easily be kept in his or her bedroom. They do not smell, and they are herbivores (so you do not have to worry about feeding them other live insects!)
For young children, stick insects can be the ideal pet. Due to the stick’s short lifespan, kids get to see these creatures grow from nymphs to adults quite quickly. They also breed well and depending on the type of stick insect in question, you may not even need a male for your stick insect to lay fertilised eggs.
Some stick insects, such as the Indian Stick Insect, are parthenogenic. This means that they can lay eggs, that will hatch into female nymphs, without being fertilised by a male. The female nymphs are clones of the adult female. In light of this, children can get to see the full life-cycle of a stick insect, from egg to adult.
What you do need to be aware of though is that you will need to control the number of eggs that you allow to hatch, otherwise you could end up with hundreds of nymphs that will all start laying their own eggs upon reaching adulthood.
To prevent being overrun by stick insects, you will need to dispose of those eggs you do not need/want humanely to stop them from hatching. The best way to do this is to remove them from the tank and place them in a freezer before disposing of them. The cold will kill the eggs without the embryo feeling anything.
What is Required to Take Care of a Stick Insect?
As a pet, stick insects are popular because they are cheap and extremely easy to take care of. Or put another way, they require minimal investment and very little in the way of care and attention.
You will need a cage or tank to get started. Your stick insects will need enough room to walk about but when buying a tank, height is more important than width. Stick insects will require at least three times the height of their bodies to allow them to shed their skins.
You can buy nymphs or eggs from pet stores or online sellers. If you buy eggs, you will need to create the right environment so that they will hatch. The temperature of the container should be within the mid-20C range and it is important that the eggs are kept moist. Allowing them to dry out could prevent the nymphs from hatching.
However, what you should also be aware of is the eggs are susceptible to harm from mould. Therefore, it is crucial that you ensure the container is kept mould-free. The best way to do this is to mist the container and allow it to dry before misting again. Once the nymphs have hatched, you can move them to another container (or the main tank with the rest of the colony) where they will have plenty of room to move about in.
You will have to provide food for your stick insects; they like to fresh leaves. To keep the leaves fresh, you should place a container of water in the tank into which you can place the stem of the branch. Be sure to cover the container to stop your nymphs from falling in and drowning. Mesh or net is a good option as this will allow you to place the stem of the branch through it easily.
Stick insects also like to climb, so you should place some decorative items in the container. Make sure that whatever you do place in the tank is washed well to remove any trace of chemicals. The same is true for any leaves placed in the tank as food. If you are collecting leaves and branches from an area that is close to a busy road, you will need to wash the leaves thoroughly to remove any chemical residue that could be harmful (even deadly) to your sticks.
You will need to place something on the bottom of your tank, such as tissue paper or soil. Most people find that tissue paper is the easiest option as it can be quickly removed and replaced when it is time to clean the tank. Those who choose soil or sand will require more time to clean the tank.
You do not have to provide drinking water for your stick insects; they will get the moisture they need from the leaves they are eating (but be sure to mist them occasionally).
What Do Stick Insects Eat?
As mentioned above, stick insects are herbivores and eat plants only. They tend to like bramble, rose, privet, hawthorn, oak, and ivy leaves. Having said that, stick insects are clever enough to stay away from any leaves that are toxic to them. This means that you can try them out with leaves from your garden to see what they like. If you are going to do this, you will have to pay careful attention to ensure that they are actually eating the plants. If your stick insects do not like what you have placed in the container, they will simply not eat and will end up starving themselves.
You can collect their preferred food from a local park or woodland if you do not have sufficient plants in your garden. Be sure to wash whatever you collect though.