If you are thinking of getting a stick insect as a pet or are considering breeding them, it is important to know what to feed them. Many people think about the question of what do walking sticks eat, and some worry that they are going to have to source a specific type of food for them. The reality is that stick insects are very easy to take care of for the most part; in fact, you can often find the perfect food for them in your garden or a nearby field. So, what do walking sticks eat? Among the favourites are:
- Bramble leaves
- Privet leaves
- Oak leaves
- Rose bush leaves
- Hazel leaves
- Ivy leaves
We discuss each in more detail below.
Bramble is a prickly shrub with thorny stems. A typical example is the blackberry bush. Bramble bushes root very easily and have long, arching shoots. They do not flower or get fruit until the second year of growth.
Bramble grows in most temperate regions and is a very hardy plant. However, when growing it in the garden for the purpose of feeding your stick insects, you will need to pay careful consideration to the fact that it can become a pest. It is known to be resilient to pruning and it can send down deep roots amongst other shrubs and hedges. It can also be hazardous to other pets and to children due to its sharp thorns.
One of the benefits of growing bramble for feeding your stick insects is that it stays green throughout the winter. If the plant is allowed to grow along a wall or house where it is semi-protected from the elements, you should be able to find green leaves even during times when there is snow and ice laying on the ground.
In terms of pretty plants, privet is not usually on the top of most people’s lists. Gardening lovers tend to stay away from what many consider to be a ‘boring’ plant that requires constant maintenance to stop it taking over a garden.
Nevertheless, as a food source for your stick insect, privet is a top choice. With a number of different species to choose from, you have the option of either deciduous or evergreen. Privet shrubs tend to have white flowers, which are typically followed by black berries.
A lot of stick insect species eat oak leaves. The problem with this is that it is not suitable as an all-year round food source. The leaves do die off in the winter, meaning that an alternative food will be required. Oak trees, often found in parks and woodlands, have leaves with lobate margins that are arranged spirally.
Rose bush leaves are a popular food with most types of stick insects. Those that like to eat bramble also tend to eat rose. There are over three hundred different types of rose plant, and they can be erect or trailing. The stems usually have thorny prickles that can be quite sharp, so caution should be taken when using the leaves as food for your stick insect.
If you are buying a rose bush from a garden centre, make sure you wash the leaves thoroughly before feeding them to your stick insects as they are typically sprayed with insecticide in the garden centre.
The hazel tree grows abundantly in the Northern Hemisphere and many stick insects like to eat the leaves. Like oak trees, you can usually find hazel trees growing in parks and woodlands. The leaves are rounded and have double serrate margins. Unfortunately, though, just like oak leaves, hazel leaves are not available in the winter.
Ivy is an evergreen plant that climbs or creeps along the ground. It is a plant that is enjoyed by some types of stick insect and because it is hardy and available all year round, Ivy can be an excellent source of food.
How to Collect Food for Your Stick Insect
As you can see from above, there are some plants and shrubs that you can grow in your own garden that can then be used to feed your stick insects. However, food can be collected from the wild too.
What you do need to remember though is that stick insects are quite vulnerable, so you need to take care with what you feed them.
Although a stick insect will simply not eat any leaves that it does not like, if you place their favourite leaves in the tank, you must ensure that these leaves are free from chemicals. Collecting food from the side of a busy road, for example, will undoubtedly mean passing on harmful chemicals to your walking sticks that could cause them to get sick and, possibly, die.
The best place from which to collect food for your stick insect in the wild is a nearby wood. If you are collecting food from your garden, make sure that you have not sprayed the plants with any insecticides.
When collecting plants in the wild, bring a pair of sharp secateurs or scissors with you to make a neat cut rather than just ripping it from the plant. The reason for this is that it is easier for the cutting to absorb water from a neat cut. Once you have cut the leaves that you want, place them in a plastic bag to prevent them from drying out before you get home.
Any leaves should be washed before being placed into the tank and, to keep them fresh, place them in a container of water within the tank. Be sure to cover this container with netting or put tissue paper in between the branches. The reason for this is that nymphs can easily fall into the container and, should they do so, are likely to drown.
It is important to ensure that your tank always has fresh leaves. These leaves should be changed regularly as stick insects will only eat fresh leaves. Please also bear in mind that a stick insect will not eat leaves that it does not like. Unless you place the correct food in the tank, your stick insects will likely starve.
Leaves That Some Stick Insect Species Prefer
There are many different species of stick insect and each has a preference when it comes to the type of food they eat. Below are some stick insect species and the leaves that they prefer to eat:
- Giant Prickly Stick Insect – Blackberry, Oak, Rose, Raspberry, Eucalyptus, and Hazel.
- Jungle Nymph – Ivy, Rose, Raspberry, and Blackberry.
- Vietnamese Stick Insect – Hazel, Raspberry, Blackberry Rose, and Oak. This species does not eat ivy.
- Leaf Insect – Oak, Blackberry, and Rose.
- Giant Leaf Insect – Oak, Rose, and Blackberry.
- Thorny Stick Insect – Raspberry, Blackberry, Oak, Rose, and Ivy.
- New Guinea Spiny Stick Insect – Ivy, Hazel, Rose, Blackberry, Raspberry, and Oak.
- Annam Stick Insect – Hazel, Raspberry, Rose, Oak, and Blackberry.
- Indian Stick Insect – Rose, Blackberry, Privet, Raspberry, and Ivy. Some will eat romaine lettuce.
When plants are placed into a container with water, they will usually stay fresh for around a week. However, you need to know that most stick insects prefer mature leaves rather than new leaves. Look for leaves that are bigger and dark green in colour. Once you have placed the stems of your plant in the water container, you should change it when most of the leaves are gone or when the leaves are looking dry. At the very least, the leaves should be changed once a week.
What You Need for a Happy Stick Insect
Stick insects avoid leaves that are toxic for them, so you can try most leaves from your garden. Nevertheless, most people will find that privet or bramble is the best choice because almost all stick insects will eat either of these two plant leaves. Furthermore, as both are readily available all year round, it can be easier to ensure that you always find a ready source of food for your stick insect.
As well as having the right food, there are other things you need to do to make sure your stick insects is happy. The environment in which you keep your sticks is important. A stick insect is most content in a warm, humid environment. It is important to keep the temperature warm and to mist the tank every couple of days to raise the humidity. It is easier for the stick insects to shed their skins in a humid environment.
The Indian stick Insect is considered the easiest species to keep, especially for beginners. If you want a more advanced and larger species, you may require a warmer environment. Rather than ramping up the temperature in your home, or indeed in the room where the stick insect tank is kept, invest in a heat lamp (here’s a great selection at Amazon) to keep the temperature of the tank at the optimum level.