Those with little knowledge or experience of stick insects may wonder how these creatures give birth. Where do baby stick insects come from? Do the adult females give birth to babies or do they lay eggs from which the baby stick insects hatch? If you are thinking of buying a stick insect as a pet or to breed them, it makes sense to find out all you can about where these wonderful insects come from.
Baby stick insects, or nymphs as they are known as, hatch from eggs laid by the female. These eggs are produced either by sexual reproduction or parthenogenesis (the female lays self-fertilized eggs without the need of a male). Indeed, some species utilize both methods.
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How Do Stick Insects Have Babies?
The first thing to know is that like most other insects, stick insects lay eggs from which baby stick insects, or nymphs as they are known, hatch. What you may not know though is that not all stick insect species require a male and a female to breed to produce eggs.
In fact, some species of stick insect are parthenogenic, meaning that they can lay fertilised eggs without mating with a male. As a side note, the eggs that are laid by parthenogenic stick insects that have not been fertilised by a male will always hatch as females.
There are certain stick insect species that also lay eggs without being fertilised by a male, but nymphs will not hatch from these eggs. So, the answer to where do baby stick insects come from is not as straightforward as it first appears.
Breeding Stick Insects
It is best to learn more about the type of stick insect that you have before attempting to breed them. That way you will know whether you need to have a male and a female or if you can produce nymphs with just a parthenogenic female. Remember what we mentioned above though: if you do attempt to produce nymphs with just a female, the eggs will always hatch into female nymphs.
It is important that the conditions are right before you begin breeding. You will probably already have learned that stick insects are happiest in a specific environment. For example, the temperature needs to be just right – not too hot and not too cold. You should know that when it comes to breeding and providing a suitable environment for the eggs, it is best to stick to what you know so as to keep things simple. The eggs laid by your stick insect will thrive in a similar environment to that in which the adult is kept.
Depending on the type of stick insect that you have, she will begin to lay eggs as soon as she has reached maturity or once she has mated. Some species of stick insect can lay up to seven eggs per day and how she lays them will again depend on the type of insect that you have. For example, some stick insects just drop their eggs to the ground while others will bury them in soil at the bottom of the tank. There are others that attach the eggs to the leaves in the enclosure.
As a point of interest, female stick insects that require mating in order to lay fertilised eggs only need to mate once; they do not need to mate again as they stay fertilised for their entire lives. However, they can and do re-mate occasionally.
What Happens When Your Stick Insect Lays Eggs?
Once your stick insect has mated with a male and has laid eggs, it is your responsibility to ensure that the eggs are taken care of if you are hoping to breed the insects. You should know that eggs can be susceptible to damage and harm in the wrong circumstances. If the eggs are exposed to extreme temperatures or mould and fungi, they can, and more often than not so, fail to hatch.
Eggs do require slightly more moisture than the adult stick insects but too much could encourage mould growth, so it is important that you are vigilant to the threat. Ventilation is also important and ensure that the temperature does not exceed 30C.
You may decide to remove the eggs once they have been laid so that you can create the perfect environment away from the adult(s). If so, know that when they do hatch, they will be very small, so you need to make sure the container where you are keeping them is ventilated but with holes that are small enough so as not to allow the nymphs to escape – because they will escape if they can!
A small box or plastic container can be used to keep the eggs until they hatch. What you place at the bottom of this container will depend on how the adult has laid the eggs. If she has dropped the eggs on the bottom of the tank, you can simply place tissue paper on the floor of your box and place the eggs on top. If, on the other hand, she has buried them, it will be necessary for you to place potting soil in the box and bury the eggs. Whatever you lay on the bottom of the tank, you should mist it with water but allow it to dry out before misting again; this helps prevent the growth of mould.
Once you have created the right conditions for the eggs, you will have to wait for the them to hatch. Depending on the type of stick insect that you own, this could be anywhere between two and fourteen months. It is your job to ensure that the eggs do not get too wet or too dry during the incubation period.
You will see the nymphs walking about in the container once they have hatched. At this point, you can transfer them to another enclosure where you have placed fresh leaves for them to feed on.
What do Baby Stick Insects Eat?
Nymphs will eat the same type of leaves as the adults, but they do have trouble with leaves that are undamaged. You should therefore cut or tear any leaves that you are placing in the enclosure as this will make it easier for them to eat. If you are to continue breeding the stick insects, you are likely to have nymphs at different stages of their development. If you place newly hatched nymphs in with older nymphs, you will not have to worry about tearing leaves as the older nymphs will take care of this for you.
How the Stick Insects Develop
If you have always pondered the question of where to baby stick insects come from, you will now know that they hatch from eggs laid by the adult female. However, you might be surprised to know that, unlike other insects that go through a complete metamorphosis upon reaching adulthood, baby stick insects already have the same physiology as adults when they hatch.
The nymphs resemble adults except for the fact that they will be much smaller, and their camouflage and wings may not have developed. As they grow and develop, they will shed their skin around six to nine times before becoming full adults.
The exact number of times the skin is shed depends on the sex and species of stick insect in question. Stick insects cannot grow in between moulting as their skin is rigid. It is only upon shedding this skin that they grow.
How to Tell if a Stick Insect is Male or Female
If you have a parthenogenic female stick insect, you can be sure that any nymphs that hatch will also be female. However, if your female stick insect has mated with a male and has then laid eggs, it will not be so easy to determine the sex of the nymphs. In fact, it can be extremely difficult to tell a male nymph from a female one; most people will need to wait until they have become adults to tell them apart.
In general, male stick insects tend to be smaller and thinner than their female counterparts. The females are bigger because they are carrying eggs and their weight tends to restrict their ability to fly. Male stick insects usually have strong wings that allow them to fly very well.
How Long Do Stick Insects Live for?
If you are planning to get a stick insect as a pet, know that their life span can be quite short. Stick insects typically take between two months and six months to reach maturity and once they do they can live for up to a year thereafter. However, how long your stick insect lives for will depend on whether it is a male or female and what species it is. Female stick insects tend to live longer than their male counterparts.
You should also know that there are also many other factors that can determine the lifespan of your stick insect, including the type of leaves you are feeding it and the environment in which you keep it.
Managing Stick Insect Breeding
If you are breeding stick insects, you need to make sure that you are housing them properly. Most people will start off with a small tank or cage but before they know it, they are overrun with eggs and nymphs. You will need to be prepared for your adult stick insects to lay quite a lot of eggs during her lifespan. Unless you have room for all of these nymphs, you will have to decide what you are going to do with the eggs.
Some people will sell the eggs while others will invest in more tanks to allow the nymphs to grow. If neither of these is an option, you will need to dispose of the eggs humanely before they hatch. To prevent too many nymphs from hatching, it is best to freeze any laid eggs before disposing of them.
Creating the Right Environment for Stick Insects
Your stick insects require sufficient room to grow. In general, stick insects need three times their adult size in height to allow them to shed their skins. A stick insect will usually hang from a branch or net when moulting. However, because they are susceptible to limb damage, keeping too many stick insects could mean they do not have enough room to move about, which could cause harm or lost limbs. You may even find that your stick insect dies during the moulting process if it does not have enough room to shed its skin.
When buying a suitable tank or enclosure for your stick insects (Amazon has a great selection – click here to take a look), it is important that it is well ventilated and that it has a net roof so that your stick insect can hang when moulting. You will also need to ensure the temperature is correct. This can be done by investing in a heat lamp or heat mat rather than, for example, trying to keep an entire room at a temperature that is uncomfortable for humans.
Keeping it Clean
It is also your job to ensure that the tank is kept clean. Stick insects will produce quite a lot of droppings, so it is your job to remove this at least once per week. Some people find that placing tissue paper on the bottom of the tank makes for easy cleaning as it can simply be removed as and when required.
On the other hand, if you have placed sand, pebbles, or soil in the tank, you will need to remove it and replace it. Pebbles will need to be cleaned using a sieve. You will also need to clean the container that holds the water for your plants as failure to do this could cause the water to become stagnant, which could harm your stick insects.