Why Do Stick Insects Curl Their Tails?

giant prickly stick insect on branch

You might have noticed your stick insect curling its tail from time to time. Just so you know, this is not something observed in all stick insect species, but many species do, and you are likely wondering why that is.

So why do stick insects curl their tails?

It is a type of defensive tactic used to scare off predators. Stick insects are natural food sources for many predators in the wild, which means that they must get creative when it comes to defending themselves.

This guide is going to take a closer look at why stick insects curl their tails and what you can do to manage that behaviour.

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How Does it Work? 

Many species, such as the spiny leaf stick insect, will curl their tail back over the body. This is done to give the impression that they are a scorpionOpens in a new tab.. This typically happens after they have been detected, whether by a predator or by accident.

Unless you were familiar with stick insects, if you came across such an act, you would likely think it is a scorpion you were looking at and would back away. Which is the whole point of the phenomenon; it is basically what happens when a stick insect’s natural camouflage has failed.

Another example of this behaviour is displayed by Macleay’s spectre. This stick insect comes from Australia and is well-known for pretending to be part of a tree. When cornered, they curl their tails back, giving the impression of a scorpion preparing to strike.

Most predators fall for this ruse. And even many humans fall for it. It is a type of behaviour that has evolved in various species over time.

Indian Stick Insect Nymph
Indian Stick Insect Nymph

Which Stick Insects are Capable of Curling their Tails? 

As mentioned above, not every stick insect is able to curl its tail. In fact, most stick insect species cannot; and only females are able to do it.

In terms of the species that have evolved to do this, it depends entirely on where the species originates. Basically, if they do not come from a country with any creatures that are, or are similar to, scorpions, they will not be able to do this.

The typical stick insect owner will likely not see this type of behaviour unless they happen to be taking care of a more exotic species of stick insect.

Should You Fear Your Stick Insect in this Situation? 

You need to understand that the question of why do stick insects curl their tails is a question is one that has a simple answer. They are pretending to be a scorpion. Most stick insects that are able to do this are not harmful and are not something to fear.

The only exceptions are stick insects such as the giant spiny stick insect, which have spines on their back legs. These can give you a painful pinch if you get too close.

Fortunately, stick insects are for the most part docile creatures and only attack as a last resort. These stick insects effectively warn potential predators by snapping their back legs into a position that allows them to attack. As this is a highly visible act, you’ll know not to interfere when they do so.

Why Does Your Stick Insect Act Aggressively? 

It can be disconcerting for a stick insect owner to deal with an aggressive pet. You might believe that this has happened because you have done something to put them in a state of stress.

What could have happened is that you surprised or disturbed them from their rest. Most pet owners do this completely by accident from time to time when handling other stick insects, cleaning the cage, or replacing food sources.

The thing that most people do not understand is that stick insects display the same behaviour irrespective of whether they are in captivity or in the wild.

Unlike traditional pets, you cannot train them to do tricks or serve humans. A feral cat and a domesticated cat are two different things, for example. Stick insects, though, do not change. They cannot be trained, and they cannot be coaxed out of their natural instincts.

So you need to take extra care when handling them or getting too close, or they might assume that you’re a predator.

2 stick insects on leaves
Source: pixabay.com/en/users/WikimediaImages

How Can I Keep My Stick Insects Happy? 

This is quite a simple thing to do.

As most of the time you will experience issues when trying to handle your stick insects, we recommend just opting for the coaxing method of enticing them to you by placing a leaf on your hand.

Some guides do say that you can simply pick them up, but if you do this then it must be done with correctly and with extreme care. Stick insects can easily lose legsOpens in a new tab. when handled incorrectly. To do it right you have to pick them up directly under the thorax.

Furthermore, with stick insects that have spines on their legs, you should avoid doing this altogether as it is easy to get nipped because of it. Instead, stick to the coaxing method and only handle them when you absolutely have to.

Last Word on Why Stick Insects Curl their Tails 

The scorpion pose is a favourite for some species of female stick insects to scare off predators. The curling of the tail and the snapping of the back legs does give off the impression of a scorpion about to strike.

If your stick insect is doing this, you know that you need to back off until they are less stressed and less angry. The chances are that you accidentally disturbed them when cleaning out the cage, or something like that.

It takes an expert in stick insect ownership to be able to know how to handle your particular species and what’s best for it. So make sure you read up on the experiences of others.


I am a content creator by profession but exotic animals are one of my great passions in life. Over the course of my adulthood, I have had the pleasure of looking after stick insects, terrapins, an Egyptian tortoise, giant African land snails, a crested gecko, a Chilean rose tarantula, a couple of curly-haired tarantulas, and a selection of millipedes, centipedes and worms!

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