Why Do Stick Insects Lose their Legs?

Stick Insect in Hand

Written by Anthony

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!

Last Updated on December 17, 2020

Stick insects lose their legs for any one of a number of reasons. You’re going to be worried when you notice that your stick insect has lost a leg for the first time.

But it’s nothing to worry about. Despite how grizzly it might sound, stick insects are perfectly able to stand losing a leg or two. They have evolved to survive this way. In a nutshell though…

Stick insects can lose their legs through moulting, low levels of humidity, improper handling, as an evasive manoeuvre to escape from predators, and overcrowding in an enclosure. Nymphs can regrow legs; adults cannot.

In this guide I am going to take a closer look at some of the reasons your stick might be losing its legs and what you can do about it.

 For more advice and information on keeping and looking after stick insects, check out my ebook on Amazon click here (opens in a new tab).  

Will My Stick Insects Die if They Lose their Legs? 

Your stick insect will not die if it loses a leg; these creatures are more than capable of surviving the loss of a limb.

They have special muscles at the point where the legs join the body. Stick insects can squeeze them and the wound closes, so they will never ‘bleed out’ like a conventional animal would.

So you don’t need to worry about your stick insects losing their legs. It’s not going to kill them.

Why Do Stick Insects Lose Their Legs and Grow Them Back? 

Stick insects go through a number of phases during their lifetime. They typically moult between six and nine times and grow larger after each moult until they become adults.

But one of the interesting things they can do is regenerate their limbs every time they moult. Remember that moulting for a stick insect is similar to how butterflies transform themselves from caterpillars. The transformation is not as dramatic for sticks, but they are essentially gaining a new ‘body’ each time.

Nevertheless, you should be aware that adult stick insects will not regrow any limbs they lose. So you have to be even more careful when dealing with adult stick insects.

They do not grow them back because upon reaching full adulthood there are no further moulting stages before death.

You are the Biggest Threat to a Stick Insect 

Stick insects typically lose their legs after being handled. Most people do not understand how sensitive and fragile stick insects are when picking them up for the first time.

The legs are often lost when novice handlers try to pick them up by these appendages. This is why you have to either coax them onto your hand or pick them up by the thorax.

a green stick insect in the palm of a hand
Source: pixabay.com/en/users/TRAPHITHO

As well as this, stick insects have evolved to shed limbs to escape from predators. If feigning death hasn’t worked, or a predator has managed to catch them, they’ll disengage a leg to have a better chance of escaping.

So take care when you pick up your stick insects.

Only experts should try to pick them up directly. Everyone else should use a leaf in order to convince them to sit on their hand.

Your Pets Could Be the Cause 

Not a lot of people know it, but there is such a thing as overcrowding in the enclosure, even with just a few stick insects. If you have too many in your tank, it’s only natural that they’re going to get in each other’s way.

Stick insects will fight if they’re in close proximity to each other. They can use their teeth to attack each other, which can lead to a loss of limbs.

If this happens regularly within your stick insect tank, you need to increase the size of the tank or separate some of your pets.

This situation usually happens when novice breeders begin to multiply their colonies for the first time.

You also need to be aware of fungal infections in the colony. These can also lead to a loss of limbs. Furthermore, lost limbs can cause death by fungal infection.

It’s a vicious cycle.

One of the other ways you can stop this from happening is by making sure that your stick insects are being kept in clean surroundings.

Brown Stick Insect on Tree Trunk
Source: flickr.com/people/[email protected]

Why Does My Stick Insect Lose their Legs When they Moult? 

Another common reason for stick insects losing their legs is moulting incorrectly. This is not normally the fault of the stick insect when in captivity. The issue is the environment. Stick insects are native to the hot and humid areas of the world.

Low levels of humidity means that the skin of a stick insect becomes tougher. Your stick insect is literally pulling their whole body out of their previous skin. Think about how stressful and difficult this is for it.

When the skin isn’t supple enough, the insect can lose a limb in the process.

In the event that your pet has already lost a limb at a previous time, this can be a disappointing outcome. But you can make a difference.

First of all, you should look up your species of stick insect and determine what its ideal conditions are. Exotic stick insects, for example, need heat lamps and mats to moult without any problems. Consider increasing the humidity of the enclosure as well.

For a quick fix to this problem, you might want to consider misting your stick insect as it is about to moult. You will know when it’s about to moult when it hangs itself upside down in the cage.

Mist them with some water and the ambient heat will help increase the skin’s subtlety. You don’t have to do anything else. The insect will take care of the rest of the process itself.

Find the Source of the Problem Through the Process of Elimination 

Stick insects that lose their legs on a regular basis are typically owned by novices. You should go through a process of elimination to find the true source of the problem.

In most cases, it could be a combination of reasons. You should know already if your stick insects are losing their legs due to the way that you’re picking them up, which is obviously being done incorrectly.

But you should inspect them on a regular basis when moulting to ensure that this is not the cause of the problem.

Finally, see if your stick insects appear to be too close to each other. In most cases, this won’t be a problem, but if your colony has some new arrivals it might be time to increase the size of your tank.

This is very much about using common sense, though.

giant prickly stick insect on branch
Giant Prickly Stick Insect (Source: pixabay.com/en/users/ddouk)

Protect Your Stick Insects in their Home 

The loss of a leg is quite a common occurrence, and it’s not something you need to worry about too much. However, you do need to be aware that adults that lose their legs are not going to grow them back, so for the remainder of their lives they will have to cope with reduced mobility.

How many legs can a stick insect lose?

They shouldn’t lose more than two legs, or they will struggle to go about their daily business.

Take care when you handle your stick insect and give it a clean and healthy home to live in. Do this and you will find that lost legs are a much less common occurrence.

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