Why Have My Stick Insects Died?

brown stick insect

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 15, 2020

Did you find one or more of your stick insect dead in its enclosure? If so, you are likely pondering the question of ‘why have my stick insects died’?

This is a question many novice stick insect owners will have. Know, then, that it could be due to any number of reasons, natural or otherwise. Briefly…

Stick insects in captivity can die (apart from a natural death) for any number of reasons including temperature fluctuations, issues with moulting, a fungal infection, and contaminated food.

In this article I will try to help you to determine the cause of death of your stick insect and whether you need to make changes to the way you care for your pets going forward.

 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).  

Have Your Stick Insects Died a Natural Death? 

If this is/was one of your first stick insects, then the chances are you haven’t ever considered the question of when your pet is likely to die. Unfortunately, insects typically do not live as long as mammals, which can lead to a lot of consternation among novice insect owners when their insect dies after a, to them, relatively short time.

The average lifespan a stick insect is a year or so, give or take a few months either way (note that I said ‘average’; it all depends on species, size, sex, etc.). As this is such a relatively short time, many stick insect owners believe they did something wrong when their stick insect dies. Particularly, if they have only owned the stick insect for part of its life.

The general rule with stick insects, as well as most other insects, is that the larger the species, the longer it will live for. This is why, for example, the Timema cristinae from North America has a much shorter lifespan than other stick insect species as an adult grows to half an inch. It is one of the smallest stick insect species in the world.

This is one of the reasons that you should keep records of your insects – the species, gender, and how long it has lived thus far. Naturally, this is harder with insects obtained via second-hand means, but if you are growing a colony of nymphs you can have accurate records almost down to the day.

Did the Temperature Impact the Stick Insect’s Death? 

Sometimes a perfectly healthy stick insect can die before its time has come because of the ambient temperature in the enclosure. Let us explain.

For most types of animal, the temperature is merely a mechanism that increases or decreases comfort, rather than changes the way they develop. For insects like the stick insect this is different. An average stick insect will go through several developmental stages. An academic paper on the influence of temperature on insect development states that higher temperatures decrease the time it takes for a stick insect to reach its next development stage.

Of course, there are specific species that prefer slightly higher temperatures, so the effect and the exact temperature needed to accelerate the growth process is different for each type of stick insect.

Take the Phobaeticus chani as an example. This is the world’s longest insect, hailing from Malaysia and Indonesia. As such, it requires higher temperatures and increased levels of humidity than say the Indian stick insect. This is to better replicate its natural environment.

Again, this is just another reason to research everything you can about your specific stick insect species before setting up your enclosure and its particular environment.

So in terms of finding one of your sticks dead, it may have been the case that you simply had the temperature too high in the enclosure.

Could Moulting Problems Have Caused an Early Death? 

A common cause of early death is moulting problems. This is an extremely vulnerable time for a stick insect and it can easily lose a leg or topple from its moulting position. It might survive these incidences initially, but the resulting damage could lead to a fungal infection, with all its potential complications.

When a stick insect has problems shedding its skin, it could be due to its environment. An enclosure that is not large enough will stop it from climbing and getting into the correct position. Stick insects hang upside down when shedding their skin.

Each species will need a different sized enclosure, depending on its size. For example, the Indian stick insect requires a minimum of 18 inches of height to be able to shed without incident. The average is between fifteen and twenty inches, with exceptions for the particularly large stick insect species. If you are looking for a decent sized enclosure for your stick insect(s), Amazon has a great selection of stick insect enclosures; see some by clicking here (opens in a new tab).

Another issue could be the humidity. A lack of humidity will harden the skin of the stick insect and make it near impossible to moult. Again, the species matters when it comes to how much humidity it needs. Always try to replicate as much as possible the natural conditions of the species.

Heat mats and bulbs can be used to produce more heat and humidity in the enclosure. For a quick fix, you can also mist your stick insect if you notice it starting to moult. The mist spray will moisten the skin layer making it easier for your stick insect to shed.

Did a Fungal Infection Cause the Damage? 

Fungal infections are the most common illness among stick insects. Many types of fungal infections can manifest on the body of the stick insect. These can usually be brushed off lightly with a finger. However, some infections are more sinister and can lead to pus leaking from the insect, especially behind the legs.

The two primary causes for fungal infections are dirt and overcrowding. So when it comes to fungal diseases in insect colonies, the basic principles are the same as keeping humans healthy.

Avoid overcrowding to reduce the risk of the spread of infection. And keep the cage clean to minimise the chances of fungal moulds and bacteria growing in your stick insect’s environment.

Remember that the leaves you place inside the enclosure when you feed your stick insects can start to rot if left there (which they shouldn’t, by the way – this is covered elsewhere ion this website). The humid conditions within the enclosures are ideal for bacteria to grow.

Develop a care routine for your stick insects:

  • Remove leaves on a daily basis
  • Notice any signs of fungal infection early and address the problem
  • Stop overcrowding by keeping colonies of stick insects in separate cages.

Where Did You Source Your Food? 

Stick insect owners understand how difficult it can be to source food for their particular species. Stick insects in general eat tremendous amounts of leaves, and they are fussy about their leaves.

Most will only eat the freshest of leaves and will not touch anything that has the slightest hint of decay. Harvesting and serving the food must be done within a few hours of each other. Even a hungry stick insect will abandon food that doesn’t meet its standards.

The two main signs of a stick insect that isn’t happy are lethargy and a lack of appetite. And it could be due to where you are sourcing your food.

baby spinach leaves growing
Source: pixabay.com/en/users/Devanath

For example, you may have sourced some brambles from outside your home. If these brambles are situated next to a busy road, for example, the exhaust fumes from passing cars could have contaminated them. This could make your stick insects sick or at the very least lead to them refusing to eat.

The same goes for leaves picked up from a garden centre or an unknown field. They may have been treated with pesticides, which are poisonous to stick insects.

Make sure you know your food sources and watch out for anything that could have led to them becoming infected.

So Why Have My Stick Insects Died? 

Your stick insect could just have come to the natural end of its life. The chances are you didn’t do anything wrong or make any mistakes that could have led to its death.

Yet it is always good to be self-reflective when looking into these things. The points in this guide will help you to understand whether you could have made a difference and how you can improve the lives of your pets going forward.

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