Will your landlord not let you have a dog or cat?
If so, then a stick insect might just be the perfect pet for you.
These interesting little insects can be found everywhere in the world — except Antarctica — and make fascinating pets, provided you do your research.
Although they aren’t cuddly like cats or goofy like dogs, stick insects can make good pets because:
- They’re quiet.
- They won’t scratch up the furniture.
- They’ll never pee on the carpet.
Also known as walking stick insects, these little fellows are collectively known as phasmids.
Before bringing home or capturing a stick insect, you need to have a basic understanding of their needs — what foods they eat, what their behavioral habits are and, most important, how to set up a habitat they’ll absolutely love.
So, keep reading! We have a lot to cover in this article…
Physical Characteristics of Stick Insects
Stick insects range in length from a few inches long to more than 1 foot from head to tail.
Most look like twigs or leaves, allowing them to blend in with their environments and avoid predators.
There are more than 3,000 species of phasmids.
Common stick insect species include:
- Indian Walking Stick or Common Laboratory Stick
- Annam Walking Stick
- Giant Prickly Stick or Macleays Spectre
Life Cycle of Stick Insects
Female stick insects lay between 1 and 1,000 eggs at a time, which hatch after lying dormant for 1–3 seasons, depending upon the type.
After they’ve hatched, stick insect babies climb a tree and hang upside down while they grow and molt, which they’ll do at least 5 times before they grow up.
Male stick insects are quite rare: Only 1 out of 1,000 are males, and often they can fly.
The female doesn’t need a male for laying eggs, but if they are together, they will mate. Their relationships are short, just a few weeks long at most.
The typical lifespan of plasmids is 12–16 months, depending on the species.
How to Care for Your Stick Insect: A Few First Tips
Handle Your Stick Insect Carefully
Stick insects enjoy being handled, provided you are gentle. More fragile than most pets, some will even bite or pinch if you handle them too roughly.
Feed a Nutritious Diet
What do stick insects eat? They are vegetarians. Stick insects eat a diet of brambles, such as blackberry or raspberry plants.
Make sure yours always has plenty of fresh food. (We’ll talk more about food below.)
Provide Appropriate Housing
Stick insects need roomy housing because their natural behavior is to hang upside down from their food plants, and they need room for dangling.
There’s a LOT to cover in terms of building an appropriate habitat for your pet stick insect — which we explain in detail below…
But first, watch this amazing stick insect steal the show in this video:
How to Create the Perfect Habitat for Your Stick Insect
Size and Material
The habitat should be large enough for your stick insect to explore a little and for you to set up places where they can perch aboveground.
You will need a tall cage — “one at least 18 inches high and nearly as wide,” according to Sandra Markle, author of Stick Insects: Masters of Defense.
The height of the cage is important in another way: When stick insects are molting, they hang from the ceiling of the habitat or from a branch. They need at least twice their body length of space to molt properly — otherwise they could become deformed or die.
Stick insects need lots of air, so avoid aquariums.
Your habitat should have plenty of breathability but also keep your stick insect safely inside.
You have a few options when it comes to the cage itself:
- Buy one from a retailer. It can be difficult to find cages meant for specific insects, so be prepared to do some searching. Here’s a decent-looking, fairly roomy wire cage on Amazon that could work.
- If you’re a do-it-yourselfer, build one out of crafting and home improvement materials.
- Combine the first 2 options — buy a standard cage and then modify it.
The sides and top of the habitat should be made of fine mesh — window screening is an excellent choice here because it’s restrictive yet allows for plenty of airflow. So you could buy a standard cage and then wrap it in window screening or netting.
The goal is to end up with a nice, tall cage that allows for plenty of air flow but with small enough mesh that your insect can’t escape.
Find some substrate to put on the bottom of the habitat. This can be:
- Moisture-absorbing substrate purchased from a pet retailer
Each species of stick insect — there are several — has their own needs when it comes to temperature and humidity.
Some are indigenous to the southern United States and need hot, humid areas.
However, no stick insect should be left in direct sunlight. “Mainly nocturnal creatures, they spend much of their day motionless, hidden under plants,” warns National Geographic.
Before bringing home your stick insect, research the species and find out what their needs are. Once you do, you can place the habitat in an appropriate location in your home.
Some will need you to mist the habitat with water every day, while others will be fine with a once-a-week dousing.
You won’t have to leave any water bowls in the habitat. When you mist the habitat, they’ll drink the water from the leaves.
More Feeding Advice for Stick Insects
What type of leaves a stick insect will eat is entirely dependent upon the species.
This is where you must do your homework — otherwise, your stick insect will starve to death.
Once you’ve determined what kinds of leaves your stick insect will eat, place some branches with leaves still attached into the habitat. Treat the branches as you would a vase of flowers.
“Just cut the branches with the leaves on them with sharp scissors or knife, and place them in a cup filled with water,” advises Keeping Insects. Make sure the cup is stable; it should not easily fall over. To make it more stable, you can fill the bottom of the cup with sand or stones.”
Remember, your stick insect isn’t only going to be eating the leaves — they’re going to be climbing on them as well.
“Walking sticks are arboreal and need sticks at least the diameter of their bodies to perch upon,” say authors Richard Bartlett and Patricia Pope Bartlett in their guidebook Terrarium and Cage Construction and Care.
Replace the leaves as soon as you see them drying out or starting to die. Stick insects will eat only fresh leaves.
Check out what these stick insects eat:
How to Clean Your Stick Insect Cage
You’ll need to clean the stick insect habitat about once a week due to the amount of droppings the insects produce and to prevent mold from growing.
Here are a few simple cleaning instructions:
- Put your stick insect in a safe place.
- Then remove and replace the substrate, branches and a cup, if using.
- If you’re using a ceramic mug, just wash it with regular soap and water.
- Check carefully to ensure that any mold is gone
- Finally, place your stick insect back into the habitat.
Keeping Stick Insects as Pets
In conclusion, stick insects are not difficult to care for as long as you do some basic research first.
You should know what they eat, how humid they need their environment to be and any other particular requirements that will help them thrive.
If you are buying a stick insect — particularly an imported one — check state and federal regulations before bringing them home. Some states may prohibit certain species.
Stick insects are fascinating and fun creatures to watch. They make a great pet for those who are willing to do their research and learn what their chosen stick insect needs. If you’ve decided to bring one home, then congratulations on your new pet!