Stick insects are among the easiest insects to keep as pets. They are easy to take care of, no smell, and do not bite or sting. This makes them a perfect choice as pets for children and beginners. Let’s jump straight into our stick insect care guide!

To keep stick insects, put them in a big tank with a mesh lid and feed them with fresh leaves. Make sure they have constant access to water and keep the container adequately moist. Clear the stick insects’ droppings every week or 2 to keep the housing clean.

While stick insects are easy to take care of, there a a few things to take note – eg. the size of enclosure, types of leaves to feed them, ways to clean the enclosure etc. Keep reading to learn how to keep a stick insect.

Introduction to Stick Insects

Stick insects are a group of insects that resemble a stick. They are also known as the walking stick or twig insect. Stick insects can be found in many regions, especially in the tropics.

Because of its elongated body, stick insects are the longest insects in the world. The Guinness world record of the longest insect is currently held by Phobaeticus chani, a tropical species found in Borneo, measuring up to 355 mm in body length.

The appearance of the stick insects allow them to blend into the surrounding environment. They can also remain motionless for hours. Such characteristics make them difficult to be detected by their predators.

Interestingly, some stick insects can change color. They make their body darker or brighter to adjust the amount of heat that they can absorb.

Thanks to their unique characteristics and ease to take care, keeping stick insects is increasingly more popular.

Getting a Stick Insect

A giant stick insect

Like many other insects you can either buy a stick insect in your local pet store or catch them in the wild. However, because the stick insects are very good at camouflage, you might need to buy them in your local pet store. 

You can even buy them from the Internet. Do note that the stick insects are not hardy and may die during transportation. Please understand the risk and always check with the seller on the additional measures in place to increase the likelihood of survival during transportation. 

Depending on where you stay you may need a permit to import or keep a stick insect. Always check with your local authority to understand the requirement. Whether or not a permit is required, you should always keep a native species.

Stick Insect Enclosure

Stick insects require some space to move around and grow. Hence, the ideal stick insect tank set up consist of a tall, transparent and ventilated enclosure decorated with twigs and plants.

When choosing a tank for housing, make sure that you choose one with length at least 4 times the length of the stick insect and with height at least 3 times the length of the insect.

Why do you need such a tall enclosure? When the stick insect molts, it positions itself upside-down and slowly emerges from its old skin. If there is not enough height for it to fully exit its old skin, it may not be able to molt successfully and will be deformed or die. 

If you are keeping more than 1 stick insect, the size of the housing needs to be slightly bigger than that. If there is not enough space in the housing, the stick insects will be stressed and become weaker. Eventually they will die faster. 

To prepare the enclosure, put a layer of paper towel onto the flooring of your container.  You can also use hays if you want. The reason for doing this is because the stick insects produce a lot of droppings. Having a layer of paper/hay makes it easier for cleaning.

Twigs are essential in stick bug housing

Decorate the enclosure with twigs or tree branches to mimic the nature, and to give your pet stick insect places to climb and hide.

Cover your tank with a mesh lid to prevent the stick insects from escaping. A mesh lid allows good ventilation and makes it easier for the stick insect to attach itself to the ceiling, thus maximizing the height available for molting.

Feeding the Stick Insects

Stick insects feed on fresh leaves (eg. blackberry leaves). While many species feed on bramble leaves, some don’t. Always ask your seller what type of leaves the stick insect feeds. 

To keep your leaves fresh, put the leaf branches into a small jug with water. Choose a jug with a broader base so that it doesn’t topple easily.

Use a sponge to fill up the gap of the jug opening so that your stick insects cannot enter the jug as they might drown in the water. You can make a part of the sponge touches the water inside the jug to keep the sponge wet, so that your stick insects can drink water through the sponge.

Remove any dried leaves as the stick insects do not feed on them.

Temperature, Humidity, and Lightning

Generally, stick insects prefer temperatures around 68-77 °F (20-25 °C) and a moist environment. However, some species may have different preferences. Always do some research on the species that you keep to ensure you give them the right temperature.

Spray the housing with a garden sprayer once a day to keep it humid. The stick insects also drink the water droplets sprayed onto the leaves.

Stick insects are mainly nocturnal (active at night). Do not put them under direct light. You don’t have to put them in the dark though because they can hide underneath the leaves. If you want, you can use an aquarium display light when observing them.

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Molting Care

Stick insects grow by molting. When it is about time to molt, the stick insect will stop feeding, and find a place to hang itself in the air for molting. Make sure the enclosure is tall enough (refer to the previous section on enclosure setup) so that there is enough space for your stick insect to molt.

The stick insect is extremely vulnerable when molting. Do not touch or disturb a molting stick insect. The molting process can take up to a few days. The larger the stick insect, the longer it takes.

After molting, your stick insect remains vulnerable until its exoskeleton is fully hardened. This may take another few days depending on the size of your stick insect.

Handling Stick Insects

Handling stick insect is easy, since they are slow and do not bite.

Most of the stick insects are gentle and docile. Winged stick insects may display their wings to startle their enemies if they feel threatened, but they don’t bite or sting.

Some of the stick insect species are capable of spraying irritating chemicals from the back of their head to their enemies, while some of them release foul smells. Be cautious when handling the stick insects, and do not let those chemicals get into your eyes!

You can put the stick insects on your hand and play around with them. Make sure you handle them gently as they are very fragile. Try to coax it to move instead of pinching or holding it. If needed, always hold their body but not their legs to avoid breaking their legs. 

Note that some of the larger stick insects have sharp spines on their legs. Be careful not to get cut by those spines.

Breeding Stick Insects

Many stick insect species can breed asexually, where the females can lay eggs without males. When this happens, the eggs will hatch into females almost every time. On very rare occasions, male stick insects might hatch from unfertilized eggs. A male stick insect is generally skinnier than its female counterpart. Unlike the females, males have fully developed wings and can fly.

In a sexual reproduction, males are attracted by females’ sexual pheromones. Research shows an asexually bred female stick insect is less attractive to the male than a sexually bred female. Before mating, the male will start a dance to appeal to the female. 

In certain species, asexually-bred stick insects may get weaker over generations; In certain species, asexually-bred stick insects seem to be as healthy as those bred sexually. In any case you shouldn’t worry much about this.

The females may lay their eggs on the flooring, underneath the leaves or on the branches. The eggs are relatively big, and resemble seeds. In fact, the Guinness World Record of the largest insect egg is the egg of stick insects, which is bigger than a peanut.

You can leave the eggs at where they are deposited, or relocate them in a separate container.

Depending on species, the females may lay up to thousands of eggs. It takes 2-12 months for the eggs to hatch. Generally the bigger the species, the longer you have to wait. 

Babies hatched from the eggs are called nymphs. Feed the stick insect nymphs with young leaves.

Depending on species and environmental conditions, the nymphs of stick insects molt 5-6 times (5 times for males, 6 times for females) in 3-18 months before becoming adults. Generally, adult stick insects have a lifespan of 12-18 months in captivity, where females tend to live longer.

Additional Information

What should I do if my stick insect lost her limbs?

In nature, stick insects do give up their limbs to escape from predators. If your stick insect is still a nymph, it will regain its nymph in the next molt. Unfortunately, the adults cannot regain their lost limbs.

How to prevent my stick insects from losing her limbs?

There are a few reasons for your stick insects to lose their limbs. If you notice that happens usually after you play with it, likely it is due to mis-handling. Stick insects are very fragile! Be very gentle when handling them.

Overcrowded housing can also cause stick insects to lose their limbs. In an overcrowded housing, the insects may either accidentally knock off each other’s limbs,or break their limbs when fighting for more space. In such a case, move your stick insects into a larger housing, or split them out. 

Molting failure is another reason for lost limbs. To help you stick insects, make sure you provide enough height (at least 3 times the length of your stick insects) in the housing for them to molt. Ensure the humidity of the housing is optimum for the species that you are keeping, especially during molting.

While you need to provide your stick insects with moisture, clear all the molds in the housing as they might cause your stick insects to fall sick and lose their limbs.