Stick insects are among the most popular insects kept as pets, mainly due to their unique stick-like appearance and the relative ease of care. There are over 2,500 species of stick and leaf insects; however, Indian stick insects are the most commonly kept as pets. Stick insects require the utmost care when handling, but they can be very tame and sit on your hand. They don't require daily maintenance and can be left alone for a week without any care. The key to keeping stick insects in captivity is mimicking their natural conditions.
Common Name: Stick insect, Indian stick insect, Indian walking stick, laboratory stick insect
Scientific Name: Carausius morosus
Adult Size: 4 to 5 inches
Life Expectancy: 1 year, although they can live longer in captivity
Stick Insect Behavior and Temperament
Stick insects are tame but extremely delicate. Exercise caution when handling them. Very carefully grasp them by the body (not the legs) between your thumb and forefinger and place them on your open palm or offer your open palm and gently nudge them onto your hand. They do not attack or bite people.
Stick insects are naturally nocturnal and will be most active at night. During the day, they remain still unless they are disturbed.
Housing the Stick Insect
As a rule, stick insects need an enclosure that is three times as tall as the length of the insect. For Indian stick insects, this means a cage a minimum of 15 inches tall, although a little higher would be better. Glass tanks (10 to 15 gallons), tall glass jars, plastic pet containers, and other similar containers work well for housing. Make sure the lid is well-ventilated and secure to prevent escapes. You can use fine netting, firmly fixed, to the top.
Indian stick insects should be kept fairly warm, around 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature can be allowed to decrease to the mid-60s Fahrenheit. The best way to achieve the proper temperature is to keep them in a warm room. However, provide supplementary heat through heating pads meant for reptile enclosures or by placing a lamp near the cage. Heating lamps tend to be very drying, and white bulbs should not be used at night. If you are using heating lamps, they require red or blue colored bulbs suitable for nocturnal animals at night.
If using potted plants in the pet's home, consider using a fluorescent fixture for optimal plant growth. Stick insects need a moderate level of humidity (75%), and the habitat should be well ventilated to prevent mold and fungus growth. The fungus can kill stick insects.
Cover the floor of the tank with paper for easy cleanup. A substrate of peat moss or vermiculite may also help maintain humidity, but it requires more effort to keep clean. Make sure it is not kept too moist. Stick insects produce a dry waste, which is easy to clean up.
Food and Water
Indian stick insects prefer oak, rose, and hawthorn leaves. Bramble (blackberry) is a favorite among other types of stick insects. Other options include privet and ivy.
Fresh cut branches of these plants can be placed in water in the cage and changed once they dry out (or are consumed). The water container for the branches must be closed off or sealed so that the insects do not fall into the water and drown. You can choose a narrow-necked jar and place some material around the plant stems to seal off the opening. An alternative to feeding cut branches is to grow small potted plants of the desired species and place them in the cage. They can also eat organic lettuce, which should be washed and cleaned well.
Misting the leaves of the plant will provide water for the insects to drink and help maintain humidity levels.
All food offerings must be free of insecticides and herbicides, or it may be lethal to your pets. Avoid collecting leaves and branches near busy roadways. If using potted plants, make sure that the soil used is free of pesticides. Some soils have pesticides, which may make their way into plants grown in that soil.
Common Health Problems
There are no significant diseases that impact stick insects. They do hang upside down to shed their skin and require a large vertical space to shed. If the space they have is limited, the stick insect can die or become severely deformed. Pesticide exposure or fungal infection can also kill them.
Molting and Reproduction
The babies or nymphs molt several times before reaching adulthood (about 5 months). Molting is an extremely vulnerable time in development, and the insects should be left alone and not handled until the new exoskeleton hardens after a molt.
Indian stick insects can reproduce in the absence of a male (parthenogenetic reproduction). A female will lay hundreds of tiny eggs over her lifespan. The smooth, round eggs can be collected and hatched in a warm tub of sand or vermiculite. Gestation may take up to 1 year. Upon hatching and until they reach adulthood, they should be kept in small, separate rearing containers and fed the same types of leaves as adults.
Is It Legal to Own a Pet Stick Insect?
All stick insects that are not native to the U.S. are illegal. In the United States or Canada, tropical species such as the Indian walking stick are considered plant pests. However, they have naturalized in many parts of the U.S. Stick insects should never be released into the wild. They proliferate easily and can cause damage to the ecosystem. Dispose of eggs by crushing, boiling, or burning them.
A permit from the U.S. Department of Agriculture is required to import them. Check your local and state laws before getting any kind of stick or leaf insect as a pet.
Purchasing Your Stick Insect
Generally, you can find stick insects for sale online through reptile supply vendors. It costs about $20 to $50 for a supply of 50. They are challenging to find for sale in most pet stores since they are considered pests by many states.
Similar Pets to the Stick Insect
If you are interested in stick insects, check out:
- Praying Mantis Species Profile
- African Giant Millipede Species Profile
- Madagascar Hissing Cockroach Species Profile
Otherwise, check out other exotic pets that might interest you.