There are almost 3,000 species of stick insect in the world and while only a small percentage are available in the pet trade, many of those that are make ideal pets.
Generally speaking stick insects are cheap to buy, easy to care for, almost silent and have no unpleasant odour whatsoever. They can therefore make an ideal starter pet for any child, while some of the larger and more impressive specimens can make fascinating pets for even experienced pet owners.
In this article we’re going to examine how to look after stick insects as pets in the easiest way possible. You’ll find that caring for most stick insects is simplicity itself!
Housing Pet Stick Insects
The first step to success when it comes to keeping stick insects as pets is the cage they are kept in. Without the right housing stick insects can struggle to change their skins and grow. This means that incorrect housing can have a large effect on your success rate when keeping stick insects as pets.
In addition, with their slim proportions and uncanny ability to climb up vertical surfaces – or even to hand upside down from a horizontal surface – means they are accomplished escape artists. All too many times someone has used an unsuitable cage – accidentally left the lid ajar – only to find their pets make a break for freedom.
Firstly let’s talk about the most suitable dimensions of a cage. The cage should be tall – at least twice the height of your longest stick insect. This is because when changing its skin your pet will attach itself to a branch and then slowly slide out of the old skin. Without this height to the cage stick insects may die while moulting.
Most stick insect keepers opt to use some form of substrate on the floor of their cage, which makes cleaning easier. The easiest and cheapest solution is to line the base of the cage with kitchen towel. This can then just be screwed up and thrown away each week during the clean.
You will also likely want to maintain a container of water into which to place the stick insects food plants. Rather like cut flowers, if you just place the leaves themselves into a cage they will dry out and die within a day or two. In contrast, placing the stems into a jam jar of water will keep them fresh for up to a week.
Note that your stick insects themselves should not have access to this open water, in which they may drown. Instead aim to fill the jar with sprigs of food plant or plug any gaps with kitchen roll or cotton wool.
Lastly be aware that some air movement is a good thing. A stagnant cage where no air movement is possible can lead to the growth of mould, leading to an unhealthy environment. As a result you should either purchase a cage that includes suitable ventilation or if you are modifying another item to use as a cage ensure you puncture some air holes in it.
As you can see, the caging requirements of stick insects are minimal. An old aquarium, a large sweet jar or a specially purchased arboreal vivarium, lined with kitchen roll and with a suitable lid can all make a suitable enclosure for pet stick insects.
Feeding Stick Insects
Stick insects are herbivores and eat only plant matter. This helps to make them an ideal pet as feeding is so simple. In addition, if the food plant is placed into a container of water as described above then the food plant will likely only need to be changed once every week or so. This means that routine maintenance requirements are also minimal.
With so many stick insect species it should come as no wonder that stick insects will eat all manner of plant material. From oak leaves to those of roses, stick insects may eat a highly varied diet, and are normally smart enough not to eat anything that is toxic to them. As a result virtually any green plant can be tried though there are two staples that virtually any stick insect species will eat.
The first of these is privet. Many people have privet hedges around their garden so if you’re one of the lucky ones it can be easy to replenish your stick insect’s cage. The other is bramble which, whilst spiky and unpleasant to handle (hint: use gardening gloves!) will feed virtually any stick insect perfectly. Both of these plants are available right throughout the year though the quality of the leaves will obviously drop in winter.
The Perfect Environment for Stick Insects
The most common species of stick insect is known as the Indian Stick Insect or Laboratory Stick Insect. This is the classic green “stick-like” insect that many of us saw as kids. These are the easiest stick insects of all to keep. Not only will they regularly reproduce in captivity, meaning you may come across baby stick insects over time, but they also require no artificial heating whatsoever.
Simply feed them as recommended and spray their cage with a plant spray gun every couple of days. This will raise the humidity (making moulting easier) and will allow your stick insects to drink the droplets of water left on the food plant.
While the Indian Stick Insect is the easiest species to keep in captivity there are a range of other rather more “advanced” species – huge, chunky insects like the one in the image above. These are so “unusual” that even some very experienced pet keepers enjoy looking after them. The care of these insects is almost the same except that they require some form of artificial heating. Luckily, these heaters can be bought very cheaply from reptile shops and cost a few pennies per day to run.