Phasmatidae is commonly referred to as stick bugs, stick insects, walking sticks, or ghost insects. They belong to the family of Phasmatodea, which also includes the walking leaves. This name comes from the Latin word “Phasma” which means ghost or phantom. Most Phasmids camouflage themselves between twigs, branches, and leaves. They hide extremely well and it is their main defense mechanism against predators.
As a whole, stick bugs are very undemanding pets. Stick bugs can be kept together in an enclosure with a mesh lid. The stick bugs need to be able to hang upside down from the ceiling. The tank should contain substrate and something to climb on, and stick bugs need to be fed and misted every day.
Phasmids make awesome pet insects. Compared to cats and dogs they seem a little boring at first, but they come with many advantages. They are easy to care for, low maintenance, suitable for people with allergies, and fun to watch.
In this article, you will find all the information you need to care for your stick bug, and to equip the enclosure properly. You will find information on feeding, drinking, and many interesting facts that will help you to make the best out of your experience with your pet stick bug.
How do You Care for a Walking Stick?
Stick insects can be found in many parts of the world. They live in forests and enjoy high humidity. That’s why many of them can be found in tropical regions.
There are more than 3,000 different stick insect species all around the world that come in many different sizes, shapes, and colors. They used their appearance to camouflage themselves among leaves and branches.
Walking sticks are herbivores and nocturnal insects. They move and eat at night to minimize the risk of being seen by a predator.
Stick insects do not need much space. They are happy in a small container of approximately three times the height of the length of the insect and twice the width of the length of the insect.
Walking sticks need high humidity to be able to shed properly. Therefore the enclosure should have plastic or glass walls to contain the humidity and a mesh lid to allow air circulation and give the stick bug the possibility to hang upside down for molting.
The tank should have some kind of substrate on the bottom that can contain humidity and slowly release it, as well as some sort of stick or artificial plant to climb on.
Your daily duties with a walking stick include regular misting with water and feeding.
Use a pre-conditioner in your tap water to make it safe to use. It will help you to get rid of chlorine and chloramine in the water, which can harm your pet.
Walking sticks need fresh plants to eat. Oak leaves or lettuce are great food for your pet walking stick
Is it Hard to Take Care of a Stick Bug?
Stick bugs make great pets. They are educational, patient, and fun to watch. Walking sticks preferably live in tropical areas because they need high humidity to thrive.
As a whole, stick bugs are not hard to take care of. They are calm, low-maintenance pets, that only require a small tank. They should be handled with care because they have some defense mechanisms if they feel threatened. But despite that, they make great pets that are really easy to take care of.
Your stick bugs need fresh leaves every day, and it is best to give them the leaves in the evening because stick bugs are most active at night and do most of their eating when you are asleep.
Misting is also mandatory to make sure that your walking stick has enough to drink. They consume most of the water they need through the food, therefore misting the leaves is the best option.
The tank does not need a lot of cleaning. If the high humidity caused your substrate to mold, it’s time to change the substrate in the tank. But other than that, there is not much to clean.
Walking sticks are easy-going pets that come with low costs and no stress. They are really easy to take care of. They only need regular misting, feeding, and very rarely cleaning.
Walking sticks need high humidity in their enclosure. Stick bugs belong to the insects that molt several times in their life. To do so, they hang upside down from the ceiling and slowly detach from their “old skin” and crawl out with already a new and still very soft exoskeleton.
If the humidity in the enclosure is not high enough during that process, the stick bug might lose a limb or die during the molt because it is unable to crawl out.
That is why regular misting is so important.
You can use a spray bottle and use either bottled spring water or tap water that was treated with a conditioner from your local pet store. It is available for aquarium water and will eliminate chlorine from the water.
Spray a few sprays of water into the soil, and directly on the walls, as well as on the fresh leaves. The walking stick will drink the tiny drops from the leaves.
You can choose from different options for your substrate in the enclosure. Use something that can retain humidity such as Spagna moss, topsoil, eco earth, or vermiculite.
You can even use some paper towels. If you notice any mold in your substrate, you should change it.
If you use soil as a substrate, you can introduce springtails. They will help you to keep the floor clean from any food leftover and even fungus.
Stick bugs are herbivorous. That means that they eat plants and like all kinds of leaves and even lettuce.
The leaves should be fresh and clean. If you collect the leaves outdoors, make sure that you collect them from a place where no pesticides are used. Always rinse the leaves before you put them in the tank.
You can either put the leaves on the floor of the container or use a metal paperclip and a magnet on top of the container to hang the leaves from the ceiling. That is more like they would encounter their food in the wild.
The leaves should be changed on a daily basis to make sure that they are fresh.
Walking sticks are known as skeletonizers. That means that they only eat the leafy part of the leaf and not the veins in between. After eating, the leave looks like a skeleton, hence the name.
The same goes for the lettuce. When the green part of the lettuce is gone and you are left with the white stem, they are done eating. They will not eat the middle part of your lettuce.
Make sure that your walking stick drinks enough. You can put fresh leaves in the enclosure in the late evening and mist them right away with de-chlorinized tap water. Walking sticks tend to start moving around at around 9 pm. They are nocturnal and will do most of their eating at night.
What Does a Stick Bug Need?
Stick insects do not require a lot of equipment. These are the things you need for a pet stick bug:
- Enclosure with plastic or glass walls with a mesh lid to allow air circulation
- A substrate on the floor
- Sticks or artificial plants to climb on
- Regular misting with water for high humidity
- Daily feeding with fresh leaves
Pet stick bugs are herbivorous. Other than praying mantises they are not cannibalistic and can be kept together.
There are more than 3,000 different stick bug species. Depending on the age of the stick bug and the species, the requirements can slightly differ.
Some need higher humidity or higher temperature than others. But if you keep a stick bug that already lives in your area, you can be sure that it does not need extra heating because it is already used to the climate.
Some stick bugs that usually live in tropical regions might need a higher temperature than your usual room temperature. Do not use a heater or light bulb directly in the enclosure. If your pet stick bug can reach the heating source, it can easily burn itself. The best option would be to raise the temperature of the entire room or to place some sort of heating close to the tank.
Besides a properly equipped enclosure stick insects also need food and water. But what exactly can you feed your pet stick bug? Here are some ideas.
What do Stick Bugs Eat?
Stick insects are herbivores. They eat all sorts of leaves and leave the leaves looking like skeletons because they avoid the veins of the leaves. This looks rather unusual and makes them so-called “skeletonizers”.
As a whole, the preferred diet of your stick bug is partly dependent on the species. Many stick bugs enjoy oak leaves, others prefer eucalyptus leaves, but most stick bug species eat most of the leaves you offer them. They will also eat lettuce.
Stick bugs enjoy many different kinds of leaves such as oak leaves, bramble leaves, hazel leaves, ivy leaves, eucalyptus leaves, and many more. When you collect the leaves outside, make sure that no pesticides were used in the area where you get your leaves. Before you feed your stick bug, always rinse the leaves, just in case.
For the winter food you can either collect leaves in autumn and keep them frozen in the freezer until you feed them, or you can cut smaller branches with leaves and keep them in a warmer place so that you can always feed your pet stick bug fresh leaves.
But you can also just give your pet lettuce.
Stick bugs will not eat fruits or vegetables. Of course, you can try to offer your pets a variety of food, but they will probably neglect anything but leaves.
How Long can Stick Bugs Go Without Food?
You should feed your stick bug every day with fresh leaves. Depending on the age, an older and bigger stick bug can live off its reserves for a few days, but just like you, they want to eat every day and will be hungry without food.
Do Stick Bugs Eat Lettuce?
Lettuce is a vegetable for us humans, but it is also a leaf. Especially in winter, when fresh leaves in nature are rare, feeding lettuce would be a useful workaround. But do stick insects even like lettuce?
Stick insects eat all sorts of leafy greens. The majority of stick insects will eat the green part of the lettuce and will leave the white middle part as leftover.
Can Stick Insects Eat Ivy?
Ivy is a common wild plant with heart-shaped leaves that can be found in many gardens, on trees even on the outside of housewalls where it sticks to the wall. It is a great place for insects to live and hide but is known for being poisonous for humans.
Touching the plant’s oil can already lead to an allergic rash and eating the leaves would lead to plant poisoning. Even animals avoid ivy because it can lead to abdominal pain, cramps, and vomiting.
But since ivy seems like the perfect hiding spot for insects of all kinds, you might be wondering, if stick bugs can eat ivy, or not.
Some stick bugs eat ivy, others won’t. But you can always offer your pet any leaf you want. Your stick bug will only eat what’s good for him or her. A stick insect will not poison itself.
The Indian Stick Insect is a species that is commonly kept as a pet by insect lovers all over the world. In nature, you can find them in India, China, and Japan. This species eats many different leaves, including ivy and even roses.
Can Stick Insects Eat Rose Leaves?
Rose leaves have spines to protect themselves from predators, but some insects will still eat the leaves.
Many stick bugs will not eat rose leaves. An exception is the commonly kept Indian Stick Insect that will eat rose leaves. Rose leaves from the shop should not be fed as chances are high that they are sprayed with pesticides.
What can I Feed My Stick Insects in Winter?
Feeding your stick bug in winter may seem like a challenging task if you live in a temperate region where the trees throw off all their leaves in autumn. Stick insects need fresh leaves all year long.
You can either collect fresh leaves in summer or autumn and keep them in a freezer until you feed them. Or you can cut off smaller branches with leaves and keep them indoor in water to grow fresh leaves in winter. Or you can also just feed your stick insects lettuce.
What do Stick Bugs Drink?
Stick insects need water to drink, just like most other insects do. There are two ways of giving your pet stick bug water. One is to offer them a bowl with water, the other is to mist their food.
Walking sticks drink water. They get most of their hydration from the food they eat. Therefore it is recommended to moist the leaves you feed your pets. A water dish is also possible, but not necessary.
Since stick bugs are nocturnal and do most of their eating, and hence, drinking, at night, it is best to moist the fresh leaves in the late evening.
If you decide to offer your stick bugs a water dish, don’t be surprised if you see your pet with the entire head underwater. That’s the way they drink. And since walking sticks do not breathe with their mouths, they don’t drown with their head underwater.
In fact, walking sticks breathe with a number of small openings all over their thorax and abdomen. That means that a walking stick will drown if its thorax and abdomen are underwater.
What do Stick Insects Need in Their Tanks?
Stick insects don’t need much equipment in their tanks. As long as they can hang from the ceiling, they are happy.
The enclosure of a walking stick should contain a mesh lid, some decor for the walking stick to walk on, some kind of substrate on the floor, and some fresh leaves for the stick bug to eat. And that’s about it!
Extra heating is usually not necessary. There are a few tropical species that might need higher temperatures than your room temperature. For these species, you might either want to heat up your room to meet the required temperature for the stick bug.
Or you can place some kind of heating device (a regular light bulb might already do) close to your enclosure. Do not put the heating source directly in the tank, if there is a chance that your stick bug can reach it.
And do not underestimate these long legs. Any heating source can burn your pet.
The enclosure needs to be high enough to allow your pet stick bug to shed properly. If the tank is not high, there is a risk that the stick insect won’t be able to crawl completely out of the skin while hanging from the ceiling during their molting process.
If a stick bug gets stuck in the old exoskeleton, it can not only lose limbs but could actually die.
The height of the container should be at least three times the length of your pet stick bug. The width should be around twice the length of the stick insect. You can keep several stick insects from the same species together in one enclosure.
Do NOT put a praying mantis and a walking stick together in one enclosure. Walking sticks are herbivores and eat only leaves while praying mantises are carnivores and they might attack and eat the walking stick.
Walking sticks like to hang upside down. Therefore a mesh lid on top of the enclosure is a great way to give your stick bugs a place to hang around and molt.
The walls of the tank should be plastic or glass to contain humidity, therefore you will need a mesh lid to allow some air into the tank.
The size of the mesh does not matter too much, as long as the stick bug cannot escape.
The floor of the enclosure has to be covered with some sort of substrate that can retain water and slowly release it to keep the humidity level in the tank up.
It is also important to make sure that the stick insects do not drown in the water of the floor if you have misted too much.
Easy choices for the substrate are paper towels, eco earth, Spagna moss, topsoil, coca husk, or vermiculite. You can also just go outside and use any kind of soil you find on the ground. Make sure, that the soil was not treated with any pesticides.
If you decide to introduce springtails to your tank, they will serve as a cleaning crew on the ground and will keep your substrate free from any food leftovers.
The majority of stick insects live in tropical or semi-tropical areas with high humidity. Without the humidity, they have difficulties molting because their exoskeleton can be too hard to open up enough so that the stick bug can crawl out.
When you mist the enclosure regularly, you make sure that your stick bug is safe and can thrive. You can either use bottled spring water or tap water that was treated with a conditioner to get rid of the chlorine.
Depending on the species, the level of humidity needed can differ slightly.
Something to Climb On
For the decor, you can use any sticks, foliage, and even fake leaves. Walking sticks are smart enough to understand that fake leaves cannot be eaten. The sticks should reach the mesh ceiling so that the walking stick can easily climb up to the top.
Do Stick Insects Need Light?
Stick bugs are nocturnal insects. They do most of their walking and eating at night. Hence they don’t need any extra light in their enclosure.
Keep your pets in a room with some natural light from outside (no direct sunlight!) and keep the lights off at night.
Which Walking Stick Species is Best for Beginners?
Most walking stick species live in tropical and semi-tropical regions with high humidity. There are more than 3,000 different species of stick bugs and around 300 species can be kept as pets. Some come with higher requirements than others.
Especially walking sticks from tropical regions need higher temperature and higher humidity than others.
The most popular stick insect species that can be kept as pets are the Indian Stick Insect, the Giant Prickly Stick Insect, The Vietnamese Stick Insect, the Annam Walking Stick, the Thorny Stick Insect, and the Jungle nymph.
All of these species are easy to handle, easy to care for, and non-aggressive.
The Indian Stick Insect (Carausius Morosus) is the most popular pet walking stick. It comes with the typical features of a walking stick: a long and thin body which is usually green. They make great pets and are not only kept by individuals but also frequently kept by schools for educational purposes.
The Giant Prickly Stick Insect (Extatosoma Tiaratum) looks more like a leaf than a stick and some in very light brown and greenish shadings. When threatened it will pretend to be a poisonous scorpion and raises its abdomen as a scorpion does.
This gesture might seem impressive, but the Giant Prickly Stick insects are completely harmless.
The Annam Walking Stick (Medauroidea extradentata), as well as the Vietnamese Stick Insect (Ramulus artemis), are both long and thin and originally came from Vietnam, China, and India.
Both species are parthenogenetic. That means that females can reproduce without a male. The nymphs resulting from these eggs are all female.
The Thorny Stick Insect (Aretaon asperrimus) originally comes from Borneo. They have no wings, but many thorns which make them look dangerous. But don’t be misled, they are harmless little creatures. They need higher humidity than other stick bugs and regular misting several times a day is mandatory.
The Junge nymph (Heteropteryx dilatata) originally comes from Malaysia. They are a rather big stick bug species. The females are green with short wings and look really impressive with their shiny light green color and spikes. They are completely harmless to humans.
If you decide to keep a walking stick species that do not already live in your region, you cannot let them escape. They can cause troubles in the ecosystem and become pests. The smaller the walking stick, the higher the risk because they can fit through tiny holes. If you breed walking sticks, be extra careful with the babies and make sure they don’t get out.
Lisa is one of the two founders of Animal-Knowledge. She has been very interested in animals and insects from a very young age and has owned different kinds of pets such as snails, ants, fish, turtles, mice, rats, hamsters, rabbits, a dog, … you get the idea 🙂