Some stick insects reproduce parthenogenetically, which simply means that the female is able to produce fertilized eggs without the need of a male. Other species cannot produce eggs without sexual reproduction. Regardless, breeding stick insects is not as complicated as one might think. However, the process is very specific and requires some background knowledge as well as a good dose of care and patience.
Before attempting to hatch stick insect eggs then, it is advisable to become familiar with the specifics of the stick insect breeding process of the species you have, which should give a good insight and understanding on how to go about hatching the eggs.
Stick Insect Breeding Process – General Information
As mentioned above, stick insects can reproduce both sexually and asexually, depending on the species (indeed, some species do both). In parthenogenic (asexual) reproduction, the female is able to lay ready fertilized eggs, but these eggs will specifically hatch into female nymphs (the babies of stick insects are called nymphs) that are basically clones of the mother stick insect. Obviously, where sexual reproduction is concerned, there is a fifty percent chance that the hatchlings will be either sex.
If breeders wish to have an offspring line that features both male and female specimens, then a male stick insect has to fertilize the eggs, otherwise the offspring line will be made up solely of female clones of the mother. Once fertilized, the female will remain so for the rest of her life, though it is quite common for fertilized females to mate repeatedly after their initial fertilization.
Note – certain species of stick insect cannot reproduce without a male partner. For such species, if no male partner is present, the female will still lay eggs though they will not actually hatch any nymphs.
Depending on the species, a female stick insect can lay between 100 and 1200 eggs, each with an incubation period of between 6 and 18 months. Stick insect babies are known as nymphs, and these, upon hatching, are literally miniature copies of the adult insects. The nymphs undergo a number of metamorphic stages before reaching full maturity. The metamorphosis of stick insects is expressed by successive molting phases (this differs depending on the species in question).
Laying the Eggs
A female stick insect will not lay any eggs (fertilized or unfertilized) until she has reached maturity. Mating will also not happen before this stage either, so there might be some time before any type of reproduction activity is seen by breeders. Depending on the species, a female who has reached her maturity stage will lay up to seven eggs per day. Most species of stick insect will simply drop their eggs on the ground, but some species will bury the eggs in soil or else glue the eggs to leaves and bark (or the walls of the catchment/container).
Depending on where the female has laid the eggs will determine where to keep the eggs during incubation. If the eggs were dropped on the ground for example, then they should be kept on a layer of cotton wool or paper tissue. If the eggs were buried in soil/substrate then they should also be kept buried in a thin layer of clean soil during incubation.
Looking After the Eggs
Looking after the eggs of stick insects can be a tricky business, but with some commitment and a little bit of effort breeders should eventually be able to successfully hatch the eggs. Hatching the eggs can take up to 14 months (species-dependent) so patience and ongoing care will be required. Stick insect eggs should not be exposed to any extreme temperatures – the eggs will not tolerate temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius, or cold environments.
Stick insect eggs should be kept moist, but not wet. Keeping the eggs too wet for more than 5 or so days will likely result in molding, which will eventually kill the egg. The best way to keep the eggs sufficiently moist but not wet is to place them on a layer of cotton wool or thick paper tissue, which is then sprayed with water. If the eggs are kept in a thin layer of soil, spraying the soil with some water to keep it moist (just as if caring for a plant) should be sufficient.
Note – do not spray water directly onto the eggs but only on the paper tissue or cotton wool. Also, make sure the paper or cotton layer is fully dry before re-spraying with water.
Ventilation is very important when trying to hatch stick insect eggs. As the eggs are susceptible to molding, the container in which they are kept must be well ventilated at all times. If breeders notice that the layer of cotton or paper under the eggs remains wet or excessively moist for more than 5 days, then the container/catchment needs better ventilation. The sooner this is fixed the better chance of hatching the eggs.
Hatching the Eggs
When trying to hatch stick insect eggs, two keywords are vital – patience and consistency. Any deviation from the game plan will likely result in eggs that simply never hatch, i.e. they are dead. As mentioned above, stick insect eggs can take anywhere up to 14 months to hatch, depending on the particular species. Continuous care will be required to hatch the eggs. Breeders must ensure that the eggs are not too dry or too moist, and that they are kept warm enough but not too warm either. At the end of the process, and provided the eggs have hatched successfully, breeders should be able to see the hatchlings walking around and exploring their habitat. It is important to actually see the nymphs walking and moving around after hatching as this is an indication that they are healthy and active.
Note – stick insect eggs should have the hardness of a seed or grain. They vary in color and shape, so breeders should get familiar with the appearance of the eggs of their particular stick insect species. In any case, if the eggs appear to change color, become soft, or develop mold then the chances are that they are dead. Last but not least, breeders should not expect all the eggs to actually hatch despite their best care and efforts.
For more stick insect breeding and egg care information, click on the link to visit the category page.