When it comes to pet stick insects, most people start with the Indian stick insect because it is one of the hardiest as well as easiest to look after, especially for beginners. But what do Indian stick insects eat? This is an important question that those who are considering getting one of these creatures will want to know the answer to. Below is a guide to the food that is most suitable for Indian stick insects as well as information about how to look after them and breed them if this is your preference.
What to Feed an Indian Stick Insect?
Stick insects are herbivores, meaning they only eat vegetation; luckily, Indian stick insects have fairly simple tastes. They eat the leaves of many types of plant, quite a few of which can be found growing in the wild or in your garden. These include:
- Bramble – Bramble is a prickly shrub that grows in the wild. It can also be planted in gardens, with some people choosing certain types such as blackberry and raspberry in order to harvest the fruit. When collecting bramble for your stick insects, it is important to take care as the stems are typically thorny. If planting in your garden, you will need to be careful of young children and pets as they could get scratched if they get too close.
- Rose – There are lots of different types of rose bush with leaves that your stick insect could eat. You can plant rose bushes in your garden and harvest the leaves for your pet. As with bramble, you will need to take care when cutting leaves from the rose bush for your stick insects as the stems also contain thorns that are rather sharp.
- Privet – Privet is a common shrub that grows throughout the year and makes the perfect food for stick insects. Although growth does slow in the winter, you can get leaves for your pet even when it is snowing or is freezing outside.
- Hawthorn – Hawthorn is a shrub or small tree. The Indian hawthorn is often used in gardens as an evergreen hedging and it makes the perfect food for an Indian stick insect.
- Lettuce – Believe it or not, some people have reported that their stick insects like to eat romaine lettuce. It’s worth a try, if nothing else.
The above are leaves known to be preferred food sources for the Indian stick insect, but you could also try other plants from your garden. Stick insects do not eat plants that they do not like or those that could be toxic to them. Trying out a few different plants will give you an idea of which ones they like.
When feeding your stick insects, it is best to ensure a clean cut on the branch or twig. You will need to place the stem into a container of water so that it remains fresh for as long as possible. A clean cut will absorb the water much better than a branch that has been ripped from a tree or hedge.
What are Indian Stick Insects Like as Pets?
If you are thinking of introducing your children to a pet for the first time, an Indian stick insect is a good choice. Stick insects are quiet yet fascinating and are much easier to care for than, say, a cat or a dog.
Yes, they may not be cute and cuddly, but having a stick insect will enable you to teach your child how to responsibly look after a pet. Children are often astounded at these ‘walking stick insects’ that resemble twigs.
Another great thing about Indian stick insects is the fact that they do not need to have a male to lay eggs that will hatch. This means that if you buy a female Indian stick insect, she will be able to lay eggs that will hatch into female nymphs. Children can be involved in taking care of the eggs and then will marvel when they see tiny little nymphs emerge from the eggs. They can then watch as they shed their skin numerous times before reaching adulthood. Most stick insects will moult at least five times before becoming adults.
What Do You Need to Buy for Looking After an Indian Stick Insect?
Stick insects are relatively low maintenance as far as pets are concerned, but they do require certain equipment initially. For example, you will need to have a tank or plastic container that has a mesh screen top. The size of the tank will depend on the number of stick insects you are planning to buy. If you are going to breed your stick insects, you may need to invest in more than one tank, especially once nymphs start hatching.
What you should be aware of when it comes to housing for your stick insects is that height is much more important than floor space. Your stick insect will hang upside down from a plant or the roof of the tank when it is moulting, and it will require space to shed its skin. The rule of thumb is that you should have at least three times the height of the adult.
The floor of the tank should be lined with pebbles, sand, soil, or tissue paper. With Indian stick insects, tissue paper is sufficient as the adult will simply drop her eggs to the floor. Tissue paper is also much easier to remove for cleaning purposes.
As stick insects are tropical species by nature, they will be used to certain temperatures. It is recommended that the temperature be maintained between 20C and 30C. You can achieve these temperatures with the help of a heat mat or heat lamp that can be purchased from a pet shop.
A water mister or sprayer is also necessary as stick insects require a humid environment. It is important to spray the tank around once or twice a week. Your stick insects will get their moisture from the plants you have placed in the tank, but you need to make sure that the environment is humid and moist as this will enable them to shed their skins more easily.
After that, all you need is a regular food source, which can be collected from your garden or a local woodland.
What to Remember When Collecting Food
While Indian stick insects are easy to keep, it is important to bear in mind that, like all other stick insects, they are vulnerable to chemicals and sprays. It is important to not give your stick insect food that has come directly from a garden centre without washing it first. Garden centres spray their plants with insecticides, and these could be deadly for your stick insects.
The same can be said of plants that are collected from the side of a busy road. Most people do not realise that the fumes from car exhausts can linger on the plants that are growing nearby, which can cause your stick insect to become ill and even die.
Do You Want to Breed Your Stick Insects?
As mentioned already, when it comes to breeding Indian stick insects, there is no need to have a male and a female. The female Indian stick insect is parthenogenic, meaning that she does not require a male to reproduce. However, any eggs she lays without being fertilised by a male will always hatch into female nymphs.
If you do want to breed your insects, it is easy with an Indian stick insect. If you were not planning on breeding though, you need to know that your stick insect will likely lay eggs regardless. It is up to you then to decide what to do with these eggs. Nevertheless, know that if you do nothing, you are almost certainly going to end up with a large number of nymphs eventually walking about your tank.
If you do not want to be overrun with stick insects in the near future, you will need to dispose of the eggs. You can choose to sell them, or else donate them, for example, to a local school if they are willing to take them off your hands. You may have friends and family members willing to take a couple. If not, you will need to find a humane way to get rid of them. The best way to do this is to collect the eggs as soon as they have been laid and then place them in the freezer. Doing this quickly kills the nymph embryo within the egg without it feeling any pain. You can then dispose of the eggs.
If breeding is something that you are interested in, you might want to take the eggs and move them to a different container once they have been laid. Eggs are usually around 2mm in size and they are dark brown in colour. The eggs look like seeds, and although most stick insects will lay a relatively small number of eggs each time, over their lifetime, this could actually add up to hundreds of eggs.
Eggs should be carefully removed from the container and placed in a sealed but ventilated container. You can expect to see nymphs after around four months. It is important that the eggs are kept moist during this time. You can do this by misting the tissue paper they are lying on every few days. It is important to allow the tissue paper to dry fully before misting again as failure to do this could result in mould growth. Ensure that the temperature is kept warm.
Once the nymphs have hatched, you can transfer them back to the container with the adults or place them in a separate container until they have grown a little. You should be aware that nymphs will require a little bit of help when it comes to eating. They find it difficult to eat leaves that have not been cut or torn so you will need to do this for them.