Extatosoma tiaratum Care

Macleay's spectre stick insect care

Macleays Spectre Stick insect

Extatosoma tiaratum female, image by shunkamanitotanka

Extatosoma tiaratum, PSG9, or the Macleays spectre stick insect to give it its most commonly used common name, is a large popular stick insect from Australia. Also known as the giant prickly stick insect these are a very popular pet species due to their size, unusual appearance and ease of care.

In the wild Extatosoma tiaratum are native to Queensland and New South Wales, however it is also found as far as New Guinea due to introductions. Extatosoma tiaratum are extremely sexually dimorphic with the sexes being extremely easy to tell apart. Females are much larger and bulkier than males reaching up to 6inches long; the heavy bodied females covered in spikes which have both a defence and camouflage function. The females have very small wing buds in contrast to the males who have long wings and are quite adept at flying. The males possess very slender light bodies compared to the females, and are far less spectacular to look at.

They are characterized by the fact their bodies bend over forming a C shape which is reminiscent of a scorpion. One of the theories as to why they do this is that they are mimicking scorpions. However I feel it more likely that its just a more stable way of supporting their large mass on their comparatively small, flimsy legs.

In regards of care, Extatosoma tiaratum are fantastic pets – they can be raised with ease from hatchlings (the hatchlings of this species are adorable – more on this later) and are extremely readily available. They breed very well in captivity; the females are parthenogenic and as such will produce eggs even without males. This means that you can experience a whole lifecycle in the comfort of your own home. Extatosoma tiaratum also make great pets for children, helping teach responsibility, ownership and care of a living creature.

Extatosoma tiaratum housing

As you would imagine, Extatosoma tiaratum are stick insects and as such live in trees/shrubs, this makes height the most important feature in their enclosure, allowing them to climb and more importantly to moult. The height of the enclosure should be atleast 3x the length of the stick insect  - this will allow ample space for them to shed their skin. Extatosoma tiaratum are also highly communal so you can house as many together as you have room for (they are also quite communal with other species such as Indian stick insects providing ample food and space are provided).

Macleays Spectre Stick insect

Extatosoma tiaratum female, image by juergen.mangelsdorf

For younger Extatosoma tiaratum I tend to use empty sweet jars whereas adults are large and need to be housed in plastic faunariums or converted aquariums. Ventilation is important for Extatosoma tiaratum so make sure you maximize this; in most instances this simply means making sure the lid of the enclosure is made entirely of mesh. You may have to get creative however.

For substrate the best bet is tissue paper/kitchen roll. This makes eggs easy to collect (there will be lots of eggs once you have adults) and it is also cheap and sterile. However it is far from attractive. With that in mind, if you can tolerate spending a little more time hunting for eggs you may consider using something like coconut fibre, peat or organic pesticide free compost for your Extatosoma tiaratum. This looks more natural and holds humidity better, but will make the task of salvaging eggs trickier as previously mentioned. Personally, I am happy to spend a little more time searching for eggs in favour of a nicer looking substrate. I also always use natural substrate for my youngsters as they don’t lay eggs anyway.

Decor wise, your Extatosoma tiaratum will live on their foodstuffs so no decor is required beyond the food which we will cover in the next section.

No supplementary heating is required. During the particularly cold winter months you may consider moving them to a warmer spot on your house.

Feeding Extatosoma tiaratums

One thing you will remark about your Extatosoma tiaratum is they eat a lot. I really mean it. Make sure you have a good supply of appropriate foodstuff before acquiring a colony. The best food options are eucalyptus or bramble. Eucalyptus reflects what they would more likely eat in the wild, whilst bramble represents a more accessible foodstuff for most people. Many keepers however opt to grow Eucalyptus in their garden so they have access to it for their stick insects, so that is always an option.

Bramble

Bramble plant, image by foto footprints

I personally feed bramble to my Extatosoma tiaratum due to the fact it is easy to access. Bramble, which is the prickly plant upon which blackberries grow, prospers in unattended gardens and waste land, as well as on the fringes of parks, etc etc. Try to avoid collecting bramble from the side of the road as the pollution created by cars can have a negative impact. Similarly, always ensure you are collecting from an area where you know that pesticides are not used (this may mean contacting your local council to enquire).

When collecting bramble it is important to avoid the fresh, new, green leafy shoots. These are very easy to identify as they contrast greatly with the older growths of the plants which you should be collecting.  Make sure you wash the bramble under the tap before use

Collect a good amount of leafy branches of bramble (the more the collect the less time it takes for these hungry little monsters to devour them) and place them in the enclosure in a cup of water, much like how you’d place flowers in a vase. Care should be taken to ensure your Extatosoma tiaratum cannot fall in the water and drown.

Placing your bramble in the water keeps them fresh, doing it in this manner means you may only need to change the food as little as once a week, depending upon how many you have, how much food you provide, how stringent you are topping up the water in the mini vase, etc.

Moisture wise, simply give the stick insects a good misting with a water sprayer every other day. Having good ventilation will ensure that moisture doesn’t build up causing the air to stagnate.

Breeding Extatosoma tiaratums

As previously mentioned, the females are parthenogenic so will produce eggs with or without males. That said, males are common too so breeding in captivity is common. It is very easy to breed Extatosoma tiaratum, you simply have to have mature males and females together and ensure that conditions are right and they will breed. As I have said, even without males you will find the females produce fertile eggs.

There is an advantage to having eggs produced via mating compared to produced via parthenogenesis. Eggs produced which are fertilised via males hatch in about half of the time compared to parthenogenesis eggs. Fertilised eggs hatch in approximately3-4 months producing both males and females, whereas parthenogenic produced eggs take some 8-12months to hatch and produce only females.

Macleays Spectre Stick insect

Extatosoma tiaratum eggs, image by phrakt

The eggs mimic the seeds of plants and are in many ways quite beautiful, being a marbled brown, black and cream in colouration. They also have a small pale coloured plug on one end which marks them out very easily from the poop of your stick insects. Simply sift through the substrate for the eggs once every other week (or weekly depending upon your colony size – you can expect approximately one egg per day per female as a rough guide) and separate them off for incubation. Place them in a separate tub on tissue paper, coconut fibre or peat moss (or organic compost) which is kept moist. Keep these in a warm area in your house and wait patiently. The babies are quite adorable when they hatch, resembling rather clumsy ants which bumble about with surprising haste.

Raise the babies as you would the adults (you can even raise them together) and you should have no problems.

Handling Extatosoma tiaratums

Extatosoma tiaratum take well to handling, to handle simply place the palm of your hand in front of the insect and using your other hand gentle poke the abdomen encouraging it to walk on your hand. Always handle your Extatosoma tiaratum close to the ground as they are heavy bodied and a fall could damage them, perhaps fatally.

Macleays Spectre Stick insect handling

Young Extatosoma tiaratum on hand, image by phrakt

 

Buying Extatosoma tiaratums

Extatosoma tiaratum are readily available due to their high fecundity (reproductive rates) in captivity. You can buy both the nymphs and eggs readily from ebay and assorted reptile/insect forums. If buying eggs I would recommend buying ones produced via mating because they’ll hatch much quicker, and you’ll get both males and females in your colony.

Extatosoma tiaratum are readily available due to their high fecundity (reproductive rates) in captivity. You can buy both the nymphs and eggs readily from ebay and assorted reptile/insect forums. If buying eggs I would recommend buying ones produced via mating because they’ll hatch much quicker, and you’ll get both males and females in your colony.

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