Indian stick insect Care
Indian Stick Insect, image by guppiecat
Indian stick insects (Carausius morosus) are the most widely kept stick insects arguably one of the most popular pet insects in captivity today. Coming under a variety of names, including common stick insect, laboratory stick insect (due to the interest of the scientific community in this species – hence raising them in labs hence the name) these stick insects make excellent pets.
Indian stick insects are very easy to keep, requiring little attention beyond changing food once or twice a week, along with a misting of water 2-3 times a week to allow them to drink. They make fantastic pets for young and old – in fact they are often recommended as first pets for children due to their ease of care. Indian stick insects were in fact my first “odd” pet and I haven’t looked back. They can teach children about ownership, responsibility and pet care; they also make great educational projects for schools and the like.
Indian stick insects are, as the name would suggest, found in India. Interestingly, almost all captive stick of Indian stick insects result from an original collection in Tamil Nadu, India. Lack of subsequent wild collection trips means that captive Indian stick insect stocks may suffer to a degree from inbreeding – however most captive individuals appear healthy.
Indian stick insect fact 1: Indian stick insects reproduce parthenogenically, this means females are able to reproduce without the need for a male. As a result of this, males are extremely rare in the wild, and even rarer in captivity. It is estimated that only one in 10,000 individuals in the wild are male. In captivity only one or two males have ever been seen.
Indian stick insects grow to be about 3-4inches (8-10cm) – they are quite fast growers and will reach maturity quickly when well fed and kept warm in captivity. As soon as they hit adulthood they will produce eggs at a great rate.
Indian stick insect housing
Indian stick insects aren’t too fussy and can be housed in a variety of enclosures. They are communal so you can keep as many as you like together providing ample space is provided. I like to keep mine in those plastic terrariums you commonly see at pet shops. Alternative options include DIY storage boxes, empty sweet jars and just about anything really.
Ventilation is quite important for Indian stick insects so this will need to be a key consideration when you choose their enclosure – this is also one of the key reasons I like the exo terra faunariums previously mentioned. Try to ensure at least one side of the enclosure is made entirely of mesh – for most this simply means replacing the lid of the enclosure with mesh of some form. Having high ventilation means the air inside their housing does not stagnate and that humidity does not build up too much when you mist them.
For the Indian stick insect substrate I like to use kitchen towel simply because it makes the eggs that they produce much easier to spot (trust me – you’ll get plenty of eggs) amongst the frass (waste, poop, etc). Alternatively however you can use coconut fibre, peat, insecticide free compost, etc. These carry the advantage of holding humidity and moisture very well.
Decor wise, Indian stick insects don’t really require much. They live upon their food which we will come to in the feeding section. So there isn’t much I can really say about the decor requirements of Indian stick insects... they don’t really have any?
No supplementary heating is required either –Indian stick insects do fine at room temperature.
Indian stick insect fact 2: Indian stick insects have been accidently introduced to the US, Australia and even parts of the UK. In the US they have become a real problem – reaching pest levels in some areas.
Feeding Indian stick insects
Indian stick insects are really easy to feed. They will feed on privet, ivy (avoid poison ivy!) or bramble. Privet is that stuff most people use in their hedges. Bramble is that prickly stuff that blackberries grow on. Everybody should be able to find a source of atleast one of those plants within a 10 minute walk of where they live – if you can’t you simply aren’t looking hard enough.
Bramble is the preferred foodstuff, image by foto footprints
Bramble can be found anywhere where things are a little overgrown and neglected – it prospers in unattended areas. Privet can be found where people have hedges. One word of caution – try to avoid collecting your food stuffs from by the side of the road, the pollution from the road can negatively affect the plant which negatively affects your stick insect. Always collect from an area just off a busy road, or better still in a bit of country side.
Simply take a few cuttings of the plant – since I use brambles which are of course covered in thorns I have developed my own method involving some long tweezers, scissors and a rather insane looking individual (myself). You will likely be a little self conscious the first time you find yourself wondering around a field armed with some scissors looking for bramble for your insects; don’t worry though as with many things it gets easier the more you do it...
A key point to make about the plants you collect for your Indian stick insects. Try to avoid fresh shoots and growths in the plant – these fresh shoots are much more tender than older shoots and as a result the plant feels the need to protect them from insects which would relish them. It does this by loading these newer, softer shoots with toxins which whilst your stick insect will carry some resistance to them – they should definitely be avoided. Instead go for older, slightly darker looking leaves (very easy to spot once you’ve studied the plant a little). Finding older shoots can be a little problematic in spring time as the plants are vigorously growing, however persevere and make sure to only use older leaves.
Always ensure you collect your plants from an area where you know pesticides are not used. It is also a good idea to give them a quick wash under the tap before using them (gardening gloves recommended if you choose to feed privet, unless you like being pricked hundreds of times of course).
Once collected, the plants should be placed in a plant/cup of water (think of it as a mini vase for your lovely bouquet of brambles/privet...) which should then be placed in the Indian stick insect enclosure. Care should be taken to ensure your stick insects cannot fall in the water. Placing the branches of food in the water ensures they last a long time – plants not kept in water will need replacing after a day. This is in contrast with plants which only need replacing weekly when placed in water. Remember to keep that water topped up too, or else you’ll quickly find your plants have withered over the course of 24hours or so.
As I mentioned in the housing section, your Indian stick insects will live upon their foodstuffs, so don’t be afraid to place a fairly large amount in there, make it look like you have yourself a little plant in their enclosure. Then you can play spot the stick insect amongst the sticks...
Moisture wise, simply give your Indian stick insects a good spray with water 2-3 times a week. They will drink the water droplets and get the rest of their water from their foodstuffs.
Indian stick insect fact 3: When “attacked” (or rather, when approached by a friendly owner who simply wants to handle them) these stick insects will feign death and instantly turn in to a stick. They will promptly drop from their branch, straightening their legs playing dead and imitating a fallen stick. This can be rather unnerving to new owners. I remember my cousin going to pick one of mine up and panicking thinking they’d killed it...
Breeding Indian stick insects
Breeding perhaps isn’t the correct term for what Indian stick insects do, reproduction would be better. Once you have adult female Indian stick insects you can expect eggs. Lots of eggs. The females will produce eggs regularly (up to a rate of 1-2 eggs per female per day is not uncommon). The eggs are fairly easy to spot initially, and very easy to spot once you get the hang of it. In the wild they are thought to mimic the seeds of certain plants; they are very distinct from the Indian stick insect poop.
They are characterized by a cap on one end – this is a cap which the baby quite literally opens when it is ready to hatch out, its like a little door in to the world for the baby Indian stick insect. These caps, or plugs to give them their more official names, are beige in colour and contrast easily with dark brown colouration of the rest of the egg.
Indian stick insects are extremely common and prolific in captivity – you may wish to destroy the eggs by crushing or freezing them. That said, everybody should raise some stick insects from the egg at least the once. If you wish to hatch them then you should carefully separate them from the adults enclosure in order to incubate them. A really easy way to do this is wet the end of a cocktail stick and simply pick the eggs up one by one – the water tension from the moisture on the cocktail stick is strong enough to allow you to pick up your Indian stick insect eggs.
Simply keep the eggs on tissue paper or damp compost/peat/coconut fibre and keep at room temperature. After about 4months they will hatch and should be kept and raised in a fashion very similar to the adults. Some keepers insist on trimming the edges of the leaves off before feeding them to baby Indian stick insects to make them more inviting and easier to eat- I have never done this and never had any problems.
Handling Indian Stick insects
Indian stick insects can be handled, however care should be taken as they are rather fragile and have a bit of a habit of “loosing legs” shall we say. Their legs don’t appear to be too well attached to their bodies and have something of a habit of falling off if you handle your stick insect too roughly (they can also loose them whilst moulting if humidity is not high enough). Don’t worry however, the insects will grow their legs back over the course of a moult or two.
Stick insect missing a leg, image by guppiecat
The best way to pick up your Indian stick insect is to gently encourage it to walk on your hand; do this by positioning the palm of your land flat in front of the stick insect and then with your other hand gently poke the back end of the stick insect. If you are lucky, your Indian stick insect will simply walk on to your hand (or rather swagger on to it – they have a fantastic way of walking where they look as if they are swaying in the wind, or trying to make their way home drunk, depending upon how you look at it). The alternative reaction is them playing dead and pretending to be a stick as I previously mentioned they do as a defence mechanism. If they do this simply pick them up very gently, place them on your hand and wake for them to miraculously recover and start wondering around your hand exploring it.
Care must always be taken when allowing children to handle Indian stick insects – you do need to be rather gentle with them as I previously mentioned.
Indian stick insects make fantastic pets for the young and old. Easy to keep at room temperature, they require very little and happily feed on a privet or bramble based diet, both of which are extraordinarily easy to find. Females reproduce parthenogenically so you will get eggs and get to enjoy the complete Indian stick insect life cycle in the comfort of your own home.
Indian Stick insect baby, image by AJC1
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