Stick-insects, also known as walkingsticks or phasmids are fun and very simple insects to raise. They make great pets for kids, and are showing up in more and more classrooms and zoos. Phasmids eat a variety of leaves, but most love blackberry leaves (bramble). Some species prefer others including oak, hawthorn, and raspberry. A daily misting of the cage with a spray bottle allows phasmids to drink from small water-droplets. They seem to find this easiest. It is best to avoid spraying the insect directly, because there is the small chance that it can lead to infections. Also, nymphs can drown in a small drop of water, so be careful that your spray-bottle produces a fine mist. Aside from this, a clean cage is about all the typical phasmid requires. Some tropical species do require controlled heat and humidity though. Many of our species on this site are non-native, and it is important to remember not to release them or their eggs into the environment.
If you do not already have an aquarium (terrarium) of some sort, I recommend just a standard 10-gallon glass one. We pick them up for about 5 dollars at garage sales. Keeping the ova in this one aquarium for incubation purposes will make your daily chores a little easier though, as I will explain. As they grow, you will need to separate them into the appropriate number of aquariums. Overcrowding can result in damage to one another.
Once you have selected an aquarium, you will want to get some peat moss or vermiculite from a nursery/garden store. This is a good substrate to use, as it will encourage some humidity.
Ideally, you will want to regulate the temperature of the cage to mimic that particular stick-insects natural habitat. For the most part, room temperature (70-80F/21-29C) is recommended.
If you want to regulate the temperature of the cages, two good options are suggested. First option: provide heat from below the cage with the use of a heat pad. You will want to work out the safety concerns for yourself regarding all heating methods. We have used top heat (2nd option), with the aid of heat lamps placed directly on top of the metal screen lids, which cover our cages. It is important that your hatchlings are not able to contact the heat-source as this can fatally burn them. Make sure to put a thermometer in the cage, at least temporarily. Again, the cage should be kept between 70 and 80 degrees F (21-29 degrees C) during the day, and allowed to get only a little cooler at night, maybe 65 degrees F or about 25C.
Aside from this, all you need to do for the ova (eggs) is to keep the substrate (bottom-peat moss for example) moist, but not wet. With our current system, we spray once each morning. You will have to fine tune your own set-up as different types of screened-lids will allow greater evaporation. If your ova are having hatching problems (with Phylliums for example), you may want to invest in a hygrometer to measure the humidity. Our goal was a constant 70%. Once we learned how to balance temperature, ventilation, and misting frequency, we were able to discard the hygrometer.
I think the best incubation method is to put the ova on a bed of peat moss, within a small pint-sized or smaller, plastic container with small holes in it (like an alfalfa sprouts container or deli-type container). This helps regulate the humidity even more, but always be careful that the ova do not get too dry or to wet as they will dry out or worse yet, mold! It is best to check them every day if you are going to use this preferred method.
Now comes the hardest part...waiting. Some of my E. tiaratum ova have hatched in 7 months, while other people have reported having to wait a year (8 mos. seems to be the average for this species). Little is known for sure in this hobby, and small differences in temp/humidity could potentially have big affects on the hatching rates, although it may have more to do genetics. Phasmids have many natural predators. So, they lay many eggs. Not all them hatch, and not all of them will hatch perfectly. If they are having trouble getting out of the egg, or it gets stuck to their leg(s), then chances are the cage is being kept too dry on a regular basis. Sometimes a pair of tweezers, or even a pin can be used to carefully help them out of the egg.
When they do hatch, or you think they are about to, you will want to begin placing their food plant(s) in the cage to be ready for them. It is not uncommon for them to eat little if nothing in the first several days. You can help them get a start, by cutting the edges of the food plant (see my Photos page for specific info.). This will help them to get at the juices, and also allows a good start for their small mouths. It is especially important to give them fresh leaves (even daily) in this stage, as they will have difficulty chewing through dried leaves. Mist daily, but do not spray them directly. The container and leaves are acceptable. You must be careful that the droplets are not too big, or a young phasmid could drown. Remember, phasmids breathe through spiracles; small holes lining either side of the abdomen. So try to prevent them from having any access to a deep water source (note: some species such as Eurycantha calcarata will drink from a small lid, on occasion). A screened or covered bowl of water may be used within the cage to keep the plants fresh, and also helps to maintain the humidity. Just cut a small hole in the lid to place the plants through.
As they grow they will molt (shed their skin). They will usually stop eating a day or 2 before this, and sometimes even lay on the bottom of the cage, looking sick or as if they are dying. Do not attempt to move them. There are delicate processes going on below their old skin. What comes out of the old, is often 2X as large, and sometimes unrecognizable. Again, let them rest and dry their new skin for a few days before handling them again. It is OK to handle most species, except during these times (refer to the notes section of my Photos pages for dangerous species). The female E.t.'s can be prickly (hence the nickname-Giant Prickly), but not really dangerous, just intimidating. We had one female also that was particularly moody.
Maturity is marked by the appearance of wings in some species (but usually just in the males). Wing buds may appear in the last few instars (between molts). No assistance is necessary to promote mating. Some speciesSipyloidea sipylus and B. extradentatum for example, can reproduce parthenogenetically (w/o mating). Hatchlings from this process will all be female. And it should be noted that ova produced sexually hatch in greater percentages than ova produced parthenogenetically.
Whatever you do, please do not release any into the wild. These are potential plant pests, and might cause a disaster if care is not taken. Every time someone new gets them, there is an increased risk of endangering the hobby for everyone else. Fortunately, no disaster has yet occurred. Extra ova can be disposed of in many ways including burning, microwaving, freezing (in most species), squishing (possibly disturbing, but very effective), etc.
Remember, part of the excitement of this hobby is that so little is known. Anyone can make a discovery and contribute to the hobby, even science.
(page written in 1998/99). Bugs In Cyberspace does not currently raise exotic phasmids for hobby or resale. We maintain some contacts for zoos or other permit-carrying institutions.