This page focus on the general care of phasmids — stick insects and leaf insects. Keeping phasmids as pets is great fun, and fascinating to do. Every phasmid species need proper care. Some species are easier to keep and take care of, while other species pose much more of a challenge.
On this page, we will discuss the general care on housing, ambient environment, feeding, cleaning and handling of your phasmid.
You will need to house your phasmid in a contained space. There are different ways to accommodate phasmids. Although you can let them walk freely, it would absolutely be better to have them in an enclosure. They are small — compared to a cat or dog — and are fragile. If you let them walk free, they will get lost or get hurt.
Your phasmid needs an enclosure. You can house phasmids in a terrarium, aquarium or net cage, or use a custom build enclosure.
- Terrarium: A terrarium is a glass or plastic enclosure meant to house exotic pets. Although they are often sold for reptiles, you can house phasmids in it very well.
- Aquarium: A aquarium is always a glass enclosure. You have open-top aquariums and aquariums with a lid. You will always need a cover to keep the phasmids in the enclosure. Aquariums can work very well; however, they do lack of ventilation. If you want to use an aquarium, it would be best to build your own lid of fine metal mesh to provide enough ventilation.
- Net cage: Net cages are convenient cages to house stick insects and leaf insects. They are lightweight and are relatively cheap for their size. They also provide enough ventilation. Net cages are not suitable for substrate and esthetic enclosure design but are perfect to breed many species. I must say that the visibility of your phasmids is better within an aquarium or terrarium.
- DIY enclosure and custom build: If you are quite handy, you can build your own enclosure. You can peak at commercial enclosures and build one yourself that fit your phasmids need. You can make it as small or as large as you want. There are companies that make a custom build enclosure that fit your needs. Often they sell themselves as aquarium builders, but the principles are actually quite the same.
Enclosures that I can recommend for keeping phasmids if you don’t want to build or adjust the enclosure yourself.
GOOD PRACTICE TIP: It would be best if the roof or lid is made from fine netting or mesh. Here phasmids can hang when moulting and have enough space to get out of their old skin. From experience, I see that phasmids prefer moulting when hanging on the roof instead of hanging on branches or foliage that you give them to eat.
The size of the enclosure depends on the phasmid species you want to keep. Larger species will logically need a larger enclosure, while small species can do with small enclosures. The rule of thumb is that at least the enclosure’s height is three times the body length and the enclosure’s width and depth is at least two times the body length.
The height is crucial to make sure the phasmid can moult. During moulting, a phasmid will hang upside down on their old skin to get out, so they need that vertical space.
If you want to house multiple individual phasmids, of course, you’ll need a larger enclosure too. More space could be found by providing height, but also needs to be found in the width of the enclosure.
Enclosure furniture and substrate
The enclosure does not need a lot of furniture. You can give them some dry branches to sit or hang on. They often use the foliage and plants that you feed to hang and sit on.
Also, a substrate is not particularly needed for phasmids. They rarely come to the ground. However, I can recommend you to use a substrate or floor cover. First, it helps you regulate the humidity because the substrate will absorb moisture and slowly rerelease it. Second, it makes it softer when phasmids fall of the branches and eggs that are released by females. And final, with some floor cover it makes it easier to clean. For example, when using paper tissue or dishcloth.
GOOD PRACTICE TIP: Some species such as Eurycantha and Heteropteryx will need substrate to bury their eggs. Other species do like to hide on the ground, so in that case, you’ll need to provide shelter (such as moss, paper rolls, etc.).
Substrates that are suitable for phasmids are sand, cocos-humus, coco-peat, paper tissue, dishcloth, vermiculite, pebbles, or potting earth. Make sure when you use potting earth and similar products from garden centres that the products are free of fertilizer and pesticides.
You can find more information in our basics guide at ‘Enclosure and housing‘.
Phasmids should be kept indoors. Phasmids can’t handle cold temperatures and need to be housed at livingroom temperatures or (slightly) above. Which temperature is required depends on the species. Every phasmid needs a specific temperature range and humidity range to keep healthy. You’ll need to find the specifics for your species.
GOOD PRACTICE TIP: Never leave a cage or enclosure in direct sunlight. When you do, your phasmids will likely to get too hot, risking that they will overheat. Cover them up or cover the window, or place the enclosure in a darker spot in the room.
You can additionally heat enclosures by using a light bulb (up to 50W would be sufficient, depending on the species). Best would be to keep the heating source outside the enclosure so that the animals won’t get burned. Be careful with net cages that the heating source is not too close to the cage; otherwise, it can melt.
Humidity can be kept at a proper level by misting water frequently. How often you’ll need to spray depends on the required humidity level, if you have a substrate and the type of enclosure you keep your phasmids.
You can find out more information about creating a proper ambient environment on the page ‘temperature and heating‘ and ‘humidity and drinking‘.
All phasmids are herbivores, which mean they only eat plant materials. To be more specific, they eat the leaves of plants. The challenge is that phasmids don’t eat all types of plants or that it depends on the season. You’ll have to make sure you feed, and are also able to provide, the correct type of leaves. If you feed them the wrong plants, they will eventually starve to death. Always observe if your phasmid is eating the leaves you provide — you can bite marks on the leaves when they do.
Phasmids need food available at all times. Do not leave them without fresh leaves.
Phasmids need fresh leaves. They don’t eat otherwise. However, when you cut of stems with leaves, especially when your enclosure is also warm, they will dry out pretty quickly. To ensure they stay fresh, you’ll need to put them in a vase filled with water. When you do so, just like flower bouquets, the leaves will stay fresh for a couple of days.
GOOD PRACTICE TIP: When using a vase or cup to keep your leaves fresh, make sure it is stable and can’t fall over. You can make it more stable by filling the bottom with sand or stones. Do you have small nymphs? Make sure they don’t drown in this water by putting tissue paper between the branches and block the access to the water.
Just like you’ll need to clean the litterbox of your cat, you also need to clean the environment of your phasmids regularly. Phasmid produces rather a lot of faeces. And when not cleaned while laying in a humid environment, will quickly become mouldy and will start to grow bacteria.
You should daily, or every other day, clean excessive faeces and remove old leaves. If you use a vase to water the foliage, refresh that water as well (not only refill it).
If you use a substrate other than paper towels and dishcloths — like vermiculite or sand — sieve it at least three times a week to remove all dirt, faeces and uneaten leaf pieces.
When you do a more intensive cleaning, like glass cleaning, only use water for this purpose. Phasmids are fragile and can’t handle chemicals you often find in soap and sanitizer. It would be best if you move your animal to a temporary enclosure while cleaning their primary enclosure. Moving them is also easy when refreshing and refill new substrate, however, because they live up high, can also be done with the animals in the enclosure (depending on how high/large your enclosure is).
The first thing to be told: Many phasmids don’t really like to be handled. So when you try to grab them, they grasp and hold themselves to branches or netting. When they do, don’t pull! A phasmid can quickly lose a leg this way. And even when they can perfectly live without that one leg, it is a bit of a sin. Also, never grab a phasmid by its leg for the same reason.
Better would be to let the animal walk on your hand by themselves or, specifically with smaller species or nymphs, use a paintbrush or wooden skewer to get them.
An animal may fall off from its perch whilst moulting. However, a phasmid needs to hang to complete their moulting process. When this happens, you can save the animal by hanging it upside down with the loose old skin to a branch. Never help a phasmid by pulling off the old skin. Pulling off old skin will do more harm than good!
Always take care to wash your hands (without soap) before handling. Also, wash your hands afterwards (this time you may use soap or sanitizer).
ATTENTION: Some phasmid species have defence mechanisms in which they spray fluid that can harm the eyes or skin. Other species have large spikes on their legs and can pinch you painfully when handling.
Species-specific care sheets
Every phasmid species needs specific care to let them thrive, and for you to enjoy your phasmid. Have a look at the section on the species-specific care sheets to find how you best can keep and care your phasmid.
Do you want to breed with your stick insect or leaf insect? I can recommend you to read the page about ‘breeding with your phasmid‘.
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