Jungle Nymph Stick Insect: A Practical Care Guide

The jungle nymph Heteropteryx dilatata is probably one of the most beautiful stick insect species you can keep as pets. Living in the tropical forest of South-East Asia, it is also called Malaysian wood nymphs (which is a strange name for such a large stick insect). Although it is quite big they are rather easy to keep. However, there are many things you should know and when being prepared is the biggest advantage in keeping these amazing animals. In this comprehensive care guide, we will look at every aspect of keeping jungle nymphs.

To keep jungle nymphs you should have a proper-sized terrarium, glass tank or re-purposed fish tank and create a warm and humid tropical environment. They can be fed mainly bramble and with small cleaning tasks, they are very easy to care for. If you keep both a male and female, you can expect to have eggs and tiny nymphs with a little patience.

This guide is packed with practical information and good practice tips to give you the best start. So without further waiting, let’s dive in.

About the jungle nymph stick insect

Jungle Nymph /
Jungle Nymph Stick Insect /
Malaysian Wood Nymph
Heteropteryx dilatata (PSG 18)
Up to 2 years
Females: 14-17cm (5.5″-6.7″),
Males: 9-13cm (3.5″-5.1″)
Females up to 65g

Appearance and camouflage

This stick insect species is clearly sexual dimorphic, meaning that males and females look different in appearance. The males even look like they are a different species. This species does not have the typical stick insect shape of a thin and long body shape. Jungle nymphs are one of the heaviest and bulkiest stick insect species in the world. They can weigh up to 65 grams (females), but only get a body length of 17 cm (6.7″) maximum. Males are much smaller around 9 to 13 cm (3.5″-5.1″).

The females are beautiful lime green when reaching adulthood. Males are brown with light-brown patches over its body. Both genders have wings, although the females have much smaller underdeveloped wings. The males have fully developed wings and are able to fly rather well. Both have their bodies covered with little spikes, which are larger on the legs. On the female, they turn brown-reddish when reaching adulthood. The largest spikes are on the hind legs.

Until nymphal stage 4/5, they are almost the same in colour, both brown with lighter patches. It is only from then you can clearly see the females become lighter and eventually turn green.

Because of their size, shape and female’s colour, they are considered as one of the most beautiful stick insect species among stick insect keepers.

Behaviour, temperament and handling

As with almost all stick insects, they are most active during the night. With daylight they sit quietly on a branch or leaf, sometimes nibbling on it. This stick insect species can get up to 2 years (females) and makes it one of the longest living stick insects.

They are normally quite docile and can be handled with care. Be aware of the large spikes on its body that can actually puncture you. Because of its size, weight, and its large spikes, this species is less suitable for little children. Not only that, when the females feel threatened they will raise their abdomen and hind legs. She will make a loud rustling noise to scare predators off, which is called defensive stridulation. When you come too close she will snap with her hand legs piercing the spines into the ‘attacker’. Make sure that isn’t you.

If you want or need to handle them, do it with patience, be slow and gentle. Try to let them walk slowly on your hand instead of grabbing them. By the time they are on your hand they are calm and walk slowly around.

Males can fly pretty well and when feeling threatened they will start to stridulate with their wings. They also may try to fly away. Other than that they don’t have much defence and will mainly trust their camouflage.

Housing of jungle nymph stick insects

Because jungle nymph stick insects are real giants they also need a properly sized enclosure. Important to remember is that stick insects moult several times during their lives, and the enclosure should be big enough for them to moult comfortably. If the enclosure is too small they can’t have good moults, get stuck into their old skin or may get misformed. Other than that, there are more features to look at. But let’s start with types of enclosures and their recommended size.

Cage type

There are different types you can use to keep jungle nymphs, but the most popular is a terrarium or glass enclosure.

Terrariums have a large benefit in that they are secure, have good ventilation capacity, keep the heat inside and have good access through the front and top (with most models) to feed the animals and clean & maintain the enclosure. There are different brands which are suitable for them, but I particularly like ‘Exo Terra’ and ‘Repti Zoo’ terrariums. They have very good quality terrariums in all different sizes.

You can also use re-purposed fish tanks to house jungle nymphs. They work quite well and they can be cheaper than reptile terrariums, but you’ll need to make some adjustments to make them suitable. They often lack ventilation so you’ll need to adjust the lid to increase ventilation capacity. One major downside is that you can only access the fish tank from the top. Generally, stick insects like jungle nymphs like to hang on the top of the enclosure so it can be more difficult to feed and clean. If you have the option I recommend you to search for something with top and front access.

For a lot of stick insect species, they also recommend netting cages or screen cages. When you have a stable ambient environment (more on that later) it is possible to house them in this type of enclosure. However, it is more difficult to heat them, keep a correct humidity level and the netting sides can be damaged more quickly. So for jungle nymphs, I would not recommend netting or screen type enclosures.

If you are not afraid to roll up your sleeves and you have enough handyman skills, you can choose to build your own stick insect enclosure out of plexiglass or glass panels. You can customize the enclosure as you seem fit and completely adjusted to the species.

Remember that ventilation and fresh air is key to the health of your jungle nymphs. Without enough ventilation the air becomes stagnant, and bacteria and mould start to grow quickly, damaging you lovely animals.

Cage size

Big stick insects need big enclosures. And they need more height than floor space. The golden rule (for every stick insect and leaf insect in that matter) is that, for a single or couple of animals, the height needs to be three times the adult body length and the floorspace two times the adult body length.

In the case of jungle nymphs, where females will grow to around 15cm in body length, you’ll need a cage that is 45cm high and 30cm x 30cm as floorspace. However, this is calculated for a maximum of two animals, and when you want 3 or more you should go for a bigger enclosure. An enclosure with a floor space of 45cm x 45cm and a height of 60cm is a good starting point for 6 adults. Bigger is even better, especially if you like to have more animals in the future.

Don’t scrimp on the size of the enclosure. Stick insects need a certain space and they will be happier and healthier if they have more space than the minimum. Giant stick insects just need large cages.

Cage substrate & decor

Normally, it is not explicitly necessary to place a substrate in a stick insect enclosure (although it may have benefits to do so). However, as we discuss later, these stick insects disposit their eggs in a substrate medium, so you should provide some sort of substrate for them.

There are two ways you can go with this. The first is to just place a layer of around 5 cm of a substrate in the enclosure. The second option is to place only a plastic bin with a layer of the substrate. Both work perfectly fine and both options have their benefits.

As a substrate, you can use coconut fibre, topsoil or regular soil, as long as the products are organic and don’t have any added chemicals. These chemicals can be damaging for your insects or your eggs. The safest option is to go for coconut fibre. It is widely available in (online) pet shops and is a clean and good product.

Jungle nymphs need the possibility to climb to the top of the enclosure. One way is that you feed long stems with leaves in the enclosure (more on that later). But you can also add some branches in the enclosure for them to climb and sit on. Try to place branches that bend horizontally at the end. These branches can be used for them to moult. Don’t place too many branches, otherwise, it will be more difficult to feed your animals or clean the enclosure.

Some keepers like to place a cork background so they can use it to climb on and for esthetic reasons. I favour this option too, especially in larger enclosures. Sometimes the enclosure has a plastic background included that can be used for this purpose, but I prefer a cork background so it looks more natural.

Cage location

You should think about where you want to place your enclosure. There are some things you should consider about the location. The first one is that you don’t place the enclosure in direct sunlight. We will discuss it more later on, but direct sunlight can raise the temperature in the enclosure to levels that are lethal for your animals.

Stick insects like peace and calmness. Any vibration is a source of stress. Although sporadic stress and anxiety is not a problem, when you place the enclosure next to a music source or your television, can be quite detrimental for your animals. They experience vibrations much more and will be stressed a lot.

Also, think about if your enclosure is in reach of any children or pets. If they open the enclosure, or even worse, knock it over would be a shame. You don’t even want to think about it, so think about the location of your enclosure now to prevent such problems in the future.

Environmental condition

Jungle nymphs original live in the tropical jungles of South-East Asia. These stick insects enjoy a warm and humid environment, not something that we typically have in our living room. So we need to artificially adjust the environment of the enclosure to keep the jungle nymphs happy and healthy.

Humidity and spraying

Jungle nymphs need a moist environment and high air humidity. Try to keep the air humidity around 70%. This means you need to spray the enclosure frequently or install a misting machine. Mist spraying a little water in the enclosure daily should be sufficient.

Don’t spray with cold water, but let the water warm up to room temperature. If you have low water quality from your tap, use water from bottles or use osmosis water (you can get osmosis water from a reversed osmosis machine or buy it from an aquarium shop). Osmosis water works best because it lacks calcium and prevents calcium stains on the glass windows.

Jungle nymphs regularly drink from the water droplets on the leaves and walls of the enclosure. That’s why water quality, among other reasons, is very important.

With netting cages, you may have difficulties keeping the humidity high when the ambient humidity is quite low. At the same time, when spraying the enclosure, the water will go right through it, making it a mess and be less effective to raise the humidity. So netting cages are not recommended. You could work around this challenge by covering 2 or three sides of the enclosures with plastic sheets.

Temperature and heating

These species should best be kept at the optimal temperature range between 25°C and 28°C (77°F-83°F), at least during the day. They can perfectly survive with short periods of temperatures between 20°C and 30°C (68°F-86°C). At night they can be kept at lower temperatures, but it is best to keep them above 18°C (64°F).

Normally it will not be that warm in the room you house your jungle nymphs and additional heating is necessary. There are different heating options and you can heat the enclosure in generally two ways: light bulbs and heat pads.

The first option is to use a regular light bulb and hang it above and outside the enclosure. Never add heating inside the enclosure to prevent the risk of burns of your stick insects. At the same time, when food plants touch the light bulb wither quickly or can even smoke and burn. The use of light bulbs has three main benefits:

  1. You can adjust the heating capacity by changing the wattage of the bulb, but also by adjusting the height and distance between the bulb and the enclosure
  2. In the meantime it also artificially regulate a normal light cycle for your enclosure (more on that in the next chapter).
  3. It stimulates a natural radiant of heat where it is warmer on top than on the bottom, which stimulates natural behaviour.

The other (and in my opinion less optimal) option is to use a heating pad. These are typically made to place below the enclosure, but I would not recommend that. It would be better to place it onto the backside of the enclosure for better heating. Because of the use of a substrate and the place where eggs are buried, it is less optimal to heat it from the bottom up. It also doesn’t create an artificial light cycle which is beneficial for stick insects and is more difficult to regulate.

However, I can recommend a heating pad as a backup heating system or minimum heating system for the nights, where it keeps the temperature at a minimum of around 18°C (64°F). This is especially useful when you keep them in rooms that have low(er) temperatures at night.

Light cycle

Light cycle and day/night cycle is important for stick insects, reproduction and egg development. It is often underestimated what the effect of light is on natural behaviour and biological rhythms. Therefore I recommend that you create an artificial light cycle of around 12 hours light and 12 hours dark. “Daylight” is just as important as darkness.

You can easily create a light cycle with the use of your heating light bulb. If you have already a warm ambient temperature, it is better to use LED light because it doesn’t produce as much heat.

It is good to have some natural daylight in the room, but never place the enclosure in direct sunlight. Direct sunlight will heat up the enclosure quickly to temperatures that are detrimental or even lethal to your animals.

Feeding practice

Jungle nymph stick insects are quite easy when it comes to feeding. One of the plants they particularly like is bramble. Other plants that are well accepted are raspberry, blackberry, rose, oak and ivy. Try to vary the plants you feed to your animals between these. You can try other plants as well, but these are almost guaranteed to be eaten. Don’t worry too much about feeding plants that possibly contain poison. Stick insects are very well capable of deciding if a plant is worth eating and I’ve never experienced that a certain plant is eaten and killed my stick insects. If a certain plant is not eaten, just try some other plant.

Food plants can be collected from outside at your local park or community forest. When you do, be careful where you cut the plants. Avoid areas close to agriculture because of the risk of pesticide or other chemical residues on the plants. They can quickly kill your animals.

Cut stems with leaves with the length of your enclosure. The amount you should collect depends on the number of stick insects in your enclosure. However, when you place the stems in water they will stay fresh for 4 to 8 days. So don’t worry if you have cut too much for one day. In fact, it can be quite easy to feed them for multiple days. If you cut enough you only have to feed them once or twice a week.

You can use a vase or pot and fill it with water to keep your food plants fresh for a couple of days. Choose one with a small opening and a large base. Because jungle nymphs are among the heaviest stick insects, you should weigh down the vase or pot with aquarium sand or pebbles, so when your stick insects climb into the food plant, they won’t fall over.

GOOD PRACTICE TIP: It is good practice to spray the leaves before placing the plant in the enclosure. First, the leaves stay fresh longer. Secondly, it provides drinking water for your animals and it keeps the humidity at a higher level (see the previous section). You don’t have to provide a drinking bowl for them. It only increases the chance for smaller stick insect nymphs to drown and they don’t drink from water bowls anyway.

Cleaning routine

One of the reasons why stick insects are such perfect pets is that you don’t have to clean that much. I don’t like cleaning, and I can imagine you don’t like it either.

Well, it is the same with jungle nymphs. The cleaning routine is rather easy. A cleaning schedule for this species can look like the one below.

  • Daily — remove dried/dead leaves on the floor and remove old skins (or when you find a dead animal remove it as soon as possible).
  • Once or twice a week — remove dirty spots in the substrate and refresh foods. Clean the water container for your food plants and fill it with fresh water.
  • Once a month — collect the eggs if you like to breed (more on this subject in the next section). Clean the windows to you have good visibility on your animals.
  • Once every 3-6 months — refresh the entire substrate of the enclosure.

When you find a dead animal, which is always unfortunate but inevitable at some point, inspect the animal if you see any abnormalities, especially when it is not a complete adult. Check if you see any damage, strange spots or colouration, or mould growth. Don’t let dead animals in the enclosure for too long. It is a source of quick bacteria and mould growth and can be a cause for other animals to get ill.

Breeding jungle nymph stick insects

In this section, we will discuss the reproduction and breeding of jungle nymph stick insects. If you like to breed with your animals, here we will tell you all you need to know. If this is the first stick insect you are breeding with (or want to know more about the basics), I recommend you to read the article about the basics of breeding stick insects.

The life cycle of jungle nymphs

The life cycle of jungle nymphs exists out of three stages: the egg, nymphal stage and adulthood.

It starts with the egg. Females bury the eggs in a substrate with their ovipositor. Eggs are around 8 mm long and 5 mm in width. Although it is a large stick insect, some publications claim wrongly that they have the largest eggs (that credit must be given to a much smaller species called Asceles malaccae).

Eggs are laid individually in the ground in little holes. It takes a long time before they hatch. Hatching time is around 7 up to 14 months.

Nymphs go through several nymphal stages called L1 to L7 (and to L6 for males). Males will only moult 5 times and females 6 times. It takes about a year for a nymph before it reaches adulthood.

Adults then live for another 6 to 12 months, depending on the gender. Females tend to live much longer than males. This species can only reproduce sexually, and after mating the female is ready to lay the eggs again, which completes their life cycle.

Breeding environment and stimulation

Breeding is quite easy with this species, although you need to have a lot of patience before the eggs hatch and nymphs reach adulthood. Because they only breed sexually, you need to have a male and female and both need to have reached the last stage of adulthood. But when they do, they will mate when the time comes.

However, females won’t release any eggs if there is not a suitable place to lay them. For this species, always provide a substrate. You can cover the whole enclosure with a substrate or fill a plastic container with the substrate. I prefer to use coconut fibre as a substrate. It is a very clean product and it absorbs moisture very well. It is also very easy to see how wet it is.

Keep the substrate damp but be careful not to make it too wet. If it is too wet the embryos won’t survive and the substrate or eggs can quickly start to mould. Sometimes only the top layer is dry, but it still contains enough moist in the substrate. If you have substrate in a plastic bin, drill some little holes in the bottom so excess water can run out.

When you keep the animals in good conditions, breeding should not be a problem. Let the waiting game begin.

Egg care

You can leave the eggs in the enclosure where the adults live, or you can move them to a special incubation enclosure. The benefit of an incubation enclosure is that you can regulate and monitor the temperature and humidity without the influence of the enclosure where your adults live. Besides that, you can keep the eggs in batches so you know when each clutch is laid.

This is especially easy when you use a plastic bin with a substrate. You can remove it from the enclosure and place it in a separate container, and placing a new bin filled with a substrate with your adults.

The optimal temperature for the eggs is between 25°C and 28°C (77°F-83°F). The development of the eggs will be the quickest with this temperature. Now you have to wait for a long time, keeping the substrate damp and the temperature stable.

Nymph care

There is no special care needed for your nymphs, but it is good practice to house them separate from their parents at least until they reach nymphal stage L3. In the beginning, nymphs are fragile and need all the room and peace to start eating.

Nymphs do well on bramble, raspberry and blackberry leaves. To make it easier for them to start eating, cut the edge of the leaves. The hard edges of leaves are sometimes a problem for young nymphs to get through.

When placing food plants in the enclosure, let the leaves touch the ceiling. Nymphs tend to climb up to the highest point. If there are no leaves for them to reach, they may not eat and starve. That would be a shame, so provide plenty of fresh leaves regularly. When you remove the old leaves, inspect them thoroughly if no nymphs are lifting with them.

Place stems in a container with water, but make sure the opening is very small or covered with a plastic sheet or filled with paper towels/cottonwool, so nymphs don’t fall in the water and drown.

Because nymphs are fragile and tiny, use a brush to carefully coax them from the old leaves onto new ones or your finger. Try to minimize the disturbance for your newly hatched nymphs. Place the incubation or raising enclosure on a place where there is almost no disturbance at all.

Start keeping jungly nymp stick insects

If you reach the end you know the most important information to properly keep jungle nymph stick insects, how to feed them, how to keep them healthy and happy, and how to breed with them. These species are beautiful and amazing to keep, and you’d probably don’t get enough of observing their behaviour.

I hope this guide has helped you to become a better insect keeper. Check out our other articles on this website. If you have any questions left, please ask them by filling the contact form.

Much more to learn!

There is much more to learn about stick insects. For example, do stick insects need a substrate? You can find more articles about stick insects with plenty of practical tips to better understand and enjoy the keeping of stick insects as a pet. And also check out our other stick insect care guides.

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