One of the most important aspects of keeping stick insects is their caging.
Get this right and you’ll find keeping your stick insects easy and effective.
However get it wrong and your stick insects can struggle to moult, which can in turn lead to mal-formed insects – or even mortality.
Sadly, there are very few “purpose-built” stick insect vivariums, but there are still a range of cages that can be used for stick insects; either by re-purposing household objects, or by using more general exotic pet cages.
General Rules for Choosing a Stick Insect Vivarium
There are a number of factors that should be taken into consideration when choosing any stick insect cage. By understanding these before we look at specific examples of suitable cages you’ll be better-placed to assess any item as a potential home for your insects.
Height – Stick insects need height if they are to moult successfully. They will attach themselves by their back legs to a twig or branch, hang down vertically, and then gently “slide” out of their old skin.
This means that any cage for your stick insects should be at least twice as tall as your stick insects are long.
Generally speaking it is safer to consider a 3x multiple, as this accounts for twigs that aren’t quite by the roof of the cage etc. In general, therefore, taller cages tend to work better than lower ones, especially for larger species of stick insect.
Warmth – While some stick insects like the Indian Stick Insect seem happy at room temperature, many of the more “exotic” species of stick insect need a warm, tropical environment.
Examples would be the Macleays Spectre (Extatasoma tiaratum) and the stunning Jungle Nymph (Heteropteryx dilatata). If you’re planning to keep one of the more temperature-sensitive stick insects it therefore pays to consider how you’ll heat it during the colder months of the year.
Remember that homes can get very chilly indeed in winter if you’re out of the house and the central heating isn’t on.
Ease of Access – You’ll need to regularly gain access to the vivarium in order to change the foot plants and clean out as necessary. Consider, therefore, how easy it will be to reach into the cage to carry out routine maintenance. In many cases a front-opening door can aid this, while a tall cage that needs to be accessed from the top can be slightly less convenient.
Hygiene – You’ll want to keep your stick insect cage clean and hygienic at all times, so it should be easy to empty out and thoroughly wash. For this reason, consider also the weight and dimensions of the cage – large glass tanks, for example, can be heavy and impractical to move regularly.
Ventilation – While many stick insects appreciate a humid environment in their cage, ventilation is still important to prevent stale air and the potential build-up of mould or fungus that this can encourage.
At the same time, going back to the subject of heating, cages with too much ventilation can be challenging to heat. Consider a cage that offers some ventilation, but without going overboard. If necessary, additional ventilation can be added to plastic cages, by drilling additional holes.
Security – Lastly, be aware that stick insects can be surprisingly adept at escaping. As many species are lightweight, and climb well, a close-fitting lid is vital.
Also, consider the size of any ventilation holes, and make sure that your stick insects cannot get out. I still remember my days of working in a pet shop, when someone bought in some baby stick insects but didn’t quite close the cage lid fully.
When I got in the following morning the ceiling was covered in the escapees, and it took some hours to return them all to their cage. This isn’t something you want to experience!
Best Vivariums for Stick Insects
While each species of stick insect will have it’s own unique requirements, there are a number of cages that tend to make better cages than others. Here are some of the more popular options used by stick insect keepers…
Exo Terra Glass Terrarium
The Exo Terra has become the cage for many, many exotic pet keepers. Suitable for anything from tarantulas and praying mantis, through to dart frogs and – yes – even stick insects.
There’s little surprise why these cages have become so popular, as they manage to combine looks with practicality. Available in a wide range of different sizes (including tall versions, ideal for larger stick insects) they offer a front-opening door for ease of access, which locks shut snugly when not in use.
They offer a mesh lid for ventilation and a sturdy all-glass design for excellent visibility. I now own dozens of these cages and they really are my “go to” for many exotics I keep.
If there is a weakness to these cages it’s that they’re not the cheapest option out there. Personally, I still think that the prices are reasonable for what you’re getting, but if you’re on a really tight budget then you might want to consider one of the other options out there.
Mesh cages have really grown in popularity in recent years. They’re great for exotics that climb (as they can use the mesh itself as a climbing surface) or for those that appreciate higher levels of ventilation.
They tend to be popular among chameleon owners, and those keeping leaf insects, butterflies and stick insects. They tend to be lighter than most of the other cages here, which makes moving them around easy.
The downside, as you might have guessed, is that these aren’t the easiest of cages to heat. The high level of air movement means that many traditional heating methods – such as heat mats or cables – simply aren’t a viable option.
With a mesh cage, therefore, you’ll likely need to invest in a heat lamp. These cost more to purchase and to run, and it’s critical that you also buy a thermostat to use with such a heater. Be sure to factor these costs into the equation when weighing up the alternatives.
In short, while mesh cages are ideal for warmer weather (or warmer homes), if your house gets chilly during the winter months then you might want to consider one of the easier-to-heat alternatives.
Faunariums are clear plastic cages with removable mesh lids. They tend to be “long and low” rather than tall, so tend to only be suitable for smaller stick insects. As they grow, you may need to find them a taller home. For youngsters, however, they can be ideal. Offering less ventilation that a mesh cage they tend to be easier to keep warm in winter, and are very cheap to buy.
If you’re only buying hatchling stick insects initially then such a cage can be a very cost-effective way to get started – just appreciate that you’ll probably need to “upgrade” to something taller as your pets grow (something they can do in a surprisingly short period of time).
Re-Purposed Fish Tank
In a similar vein, unused fish tanks can be utilized as a vivarium for stick insects. Larger cages tend to work better, as they often offer greater height.
The glass construction makes for great visibility, and tends to make heating the cage quite easy. The downsides of course are that fish tanks can be heavy to move around, and you’ll also need to be very certain that you have a secure lid.
A typical aquarium hood simply won’t be enough; you’ll either need to invest in a special tank topper (with holes that are small enough to prevent escape) or you’ll have to build your own – as I have done in the past – using pieces of perspex.
This is entirely within the limits of most people, but if you don’t like DIY or you don’t have the time available to design the topper, order the parts and then build it an aquarium may not be the best solution for your needs.
Old Sweet Jars
Old sweet jars can make surprisingly good vivariums for stick insects. They’re cheap and reasonably easy to get hold of (my local sweet shop sells them for £2 each), can be easy to heat and are good for holding the humidity.
Like all the options here, of course, there are weaknesses. The lid will need to have ventilation added, and the top-only access can be frustrating. Lastly, sweet jars only come in a modest range of sizes, which might not be large enough for the more showy species of stick insect.
At the same time, a range of similar household storage items can be used if they meet the requirements set out above. So take a visit to your local Ikea or home cookware store and peruse the options. You might be surprised by just how many potential cages you can find when you “get your eye in”.