Leaf insects come from the more tropical areas of the world, so will generally need artificial heat to thrive in captivity. This is especially so for youngsters, and in cooler months of the year, though adults may fair perfectly well in the warmer summer months without artificial heat.
Best Heaters for Leaf Insects
The easiest way to heat your leaf insects is to use a low-powered heat mat. These are essentially thin pieces of plastic, with a large black heating element within.
They have a wire coming out of one end which can be plugged in to provide a gentle warmth.
As heat mats are so slim you can place your leaf insect cage on top, which will therefore not only gently heat the cage from beneath, but will also increase the humidity; essential for younger leaf insects.
The heat that they produce is the same irrespective of the size of heat mat you buy; the main decision when purchasing a heat mat is the size of the cage that you want to heat.
When using artificial heating like heat mats it is critical to create what is known as a “thermal gradient”. In essence you want one end of the cage to be warmer than the other. In this way your leaf insects can move about the cage, and find the area that suits them best.
In terms of heating leaf insect cages, therefore, you only want half the cage to be heated, while the other half should remain cooler. If your rearing cage is therefore 30cm long and 30cm deep, a heat mat of 15cm x 30cm (or thereabouts) will be sufficient.
Alternatively, you can invest in a larger heat mat (or one of the long, thin heat strips) and then heat multiple cages with a single heater.
Note that heat mats tend to give out an even temperature, irrespective of what is happening in the environment. They do not reduce the heat given out on warm days, for example.
This can create problems in a home with central heating turning on and off throughout the day. Problems can be increased further as the seasons progress, with warmer summer days on the horizon.
The Importance of Thermostats with Heat Mats
To prevent the risk of overheating, therefore, even a low-wattage heat mat is best used with a dedicated thermostat. Thermostats designed specifically to use with reptile-safe heat mats are known in the hobby as “mat stats” are are quite competitively priced these days.
You plug your heat mat into the thermostat, they plug the thermostat itself into the electricity socket. A long wire with a sensor on comes out of the thermostat, and can be inserted into your leaf insect cage. This carefully monitors the temperature of your leaf insect cage, and reduces the temperature produced by the heat mat if it gets too high.
In this way you never need worry about trying to maintain a constant temperature in your leaf insect cage by turning heaters on and off depending on the weather. Everything becomes automatic.
Heating Adult Leaf Insects
While it is critical for young leaf insects to live in a moist environment, this is of less importance to adults. Furthermore, adults grow to a healthy size, and can get through a lot of plant material each day. This means that the caging for adult leaf insects needs to be considerably larger than for juveniles.
While many of us use glass vivariums like the Exo Terra, some keepers opt to use mesh cages. Such cages allow your leaf insects to clamber effortlessly up the sides should they fall, and many modern mesh cages are easily collapsed for storage.
In truth, once the warmer weather comes around, and my specimens have reached adult size, artificial heating is very rarely required. This is just as well, as heating a mesh cage is very difficult, simply because the warmed air is constantly escaping from the cage.
If you have any concerns about the temperature in your home when keeping adults I would encourage you to invest in a glass cage like a very tall Exo Terra, and to heat it with your heat mat / thermostat combination once again.
As you can see, heating leaf insect cages doesn’t need to be difficult or expensive. You’ll want a glass or plastic cage that effectively retains warmth, coupled with a suitably-sized heat mat and matstat.
Ensure that only half the cage is heated, and that the thermostat is set to ensure a comfortable 23-26’C at all times and you’re all set. From that point on you can simply enjoy the experience of keeping these fascinating creatures, knowing that they’re getting all the warmth they need to effectively grow and flourish.
Images c/o berniedup