Leaf Insects – Keeping Exotic Pets http://www.keepingexoticpets.com Tue, 26 Dec 2017 10:39:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.8 How to Breed Leaf Insects http://www.keepingexoticpets.com/breed-leaf-insects/ http://www.keepingexoticpets.com/breed-leaf-insects/#respond Mon, 01 May 2017 14:04:56 +0000 http://www.keepingexoticpets.com/?p=1500 Leaf insects can be surprisingly expensive pets to buy due to their ongoing rarity in the hobby. They’re also quite short-lived, rarely living for more than a year between hatching and death. This means that breeding leaf insects should be considered a vital part of keeping these stunning insects. Done properly, you will soon be […]

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Leaf insects can be surprisingly expensive pets to buy due to their ongoing rarity in the hobby. They’re also quite short-lived, rarely living for more than a year between hatching and death.

This means that breeding leaf insects should be considered a vital part of keeping these stunning insects. Done properly, you will soon be able to expand your collection, ensuring that your colony never dies out, and helping other hobbyists to enter the wonderful world of leaf insect care.

phyllium photo

Sexing Leaf Insects

Leaf insects are relatively easy to sex, as the males and females have entirely different body shapes from an early age. As adults these differences are even more obvious. Females are broad and considerably larger than the more delicate-looking males. The adult males, in contrast, are narrow and have long, fragile-looking wings.

Identifying adult pairs is therefore very easy itself; you’re just looking for fully-winged individuals, some of whom are broad (females) and some of whom are narrow (males).

One potential problem when breeding leaf insects is that males tend to mature faster than females. As they are smaller at adulthood, they also need fewer moults to achieve adult size. As they may only live for a few months after reaching maturity, it is not unheard of for the males of a colony to due of old age before the females actually mature.

If you plan to breed leaf insects it therefore makes sense to either (a) start with purchasing mature specimens of both sexes from a breeder, or (b) to start with a large number of eggs/youngsters. In this way you maximize your odds of having at least one adult of each sex maturing at the same time.

Rest assured, a single mated female can produce an astonishing numbers of eggs and guarantee the survival of your colony into the future.

phyllium photo

The Breeding Cage

Breeding leaf insects is reasonably simple, as rarely do they need any encouragement. Simply having a number of adult pairs in a single cage will normally be enough to start the breeding process.

Leaf insects are not aggressive or possessive towards one another so a large cage can house dozens of adults. Typically you will start to observe matings soon enough, as the males climb on top of the females, and gently wrap their abdomen around to connect with the female’s.

Soon afterwards, eggs should start to be deposited.

While the process of getting your leaf insects to mate is unlikely to be problematic, collecting the eggs can become so. Eggs left in the cage rarely hatch as well as those that have been carefully collected and incubated properly.

As a result the following system starts to work well. It starts with a large mesh cage, which minimizes any problems with mould or bacteria. Cuttings of the chosen food plant (typically bramble) are placed densely into a old jam jar filled with water. This jar is then placed into the cage, and the leaf insects individually released onto the foliage.

In time the adult females will simply start to drop fertilized eggs out of their abdomens, which fall to the floor.

On a weekly basis the jam jar is removed, the water removed and the jar scrubbed. Fresh foodplants and water are added to it. The base of the mesh cage will then consist of just three things. Firstly, you’ll find tiny dry dots – the faeces of your leaf insects. Secondly you’ll find the eggs that your females have laid. And typically there’ll also be a few corners of leaves that have fallen off the food plants.

The eggs are easily picked out, therefore, as they’re so different to anything else in the cage. This is in contrast to some keepers who use a thick layer of substrate, where locating and identifying the eggs is not always easy.

The eggs are removed to be incubated, the remaining litter is disposed of and the cage is set up once again.

This process, carried out every week or so, as the food plants start to wilt, is all that is necessary of you to successfully breed these wonderfully cryptic insects.

phyllium photo

Incubating Eggs

In a good-sized colony you will be literally over-run with eggs. Some of my colonies have produced literally thousands of eggs in a single season, so be prepared for the forthcoming hatching!

The incubation process typically takes some three months or more, however. Generally speaking I find that the adults have mostly died of old age before their youngsters begin to hatch.

This brief period between the end of one colon and the start of another can be a good time to thoroughly clean your equipment, replace anything that is a little worn and to prepare for the excitement of new life in your collection.

Incubating the eggs involves three core principles:

  • Keep the eggs warm (ideally 25’C works well)
  • Keep the eggs humid (this helps with hatching)
  • Prevent the eggs getting mouldy

Over the years I have tried a range of solutions and what follows is what I have found to be the simplest yet most effective solution.

It starts with scattering the eggs into a plastic tray of some form. An old cricket tub with the lid removed, for example. To reduce the build-up of mould the eggs shouldn’t be packed too tightly. Ideally a little air should be able to move between them.

This tray is then placed into a larger, sealed container such as an old fishtank with a lid. The floor of the fish tank is lined with kitchen towel, which is subsequently moistened with water. The cage is then placed onto a heat mat to warm it to the required temperature.

Ongoing maintenance involves removing the seed trays each week, replacing the paper towel from the fish tank, and adding more water. This will keep things hygienic, and ensure that your eggs have enough moisture in the air at all times.

Over time, as the eggs absorb moisture they will change in appearance. Starting off like smooth seeds, they will start to develop fringes and flanges. This is normal – and should be considered a good thing.

As many colonies will produce hundreds, if not thousands of eggs, it can also be a good idea to segregate the eggs being incubated into time periods. This way you will know when a specific tray in likely to hatch in relation to the others. As eggs may be incubated for three months or more before hatching it helps to know which eggs to focus your attention on.

You’ll want to keep an eye on the incubator regularly, just to see if any of the tiny brown ant-like babies have hatched. Despite having kept leaf insects for years I still get a thrill every year as the latest batch of babies starts to emerge – the wonder of nature happening right in your home.

When the youngsters hatch your mission has been completed and the colony can start life all over again.

Images c/o berniedup & zleng

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What Do Leaf Insects Eat? http://www.keepingexoticpets.com/leaf-insects-eat/ http://www.keepingexoticpets.com/leaf-insects-eat/#respond Mon, 03 Apr 2017 14:01:42 +0000 http://www.keepingexoticpets.com/?p=1504 Leaf insects are herbivores, which means that they eat plant material. What’s more, the fresher this plant material is, the better. A dried, shrivelled up leaf is unlikely to be anywhere near as interesting as a juicy new leaf to your pets. While leaf insects eat a range of different plants in the wild, these […]

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phyllium photoLeaf insects are herbivores, which means that they eat plant material.

What’s more, the fresher this plant material is, the better.

A dried, shrivelled up leaf is unlikely to be anywhere near as interesting as a juicy new leaf to your pets.

While leaf insects eat a range of different plants in the wild, these are generally not available to us as hobbyists.

Instead, leaf insect keepers have slowly experimented with a range of different food stuffs over the years to find those that are most agreeable to our pets.

For leaf insects, the best staple food plant is blackberry / bramble leaves. These can be widely found in the countryside, and even in some urban hedges. If you have them growing in your garden then all the better.

Just be careful with the spines, which can be fearsome. The use of both sharp secateurs for cutting and some thick gardening gloves can make this process a lot easier and more comfortable! Note that bramble deserves special mention as it is an evergreen plant.

Even in the depths of winter, when snow covers the ground, it is possible to find some suitable leaves. This is not always the case for the other foodplants of leaf insects.

If it is easier, other plants may also be fed. Among hobbyists the two traditional alternatives are oak (acorn) leaves and rose leaves. As a last resort, some leaf insect keepers have found that their pets will take to strawberry guava leaves, though I have personally found the uptake to be less than impressive.

All the same, it can be worth trying your leaf insects on guava, as it can be grown as a house plant on your windowsill. This saves the time and effort of going out when it’s freezing cold to hunt for bramble leaves.

Be prepared for some odd looks if someone catches you in your local park cutting off pieces of blackberry and stuffing them into a carrier bag!

How to Harvest Food for Leaf Insects

While in a perfect world your leaf insects would have access to live, growing plants in reality this is generally not possible. Instead we give them long sprigs cut off the plant.

It is preferable to use secateurs to cut leaf-bearing sections off, rather than just plucking individual leaves, as the sprigs seem to last much longer in cage surroundings.

The stems also give your leaf insects something to climb up, which also makes moulting much easier for them.

If you must travel some distance between collecting food plants and actually placing it into your leaf insect cage then it makes sense to place the stems into a plastic bag and seal it properly.

This helps to keep in moisture; as leaves dry out so they lose appeal to leaf insects, so the use of plastic bags keeps your food fresher for longer.

bramble photo

Warnings to Be Aware Of

Collecting food plants from your garden, or from public places like parks and forests, does bring with it a range of potential problems. Here, therefore, it pays to spend a few minutes discussing some warnings you should be aware of.

The first of these considerations should be whether a potential food plant has come into contact with harmful chemicals. Weed killers, for example, or car fumes.

Try as much as you can to avoid collecting plants from roadside verges, therefore, or anywhere you’re confident that garden chemicals may have been used recently. For this reason, either gathering plants from your own garden, or deep in the countryside, tends to work best.

wolfspider photoSecondly, especially when feeding young leaf insects, be aware that wild plants can harbour all sorts of predators.

It is all too easy to collect some bramble leaves and pop them straight into the cage at home, only to discover too late that a spider had hitched a ride, and has consequently eaten all your pets.

On arrival at home, therefore, it pays to carefully check over the plant material gathered to identify and remove any predators which may have hitched a lift.

Personally speaking, to minimize the impact of both these potential risks, I like to thoroughly wash my food plants after gathering.

Placed into the bath tub, they can be pounded with water from your shower head for a few moments, which helps to wash off chemicals or unwanted predators.

How to Feed Juvenile Leaf Insects

Care for hatchling and juvenile leaf insects is quite different to looking after adults. The key to success here is that they require a high ambient humidity to thrive. Additionally, due to their small size it is all too easy to dispose of your pets when replacing large volumes of leaves.

Most young leaf insects do well in a sealed plastic cage, designed to maximize humidity.

Fortunately this moist environment also helps to keep food plants fresher for longer. Stuffing the leaves into the plastic tupperware is normally enough to keep them fresh for a week or more.

As they start to dry out the leaves can be replaced for fresh ones, taking great care to inspect each and every leaf that is removed, to avoid throwing some of your beloved pets in the bin.

Note that hatchling leaf insects can struggle to chew through the tough edges of many leaves, so they require additional help. All you need to do is gently expose the juicy inside of the leaves, by gently snipping off the outer surface with a pair of scissors.

This sounds annoyingly particular but really doesn’t take long once you get used to it. The bigger your leaf insects get, the less need there is to remove the outer surface so feeding leaf insects does get easier with time.

How to Feed Adult Leaf Insects

Feeding adult leaf insects is considerably easier than feeding youngsters. By this stage your insects will have obtained a good size, and will easily be able to chomp through leaves without assistance.

Humidity also becomes less of an issue. For this reason mesh cages may be used for larger leaf insects, or Exo Terras if you want a particularly eye-catching display.

At the same time, the reduced humidity means that food plants can dry out much quicker, requiring more regular replacement. The trick, like a bouquet of flowers, is to place the stems into a container of fresh water. Following this system leaves may stay fresh for 5-7 days, making for only weekly feeding and cleaning.

The process is simple. After gathering the food plants, and carefully inspecting them for predators, gather all the stems together as if making a bouquet. Then insert these stems into a heavy jam jar or other clear glass container.

Aim to cram the stems in tightly, so that there are no spaces. We do not want your leaf insects falling in and drowning, and we don’t want eggs falling into the water either.

Once your “vase” is full, run it under the tap to fill up the container with water, and place this into your leaf insect cage. All you need do after introducing your leaf insects is to check that the water in the jar isn’t getting too low and that the leaves aren’t drying out too quickly.

As you can see, while some effort is required, especially when feeding young leaf insects, the process of feeding your insects needn’t take too much time. Following these procedures makes providing your leaf insects with healthy, good-quality plant material surprisingly easy and effort-free, requiring only minimal ongoing maintenance.

Images c/o Pasha Kirillov, Internet Archive Book Images & schizoform

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How to Heat Leaf Insects http://www.keepingexoticpets.com/heat-leaf-insects/ http://www.keepingexoticpets.com/heat-leaf-insects/#respond Fri, 17 Mar 2017 14:58:28 +0000 http://www.keepingexoticpets.com/?p=1502 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 […]

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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

phyllium photoThe 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.

Conclusion

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

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Leaf Insects Cages & Housing http://www.keepingexoticpets.com/leaf-insects-cages-housing/ http://www.keepingexoticpets.com/leaf-insects-cages-housing/#respond Mon, 27 Feb 2017 14:55:24 +0000 http://www.keepingexoticpets.com/?p=1516 Over the years I have tested dozens of different ways to house leaf insects in captivity. Through a process of experimentation I have slowly developed a system which works tremendously well, by separating out the care of hatchlings versus larger specimens. In this article we’ll discuss the best leaf insect cage options, and how to […]

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Over the years I have tested dozens of different ways to house leaf insects in captivity.

Through a process of experimentation I have slowly developed a system which works tremendously well, by separating out the care of hatchlings versus larger specimens.

In this article we’ll discuss the best leaf insect cage options, and how to ensure that your own pets always have the ideal environmental conditions…

phyllium photo

Cages for Hatchling Leaf Insects

As with most invertebrate pets, the hatchling leaf insects are considerably more sensitive than larger specimens.

One of the most common problems is that tiny leaf insects can quickly become dehydrated.

Kept like adults the survival of youngsters can terrible; instead the best solution is to keep young leaf insects in a warm and very humid environment. Under such conditions the survival rate is massively improved.

The process is reasonably simple.

Here’s what you’ll need:

Cage

The best cages for baby leaf insects are sealed plastic or glass containers. Remember that the insects themselves are tiny, so be careful to check for any gaps through which they might escape.

Personally I like to use Really Useful Boxes. These tubs are made from clear plastic which makes it easy to see what is going on inside.

They’re very sturdy, so can be stacked on one another if you have lots of baby leaf insects, and the locking blue handles on each end keep the lid tightly shut at all times.

I do not make any holes in it for air exchange, as I want to keep things really nice and humid. I do, however, open the lid each day to allow an exchange of air and to mop off any excess water with kitchen towel.

Large droplets of water can be deadly for baby leaf insects, which can sometimes get stuck in them and drown. In other words, humidity is good, but large water droplets are bad and need to be controlled.

If you’d rather not buy a Really Useful Box then most large plastic containers can be used – such as tupperware boxes sold for food storage. They should, however, be a suitable size to allow for moulting.

Kitchen Towel

The second element that makes up the housing of my baby leaf insects is a thick layer of kitchen towel at the bottom. This helps to absorb excess moisture, and also makes cleaning nice and easy. All I need to do is pull the kitchen paper out, wipe the cage clean and leave it to dry before setting it up again.

Heat Mat

Baby leaf insects need a warm cage at all times, so I use a reptile heat mat to gently heat the tub.

This is placed under the Really Useful Box, ensuring that the tub is half-on and half-off the heater. This way one end of the cage is warmer than the other, and my insects can escape from the warmest area if they so desire.

In particularly cold weather (such as during the winter when you’re at work at the central heating is off) placing the heat mat and cage on a polystyrene or cork tile can help to reflect as much warmth up into the cage as possible.

Food Plants

With the basic cage set up, I next loosely fill it with the selected food plant. Not only do these leaves provide suitable food, but the stems of the plants provide a place for the hatchling leaf insects to rest off the ground and to moult successfully.

Lastly, the plants continue to respire inside the cage, giving off water vapour. This creates the moist environment required, which not only keeps the insects alive but also means the food plant lasts for a week or more before needing to be replaced. The cage is not misted artificially at any time.

phyllium photo

Cages for Adult Leaf Insects

When leaf insects reach a length of 4cm they become considerably easier to look after. At this point I therefore move them up into an “adult” cage where they have more space, and I can enjoy watching them more.

As with the youngsters, one of the most critical considerations when choosing cages for leaf insects is height. Like stick insects, leaf insects need tall cage if they are to moult successfully. This means that taller cages tend to work better than low cages.

Here there are two main options…

Tall Glass Tanks

The first, and arguably best, option is to use a tall glass tank such as an Exo Terra.

The actual size you’ll need will be dictated both by the number of leaf insects you have, and the volume of food plants that you want to include.

I personally find that larger cages are better, as they give the insects far more space to move around, and they provide me with easier access. The front-opening doors of the Exo Terra can also make maintenance much easier.

As a general rule, I like a cage 18″-24″ in height, with around 12″-18″ in width and depth. Once again these can be heated using a heat mat. If the weather is particularly cold the temperature can be increased by purchasing one of the separate hoods.

Using a thermostat as a controller, a low-wattage heat bulb can be added to the hood, which will warm the cage even more. I find a bulb of around 25 watts tends to be suitable for a cage of this size.

Tall Mesh Cages

The second type of caging suitable for larger and adult insects is an all-mesh cage. These tend to be far cheaper than glass tanks to buy, and many fold flat for storage which can surprisingly useful.

That said, they do have a major weakness – they’re much more difficult to heat. The fact that they are so open means that the gentle warmth provided by a heat mat is very quickly lost to the air. These cages are really only suitable in the warmest of weather as a result.

When the summer does roll around, however, there’s nothing to prevent you using one of these cages, which have the added benefit of allowing your leaf insects to climb effortlessly up the sides, rather than primarily remaining on their food plants all day long.

Note that while some people recommend the use of plastic sweet jars I personally find that the narrow neck of these containers can make maintenance a little annoying, especially if you’re trying to lower a “vase” full of food plants to the bottom.

As you can see, cages for leaf insects don’t necessarily need to be complex or expensive. While housing the adults may require a small investment, it is well worth making.

Getting the cage right is arguably the most important element of successfully keeping leaf insects as pets. Furthermore, as leaf insects will breed profusely when kept in the proper conditions you should find that buying just a few specimens will lead to a never-ending colony of these stunning insects.

Housing hatchlings and juveniles is even easier and more cost-effective to accomplish that I normally have a number of cages of hatchlings on the go in early spring, which soon grow up to become beautiful, fully-winged adult specimens in my larger cages.

Images c/o Pasha Kirillov & berniedup

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Keeping Leaf Insects as Pets http://www.keepingexoticpets.com/keeping-leaf-insects-pets/ http://www.keepingexoticpets.com/keeping-leaf-insects-pets/#respond Mon, 20 Feb 2017 14:52:28 +0000 http://www.keepingexoticpets.com/?p=1506 Leaf insects are so-called because of their uncanny likeness to leaves. Green in colour, leaf-like in shape, with the wings of adults even having a “ribbed” or “veined” appearance like leaves. So good is their camouflage that the untrained eye often can’t even see them in a cage. The leaf insect is, in short, a […]

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Leaf insects make fascinating pets, but they're not the easiest exotic pets to look after. Fortunately this detailed leaf insect care sheet reveals exactly how to keep leaf insects as pets - idiot-proof instructions for all pet lovers. Leaf insects are so-called because of their uncanny likeness to leaves. Green in colour, leaf-like in shape, with the wings of adults even having a “ribbed” or “veined” appearance like leaves.

So good is their camouflage that the untrained eye often can’t even see them in a cage.

The leaf insect is, in short, a wonder of nature. It’s also a perfect pet for someone looking for something a little bit “different”, but without requiring too much specialist care or expensive equipment.

Read on to discover all you need to know to keep leaf insects as pets…

stick insects photo

Ease of Care

A number of different leaf insects may be found in the hobby, though the care of all species is similar. While these insects are typically classed as “exotic pets”, meaning that they are not a traditional pet, their care is reasonably easy.

Once you have purchased the necessary equipment and set up their cage they require very little ongoing maintenance.

Leaf insects produce virtually no smell, especially if cleaned regularly, and make no sound apart from the sound of them softly clambering about their cage. They have no sharp spines or mouthparts, and therefore can cause no damage to children or other pets.

Lastly, while leaf insects reach a comfortable size for handling in time, they require only modest-sized cages. This makes them ideal pets for those with minimal space and/or time. They are also ideal for pet owners looking for something a little bit different, without the cost, complexity or commitment of caring for a snake or lizard.

Where to Buy Leaf Insects

phyllium photoLeaf insects are still quite an unusual pet, and the adults tend to live only for a few months after reaching maturity.

This means that leaf insects are rarely seen for sale in pet stores; instead it will normally be necessary to purchase directly from a breeder.

This is no bad thing, as it affords you the opportunity to ask questions before purchase, and hear right from the experts.

On the other hand, tracking down these breeders can be a challenge. Online forums and classified ad sites for exotic pet keepers may be your best option here, whereby eggs or live insects can be shipped to your home.

Alternatively, entomological shows often have leaf insects available as they are attended by breeders from around the country.

Leaf Insect Equipment & Supplies

In comparison to a bearded dragon or a ball python the equipment required to keep leaf insects as pets is modest. To start with you’ll want a suitable cage in which to keep your insects. Here it is important to differentiate between small youngsters (those under 3-4cm in length) and larger individuals, as their care can be quite different.

The key difference is that youngsters struggle when not kept in very humid environments. It seems they quickly become dehydrated and die.

Younger leaf insects are therefore best kept in sealed plastic containers with minimal ventilation. Plastic tupperware containers such as those designed to hold cakes therefore tend to work well, as can old sweet jars.

Older leaf insects, however, can be housed is far more aesthetically-pleasing surroundings. Here humidity is less of an issue, so you can let your imagination run a little wilder with their housing options.

Two solutions are particularly popular. The first of these are collapsible mesh cages. The second option is a glass tank with a mesh lid for ventilation, such as the ever-popular Exo Terra.

Like stick insects, leaf insects need to moult by attaching themselves to a branch and then slowly “sliding out” of their old skin. As a result it is critical that older leaf insects are kept in taller cages. A cage of around 18-24″ in height is ideal for adults, while the length and depth are less critical. A cage of 12-18″ in length and depth tends to work well.

As tropical insects, leaf insects also require some form of artificial heating, especially in the colder months. This is best provided with a heat mat attached to a reliable thermostat.

The final piece of equipment that you might like to purchase for your leaf insects is a house plant mister. This allows you to easily mist your adult insects several times a week, allowing them to drink from the droplets.

Most other pieces of equipment can be easily found in the home, or sourced from non-specialist shops.

Setting Up A Leaf Insect Cage

Setting up a leaf insect cage is reasonably simple. For youngsters, line the base of the cage with a few layers of standard kitchen towel. This helps to absorb excess moisture, thus preventing tiny hatchling from getting stuck in water droplets and drowning.

The chosen food plant (see below) is then loosely packed into the plastic container. The goal here is to provide a “3d mesh” of stems and leaves, that both allow your leaf insects to climb effortlessly around the cage, while still providing enough space for them to moult successfully. The young leaf insects are placed into the container and the lid is carefully closed.

For adults, the food plants are best inserted into a container of water such as an old glass jam jar. This helps to keep the food plant fresher for longer, cutting down on your routine maintenance.

Whichever setup you use, the cage should then be placed half on, and half off, a suitable heat mat which is being controlled with a thermostat.

This really is all the equipment necessary, and will create an ideal environment for your leaf insects.

Feeding Leaf Insects

phyllium photoLeaf insects eat a range of different plant materials. Most popular are bramble leaves, though oak, rose and guava may also be taken.

It is important that these leaves should be fresh and juicy; older leaves that are starting to wilt or dry up should be replaced.

If you follow the housing suggestions above this should only be necessary once every week or so.

If the food plants are not provided with suitable moisture while in the cage they can dry up in a matter of a day or two, greatly increasing the work you need to do.

Routine Care & Maintenance

Leaf insects are clean and scent-free animals that require very little ongoing maintenance. Once your cage is set up properly the ongoing effort can be neatly divided into three specific tasks.

The first of these is to monitor the temperature and humidity within the cage regularly. A digital thermometer can be a handy way to check that the cage is being kept warm enough. Just as importantly, however, the humidity should be controlled.

For young leaf insects, kept in a sealed container with minimal ventilation, care should be taken to prevent too much moisture. Cage walls covered in large drips of water can lead to drowning, so be willing to remove the lid and gently mop up excess moisture using kitchen towel.

For adults, with better ventilation, the situation is quite the opposite. Use your houseplant mister to gently spray the cage two or three times a week. The adults will drink these water droplets, helping to keep them fit and healthy.

After monitoring environmental conditions, the second routine task is to monitor the condition of food plants, and replace them as necessary. Given a healthy supply, most food plants last some 5-9 days in my experience.

In general a weekly change is acceptable, though if you find leaves turning brown and rotting, or drying out and turning crispy then changing the plants will be necessary. In short, your leaf insects should always have a healthy supply of lush, green leaves to eat.

The final task involves routine cleaning. Fortunately, this is reasonably simple, and is most easily accomplished while changing the food plants. Simply remove the kitchen towel lining the base, scrub the cage clean, dry it thoroughly and then replace the kitchen towel in the base.

The foodplant can then be changed, and your leaf insects should be good-to-go for another week.

Handling Leaf Insects

Leaf insects are wonderful pets to handle. They’re docile, slow moving and cause no harm at all so can be safely handled by children and adults alike. That said, leaf insects can be fragile, especially when they are younger, so they should be handled gently and calmly to prevent damage.

Adult specimens are altogether more sturdy. They can either be nudged into a flat hand, or simply scooped up off their food plant.

The one thing you should be aware of when handing adult specimens is that they have fully-formed wings. Adult females tend not to fly, and can be handled without issue.

Males, however, can fly surprisingly well and may take off from your hand if given the opportunity. In other words, when handling adult males always do so in a sealed room, where the insect can’t come to any harm if it makes a break for freedom.

Open water and open fires, for example, can pose a danger. In truth, the adult males don’t fly like a butterfly; they won’t flap their way round and round the room. Instead, they’ll normally take off in a single direction, rapidly falling to the ground.

Even a male that flies off can therefore be easily recaptured and returned to the cage safely.

Leaf insects make fascinating pets, but they're not the easiest exotic pets to look after. Fortunately this detailed leaf insect care sheet reveals exactly how to keep leaf insects as pets - idiot-proof instructions for all pet lovers.

Images c/o zleng, berniedup & inra.dist

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Rearing Baby Leaf Insects http://www.keepingexoticpets.com/rearing-baby-leaf-insects/ Wed, 17 Aug 2011 21:53:15 +0000 http://www.keepingexoticpets.com/?p=454 Leaf insects are beautiful and fascinating creatures which are almost as easy to care for as many of the popular stick insect species currently reared in captivity but with a number of added bonuses. Firstly they are truly impressive and fascinating creatures to observe because they really do truly resemble green leaves as adults. Secondly […]

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Leaf insects are beautiful and fascinating creatures which are almost as easy to care for as many of the popular stick insect species currently reared in captivity but with a number of added bonuses.

Firstly they are truly impressive and fascinating creatures to observe because they really do truly resemble green leaves as adults. Secondly they are docile, unlike some of the larger species of stick insect, so can be safely handled without any risk of personal injury. Lastly keeping leaf insects is just a little bit more unusual and exotic than keeping stick insects though many of the core principles are identical.

Tell someone you keep stick insects and often their eyes glaze over as they think of the boring, green Indian or laboratory stick insect. Tell them you keep leaf insects and many people still don’t even know what they are or what they look like!

After years of keeping, breeding and then rearing baby leaf insects to adulthood I’ve picked up a number of tips from other breeders, from the small number of print books currently available on the subject and, just as importantly, from my own experimentation. If you’re keen to rear leaf insects in the home then you’re about to learn the exact techniques that I have personally found most successful thus giving you the best possible chance of success.

Why Buy Baby Leaf Insects?

As adults leaf insects can be reasonably expensive to buy, particularly when you take into the account the fact that they may only live for a few months once they reach adulthood. In this way it is entirely possible to buy some adult specimens off a legitimate breeder and have them die of old age within weeks if not days.

In this way buying baby leaf insects prolongs the pleasure of keeping them. Indeed some might even argue it increases the interest because you will be able to see your pet leaf insects growing, moulting and turning into adults eventually thanks to your commitment and hard work.

Of course in addition it’s generally far cheaper to buy baby leaf insects than adults and they also require a significantly smaller cage than the adults do meaning that at least initially they won’t take up too much space in your home.

The Keys To Rearing Baby Leaf Insects

As with most species of invertebrate kept in captivity, the younger they are the more fragile they are and so this means that it is important to get the conditions as accurate as possible when you’re dealing with juveniles.

Even then a few losses are almost inevitable but try not to let this get you down. It is perfectly natural and by following the guidance below you will maximize your chances of success in keeping this stunning insect.

That said, it is worth investing in a number of baby leaf insects when you start out rather than trying to cut costs and just buy one or two. Doing so will greatly increase your chances of ending up with an adult pair, after which you will find a non-stop stream of eggs being produced which will enable you to grow your colony considerably.

When it comes to rearing baby leaf insects I have found that there are four real secrets to success. They are feeding, cleanliness, warmth and humidity. Let’s take a closer look at each one in turn and discuss in detail what you need to be providing for your leaf insects.

Feeding

In the past some keepers have found that their hatchling leaf insects refuse to feed and end up dying of starvation. A number of suggestions have been made as to the reason for this including the youngsters not realizing they can eat the food plants provided to them, a general lack of appeal of the chosen food plant and/or the fact that their tiny mouths struggle to deal with tough, older leaves.

For my own leaf insects I provide almost exclusively bramble (blackberry) leaves to eat. That said, I am experimenting with some different species of guava – the natural food plant of leaf insects in the wild. However in general bramble is a decent, reliable food source that can be found almost anyway, at any time of year (even under snow) and seems to provide leaf insects with all the nutrition that they need.

However when providing bramble that I have collected from the countryside I always pay attention to four elements.

Pesticides

To avoid the risk of poisoning my insects with weedkillers or pesticides I try to collect bramble in specific areas. I avoid those close to human habitation such as parks, gardens and roadsides and instead try to collect it from deep in the countryside – such as from publicly-accessible woodland – where the chances of chemicals having been used close-by are minimal.

Predators

Baby leaf insects are tiny and when collecting plant matter from the countryside it’s very easy to accidentally introduce a spider or suchlike that can quickly run  amok among your leaf insects causing multiple fatalities.

I tried for some time to carefully examine every sprig before adding it to the cage but still found I missed the odd beastie that reduced the size of my colony so whilst it takes a little longer I now wash all my food plant under fast-running water – carefully wiping both sides of each leaf which, in combination with the power of the water blasting the leaves – virtually guarantees that no predators will make it into your baby leaf insect cage.

Easy Access

To make the food as appealing as possible and to encourage feeding I like to use a pair of scissors to gently snip the outside off some of the foodplant, which then reveals the juicy inner surface of some leaves. This seems to encourage the babies to feed voraciously and by following this simple process you give your youngsters as good a start as possible. Furthermore after a few weeks it’s possible to stop this process altogether once your leaf insects have gained an appetite for the food plant you’re providing.

Freshness

The food your provide needs to be fresh. This typically means changing it two or even three times a week for youngsters. Once my leaf insects get to a decent size of an inch or two in length I move them into larger cages where I have place springs of bramble into a water-filled jam-jar. Doing so keeps the leaves fresh for a week or so, cutting down on my maintenance drastically but doing so for young nymphs really isn’t realistic. So bite the bullet if you’re going to rear baby leaf insects and appreciate you’ll need to be topping up those leaves on a regular basis.

Cleanliness

In the warm, sweaty confines of an insect cage, with numerous hatchlings defecating plus the odd death a leaf insect cage can quickly become pretty nasty and hygiene is as important with insects as it is when keeping any other pet.

I typically clean out my leaf insects twice a week when they’re babies and once a week as adults. The adults typically make less mess overall hence the less regular cleaning.

When it comes to cleaning leaf insects out I don’t simply mean changing their food plant but rather and entire “top-to-toe” clean. I throw out old leaves (after checking them for babies!), remove all the insects themselves from their cage and give the whole cage a thorough wash and scrub before allowing it to air dry.

Because baby leaf insects can move swiftly – and you may well be keeping a number of them together – the cleaning process can be a little problematic. Add to this the fact that washing the container and letting it dry can take some time and personally I have found it useful to have “spare” cages available.

In this way I can set up a fresh cage and transfer the baby leaf insects straight into it from the “old” one and can then clean the old cage at my leisure without any risk of losing some of my precious baby leaf insects.

Warmth

Coming from tropical regions leaf insects like a warm environment and this is even more important for hatchlings. Whilst adults will often cope fine in a centrally-heated room I like to try and provide some gentle background heat for hatchlings and you will normally find that those insects that are kept warmer will grow quicker too and attain adulthood that bit sooner.

To do this I like to leave one end of my leaf insect cages on a reptile heat pad, whilst the main body of the container is off it. In this way a gentle temperature gradient is created with one end warmer than the other allowing the insects to choose the temperature that they find most comfortable.

As always, if I find all the babies at the heated end I move more of the cage onto the heater and vice versa. By paying attention to the behaviour of your pets in this way you will be able to give them the best possible conditions to grow and thrive.

Humidity

The element I have left till last is humidity – and for good reason. In my experience humidity is the single most important aspect of all and I can trace my success rate almost directly to my provision of the correct moisture levels in my baby leaf insect cages.

Put simply, baby leaf insects rapidly get dehydrated and when they do so they often die. Furthermore a humid environment is often needed to allow your pets to easily change their skins – as they will naturally do many times while growing.

On the flip-side, small leaf insects can become trapped in large droplets of water and a “wet” rather than a “moist” environment can encourage mould and/or breathing problems.

Finding the right balance is therefore essential to your success.

In warmer months I like to keep my adults in net cages, where they can easily climb, where the netting allows a strong and reliable foothold and where the air movement prevents stagnant air building up.

However I have equally found that these net cages are not suitable for youngsters as they don’t allow you to raise the humidity to a suitable level.

For rearing baby leaf insects I like to use small aquariums or plastic boxes as sold by many supermarkets or hardware stores for keeping food, tools and so on in. I like the clear plastic ones to maintain visibility and look for a size of around 30cm long by 15-20cm wide and tall.

A container of these dimensions is ideal for hatchlings and it provides the necessary space to move around, to moult and also for me to include plenty of leaves to feed on. Equally it isn’t so large that the babies can become lost and I can also easily reach any part of the cage for spot cleaning, rescuing any sick-looking individual and so on.

I use containers with tight-fitting lids to keep the tiny babies in – and these also help to keep in the moisture. The base of the container is covered with a thick layer of kitchen towel to absorb any excess moisture and thus prevent drowning by the babies.

In this environment the leaves will naturally transpire and give out moisture vapour which is then trapped within the confines of the cage providing a moist environment ideal for rearing leaf insects in.

Regular changing of the leaves ensures a constantly supply of moisture while regular cleaning means that stagnant air can escape on a regular basis and the kitchen towel never becomes too soggy so as to become a danger to the insects.

Setting Up A Cage For Your Leaf Insects

Setting up a cage for baby leaf insects is therefore simple if you have paid attention to the steps outlined above. Find yourself a couple of decent-sized plastic containers (Tupperware boxes are ideal) and, keeping at least one as a spare to make cleaning easier, line the base of the remaining container(s) with kitchen towel.

Add to the container some freshly-cut and washed food, add the insects and secure the lid. Place one end of the container on a heat mat and then simply place the container in an area where it won’t suffer from temperature extremes. This means avoiding windows for example where direct sunlight could cook your pets or where a  breeze could lead to an unpleasantly cold atmosphere for your leaf insects.

Kept in this simple manner you should find your leaf insects remain fit and healthy and grow at an impressive rate. Soon enough you’ll need to start moving them up into larger cages until you find yourself with a number of adult specimens who will lay eggs and therefore start the process all over again.

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Leaf Insect Eggs http://www.keepingexoticpets.com/leaf-insect-eggs/ http://www.keepingexoticpets.com/leaf-insect-eggs/#respond Mon, 26 Apr 2010 12:52:25 +0000 http://www.keepingexoticpets.com/?p=101 My leaf insects have just started to lay eggs at last so I thought I would show you what to look out for when cleaning them out. Leaf insect eggs are small and don’t look particularly special so it would be easy to through them away when cleaning out your leaf insects. Female leaf insects […]

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My leaf insects have just started to lay eggs at last so I thought I would show you what to look out for when cleaning them out.

Leaf insect eggs are small and don’t look particularly special so it would be easy to through them away when cleaning out your leaf insects. Female leaf insects also typically lay their eggs wherever they happen to be sitting and so these eggs typically fall to the floor of the cage with all the faecal material.

However closer inspection shows that these eggs are rather different in appearance to leaf insect faeces and once you have made the distinction it is reasonably easy to spot eggs in your regular cleaning duties.

Whilst obviously the faecal material should be thrown away, the eggs should be carefully removed so they can be incubated separately and cared for properly.

One final note worth mentioning is the interesting effect of humidity on leaf insect eggs. When te eggs are dry they typically look like small “tear-drop” shaped objects in variable brown colours.

Interestingly though when these eggs are kept moist, they absorb some of the humidity and small projections become apparent on the surface of the eggs. They change in appearance right before your eyes which is not only fascinating to observe, but also makes life easier if you’re struggling to decide if the humidity is high enough while incubating your leaf insect eggs.

Note the eggs on the right-hand side of the photo below which shows these small projections.

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How Long Do Leaf Insect Eggs Take To Hatch? http://www.keepingexoticpets.com/how-long-do-leaf-insect-eggs-take-to-hatch/ http://www.keepingexoticpets.com/how-long-do-leaf-insect-eggs-take-to-hatch/#comments Sun, 18 Apr 2010 11:15:35 +0000 http://www.keepingexoticpets.com/?p=20 As with many insects, the time that it takes for leaf insect eggs to hatch depends in a large way on the temperature that they are kept at. Generally speaking the warmer the eggs are kept, the sooner they will hatch because the tiny baby insects inside them will have been able to develop quicker. […]

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As with many insects, the time that it takes for leaf insect eggs to hatch depends in a large way on the temperature that they are kept at. Generally speaking the warmer the eggs are kept, the sooner they will hatch because the tiny baby insects inside them will have been able to develop quicker.

Kept warm such as on a reptile heat mat it is normal for leaf insect eggs to take between 3 and 5 months to hatch. 4 months seems like a good average though some people have found that their eggs take far longer to hatch so don’t get despondent if you have been waiting a long time. Never give up on those eggs 🙂

 

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How To Sex Immature Leaf Insects http://www.keepingexoticpets.com/how-to-sex-immature-leaf-insects/ http://www.keepingexoticpets.com/how-to-sex-immature-leaf-insects/#respond Tue, 06 Apr 2010 11:06:30 +0000 http://www.keepingexoticpets.com/?p=18 When leaf insects are adults they’re very easy indeed to sex. The males are small and thin with long antennae and wings that enable them to fly well. The females, in contrast, are far larger and more rounded with only small wings and are unable to fly any distance. However sexing younger insects can be […]

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When leaf insects are adults they’re very easy indeed to sex. The males are small and thin with long antennae and wings that enable them to fly well. The females, in contrast, are far larger and more rounded with only small wings and are unable to fly any distance.

However sexing younger insects can be rather more of a challenge. When leaf insects are tiny it is near impossible to tell the males from the female but as they grow up things become a little easier.

In essence, the juveniles start to take on the general body shape of an adult insect with the males becoming longer and thinner while the females become rounder and fatter in appearance.

The following photos illustrate this with a female at the top and a male at the bottom. Note the difference in abdomen shape.

http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4069/4360126152_2ff2c6212b.jpg

Immature Male Leaf Insect Showing Elongated Abdomen

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How Long Do Leaf Insects Take To Reach Maturity? http://www.keepingexoticpets.com/how-long-do-leaf-insects-take-to-reach-maturity/ http://www.keepingexoticpets.com/how-long-do-leaf-insects-take-to-reach-maturity/#respond Mon, 29 Mar 2010 08:29:21 +0000 http://www.keepingexoticpets.com/?p=22 Kept at a reasonable 20-25’C leaf insects seem to take around 4-6 months to reach maturity. As the males ate smaller at maturity than the females these tend to reach maturity sooner with the females following along soon afterwards. This may serve as a way to reduce the risk of inbreeding in the wild as […]

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Kept at a reasonable 20-25’C leaf insects seem to take around 4-6 months to reach maturity. As the males ate smaller at maturity than the females these tend to reach maturity sooner with the females following along soon afterwards. This may serve as a way to reduce the risk of inbreeding in the wild as the siblings mature at slightly different times.

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