Stick insects are one of the more popular “exotic pets” but a fair amount of questions exist regarding their preferred foods. In this quick article we’re going to look at what stick insects (walking sticks) eat so that you can be certain to always have some suitable food on hand.
Stick insects spend their lives sitting in trees and bushes, often resting motionless to avoid detection by predators.
They very rarely make their way down to ground level, and instead spend the vast majority of their lives arboreally. It should therefore come as no surprise that stick insects are purely vegetarian; they don’t have the speed or ability to catch live prey to eat.
While the most common species of stick insect is the Indian (or “laboratory”) stick insect there is an ever-growing list of the species available.
These come from around the world; from Asia to Australasia; and it should therefore come as no surprise that in the wild they will eat a wide range of different plants. For obvious reasons these are often not available to hobbyists, so instead we have learned to provide other plants which stick insects will eat.
Common Food for Stick Insects
Keepers of stick insects generally rely on two main food plants for their pets.
These are privet and bramble (blackberry).
Both evergreen, even in the midst of winter, when there is snow on the ground, you should be able to find one or other of these plants.
To keep the leaves fresh it is generally best to cut decent-sized chunks of plant off, and to place the ends into a small container of water.
Simply cutting individual leaves off plants and placing them in your stick insect cage will result in them drying up and being inedible within hours, so tends not to work very well.
Other Food for Stick Insects
While bramble and privet may be the two most common food plants used for stick insects, they are far from the only options.
Some stick insects will take a range of other wild plants, with rose and oak leaves being two other popular options.
Some insects may also eat hazel leaves, raspberry, ivy or hawthorn.
A small number of more specialist feeders – such as the popular Peruvian fern stick insect – will feed on bracken and a range of wild and cultivated ferns.
It would appear, however, that if a plant is toxic to stick insects then they simply won’t eat it.
It is generally therefore perfectly safe to experiment with different leaves, to see what appeals to your pets.
If carrying out such tests, aim to always have some bramble or privet in the cage, so that your stick insects won’t starve if your experiment fails.
Houseplants for Stick Insects
Interestingly its not just wild plants that stick insects will eat.
Some years ago, while cleaning out my stick insects, I placed my pets lovingly on the windowsill, to sit in amongst my selection of houseplants.
Soon enough I found them munching away on several of my plants.
The two which seem to have been of greatest interest were the inch plant and my strawberry guava. Both of these can be sourced from garden centers and can serve as a useful “emergency” food source for the winter months.
Gathering Stick Insect Food
The vast majority of the food items you give your stick insect will likely come from the wild. Stick insects are sensitive creatures so great care should be taken when gathering their food.
For best results try to avoid collecting leaves which may have harmful chemicals on them. This means not collecting leaves from too near roads, and avoiding food plants in any area where pesticides or other garden chemicals may have been used in the recent past.
Personally, for safety, I either visit my local woods to collect bramble on a weekly basis, or leave a patch of my garden untended so I can collect leaves from there.
When gathering your stick insect’s food try placing it into a plastic bag as soon as it is removed from the plant. This helps to prevent it from drying out on the journey home.
Ideally cut the plant using a sharp pair of scissors or secateurs, as a neat cut like this will be able to absorb water better then a branch which has been torn off the plant.
On arrival at home I carefully inspect the leaves gathered (to ensure there are no spiders or other predators lurking) and then wash them under the tap. This ensures that the food is as clean and fresh as is possible.
Keeping Stick Insect Food Fresh
While the ideal solution to feeding stick insects is to provide them with a living plant (which I do with my inch plant), in reality most food plants will have to be chopped off the main plant and placed into the cage.
As stick insects don’t enjoy old, dried-up leaves, it is important to keep them fresh for as long as possible.
Once you have got the leaves home, cut the last inch or two off the stem and then plunge them into a container of water.
The container should be narrow enough that the stems fill the container. This prevents the risk of your insects falling into the open water and drowning.
Kept this way most food plants will stay fresh for a week or so, at which point they should be replaced with fresh, green leaves.
Food for Baby Stick Insects
Baby stick insects can present a particular problem, as these small insects are often kept in comparatively smaller cages than their parents.
This means that placing a jar of water in the cage for the leaves to sit in can be problematic.
All too often pet owners compromise and opt to dispense with the water container, placing the bare stems straight into the cage. For obvious reasons these dry up within hours and require daily replacement. This is far from practical for most people.
However there is a solution which I have found to work very well indeed; and this is making full use of “ambient moisture”. The drier the environment of your stick insect cage, the quicker the leaves will dry up.
By placing baby stick insects into a cage with only small amounts of ventilation (in comparison to the adults, which are often kept in mesh cages with plenty of ventilation) you can keep the humidity up. Lined with moist paper towel, such a container will see the internal humidity rising, which will in turn help to keep your leaves fresher for longer.
Do you have any unanswered questions or further suggestions for feeding stick insects? If so, why not leave it in the comments section below?