Giant Prickly Stick Insect / Macleays Spectre (Extatosoma tiaratum) Care Sheet

The Giant Prickly Stick Insect is one of the most impressive stick insects of all. The females, in particular, have huge curled abdomens that make them look unlike any other species commonly kept.

Growing up to 15cm (6”) or so in length they’re therefore not only long, but also bulky and heavy insects to boot. The adult males typically reach a similar overall length, but are much slimmer and more fragile-looking. All told, this is truly one of the most exciting types of stick insect available to hobbyists right now.

Extatosoma tiaratum photo

As long as you’ve got suitable space then these really aren’t your “normal” stick insects that you may have seen for sale in traditional pet stores. Instead the Giant Prickly Stick Insect is something really rather special, and something that any serious exotic pet fanatic should consider keeping at one time or another.

It is worth mentioning here that the variety of common names used in the exotic pet community can be complex and muddling when it comes to this stick insect. For example, some people muddle up this species with the similarly named (but very different) Giant Spiny stick insect.

Things aren’t helped by the fact that this species – with the Latin name Extatosoma tiaratum – is also known as the Macleays Spectre. While that might sound like an odd name, it’s not so weird when you consider that the species was first described by a scientist called Macleay.

In this care sheet I’ll be using both “Giant Prickly Stick Insect” and “Macleays Spectre” interchangeably, but when it comes to buying stock you may want to learn the Latin name to be absolutely certain that you know what you’re buying. You have been warned!

Wild Habitat of Extatosoma tiaratum

The Giant Prickly Stick Insect comes from the tropical regions of Australia and New Guinea. It is particularly common, according to the IUCN, in New South Wales and Queensland. Here they are most commonly found in eucalyptus forests; a plant they feed on in the wild.

While the camouflage of the Macleays Spectre is surprisingly effective for such a large insect, it should come as no surprise that they can still be a very welcome meal for all sorts of predators.

In cases where Extatosoma tiaratum feels threatened, it has a curious and quite unique response: it curves its abdomen over it’s back to take on the appearance of a huge scorpion. It is likely that this sudden change of appearance is enough to scare off a lot of animals who might otherwise devour it. The same routine may be seen in captivity too if your pets are disturbed.

Macleays Spectre Caging

As with most exotic pets, selecting and setting up your Giant Prickly stick insect cage correctly is one of the most crucial steps of all.

Get it wrong, and your stick insect may struggle to moult properly, or may not receive the warmth and humidity that they need to thrive. Get the caging requirements right, however, and this can be a very sturdy species indeed that requires minimal ongoing maintenance.

That’s all well and good, but what sort of cage should you choose for your stick insects?

A number of different options are popular with hobbyists, so let’s talk about some of the best options now…

Specialist Glass Cages

When I first started to keep stick insects and other invertebrates back in the 1990’s there was very little available in the form of specialist equipment. Instead, we had to try and make do with whatever could be found. These days, however, things are very different and you’re in a wonderful position.

One of the most exciting developments in recent years has been the appearance of practical, good-looking and reasonably-priced glass cages specially for the exotic pet fanatic. While there are a number of brands on the market, I have personally focused my attentions on so-called “Exo Terra” and ReptiZoo cages.

REPTIZOO Glass Mini 8 Gallon Reptile Terrarium 12" x 12" x 12", Small Habitat Cage Breeder Enclosure for Leopard Gecko Tarantula Young Lizard Insects, Top Screen Ventilation & Feeding
  • Features with full view glass, this small Patend Design 8 gallon glass terrarium is convenient for feeding and having fun with your reptile or small animal pets.
  • Compact and flat-packed design mini reptile tank with top opening to prevent escape and easy feeding. With a transparent PVC tray in the bottom for holding water and substrate
  • The full screen top ventilation with thinner mesh wire allows more UVA UVB and infrared heat penetration.

These are in essence constructed from strengthened glass, and have doors that open on hinges at the front. The metal grill in the lid helps to support suitable ventilation and they look fantastic. I now have a whole shelving unit setup with multiple Exo Terras containing stick insects and other arthropods.

While I will admit that these aren’t the cheapest cages available, I really feel that nothing else on the market rivals them.

Modified Aquariums

An alternative option when it comes to housing Extatosoma tiaratum is to modify and existing aquarium, as are sold for fish. These can be bought new, or may be sourced quite cheaply second hand.

Once thoroughly cleaned, they can be tipped on their end to create a “tall” cage. The open side can then be enclosed by adding another piece of glass or perspex, or using mesh. Whatever the case, you’ll probably want to be reasonably good at DIY if you’re to create a finished cage that looks good yet reliably prevents your stick insects from escaping.

Mesh Cages

Mesh cages can be handy for the Macleays Spectre because they are easy for your insects to climb up.

Zoo Med ReptiBreeze Open Air Screen Cage, Medium, 16 x 16 x 30-Inches
  • All hardware included
  • easy to assemble using only a screw driver
  • Easy access

At the same time, however, there are a few downsides that you should consider. Firstly, netting cages like this can be quite difficult to heat in the winter months; after all, the warm air simply rises up out of the cage. Additionally, the mesh isn’t as easy to see through as glass or plastic, so may not make quite such an attractive display.

While some breeders are huge fans of these mesh cages, I admit that I tend to only use them in the warmer months of the year, when heating is not really a concern.

Self-Built Housing

Lastly an increasing number of hobbyists are starting to build their own cages. If you have a little creativity and some DIY skills then this can be a good option.

I have personally built a number of cages from perspex over the years, and while I lack the time at present to build any more, I do think they offer some benefits. For example, you can construct a cage that perfectly fits the space available in your home, and you can add a range of handy features.

If you ask the right supplier, many will even cut your plastic to the dimensions that you specify, meaning that you just have to glue everything together with aquarium-grade silicone sealant.