Jungle Nymph Stick Insect (Heteropteryx dilatata) Care Sheet

The Jungle Nymph stick insect is arguably the most impressive and visually-appealing stick insect of all. Growing to 15cm (6”) or sometimes even a little longer, the adult females are particularly impressive.

Unlike the thin, brown males, the females are huge, stocky and bright green in color, being covered in numerous sharp spines. These impressive dimensions have led the Jungle Nymph stick insect to being named the second heaviest insect in the world!

jungle nymph photo

There’s more. These are also some of the longest lived of the different phasmids (stick insects) kept in captivity, with some specimens reaching the ripe old age of 2 years old.

In short, if you’re considering keeping any kind of stick insect then this is one species that I would strongly recommend that you consider.

The only minor drawback is that the Jungle Nymph isn’t quite as easily handled as some of the other large stick insect species like the Macleays Spectre, so really isn’t suitable for children.

The reason is that the Jungle Nymphs have a row of sharp spines along their rear legs. If they feel threatened, they wave these back legs around, in the hope that they will attract your attention. If you’re unlucky enough to have your fingers in the wrong place these spiky legs can give you quite a prick – you have been warned!

So long as you’re OK with that, and you’re keen to keep what is one of the most beautiful and exciting stick insects of all then read on for our detailed care sheet…

Wild Habitat of Heteropteryx dilatata

First described in 1835, not a huge amount is known about the Jungle Nymph stick insect in the wild. What we do know is that they come from the exceptionally hot and humid jungles of Malaysia.

This probably explains why in the past so many keepers have struggled to rear the youngsters, as they simply haven’t been provided with enough humidity to keep their needs.

Jungle Nymph Stick Insect Cages

Jungle Nymphs need a cage that is comparable with their size. As stick insects moult by hanging from their back legs, splitting their old skin down the back and then “dropping” out of it, height is a crucial consideration.

Many exotic pet owners who try to keep stick insects in lower cages find that they have significant problems moulting. As this is the most sensitive point in a stick insects life, it is hardly surprising that a bad moult can result in serious issues or even death. As these are expensive insects to buy you’d be well advised to do everything possible to keep them fit and healthy.

For Heteropteryx dilatata, the Latin name by which this species is often known, you’ll be wanting a cage at least twice as tall as your insects are long. Three times the length is even better, and as stick insects grow so quickly it is often cheaper to start off with a generously sized cage than it is to continuously rehome your pets, buying ever larger cages as you go.

For the Jungle Nymph stick insect, which can reach lengths of around 15cm, this means you’ll ideally be looking at a cage of some 45cm or so in height.

Luckily, floor space tends to be less of an issue with this species, which only very rarely comes down to ground level. Here minimum dimensions of 30cm x 30xm tend to work well, allowing suitable space for your insects to move around and feed.

Over the years I’ve tried an assortment of different cages and my preference these days is for glass cages. They’re available in the ideal dimensions, and with their front opening doors they make routine handling and maintenance a breeze. The mesh lid allows for suitable ventilation, while the glass walls and floor make it easy to keep heat in, and also makes for an easy cleaning routine.

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 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.

Of course, a range of other cages may be used if you prefer them, including the mesh cages popular with chameleon owners (though they can be troubling to heat in winter) or some keepers even opt to build their own stick insect cage from glass or perspex.

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

Temperature & Heating

Coming from the tropical jungles of Southeast Asia these stick insects relish a warm environment. Jungle Nymphs that are kept too cold may struggle with their metabolism, and can quickly pass away. In all but the hottest months of the year, therefore, you’ll be needing to provide some artificial heating. An ideal temperature for the cage is around 24-28’C.

There are a number of different heating options on the market, the vast majority of which are designed for reptile keepers. However, they can just as effectively be used by stick insect keepers and breeders.

The best heater in most cases is a heat mat. These are wafer-thin pieces of plastic, which can easily be slipped underneath an Exo Terra or other glass/plastic tank.

Tikaton Reptile Heat Pad - Temperature Adjustable Under Tank Heater for 10-20gal/30-40gal Tank, Terrarium Heat Mat for Turtle/Snake/Lizard/Frog/Spider/Plant Box
  • UPGRADED DESIGN: Temperature can be adjusted manually. POWERFUL FUNCTION: Helps reptile for daily activity, appetite and metabolism. It can keep reptile tank warm without any harm to your pets and also won't disturb animals sleep pattern.
  • Durable material: made of high quality PVC material, its soft surface can be flexible and folded. The heat mat is easy to clean, convenient to use and low energy.
  • ENERGY-SAVING: This heater uses a solid state nichrome heating element Which only use 8 watts of electricity and costs only pennies a day to operate. HIGH EFFICIENCY: High-quality heating wire heating, stable performance and long service life.

In truth, heat mats don’t produce a huge amount of warmth; even when they’re on it can feel only moderately warm. This works well for glass cages, gently raising the ambient temperature while keeping your electricity bill down.

If your home is particularly cold, or you opt to use a mesh cage during the winter months, then you’ll need a more powerful reptile heater such as a heat lamp. Bear in mind, under these circumstances, that such heaters cost far more to run. Additionally, you should be sure to position the heat lamp outside the cage, so that your stick insects cannot climb onto the bulb and burn themselves.

Water & Humidity

jungle nymph photo

As stated earlier, Jungle Nymph stick insects like a very moist environment. While they are unlikely to drink from a water bowl, the cage should be thoroughly sprayed with lukewarm water. Under such circumstances you will often see your Heteropteryx dilatata drinking gently from the small water droplets of “rain” that condense on their food plant and the walls of the cage.

This is one more reason why cages like the Exo Terra can be so much more practical than all-mesh cages; the open construction of mesh cages means that water you spray in will just spray straight out of the other side, limiting the volume available to your pets.

Feeding Jungle Nymph Stick Insects

It should be no surprise that the tropical plants normally eaten by Jungle Nymph stick insects in the wild are difficult to source for pet keepers. Fortunately there are a range of other food plants that stick insects will eat, with the most popular of these being bramble (blackberry) leaves.

There is no need to grow your own blackberries, as in many parts of the world these plants can be found rambling across the countryside. Indeed, we stick insect keepers may be the only people who are pleased to find this “weed” growing in our gardens!

Blackberry isn’t the only option, however. Other popular food plants include oak and rose. Furthermore, over the years I have tried feeding a range of other food plants to my various pet stick insects. I have found that stick insects don’t “die” from eating poisonous plant material – they just don’t touch them. As a result, my own experience suggests that you can feel free to experiment with different food plants to see which your pets will accept.

It is important to mention that invertebrates can be very sensitive to chemical pollutants. If you’re gathering food from the countryside, therefore, do your best to avoid areas where car pollution or agrochemicals have been used. If you are in any doubt then you’re best to avoid such plants, no matter how lush and delicious they may look.

Note that food plants can dry out quickly. The best option when feeding your Jungle Nymphs is therefore to place the stems of your food plants into a container of water within the cage.

Be sure to pack them densely enough that your Jungle Nymphs can’t fall into the water, as they don’t swim well and more likely drown in open water. In this way, I find that most cut food plants will survive for 5-9 days, meaning that feeding only needs to happen once every week or so.

Tank Decor

So you’ve bought your cage, selected a heater, invested in a houseplant spray gun and figured out where you’re going to get food for your pets. What else do you need to consider?

Luckily, this is a “how long is a piece of string” sort of question. For one thing, bear in mind that these are large and heavy insects. Some keepers therefore like to include some stout twigs or branches on which their stick insects can rest. Besides this, however, the decor you include in their cage is entirely up to you.

At its most basic, their cage could consist simply of a jar of water containing their food plant, and a few layers of kitchen towel laid on the floor. This makes for easy cleaning each week; simply dispose of the kitchen towel and old food plant, wipe the cage round then refill everything.

At the other end of the scale, however, some people like to really landscape their Jungle Nymph cage to try and make it look as authentic as possible. For example, some keepers will add a nice deep substrate of coconut fibre to give a “rainforest” look.

Josh's Frogs Coco Cradle (10 liters)
  • ECO-FRIENDLY ORGANIC and 100% BIODEGRADABLE unlike some reptile substrates that are contributing to deforestation and then go to the landfill
  • INCREASES HUMIDITY for animals that need moderate to high humidity
  • ABSORBENT composition allows it to soak up messes and odors, leaving a cleaner habitat for your pet

They may also add a range of plants – either real or false – to further expand on the jungle theme. Custom backgrounds can be bought, lights can be added and more. Feel free to take the issue as far as you want – from clean and clinical to a stunning centrepiece for your room. Your creativity (and budget!) are the only real limits here!

Handling Heteropteryx dilatata

Jungle Nymphs can be handled, but great care must be taken. As described earlier the legs of Jungle Nymphs are covered in razor-sharp spines, and a startled Jungle Nymph will attempt to snap their legs closed around your digits; not a comfortable experience.

If you opt to handle your stick insects, therefore, the key is to be slow, gentle and patient. Don’t attempt to “grab” your Jungle Nymphs which may surprise them, but instead gently coax them onto a flat hand using a paint brush or pencil to avoid the risk of getting “snapped” yourself.

Once on your hand most Jungle Nymphs will remain quite calm and will gently walk from one hand to the other. With the sharp spines, however, this may not be a suitable species for children looking to handle a stick insect.

Jungle Nymph stick insects are stunning pet invertebrates, but need to be kept properly if they are to thrive. From cages to feeding and handling, this stick insect care sheet reveals all the important information.

Photos c/o mliu92 & berniedup

Related:  Keeping Indian Stick Insects
Richard Adams

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