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…
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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