Stick Insects

 

Stick insects are masters of camouflage.  Their scientific name "Phasmida" actually comes from the Greek word for ghost, it's a comparison they certainly deserve.

There are around 2700 species of Phasmida in the world. Mostly, they live in the tropics, but they also occur in the temperate regions of Australia, New Zealand and Europe.  There are no native Stick insects in Britain, however there are 3 species (originally from New Zealand) that have set up home in Cornwall, and last I heard they were doing fine!

 

Female Giant Spiny Stick, blending in

Over recent years Stick insects have become more and more popular as pets.  Most people start off, quite by accident, by giving a home to some spare bugs from a friend.  These are usually Indian Stick Insects (Carausius morosus), a rather plain looking green insect whose most fascinating trait is the ability to breed and breed and breed (hence their superabundance).

For many years Indian Stick insects were the only ones available for potential keepers.  Thankfully, due in no small part to a body of hardcore enthusiasts known as the "Phasmid Study Group" (PSG), there are many more species available today.

Of all the species I've kept as pets, my top three have to be:

  •  Giant Spiny Stick Insect (Eurycantha calcarata)
    A fantastically spiky little devil from Papua New Guinea.  The female (top picture), although bigger than the male, is the friendliest of the two.  The males possess evil looking thorns on their back legs which they use for defence against other males (and you if you're not careful).  I've heard that the people of Papua-NG traditionally used these spikes as fishing hooks.
  •  Macleay's Spectre (Extatosoma tiaratum)
    This is my all time favourite stick insect and it's the mimicry champion of the world.  Originally from Australia and nearby islands, these guys spend most of their time pretending to be bits of tree (second picture). However, when upset, the females raise their front legs, curl their tails and give a passable impression of an angry scorpion.  On top of that, they lay eggs that look like seeds and their babies look like ants.  Cool.
  •  Jungle Nymph (Heteropteryx dilatata)
    This is one of the world's biggest insects. Whilst the male (third picture) is a little drab, the female is a different matter entirely.  Day-glo green, covered in spines and with a serious attitude she really is the one to watch.
  • Although stick insects need a lot less looking after than many pets, they still need to be given food (usually bramble), water and varying degrees of warmth - depending on the species.  Before you consider getting hold of some, please follow the links on this page to learn more about their requirements or buy a book.  I can recommend the following, available at Amazon.co.uk:

    You can get stick insect eggs (ova) free if you are a member of the Phasmid Study Group (PSG) and you can also buy them from breeders.  If you live in the UK, I can recommend Graham Smith or Virginia Cheeseman, both of whom keep large stocks of captive-bred animals.  If you would like to contact other enthusiasts and you're under sixteen, check out The Bug Club.

    Juvenile Female Macleays Spectre
    Heteropterix Male (follow the Heteropterix link to see the female)
    Howie with stick insect on the  Barry Welsh Show
    Howie with stick insect on the  Barry Welsh Show
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