Growing up I remember driving my Hot Wheels beneath the hedge of my parents home and something caught my eye. Looking up there was the foliage and branches as would be expected to be seen in any garden hedge. Then one of the sticks walked. There was no wind to move said stick, it was moving of its own volition! In my mind (being only 8 or 9 years old) this of course was evidence that the Ents from Tolkien were real. So began my introduction to the Phasmid or what is commonly known today as Walking Sticks, Stick Bug (actually a misnomer true bugs have a stylet used for suck juices from plants or in the case of the assassin bug other insects), or Walking Insect.Far removed from what I believed was the offspring of Tolkien’s Ents this was still an alien thing. Watching it for what felt like hours (maybe a minute in reality); it walked between the branches. I of course went in inside to alert my dad of this new creature, wholly convinced that I was about to take the science world by storm for assuredly this alien creature had never been seen before. Well, in my dad’s good nature he gave a hearty chuckle and explained that Walking Sticks were not really common but they were known worldwide. In fact, during one of his ‘tours’ in South East Asia while ‘going native.’ He met an indigenous people who would regularly catch much larger species than the one we were viewing and stick a makeshift straw into the operculum and suck out the internal organs as a common snack.
Today many people keep Phasmids as pets in their home. There are almost 3,000 currently valid species as recognized by the Phasmid Study Group. The name Phasmid comes from the Latin phasma meaning ghost or apparition presumably this is due to the insects ability to camouflage itself as either a stick or leaf. We won’t be discussing the Leaf Insects, in this piece we are only concerned with the Walking Stick.
Phasmids in Captivity
Diet is one of the biggest issues when it comes to Phasmid care in the captive environment. Phasmids are strict herbivores unlike their cousins the Mantid that Jo Taylor my co-author for this series had written about earlier. Some Phasmids eat a wide variety of leaves while others have a much narrower diet. Most of the phasmids kept in captivity can be fed using plants of the Rosacae family such as oaks. It is noteworthy that almost all phasmids can be fed a steady diet of bramble such blackberry Rubus the Jungle Nymph and Thorny Stick Insect will consume oak leaves. In a broader scope oak, privet, blackberry, and hawthorn can all be fed to phasmid species.
Housing is somewhat simplistic when compared to the other species of invertebrates that are kept in captivity. Phasmids require an enclosure that is at minimum three times the height as the phasmid is long to allow for the shedding process. Plastic housing is typically the best setup to use as it is lightweight, stackable, and easily cleaned with just warm water. Make sure the top is well ventilated so that fresh air can pass through the enclosure easily. The plastic enclosures usually have a ventilated top so generally this is never a concern unless you happen to get one of the larger species which may require an enclosure the size of say a 10 gallon tank or even larger when this size comes into play just buy an enclosure with a screen top.
Environmental conditions vary from species to species. Generally speaking paper towels without ink work very well for substrate of the enclosure. If you have tropical species such as Jungle Nymph Heteropteryx Dilatata you may want to use sphagnum moss as a substrate.
To increase humidity in the tropical phasmid enclosure a daily misting will keep them quite happy, use this only with the tropical species. Other species depending on which one you get will have varying needs generally the ‘dryer’ phasmids should be misted once a week and no more than that. With the tropical species allow the enclosure to dry out somewhat before spraying again if using moss remember this holds water very well and increases humidity so we would suggest using a hygrometer like the one shown.
As far as breeding is concerned there is really no single one way to breed the phasmids as there are simply too many microclimate elements that come into to play. The biggest factors are light intensity, humidity, air circulation, water, and humans disturbing the enclosure. Some phasmids are depositors and others just flick the eggs all over the place. Typically speaking looking at the abdomen of the phasmid will tell you if they are one which buries their eggs. The ones that bury their eggs have an ovipositor which appears as a needle like structure. Either way, I would leave the eggs if possible where they are laid and then move the mother to a different enclosure.
Phasmids make for interesting invertebrate pets with simplistic requirements and make a great addition to any family who may want to keep an unusual pet which may have a limited space to work with such as apartment setting. The R.A.G. store has all of your needed supplies for keeping phasmids in captivity.Herpetoculture House