Phasmida (stick and leaf insects)

Fast facts about stick and leaf insects

  • Over 3000 species world wide; around 15 species in Europe, 4 species have been introduced to southern Britain, probably on imported plants.
  • Camouflaged as twigs or leaves.
  • Many species are parthenogenic (females can lay fertilized eggs without mating), and males are rare or unknown.
  • However some species who do mate can maintain intercourse for months!
  • Females are usually wingless, some males have wings.
  • Front wings papery or leathery, hind wings broad and fan-shaped.
  • Hemimetabolous.
  • Small compound eyes
  • Legs long and thin
  • Strong, biting mouthparts.
  • Feed mainly on plants.
  • Eggs can lie dormant for as long as three years before hatching.
  • Frequently nocturnal.
  • Popular as pets.
  • After moulting nymphs can regenerate legs shed while evading capture.

Leaf insects

There are only about 50 species world wide. They are found mainly in south east Asia and New Guinea.

The body is flattened and leaf-like, sometimes complete with blotches. Some species resemble living leaves, and some resemble dead leaves.

They vary in size from about 3 - 11 cm.

Stick insects

There are over 2900 species in the world, found mainly in warm regions on foliage and twigs. To increase their camouflage some even sway in the breeze.

They range in size from 2.5 - 29 cm when fully grown, and are usually brown or green in colour. One of the longest stick insect ever recorded was a female Phobaeticus kirbyi from Borneo, which measured 55 cm long, and Pharnacia serratipes, at 55.5 cm (22 in) is the longest. For more insect records see this page.

If they are seized by a predator they have the ability to shed a leg. This leg will gradually grow back a little at each successive moult.

The eggs are hard-shelled, seed- or flask- like with a little lid at one end. In the wild they can occur in huge numbers, and the sound of their hard eggs hitting the forest floor sounds like rain.

Carausius morosus, Indian stick insect

Carausius morosus, Indian stick insect

Carausis morosus, the Indian stick insect, above, is also known as the Laboratory stick insect. It is nocturnal and parthenogenic, there don't seem to be any males in captivity. It can grow as long as 100 mm. The colour ranges from light green to dark brown. Its front legs can have patches of red at the base. When disturbed it will play dead or sway to mimic a twig in the breeze.

In captivity it can be fed privet, ivy or bramble. Cage height should be 25 cm at least to allow for successful moulting. Mature females lay several eggs every night. The eggs are oval and brown with a beige capitula (plug that opens to allow newly hatched young to crawl out). The eggs drop to the ground and hatch out after four months or so. Once hatched their life span is around a year. Nymphs moult six or seven times before reaching adulthood. It is important not to handle the stick insect when they are moulting or just after they have moulted as their skin (really their exoskeleton) is still soft and can be easily damaged. After their skeleton has hardened they can be handled with care. They are easy, affordable pets.

Clonopsis gallicus, stick insect, Phasmid

Clonopsis gallica (above) is found in Europe, and is very easy to keep as a pet.

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