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How to Care for Your Giant Prickly Stick Insect

How to Care for Your Giant Prickly Stick Insect

The giant prickly stick insect (Extatosoma tiaratum) is also known as the spiny leaf insect, Macleay’s spectre, or the Australian walking stick. It is a large, nocturnal, herbivorous invertebrate primarily native to northern Australia and New Guinea. Its preferred habitat is tropical forest.

Giant prickly stick insects grow 5-6” long, with males being substantially slimmer than females. Like all stick insects, they are designed for camouflage, with a multi-lobed body covered in small spines, giving it a mildly serrated appearance. Males have fully-developed wings, while females do not. Coloring is generally light to medium brown, but dark brown and even greenish individuals are known to exist. When startled, giant prickly stick insects will curl their abdomen and bend their forelegs to resemble a scorpion.

Giant prickly stick insects are one of the most popular pet stick insects due to their large size and calm natures. Lifespan is generally around one year, depending on what temperature they’re kept at.

Even if your stick insects reproduce, it is essential NEVER to release them into the wild, as this can threaten local ecosystems!

How much space do giant prickly stick insects need?

The general rule with housing stick insects is that the enclosure length and width should be at least twice that of the stick insect’s expected adult length, and the height should be at least three times expected adult length. A good starting point is 12”W x 18”H. The enclosure should have a mesh top for your pet to hang from for molting, and it should be well ventilated. Full-mesh enclosures work very well in climates that are not particularly dry.

Giant prickly stick insects can be housed in groups just fine. The important thing to remember for housing groups is that they will need more space, particularly horizontal space.

Do giant prickly stick insects need special lighting?

As long as the stick insect’s enclosure is in a room that receives ~12 hours/day of artificial or bright natural light, then additional lighting equipment is unlikely to be necessary. However, if it is being kept in a dark room then ~6500K fluorescent or LED illumination is helpful.

Do not place your stick insect’s enclosure in front of a window, as the sunlight can overheat the enclosure and kill your pet!

What temperatures do giant prickly stick insects need?

Giant prickly stick insects usually do well between 70-80°F, so they can be kept at room temperature. Avoid temperatures above 86°F and below 64°F. Keep track of the temperatures inside your enclosure with a digital thermometer like the Zoo Med Digital Thermometer & Humidity Gauge, with the probe placed in the middle. 

Usually, this means that giant prickly stick insects can be kept comfortably at room temperature. However, if you need to warm the enclosure, a low-wattage heat lamp works well for this purpose. Use a Zoo Med Nano Dome Lamp Fixture with a low-wattage heat bulb like the 25w Zoo Med Nano Basking Spot or similar. Place this in the middle of the enclosure. Do not place the lamp on top of the mesh, as this can burn your pet if it climbs onto the mesh. Instead, suspend the lamp from a Zoo Med Reptile Lamp Stand or similar. 

The heat lamp should be turned off every night. Temperatures should be able to drop at night without causing problems for your pet’s health.

What humidity levels do giant prickly stick insects need?

Humidity is very important for successfully keeping stick insects as pets, as it helps ensure successful molting and general wellbeing. The Giant prickly stick insect requires average humidity levels of 60-80% to stay healthy.

To increase and maintain healthy humidity levels, lightly mist your pet’s enclosure with a spray bottle at least 1x/day. If you are using a mesh rather than glass/plastic enclosure, then you will likely need to spray more heavily and more often. This also gives your pet droplets of water that it can drink.

Humidity levels should be monitored with a Zoo Med Digital Thermometer & Humidity Gauge or similar with the probe placed in the middle of the enclosure. 

What substrate is good for giant prickly stick insects?

Substrate is important to a stick insect setup because it helps maintain healthy humidity levels. It’s best not to go bioactive, as your stick insect will eat the plants. Here are some better substrate options:

You don’t need very much substrate. Depending on the size of the enclosure, 1-2” should be plenty.

To keep your stick insect’s enclosure clean, replace the substrate weekly and completely rinse out the enclosure and décor with hot water. Don’t use soap or disinfectants, as the residue may harm your pet!

What décor can you use in a giant prickly stick insect terrarium?

Giant prickly stick insects like having things to climb and hide behind in their enclosure. This encourages natural behaviors, which makes them more fun to watch, and decreases stress, which in turn increases lifespan. Here are some ideas:

Climbing objects should be arranged at a variety of angles to give your pet options. Hot glue is excellent for adhering climbing objects and artificial foliage to terrarium walls.

Make sure to leave an open space at the top of the enclosure twice the height of your pet for molting.

What do giant prickly stick insects eat?

Stick insects are herbivorous, which means that they eat plants. They eat leaves from the following plants: 

  • Blackberry (older leaves only, no new leaves)
  • Raspberry
  • Oak
  • Rose
  • Hazel
  • Eucalyptus
  • Hawthorn

Food should be available every other day — it’s not a good idea to starve your stick insect! It’s best to offer a branch of leaves, placed in a weighted vase of water to keep the leaves fresh for as long as possible.

Oak leaves freeze well for winter, and blackberry leaves usually stay available throughout winter. If you are having difficulty sourcing appropriate leaves for your stick insect to eat, romaine lettuce can be used in a pinch.

Never use leaves from garden centers or florists, as these are likely to be treated with insecticides that will kill your pet!

Do giant prickly stick insects like to be handled?

Generally speaking, pet invertebrates don’t like to be handled very much, but giant prickly stick insects tolerate it better than most. To handle your pet stick insect, place your hand under its front legs and use your other hand to scoop it up from behind. Be very gentle and let the stick insect come off the branch onto your hand of its own volition — otherwise can get injured!

*This care sheet contains only very basic information. Although it’s a good introduction, please do further research with high-quality sources to obtain additional information on caring for this species.

"Extatosoma tiaratum" by ComputerHotline is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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