Introduction: How to Keep a Pet Spiny Leaf Insect

Picture of How to Keep a Pet Spiny Leaf Insect

How to look after your very own spiny leaf insect (extatosoma tiaratum), a unique species of stick insect from Australia! These are commonly found in pet stores all over the world, and are quite popular as pets.

Step 1: Things You Will Need

1: An enclosure of some sort- preferably a fly screen cage. If it is rectangular as most cages are, it should be placed vertically due to the insect's instinct to climb. As a general rule, the cage should be at least 3 times as long as the adult insect- Adult females grow to about 110mm long so I would recommend a 40 cm by 30 cm by 30 cm cage.
Stick insects are accomplished escape artists- so you must be careful not to leave any gaps and make sure there are no tears in the fly screen. (I didn't completely close the cage lid once, and all of my young insects escaped into the house- they took hours to locate)

2: A source of eucalyptus leaves- you must be able to access young foliage as well as older leaves. When collecting the leaves, make sure that nobody has sprayed any chemicals on the tree you cut branches from.
The leaves will be the insect's food. If you don't live in Australia, you can feed them on bramble leaves- although these will be hazardous to collect.
If you feed your insect on eucalyptus leaves, they will turn a shade of tan to camouflage against dry, curled eucalyptus leaves, but if you feed it on brambles it will turn green in order to better blend in to their environment.

3: A plant sprayer- an empty windex sprayer will do- as long as you wash it out VERY carefully (nothing kills a pet stick insect faster than cleaning chemicals)

4: A vase of some sort- to hold water and eucalyptus leaves. Doesn't need to be fancy- I use an old milk jug.

5: Newspaper- you will need 1 or two sheets of this every few weeks (the newspaper is to protect the floor of the cage from stains if it is made of wood and/or the need for cleaning)

6: A small tupperware that you are willing to wreck

7: A spiny leaf insect (quite obviously). You can often acquire one from your local pet store- if not, there are websites that will ship eggs or young insects to your house (I purchased mine from, a business in Sydney, Australia) I would recommend getting a female- the males have fully functional wings and can escape- although they are clumsy fliers that tend to crash into the nearest object when flying.

Step 2: Preparing the Cage

Picture of Preparing the Cage

To prepare the cage for your stick insect, lay two sheets of newspaper on the floor of the cage so that they cover the whole floor. Fill your vase with water, and stick several small eucalyptus branches in so that the cut-off ends are submerged in the water. Make sure that these branches have fresh leaves on them for the stick insect to eat. Then place the vase, leaves and all, on the floor of the cage. You are now ready to introduce your spiny leaf insect to its new home.

Step 3: Feeding and Watering Your Stick Insects

Picture of Feeding and Watering Your Stick Insects

Spiny leaf insects are very low-maintenance pets. They will feed off the eucalyptus branches until they become too dry. When the leaves dry out, remove them, change the newspaper on the floor, and put some new leaves into the vase. You may also need to top up the water in the vase, due to evaporation and the branches absorbing the water. You will need to change the leaves every week or so.

Spiny leaf insects need fresh water every day, in the form of droplets sprayed on the leaves with your plant sprayer. Do NOT put a water dish in the cage, as the insects will not drink from it and might fall into it and drown.

Step 4: Breeding Spiny Leaf Insects

Picture of Breeding Spiny Leaf Insects

If you have a male and female stick insect, they will probably mate and the female will begin laying eggs within a few weeks. When changing the newspaper on the floor of the cage, take a minute to collect any eggs that lie among the excrement. The excrement is dry, and smells like eucalyptus so you don't need to worry about it smelling bad. the eggs are oval, with a small orange lump on one end. they are easily discernible from the droppings which are cylindrical.

Note that parthenogenesis is possible in spiny leaf insects- the female can lay eggs without a male but they will be genetically uniform and identical to their mother and siblings.

Store the eggs in a tupperware lined with tissue paper (make sure that the paper has no harmful chemicals added). Once a day, remove the lid of the tupperware and lightly spray the eggs with your plant mister. drill several very small holes in the lid so that the moisture can escape, otherwise the humidity will result in fungal growth which can be harmful to the eggs.  

If you can get it, coco-peat is also a good substrate for the eggs, and I would recommend it over tissue paper because it holds its moisture for longer.  You can buy it in bricks from gardening stores which expand to form 5 or so litres of the stuff quite cheaply

The eggs will eventually hatch, although it can sometimes take more than a year for them to do so. check the tupperware every day when you spray the eggs for newborns- they will look like ant/scorpion hybrids, small black insects with curly tails.

You can house the baby stick insects the same way you house the adults, but add some young leaf growth to the cage as the babies wont eat the older growth until they are more mature. Make ABSOLUTELY sure that the cage you house them in is completely escape proof- you wouldn't believe how small a gap a baby spiny leaf insect can escape through. I keep my spiny leaf insect babies (known as nymphs) in a whole separate container which is more escape-proof than a fly screen cage.
After the nymphs' first molt they will turn brown and begin looking like miniature adults. This will take about 2-3 weeks. once they have had their first molt, they will be much larger, and they will no longer "run". At this stage you can introduce them to the main cage.

Step 5: Handling Spiny Leaf Insects

Picture of Handling Spiny Leaf Insects

Stick insects cannot bite, sting, or otherwise harm you, but female spiny leaf insects have spines on their undersides and legs that they may brush against you if they are handled roughly. All stick insects are delicate creatures, and should be handled carefully in order to prevent them from getting hurt.
To pick one up, place your hand above the stick insect (they have an instinct to climb) and gently nudge it from behind and below. This technique may not work with adult females, as they tend to hang upside down in one place and lay eggs. As a general rule, adult females should be handled with extreme care if you handle them at all.
Spiny leaf insects can also be picked up by very gently holding them between your thumb and forefinger on the thorax. This is helpful when removing fungal infection, as we will discuss later.

Step 6: Stick Insect Health

Picture of Stick Insect Health

A veterinarian cannot do anything for a sick insect, but there are effective ways of reducing the risk of sickness:

1: Keep the cage well aerated (this wont be a problem if you have a fly screen cage). This will help keep the air in the cage clean.

2: Keep the insects and the leaves away from any kind of chemical. Chemicals can poison the insect, which usually results in death.

3: Only spray the leaves lightly- don't soak them as the insects do not need very much water.
This will help prevent fungal growth on the leaves, which can spread to the exoskeleton of the insect. If you see fungal growth on the leaves, check the body of the stick insect for fungus as well. If you see any (it will usually grow on the underside of the thorax) gently wipe it off with a damp paper towel. This will prevent the fungus from spreading to the internal organs of the insect which can cause death.

Step 7: Keeping Other Types of Stick Insects

Nearly all other stick insects can be kept in much the same way as spiny leaf insects- although in most cases the type of foliage needed will differ. Other popular stick insect species include goliath stick insects and indian stick insects. Note that Spiny leaf insects are also known as giant spiny/prickly stick insects and Macleay's spectre.


Melanie_2001 (author)2016-11-24

I have a question because I'll be getting a spiny leaf insect soon and I want eggs but I think I'll only afford only a female one I found out that the female can produce eggs without the help of a male but will the eggs hatch without being fertilised by the male, because I would like to babies.

i have 4 feamels that all produce eggs you do not need a male to have eggs

Vanpire5102 (author)Melanie_20012016-11-25

From what I have heard I'm pretty sure you can.

SK58 (author)2017-02-03

Hi there, I have crowned stick insects and spiny leaf insects. Both breeds of eggs have started to hatch but they have problems either getting out of their egg or eating. Both of them couldn't get out of their egg - I had to help them, and both wouldn't eat and therefore died. We chopped up the leaves so they could eat, and we put young and old leaves into their terrarium. What can I do to make the nymphs eat?

hlozie ashlee (author)SK582017-09-28

try to find softer leafs

Cdoodle01 (author)SK582017-02-23

There probably not eating because there stressed out from something... Normally they like to be in a crowed area where the are more then two other leaf insects with them so there more protected.

Janine Davidovic (author)2017-01-18

hi, had 3 insects but the male passed away just before christmas. now i only have a baby female(minni) and a female(megan) which is pregnant and about to lay eggs. orthough yesterday both females shedded thier scin last night and i didn't see. it went terribly rong, megan lost a arm and lost her proper scin of one of her feet but she can handle it. minni had her first molt and lost one arm, broke her tail, pulled all her claws of so she can hardly walk she looks like she's moon walking and she's not eating or drinking. I want to help but I don't know what to do, does anyone know what to do?


she should start to eat and drik in a few days both my leaf insects lose a leg while sheding

unfortunately this happens sometimes but there is nothing you can do... Eventually the leg will grow back and hopefully in a few days she will start to eat and drink again... Wish your little bugs luck!

don't stress sometimes they do lose arms and legs and it dose hurt them but all you can do is wait because they grow back in at least a months time

Sophia Sutton (author)2017-01-07

Hi all, my younger sister got a female spiny leaf insect this year for Christmas who was apparently 5 months old, we've been changing the leafs every 3-4 days and been spraying water on the maybe every 2. But lately she's been hanging upside down on the roof of the container or around the pot of water we have in there for the leaves. A couple of days ago when we were cleaning out her container we noticed her poo being very very runny, I'm not sure if she's dying but when we brought her the breeder said she was very young and should live for another 10 months. We used to look after a female who was about 8 months old for a friend, and she was never like this and we're doing the same thing we did for that one. I don't know if it's because she's actually older then the breeder told us she was or she's ate something funny, but my sisters really worried that's she is going to die. Thanks for reading

JoC51 (author)Sophia Sutton 2017-01-09

HI ... it is normal for them to hang upside down but they often slow down and hang on the top of the enclosure when they are preparing to shed their skin. Just keep the leaves fresh and moist...spray daily especially in warmer weather. Also she wont lay eggs until she has had her final molt which is around 10mths old. Hope that helps

hlozie ashlee (author)JoC512017-09-28

yes mine hang from the top to shed my old ones lived for 2 years (very very rare) and they used to shed once a year

Cdoodle01 (author)Sophia Sutton 2017-05-05

my leaf insects poo was runny and it's because she ate a bit of bat poo of a gumm leaf

also sorry she hasn't laid any eggs yet

KaylaT36 (author)2017-03-21

i have had two spiny leaf insects, a male and female, for around 2-3 months now, they are both old enough to breed. i have had spiny leaf insects in the past and they have never produced any eggs. are there any specific requirements that need to be addressed or am i doing something wrong? i spay their leaves once a day and change their leaves once a week, i try to keep the humidity down and the temperature doesn't go below 21 degrees in summer. they both are shedding naturally and seem to be behaving appropriately. can anyone help me?

Cdoodle01 (author)KaylaT362017-05-05

normally they decide when they want to mate ... And don't worry you haven't done anything wrong!

Jack jasionek (author)2017-04-10

I have 5 eggs that where due for birth 5 days ago and it's been 3 weeks and they still haven't hatched does that mean the eggs are dead or there just going to have a late bir

Cdoodle01 (author)Jack jasionek2017-05-05

my eggs took 4 months to hatch so it should be fine... Maybe give it some more time ... Also have you been spraying them every week ???

JuliaH64 (author)2017-04-18

how long are spiny stick insect when they are adults

andriaann151 (author)2017-01-22

are they illegal in the united states? pennsylvania?

Cdoodle01 (author)andriaann1512017-02-23

no there not illegal you can back ally have them as pets anywhere

greenbuglady (author)2016-09-02

Hello, I had some insects that passed away in February of this year, however they left a lot of eggs. I put them in a box with chux paper and sprayed them daily for a few months. However for the past few weeks I have been unable to spray them, and the part of the egg that has a little protruding hole has gone black and scabbed over. Does this mean the eggs gave died? Is there anything I can do to save them? Thank you :)

if they have turned black that mostly means there not going to hatch ... the thing is you don't spray the eggs because it just spreads mould all over them sorry for you loss ???

KristiF14 (author)Charlotte19122016-11-24

If you don't spray the leaves, how do they stay moist? We have some babies currently and they have shed skins twice, but we want to do the right thing when the eggs happen :)

JoC51 (author)KristiF142017-01-09

put sand in the container and lightly cover the eggs. Spray lightly when the sand becomes dry. I forgot to spray my eggs for about a month once and when i sprayed they began to hatch. Good luck

Vanpire5102 (author)2016-11-25

Hi, I have two spiny leaf insects, a boy and a girl, and I have had them for about a month. My male pasted yesterday but only grew his wings about two weeks ago. Is It possible that he died of old age? If not, does the male die after mating? Please answer ASAP or tell me if you have any other ideas.

JamiT2 (author)2016-11-15

Hi DragonB2!! I asked you a ton of questions last year (early this year??) about my ex's dying stick bug. Yeah, she didn't make it :( But now I have my own. She's doing beautifully. The only question I have for now, IsHave a wondrous birthday Kirsten!!it normal for Australian leaf bugs to eat their own skin after a molt?? The first time she did, I thought it was a fluke and maybe her food wasn't fresh enough. But she did it again with her latest molt. Thereby earning her the name, Zombug!! LOL. Is this normal Spiny Leaf insect behavior?? If not, is it going to hurt her??

Chilli ? (author)JamiT22016-11-20

it is perfectly normal for them to eat there're own skin ............. I know it's really creepy and all but it helps them grow ??????????????

JamiT2 (author)Chilli ? 2016-11-20

Thanks Chilli? I found that out the other day when DragonB2 answered me on his page. It is kinda creepy but makes total sense. I only asked because our last one didn't do that. She would just walk away from her molt like it was something really gross. LOL.

Charlotte1912 made it! (author)2016-11-06

This little one just hatched 1 minute ago YA

RachelS177 (author)2016-10-18

Hey, I have a bunch of questions.

Do spinies ever hang from
their tail? My male juvenile was hanging from his tail this morning, all
his legs were curled, I thought he might be dead. He then dropped to
the bottom of the cage on his back where he moves his legs a little but
not much.

Secondly, how much should I be expecting my spinies to
be eating? They're both juveniles and they don't eat much at all. I'm
feeding them gum leaves - are they too tough?

Lastly, what do the
eggs look like? I keep hearing a clicking coming from the cage and
suspect it's the female throwing eggs but all I can see is poop on the


Charlotte1912 (author)RachelS1772016-11-06

yes sometimes the males do hang from there tail but they should be moving ...and if there only juveniles there not going to eat much at all so don't worry to much because gum leaves are just fine for them... and then lastly the eggs should look green and round and just smaller then a pea... hope this reply has helped you ????❤️????❤️???????

Charlotte1912 (author)2016-11-06

hey guys

My juvenile female is on her leaf but only moves when you touch her and I always do the things I'm ment to like spray there leaves and stuff but she also keeps on doing push up kind of things is it possible that she is laying a egg... what's going on ?????

Swifty654 (author)2016-06-25

Hi my spiny is on the ground and not moving unless I touch her what do I do

greenbuglady (author)Swifty6542016-09-02

In my experience this usually means they are dying. Sometimes they die quickly but at other times they just lie motionless (but respond to touch) for a few hours or days.
Might be too late a reply sorry

LisaJ77 (author)2016-04-28

Important information I have figured out with the babie nymph, if you find they are not eating. Please try feeding them wattle. Its easier for them to chew. Since i have wattle for the young and eucalyptus for the older ones.

JamiT2 (author)2016-02-26

I have a friend with a female Australian spiny leaf insect and something really weird happened last night. She just keeled over. She can't stand on her own, and keeps falling over on her side or back. She didn't die, but is now leaking a brown fluid from the tip of her tail and out of one "elbow" on a front leg. Do you have any idea of what this could be. She's about 5-6 months old, has had 5 molts, and has been eating very well. Her usual diet is blackberry leaves, but has recently had rose leaves that have had no pesticides.

mdiven1 (author)2016-02-04

Wow very helpful. I have three two girls and one boy . I got the boy for free as he would not get off the branch . The petshop lady said it was a bit of a runt and may die so i could have it . The two girls are different one is happy to hang there while I clean the cage the other is an escape artist and would rather use the opportunity to run up my arm to my head and stay there . The male he is very timmid and will curl up and drop when i move the leaves and then stay at the bottom of the enclosure swaying till i close the doors . The girl that is happy to hang there is always the first to start in to the leaves. When I was getting readyto clean out the leaves tonight i thought something was wrong with one of the girls but watched her for a moment an realised she was just starting to shed. Ive never seen it before. .... thank you for your info . My guys are bout three months old now ao i might see some egs soon

PerfectM (author)2015-04-01

Hi jugglebug, we have over 300 eggs, all female, their mother has passed on now. Some weeks ago they started to hatch. Each one has died despite having very young leaves available. We have probably lost about 8 now, no survivors. We have 2 at the moment which are several days old. I don't want them to keep dying., we're at a loss of what else to try. We have access to all sorts of gum trees on our property. We have tried putting river sand on the bottom of the cage with a bark layer to help minimise injury when they fall. They just don't seem to ever eat the leaves and just want to hang out at the top of the cage. Most die before that hanging stage. Can you help ?

are you spraying the babies with a fine mist? they need the leaves sprayed too. :)

Try finding wattle. I found it much easier for the nymphs to eat. It may not look like they're eating, but they honestly do eat. Their mouths are so tiny it's difficult, but wattle is much softer and thinner for them to get their mouth over. Good luck

sarah.holdcroft.1 (author)2015-11-02

Just thought I'd show you a photo of Chip, right before her fourth moult.

I finally found a terrarium for a great price, and it's amazing. Doors swing open and lock, have ventilation holes etc. They're ideal for frogs etc, but I had to spoil my little girls :)

They're loving it.

DragonB2 (author)2015-10-11

thanks, I originally got my measurements wrong, I measured her with her tail curled, she is about 4 inches long. Would dirt or paper work also?

dirt, i don't think so. Paper towels, always misted to keep moist will work too. Coconut peat can be bought in blocks from gardening centres, and is really cheap :)

cool thanks

TraceyC8 (author)2015-10-21


Can you feed different varieties of Gum Leaves ?



DragonB2 (author)TraceyC82015-10-25

Sure, stick insect aren't fussy and will also eat acacia or wattle. However, break open the leaves to check for a eucalyptus smell. The ones with red stems often smell like lemonbalm which is a fake eucalypt.

my nymphs (fourth moult) love blue gum, regular gum and wattle. I found the wattle leaves finer and easier for the newly hatched nymphs to eat.

DragonB2 (author)2015-10-09

thanks, she just moulted a few days ago and know she is a full adult. I can't believe how big she became. Do you think she will still lays eggs even though there isn't a male? I have heard they can, but not everything is true on some internet websites

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