Unusual Pets: Northern Walking Stick Insects

Not everyone wants a big furry dog, or a pet with a fifteen year lifespan. For some, the simple Northern Walking Stick Insect is the perfect low maintenance, or classroom project.

About Northern Walking Sticks

Northern Walking Stick Insects or Diapheromera femorata are a species of Phasmids coming from the order of insects called Phasmatodea. The Northern Walking Stick is one of the few non-tropical Phasmids and are native to North America.

They grow to about three or four inches long and are vegetarians. They range in color from green to brown.

Keeping Northern Walking Stick Insects as Pets

Walking sticks are an ideal pet for beginners or children. Their short lifespan of approximately one year, means they are a short commitment. They are cheap to feed and the only cleaning they require is removal of dried leaves (see feeding and care) and the occasional shedding skin. They are a fun and easy pet for the enthusiast and are great for people with animal allergies or who do not have room for a larger pet.

Housing

Your pets habitat may range from the simple to the elaborate. You can have a no cost jar or a well designed vivarium, as described below. Either way , the most important part of any Walking Stick set up is to provide them with Sticks, Twigs, or Branches. These are essential to their molting process. I can not stress this more. Not providing Phasmids with these tools for molting could be considered cruelty and is. The second most important requirement is a good lid. If you are using a large jar, having small holes in the lid will be enough, but for a larger set up you will want a tightly woven screen. You can purchase these from pet supply shops or make your own, its important the screen is fine, as nymphs are very tiny and can escape otherwise. It should be noted as well that they prefer taller enclosures to short long ones.

Although some people have kept a single or couple Walking Sticks in a small insect or reptile habitat or even a large jar I prefer to keep them in a larger Vivarium. Vivariums are Terrariums that not only include animals as well as plants. The simplest is an aquarium with newspaper on the bottom and a few potted plants inside, a more elaborate vivarium is described below. You can use any type of Aquarium to make a Vivarium. It’s a good way to recycle that leaky aquarium you have in the basement.

Building a Vivarium

When setting up a decent Vivarium for Phasmids size is somewhat important. A 1 or 2 Gallon Tank is okay for 1 or 2 Walking Sticks. However, if even if you only have 1 Walking Stick you will soon have 10 or 20 Walking Sticks due to the nature of their reproduction. I keep mine in a 7.5 Gallon Vivarium.

When setting up your Walking Stick Vivarium you should start by purchasing egg crate panel(the kind that is use in ceiling lighting) and a bag or air conditioning filter fabric. Cut a piece of the egg crate panel to fit the bottom of the vivarium.

After this you can use small pieces of Styrofoam or pvc fittings to raise the panel a half inch to inch to create a false bottom for your vivarium. (Note: if you are using a leaky aquarium run a bead of aquarium sealant around the inside base of your aquarium.). Place the air conditioning filter medium over the egg crate panel and then add a substrate mixture over it. You can purchase various substrates at pet supply stores or make your own using potting soil that has been microwaved for 30 seconds mixed then mixed with composed leaf matter.

Now you are ready to design your Walking Sticks new home. Collect sticks, pebbles, and rocks from your yard. Wash the rocks and pebbles thoroughly. Go to your local garden center or department store and buy some inexpensive plants that are small enough to fit into the vivarium even after they grow a bit. You will have to replace them from time to time. Also give all exposed parts of these plants a good wash before you place them in the vivarium.

If fed properly you Walking Sticks won’t completely consume the plants in their vivarium. If you are concerned with that you can use plastic plants or species they don’t touch such as Earthstars and Bromiliads. I have and a tank set up with those plants for 3 years now my Walking Sticks have not touched The Earthstars in the once.

In one area of your vivarium clear the dirt away from the filter medium and place the small pebbles to provide an area that you can add water into your false bottom, this is to prevent pooling of water which can lead to drowning of smaller nymphs. After this you can place the plants, rocks and wooden sticks you’ve purchased or collected so that it is pleasing to your eye. For added appeal add some mosses to the vivarium floor.

Other suggestions for you Walking Stick Vivariums are faux rock backgrounds either purchased or hand-made using any non-toxic foam product. This is particularly good if you have hard water or high calcium water. This way you can mist the background to avoid residue building up on the glass of your vivarium. You might also want to think about a drip water system, an automatic misting system, or a fogger. This all depends on how much you want to spend and how cool you want your Walking Stick Vivarium to look.

Like most Phasmids Northern Walking Sticks can be kept in mixed species Vivariums with other herbivorous species.

Food and Care of Northern Walking Sticks

Water is just as important for Walking Sticks as it is for most life on Earth. To water your Walking Sticks a simple misting bottle is all that is needed. However, as stated earlier you can set up more elaborate misting systems, Drip systems, or a fogger system to meet the watering needs of your Walking Sticks and the plants in the environment that you create for them.

If you have provided soil in the bottom of your cage (or vivarium) the soil should be kept moist, or you can provide a sponge which you will keep wet to provide water, or you can purchase a gel for watering crickets and insects. What ever you provide, remember to keep it wet daily.

Feeding walking sticks is relatively simple in the summer time provided you have fruit trees or bushes in your yard. We feed our Walking Sticks apple leaves, raspberry leaves, cherry leaves, plum leaves, and current leaves. Sassafras is another food they like. During the winter months we feed them Romaine Lettuce. It really needs to be Romaine Lettuce, other types of lettuce just don’t seem to meet all of their needs. Also Romaine Lettuce is easier to keep and it keeps longer than other types. A tip for keeping Romaine Lettuce longer is to keep it in a bag with a damp towel wrapped around it in the refrigerator.

Important: You must wash any greens or plants you give your Walking Sticks completely before giving it to them if you suspect or know they have been sprayed with herbicides or pesticides, especially anything from the supermarket. Even if it’s marked “Organic”.

Temperature wise if it’s warm enough for you inside you’re Northern Walking Sticks will be comfortable as well. This may not be true for tropical Phasmids. If you have an extended power outage or something of that nature it might be advised to move their vivarium to the warmest area of our house or apartment.

Breeding

Independent of what kind of housing you have provided it is important to note that your numbers will increase if you have moist soil in the bottom of your tank. If you do not want masses of stick insects do not provide any soil in the bottom of your enclosure. This may be of importance if you have children and these are to be their pets. One or two pets is fine, and their short lifespan means a short commitment. But if they reproduce its a major commitment.

Legalities

At the time of this writing Northern Walking Stick Insects are the only species of Walking Stick Insects that are legal in The United States by private individuals.

Canada allows more species of Phasmids to be kept by private individuals. However, Canada does not allow private individuals to keep Giant Indian Walking Stick Insects.

The United Kingdom and Other European Union countries allow private individuals to keep a greater variety of Phasmids than either The United States or Canada.

However, when deciding to keep any type of exotic pet you should check with your local authorities, such your local Bylaws, the Department of Natural Resources in The United States or Fish and Wildlife in Canada, or their equivalent in your area. Some communities have laws concerning certain exotics as there is a concern that they may escape into the wild. If for some reason you cannot care for your pets you must either re-home them with someone else who wants them or find some way to dispose of them, (they can be fed to lizards) but you cannot simply turn them loose. In many cities there are herpetological or entomological clubs with members who would be trilled to take them off from your hands.

Other Information

After your stick insect dies, you may use the body for resin jewelry or objects such as paper weights. Their bodies are hard when dry.

Some people have reported that they may reproduce without the presence of a mate.

Lizards who are refusing to eat regular food, may show interest in eating stick insects.

Related Reading

Setting up a Tropical Vivarium

Unusual Pets:  Leaf Frogs

Unusual Pets:  Green Anoles

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  1. C.Evans

    On May 24, 2008 at 8:47 am

    I have seen a number of walking sticks on my property. I’ve heard somewhere that they are a danger to my horses. Not from a bite, I believe, but if they accidentally ingest them, it could make them sick, or die. Do you know if there is any truth to this?

  2. Mark Gordon Brown

    On June 29, 2008 at 10:04 pm

    Honestly I hate to say one way or the other. Walking sticks are not native where I am, and as such horse owners are not concerned about them. They would have to be very toxic to kill a horse, and since many people feed them to reptiles I wonder about there toxisity… really don’t know.

  3. Sarah K.

    On August 17, 2008 at 2:32 am

    Hi! Thank you so much for your article.

    I am a teacher, and recently aquired two N. Walking sticks. One is larger,and has moultedtwice since we got him/her, the other is smaller and has moulted once.

    My question is: Do you know how to tell how old your stick bug is, and if I have them in a fairly large aquarium, how many bugs can I safely house together?

    Also, I am moving the aquarium to my classroom soon, for the school year, is it necessary to transport them home each weekend, or can I safely leave them there if I provide adequate food and misting?

    Thank you so much for your help!

    ~Sarah

  4. Mark Gordon Brown

    On August 17, 2008 at 11:43 pm

    age is hard to determine, at birth they are not even an inch long, about 3 inches long at 3 months of age, and maybe full size at 6 months of age.

    you can have lots in the same tank as long as you have lots of food – and when I say lots, I mean hundreds, one time we were cleaning out our 10 gallon tank and there were 300 of them (babies mostly)
    they will be okay on the weekends as long as they have fresh leaves and the tank is kept moist (even if you put a damp sponge in)
    good luck Sarah! The kids will love them!

    one caution – you might find that your pets have died – BUT do not clean out the tank right away, if you keep it misted you might find babies crawling around 1 month later, as has happened to us.

  5. alyssa nicolle

    On October 18, 2008 at 5:22 pm

    i found one of the stick insects in rocky harbour i kept it, found one by my house i still have it know it looks like a twig.and it has 7 eggs buried under the sand and leaves i only had for 5 months i think it is going to die soon so i will keep it for a month after thanks mark a k alyssa nicolle

  6. jenny kelly

    On October 18, 2008 at 5:26 pm

    cool alyssa see you at school and it look really cool.

  7. smoogie

    On November 6, 2008 at 3:41 am

    I am thinking of getting my nephew these creatures. I see that they lay eggs. Are they easy to see. We wouldn’t want to many of them so are thinking of removing the eggs when they are discovered and feeding them to the fish. Is this a good idea?

  8. alondra

    On November 24, 2008 at 6:48 pm

    Is it possible to purchase northern walking sticks (Diapheromera femorata) in California, or at least get them shipped to CA. I’ve been searching online for a couple of hours and haven’t been able to come up with anything, except in the UK. I looked on the CA Dept of Food and Agriculture and found that only Indian Walking Sticks are on their list as pests. Any ideas?

  9. Mark Gordon Brown

    On November 26, 2008 at 12:57 pm

    sorry I cannot help you, I am in Canada though so they should be available in California too. I bought my first insects at an exotic livestock auction, like for peacocks, and such – it was a 3 day auction in Alberta, one evening was small pets like Hedgehogs etc, this is where I found my first stick insects and where I often sell them too – ask your local Livestock feed store to see if they have such auctions in your area.

  10. Kyle

    On December 1, 2008 at 12:11 am

    I’m wondering if Mark or anyone eles may be aware of anyone selling Diapheromera femorata eggs here in Canada. We’re in Kelowna (BC) and were hoping to give our little (5-yr-old) biologist in training these and a vivarium to tend to. We’ve looked and can’t seem to find anyone with eggs of this species. Ideas?

    Thanks.

  11. Mark Gordon Brown

    On December 4, 2008 at 10:58 pm

    hi Kyle
    I actually sell mine at odd and unusal livestock auctions here in Alberta, you can ask a local Livestock feed store if they have such auctions around your area, these are the ones that sell odd breed chickens and such too. Their probably wont be these auctions in the winter though, spring and fall is more likely.

    or this link
    http://phasmidsincyberspace.com/
    they are in Vancouver

  12. Lili

    On December 5, 2008 at 4:00 am

    Hello,
    I’m a teacher too and I just got 6 indian stick insects from the zoo to keep in my classroom. They are great and the girls in my class love them – it’s nice to see them interested in holding and looking at a “creepy crawlie!” We keep them in a bug studio which is 50 cm high and 25 cm wide but 6 is the most we can keep in a container that size.
    The zoo-keeper told me to microwave the eggs in a sealed tub to prevent them from hatching but I have a tropical freshwater aquarium at home and was wondering if I could feed my fish the eggs? (like smoogie above!)
    Thanks…lili :)

  13. Mark Gordon Brown

    On January 5, 2009 at 10:14 am

    yes you can feed them to your fish. But it really depend what kind of fish you have – some wont eat them.. some will – if the fish is a carnivore it will but some fish are vegetarians and prefer plant matter and wont.

  14. Chuck

    On March 10, 2009 at 9:50 am

    Hi,

    I live in the Wisconsin and would like to purchase a couple native Northern Walking Sticks for my kids. We had found and kept one a couple years ago but haven’t seen any since. Anyone have idea of where to purchase? I’ve followed up on the info already posted and hoping for some new news.

    Thanks!

  15. Mark Gordon Brown

    On March 15, 2009 at 9:17 pm

    to Chuck #14

    I am not sure about Wisconsin. I am in Alberta Canada, hopefully you can ask at your local livestock feed store if they have exotic pet auctions in your area, I am sure they do.

  16. no

    On March 16, 2009 at 7:28 am

    no Hi

  17. Deep Blue

    On July 13, 2009 at 5:12 pm

    Insects are interesting pets. Great tips.

  18. veronica moore

    On September 18, 2009 at 9:11 pm

    I am a teacher and would like to buy walking sticks for my class and my students to enjoy. I have a 10 gallon tank with a screen top. Where can I buy them? I live in WA State. Any suggestions?

  19. Mark Gordon Brown

    On September 18, 2009 at 10:23 pm

    to Veronica
    I am not sure about in Washington State because I am now in Canada, they have sold them occassionally here in the Odd and Unusual livestock auctions, but not sure about export laws. Ask around in shops that specialize in reptiles and lizards they might have a source.

  20. Lostash

    On October 3, 2009 at 11:15 pm

    Not a damn CAT in sight! Thank god for that, Mark! Cute bugs these!

  21. S.K.

    On November 7, 2009 at 12:52 pm

    I am located in Milwaukee, WI and NEED to get a green, Northern Walking Stick for my 2.5 year old son. Anyone know where to get one asap? He wants one so bad!!! Thx!

  22. Mark Gordon Brown

    On November 8, 2009 at 12:15 pm

    to SK

    check at any reptile stores, they are usually the best places to find stick insects, or pick up a reptile magazine and look through the ads.

  23. Choisun

    On September 11, 2010 at 11:26 pm

    yeah i have a question, so i’m in the proccess of havin about 30 – 40 Baby walking sticks. I live in yakima washington state to.
    The problem is, It’s getting really close to winter , and i’m wandering do i put a heat lamp over them, a heat rock in the tank, what do i do. I reall love them alot and i want to keep them alive. please right back asap Thanks Choisun.

  24. Mark Gordon Brown

    On September 12, 2010 at 1:22 am

    Choisun

    I live in Alberta which is colder than Washington and I never used aheat lamp or rock. If you have Northern Walking Sticks and your house is above 65F they should be okay. Other Phasmids from warmer climate would require additional heat. However with Northern’s if is a comfortable for you than it should be good for them. Keep them away from drafts though. this is a good rule of thumb for any exotic small pets.

  25. Jamie

    On October 5, 2010 at 9:02 am

    Hi, I was wondering if you know where I can buy Indian walking stick egg from?

  26. Mark Gordon Brown

    On October 6, 2010 at 1:40 pm

    I have never heard of buying walking stick eggs, where I live Indian Walking Sticks are illegal.

    you can check in reptile magazines – they tend to advertise insects for sale there.

  27. collectorofarticles

    On November 5, 2010 at 10:59 am

    These things are adorable but knowing my kid, he’ll probably be afraid of it. I’ll show him these pictures when he comes home. :>

  28. olivia

    On June 28, 2011 at 7:03 pm

    were can I buy a walking stick bug

  29. Katie

    On July 22, 2012 at 12:55 pm

    I have been looking everywhere for a pet stick bug. I live in Texas. Is there any way I could get one?

  30. Andrew Clark

    On August 31, 2012 at 5:17 am

    There are currently NO phasmids legal to possess in Canada. All exotic species of invertebrate which are illegal to import, are also illegal to possess. D.femorata is native…but it is a designated pest, and thus ALSO illegal to possess. An additional species of Diapheromera is reported from extreme southern Alberta and Saskatchewan, but has not been formally documented at all in Canada so far. Consequently, it is currently considered “exotic” and prohibited. Once formally documented, it would hypothetically be legal to possess, at least until and unless designated a pest by CFIA [the federal agency which governs import and possession of organisms which may impact agriculture in Canada]

  31. Mark Gordon Brown

    On September 3, 2012 at 8:21 pm

    Thanks Andrew. When I first got ours we were given an information sheet which did say they were legal, and if I recall correctly it had a link to a government site which did say they were legal (the Indian Walking Stick was NOT legal). I have since sold all of ours – in fact a pet store in Edmonton bought them. I wonder if the laws have changed.

  32. Marny

    On September 15, 2012 at 11:40 am

    Hi. I am looking for stick bugs to have in my classroom. I live in Ontario. Any suggestions where I could get some. I have seen an add from Vancouver selling them. Do you think they could handle some travel with a courier or the mail?

  33. Northern walkingstick | Jazminandhesam

    On September 16, 2012 at 8:42 am

    [...] Unusual Pets: Northern Walking Stick Insects | The Real OwnerJan 17, 2008 … Not everyone wants a big furry dog, or a pet with a fifteen year lifespan. For some, the simple Northern Walking Stick Insect is the perfect low … [...]

  34. Bet Crooks

    On October 10, 2012 at 10:49 am

    Thanks for the information about Northern Walkingsticks. We found one the other day while walking along the Credit River in Mississauga Ontario. (If anyone is interested you can see photos at my website at http://naturalcrooks.com/rambles/walkingsticks-riverdale-mississauga/ )

    After reading Andrew Clark’s post, above, I wondered about whether it is legal or not to keep one as a temporary pet. (We let ours go, but afterwards I realized it might have been nice to keep it for a few days to show the kids at school etc.) So I wrote CFIA through their website to ask. They have replied that if it is a native species it is ok to keep it in a terrarium for a few weeks. Obviously it’s possible that the person at CFIA who told me this may not be aware of some more complex legislation, but I thought it interesting.

    Andrew Clark, if you’re still reading here, who at CFIA told you that the Northern Walkingstick is illegal? And was it illegal everywhere, or just where it’s not native? (e.g. they are only native in southern Ontario, southern Quebec, and possibly southern Manitoba. So I could see where they might be illlegal to have in BC where they are not really native.)

    Anyway, this was an interesting article, and the comments were interesting too!

  35. Nathan

    On October 20, 2012 at 3:00 am

    Thank you for such a good site. I just found a northern walkingstick nymph in my house. At first I didn’t know what it was and I was very intrigued. I did a little research and discovered what it is. Winter is quickly approaching and with two young daughters I would never be able to sleep at night if I see this little creature out surely to perrish within a few days. With a quick Google search your webpage came right up. It had just the right information to answer all the questions I had about setting up a habitat and taking care of this little guy. I think my daughters will love it! Wish me luck. Thank you for a good site.

  36. Lindsay

    On November 20, 2012 at 10:12 pm

    Hi Mark,

    I live in Edmonton, AB… I am looking to purchase a couple stick bugs. Would you be able to help me out? Also, do you know where I might be able to find Leaf bugs?

    Thank you!

  37. Mark Gordon Brown

    On November 24, 2012 at 7:26 pm

    Linday I have seen them for sale at the Innisfail (just south of Red Deer) Odd and Unusual Sales (Easter weekend and Thanksgiving weekend) but not for a few years now. The have these sales at the Innisfail auction market on the Friday nights.

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