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.
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.
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.
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.
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.