Are you looking for an interesting, unusual and easy to keep pet? A leaf insect may be just the creature you are looking for. True, you can’t take them for a walk, stroke or cuddle them, but once you start to delve deeper into the fascinating world of the leaf insect you are in danger of becoming addicted to the many different types, colours and behaviours of these amazing creatures. Leaf Insects also have the benefit of being pretty much allergy free!
Leaf insects belong to the family of insects called phasmids of which there are over 2500 types, stick insects belong to the same family. Leaf insects are naturally found in south Asia, south east Asia and Australia They are fascinating creatures that look just like leaves. Leaf insect is the common name for several species of insects with leaf- like enlarged legs and abdomens. Leaf insects mimic the leaves of the plant that they live on so closely that their predators have great difficulty in spotting them. In some species the edge of the leaf insects body even have the appearance of bite marks to look like damaged leaves. When a leaf insect walks it rocks backwards and forwards to mimic a real leaf being blown in the wind, the nymphs (young) of some species have even developed a rather cute “cartwheel” action along the branches to escape predators.
Most female leaf insects can reproduce by laying eggs without a male. This biological miracle is called parathenogenesis which means that all the subsequent leaf insects born will be female.
Leaf insects are insects which undergo incomplete metamorphosis, thereby they miss out the vulnerable pupae stage in their growth cycle.
The leaf insects growth cycle is:-
Egg- nymph – adult
One benefit of incomplete metamorphosis is that the nymphs (young) resemble mini adults and therefore eat the same food as the adults. Any dangers that may be encountered in the need to travel distances to look for the next stage of food are eliminated. Another benefit of incomplete metamorphosis is that if a limb is lost due to injury or difficulty in shedding its skin it is possible for a new limb to be re grown. This exceptional ability can only occur whilst the nymph sheds its skin as it grows larger, therefore if your fully grown adult leaf insect loses a limb a new limb will not be re grown.
A leaf insect nymph will shed its skin many times before it reaches full size.
Leaf insects as pets
Leaf insects are relatively easy to keep as pets and are ideal pets for children (with adults closely supervising). In comparison to other pet choices leaf insects don’t smell, they are clean, quiet and attractive and don’t require training and social interaction! Another bonus is that they don’t have fur and feathers, which are the cause of allergic reactions in many people. However as with all living creatures leaf insects do need the same commitment from their owners to feeding, care and maintenance.
The key to keeping leaf insects successfully is to try to mimic the conditions that they would naturally experience in the wild and feed them foliage as close to what they would naturally eat as possible.
Leaf insects need to be housed in a clear glass or plastic aquarium that is taller than it is long, about 30cm in height should be sufficient. A large sweet jar is ideal. They need to be kept fairly warm at a temperature of 21-24 centigrade, the temperature can be allowed to decrease at night. The best way of maintaining the correct temperature is to keep them in a warm room. Some of the more delicate species may require a supplementary heat source, which could be in the form of a heat pad or lamp. Caution is needed when using lamps as they can cause the atmosphere in the cage to become too dry. If the cage in which the leaf insect lives becomes too dry the nymph may struggle to shed its skin effectively during moulting which may result in a limb being lost.
The opening to the leaf insects cage should be covered by fine netting, to ensure that the insects don’t escape and also to provide adequate ventilation. The floor of the cage can be covered with paper for ease of cleaning. Light coloured paper will enable the eggs of the leaf insects to be seen most easily.
It is very important that a moderate level of humidity is maintained in the cage, this can be easily achieved by spraying the leaves of the food in the cage once or twice a day. Spraying the leaves will also ensure that the insects have enough to drink, however be aware that too high a level of humidity may promote mould growth, which could be detrimental to the leaf insects health. Too much water pooling in the cage may also cause the insects to drown.
Leaf insects are very clean creatures and cleaning them out once a week would be sufficient to maintain a healthy environment, unless any water spillages occur.
Almost all species of leaf insects will eat bramble (blackberry) leaves, which are available even in winter in sheltered places. Alternatives include oak and eucalyptus leaves. When sourcing leaves for food it is essential that they have not been sprayed by insecticides and herbicides which are lethal to leaf insects, for this reason it is best to avoid collecting food near busy roads.
When the food has been collected wash it and place in a jar of water inside the cage. Cover the neck of the jar with fine netting to prevent the insects from falling in and drowning.
Spray the leaves sparingly every day and replace the leaves as necessary to keep fresh.
Occasionally very young leaf insects can become reluctant to feed. Try cutting the edges of the food plant leaves to reveal more tempting fresh, tender leaf edges.
Leaf insects are extremely delicate especially when young and if handled too roughly they may easily shed a leg. If it is necessary to handle your leaf insect gently coax them to walk onto your hand.
Female leaf insects breed very easily and with luck may do so within a couple of weeks of reaching adulthood. As previously discussed in most species of leaf insects the females do not require the presence of a male to breed.
Each female will lay approximately 40 eggs each at the rate of 1-2 per day. The eggs will probably be found on the base of the cage. Eggs should be collected and placed on moist sand in a plastic box, the box should then be kept at 20-25 centigrade. The eggs may take 2 months- 1 year to hatch. When the nymphs (young) hatch place them onto fresh bramble leaves with the edges cut to stimulate feeding.
Where to buy
It is best to buy leaf insects as nymphs if possible otherwise you won’t know how old they are or indeed how long they have left to live. If you buy the insects as eggs you may have a long time to wait as they can take up to a year to hatch!
Lots of breeders advertise on the inter net and pet shops should be able to give you details of reputable local breeders.
In conclusion what are the pros and cons of leaf insects as pets?
– They don’t smell and can be kept anywhere in the house including a child’s bedroom.
-They are cheap to house and feed.
-They don’t require social interaction or taking for a walk!
– They don’t cause allergies.
– They are prolific breeders.
– They are prolific breeders.
– They teach children about growth cycles, shedding skin and the value of life.
– There are many different species of leaf insect each with their own colours and behaviours.
– They are delicate to handle especially when young.
– They can easily lose limbs.
– Too high humidity may promote mould growth.
– They are prolific breeders, so you may have many insects to re home.