Amanda MackinnonSpiny leaf insects are great pets

Being an animal lover we have a range of animals at our place – dog, cat, chickens, fish and our latest additions which are 3 spiny leaf insects. Coming across them for sale on good old Gumtree classifieds, they soon turned into an unusual Christmas gift for our two sons.

Spiny leaf insects are easy to handle

Spiny leaf insects are easy to handle

Doing our research we quickly found out that these creatures are both fascinating and super easy to look after. Spiny leaf insects, Extatosoma tiaratum, are also known as phasmids and are native to the north east of Australia. They are brown in colour and camouflage extremely well against the older dead and dying foliage of gum trees. It would be very difficult to spot them in the wild – it sometimes takes me a few moments to spot them even inside their enclosure.

Our homemade spiny leaf insect cage made from an old fish-tank on its side

Our homemade spiny leaf insect cage made from an old fish-tank on its side

We have converted an old fish tank to house ours – turning it onto its side to allow them more height as they like to climb. The side (now the front) of the tank now has a fly screen cover so that don’t escape, and also to provide some airflow.

Apparently stick insects are accomplished escape artists, however we have seen no sign of that from ours, and even when the kids get them out to handle, they seem content just to wander up and down their arms. They love climbing and are easy to handle – just coax them onto your hand by encouraging them to climb. They have tiny hooks on their feet which make them expert climbers. Males have fully functional wings and are able to fly, however somewhat clumsily by all accounts.

Gum leaves chewed by spiny leaf insects

Tasty leaves after the spiny leaf insects have devoured them

All you need to do is give them fresh eucalyptus leaves once a week, sitting them in an jar or vase of water within the tank. I have read that some of them will also eat rose leaves and some species of wattle and can alter their colour a bit, depending on what they are eating. You should spray the leaves with a water sprayer once a day as the insects will drink the water droplets, however I must say we don’t do this every day and ours seem to be thriving, and all 3 have now moulted. I tend to give them a spray when I change the new leaves each week, and they seem happy with that.

They are funny to watch, you can see them munching busily on their gumleaves and leaving a trail of tiny chew marks along the foliage. They spend much of the day suspended upside down from the leaves, swaying gently – an excellent imitation of a dead leaf is ever I saw one.

Spiny leaf insects make great pets for kids

Spiny leaf insects make great pets for kids

I’m quite fascinated by the fact spiny leaf insects are parthenogenetic. This means that females don’t need to mat to reproduce. A single female can still produce young – replicas of herself. That’s pretty cool! I believe their lifespan is about a year and they can reach quite a considerable size. Does anyone else have some at home and have first hand experience at how long they tend to live?


‘Max’,’Raymond’ and ‘Bob’ are thriving in their tank and I must say have grown considerably since we got them. Arriving as 3cm little beauties, the largest is now about 6cm in length. My children swear they can tell them apart by the markings on their bodies, however I must say I haven’t paid all that much attention. They have been very easy to look after though. You won’t need to find a petsitter if you’re going away for a few days and you don’t need a pooper scooper!

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Amanda Mackinnon

About Amanda Mackinnon

Amanda's career has taken her on a remarkable journey through science, education, international business and communication. Living in a busy male dominated household – chasing around 2 noisy boys, one friendly golden retriever, a cheeky ginger cat and her husband, it’s no wonder she finds solace in the quiet beauty of plants! Amanda writes regularly for a variety of publications and is passionate about all things happening on the little island at the edge of the world.

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