The perfect small pet might be right under your nose

I can’t remember exactly how this pet came into my life, but I distinctly remember it being one of the coolest, most interesting, and easiest critters I’d ever had.

And grew up with a lot of pets.

Dogs and cats, yes. But also chinchillas, cockatiels, hamsters, mice, guinea pigs, gerbils, fish, a rabbit, a hedgehog, and an assortment of frogs/toads. Oh, and a leopard gecko. And a bunch of hermit crabs. And one impulse-adopted escape-artist shrimp.

(Despite all indications to the contrary, I did not grow up on a farm or a zoo.)

I loved all those pets, in one way or another. Some were friendlier than others, some were challenging to keep, and some became my best friends. No matter the species, all of my many pets had the best home I could give them at the time, and were all special to me.

But one tiny pet made a big mark on my memory.

The stick bug.

aka stick insect, aka walking stick, aka phasmid

Now, I am not a bug lover. Insects play a vital role in the ecosystem, sure, but I wouldn’t be too upset if I never saw another spider in my house ever again. Yuck.

So for me to keep an insect as a pet was a pretty big deal.

The stick bug – which, sadly, I never named – was highly cool. It was about 8 inches long, greenish-brown, skinny, and a dead ringer for an actual stick. When I could spot it, that is.

There’s more than one in here! How many do you see? Image: Phasmid Study Group

There are a lot of ‘pros’ for keeping a walking stick insect as a pet.

  • Walking sticks are surprisingly friendly. When handled slowly and gently, they don’t seem to mind being picked up. It’s hard to tell, but they might even like it, since they’ll crawl onto your hand quite readily. Like any animal, they can bite when handled roughly, but it’s extremely unlikely.
  • They’re super chill. They don’t scurry, dart, scuttle, jump, or fly. All they do is walk slowly in a non-creepy way. They have no interest (or ability) to infest your home if they escape.
  • They eat romaine lettuce. In nature, stick insects eat whatever plants are outside, but in captivity, a leaf of lettuce is all they need. Now, this is species-dependent, so you really must do some googling to make sure you’re feeding yours correctly.
  • They’re silent, odorless, and clean. Your landlord will have nothing to complain about.
  • They’re low maintenance. A stick insect will live quite happily in a well-ventilated 10-15 gallon aquarium decked out with twigs and leaves. Room temperature is just right for them, and a gentle daily misting provides all the water they need. Of course, you’ll need to remember to clean up wilted lettuce and refresh the environments once in awhile, but other than that, there’s not a lot of care. Arguably, walking sticks are the easiest exotic pet there is.
  • They don’t have long lifespans. Time to get real. If you’re not sure how much of a commitment you want to make to small pet ownership, you’re in luck. Stick bugs only live about a year.

If you can’t (or don’t want to) care for a cat, dog, or hamster, walking sticks might be just the ticket.

Best of all, they live wherever you do.

Stick insects live on every continent except Antarctica, and if you have a keen eye, you can probably find one in your backyard right now.

I did once. I have no idea how I managed to see this little fella walking in the grass outside my home, but I did. 

Do you see it?

Sounds awesome right? Read this fine print before you bring one home.

  • Stick insects are just as fragile as they look. Only careful adults should pick them up, and even then only as gently as possible.
  • Make sure there’s enough room for your bug’s environment, because they can get quite large. They like to hang upside down, too, so the top of the aquarium/terrarium should be mesh.
  • Purchase your insect from a reputable company. It’s not nice to take wild animals from their natural environment. On the other hand, non-native stick insects are illegal to keep as pets in the US, so do some research either way.
  • Important: If you have a pet stick bug, do not let it outside. Depending on the species you’ve adopted, it could be an invasive ecological pest.

If you do decide to get a pet walking stick insect, be a responsible pet parent (because it is a pet) and do your homework. There are over 3,000 phasmid species to explore!

But if you aren’t ready for that kind of commitment, just take another look in your backyard! You might be in for a surprise.