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Do Stick Insects Kill Each Other? (Myths and Facts)

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Stick insects are some of the more fascinating bugs you can find in the wild. Their long, camouflaged limbs keep them safely hidden on most twigs and branches.

But is it safe to keep these covert creatures in the same enclosure? Well, the answer is a bit more complicated than a one-word response, so continue reading to learn more!

Stick insects differ from the praying mantis or other long-limbed predators in the fact that they are strictly herbivores.

So while other animals may compete with each other for a meal or even find a meal in one another, this is not the case for the stick insect. What’s interesting, however, is that fights do break out amongst stick insects.

This is also perplexing due to the fact that stick insects typically choose the flight response when faced with danger. They will even sacrifice a leg to get away from their natural predators, which is actually insanely hardcore if it is to take off running. So why do they fight each other?

Northern Walking Stick

How and Why Stick Insects Fight

All right, so this is going to get kind of weird but stick with me. Female stick insects have the ability to reproduce both with a partner and without one.

Basically, they can dance if they want to, but they can also leave a friend behind. If a female stick insect chooses to lay eggs without the fertilizer of a male, all the eggs will then be born female.

This has actually resulted in a certain species of stick insect in New Zealand actually only producing female offspring. Typically speaking, most female stick insects will choose whether or not they want a male to fertilize their eggs, which will change the eggs from being all-female to being a fifty-fifty split down the middle.

If a male approaches a group of eggs that a female does not want to be fertilized, that is when trouble can begin to happen.

Once a female stick insect catches the errant whiff of some overly familiar male wandering into the vicinity, she starts getting territorial. If the male continues to keep wandering around the area looking to fertilize the nearest egg, the female will start to assault the male.

This is not the only time female stick insects will get aggressive, either.

Stick insects will do something called molting, which is to remove old skin, limbs, sometimes even internal organs for the newer, shinier models. We see this most commonly with snakes, but it is fairly common among reptiles and some families of insects.

During the final shedding of a female stick insect’s life, she will produce an aroma that detracts potential males from wandering anywhere near them.

It’s like putting on half a can of cologne; it’s just disgustingly pungent.

Well, most of them are put off by it.

Some of the more adamant stick insects just can’t seem to know when they aren’t wanted and will approach anyway. This is when the female stick insect will resort to a more direct approach of attacking the nosy intruder until it learns the importance of boundaries.

Lastly, and this is the rarest case, stick insects will fight other stick insects that are from a different breed.

There aren’t any definitive sources as to why this is, but if a stick insect sees another that is of a different area of the world, sometimes they will come into contact in a more aggressive way than owners would like. Thankfully, this is much less common than the previous two reasons and does not happen nearly as much.

tropical stick insect in Malaysian jungle

Myths and Facts

Stick Insects Play Dead – Fact

Most people in the western world are familiar with a possum’s ability to fake death to get out of a hairy situation with a predator, but they aren’t the only ones to do this.

If a stick insect feels it is in mortal danger, it will do everything short of clutching its chest with a hand to the sky as it feigns death.

So the next time you approach your stick insect too quickly and he falls face-first off his trusty twig, instead of giving him a proper burial, give him an award for his acting ability.

They Will Lose a Limb to Escape a Predator – Fact

As I stated briefly earlier, stick insects aren’t bothered all too much at the idea of shucking off a leg to get a comfortable distance from a hungry bird.

Adolescent stick insects will molt anywhere from six to nine times before reaching adulthood, so they can very easily suffer a lost leg as they will simply regrow it down the road.

Adult stick insects can actually force a molt as well if they need to regrow a lost limb, which is awesome.

Stick Insects Are Conflict Oriented – Myth

This myth is perpetuated by people who waltz by their stick insect vivarium and notice a missing leg or antenna on one of their stick insects. Though as we have covered earlier, this is typically a result of a misunderstanding between males or females and the rare case of two different breeds getting short with one another.

The average response to a stick insect being bothered is to run and hide somewhere, which is much more often than the scuffles they have amongst themselves.

Stick Insects Will Imitate Twigs – Fact

It’s always interesting to see how effective prey animals are at concealing themselves from predators and stick insects are fantastic at it. Their twiglike body and natural colors make them hard to spot even for more visually gifted birds, much less their typical arachnid and reptilian predators.

If you ever notice a stick insect looking like it’s dancing, what it is actually doing is imitating the swaying of a tree branch to better fit into its surroundings.

Walking stick insect trying to blend in

They Will Eat Their Dead Skin – Fact

It boggles the mind what animals and insects will go through to make sure they remain safe and unharmed in the wild. Younger stick insects or nymphs, to avoid detection by clever predators, will inhale their old skin like a Sunday dinner so they leave no evidence of their presence.

This also doubles as a way to consume some of the protein they lost in the shedding process, which is vital for recovery due to how vulnerable their new exoskeleton is after they molt.

If You Keep A Stick Insect Around It Will Bring Good Luck – Myth

This one might be a myth, but you are still perfectly allowed to believe it. Who knows? If someone wins the lottery with a stick insect in a birdcage, we will all have one attached to our hip by 2023.

This myth started in the Han Dynasty in China when people thought it was good luck to keep a cricket or stick insect with you to promote good fortune.

Stick Insects Are the Longest Insect – Fact

As of the year 2008, a new type of stick insect had shattered the record for longest insect measuring at an unbelievable twenty-two inches long all the way across.

Funny enough, the previous holder of this record was another breed of stick insect. To put this into perspective the average size of a child is anywhere from thirty-eight to forty-two inches, so these monstrous critters are over half the size of a child!


So while stick insects can get into tussles with one another, it usually is to protect their own eggs, which is something you see all across the animal kingdom.

Typically speaking, however, these docile, quietly clever creatures are more satisfied to blow with the breeze of a branch and munch on its former body to avoid predators.

So the next time you see one of your stick insects with a leg less than yesterday, rest assured he will grow it back.