Stick bug changing room

My stick bug hanging upside down and molting.

My stick bugs are getting pretty huge now.

I’m starting to rethink letting 30 hatch next time around.

They hatched in September and are growing pretty quickly. Some have gotten to be about five inches long already.

Do you know how stick bugs grow? Their skin doesn’t stretch like ours does. In fact, they don’t even have skin – it’s called their exoskeleton or their cuticle. They have to molt or shed in order to grow.

Stick bugs molt about six times within their lifetime. It is a very delicate and important process. Here is how it happens.

First, they hang upside down like this.

Next, they split their exoskeleton down the middle along the abdomen and free the head.

Because stick bugs are not made of muscle, this process is super tiring for them. There is a much-deserved pause after this until they are ready to wriggle the rest of their body out.

Finally, it’s time to crawl out of their old skin with the help of good old gravity – that’s why they hang upside down. This part takes the longest, but here is a video of a bug in the last stage of its molt.

When they are free from the old skin, stick bugs straighten out, puff up with air while their exoskeleton is still soft and then let themselves harden. Take a look at this series of photos of a leafy stick bug molting.

To get rid of the evidence, they are known to eat their old skin like this guy in the video. It’s a great source of protein!

This process is actually very difficult and tiring for stick bugs. A lot of times, not all of their legs will make it out of the molt and they will come out of it with one less limb. Not to worry, though. They can gradually regenerate their lost legs during the next molt if they are still young enough.

It takes a few new molts to successfully re-grow a new stick bug leg. At first, the new leg looks like a deformed, curly stub. After a while, however, it will get long enough, uncurl and function normally.

Stick bugs adapt pretty easily and can still live on only a few legs. One of my bugs is surviving on only two legs at the moment.

The process is fascinating and happens mostly at night because they are nocturnal and most vulnerable during this process. So if you ever see a stick bug molting, do it a favor and let it do its thing.

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