The two sexes differ wildly in appearance with females being large, spiny and generally impressive looking while the males are usually smaller with smooth bodies and exhibit more delicate looking features. Once they reach adulthood, males will sport a pair of fully functional wings whereas the females only develop a pair of wing buds (they cannot fly).
The Macleay's spectre is an absolutely bizarre and wonderful species of stick insect, I found them an utter delight to have in my home. Despite their size they are actually very easy to care for and with the right guidance you should have no issues whatsoever getting involved in the world of phasmids and keeping this species alive and healthy.
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As they hail from the gum forests of Australia, the natural diet for a Macleay's Spectre is eucalyptus; eucalyptus gunnii is a popular choice but the species doesn't really matter. Thankfully these insects also appreciate more readily available leaves such as bramble, rose and oak; all of these can be collected from wild sources (please ask land owner's permission if going to a private property), with bramble being readily available in sheltered spots even in winter.
Please be careful when collecting food plants and make sure they are not from sources that have been subjected to pesticides or fertilizers (whether sprayed or infused into the soil) as these will kill your insects. It's also advised that you gather older, larger bramble leaves rather than the newer, bright green ones as these contain naturally occurring toxins that, in high concentrations, may be harmful to the Macleay's spectre. Please also wash your food plants before putting them into the enclosure, this will remove dirt and pests such as aphids.
These insects are arboreal and live amongst their food, therefore it's important to have long stalks on the food you provide, these stems and branches also offer a safe place to moult (more information on moulting can be found in the "maximum size" section).
To keep your food plants fresh it is advised to sit stalks in a pot of water, this can keep them succulent for up to a week. You need to ensure that access to the pot of water is blocked off from your insects as if they fall in they will likely drown; make sure you replace the food plants regularly to keep them fresh and edible, this can be done either once a week or when the food starts to dry out, whichever comes first.
Water for your insects can be provided in the form of droplets by spraying your enclosure with plain water using a plant mister every two to three days. Please try not to spray onto the insects themselves as this can cause problems, but sometimes it is unavoidable.
If you keep adult male and female Macleay's spectre together, you will end up with ova (eggs); males don't fight over females but they can try to nudge each other away from their favoured lady. Related animals will breed if given the chance so it is advised to keep related males and females apart due to genetic weakness.
Female Macleay's spectres have an amazing ability known as parthenogenesis, which simply means that they can produce viable eggs without mating with a male (the female will clone her own DNA), although only females will hatch from these. While this may seem like a great process, it actually produces genetically weak offspring with very high mortality rates, and this species is particularly inbred so it's important to avoid this wherever possible for the long-term health of the species.
Regardless of how a female produces eggs, she will begin to lay them two to four weeks after reaching adulthood; her abdomen will swell and her appetite will increase substantially, and she will eventually produce up to fifteen eggs a day for a time, with this number settling down to a stable figure over the coming weeks. The eggs are usually mottled brown in colour with a single cream stripe down one side, a small sugary blob will be present on one end, this will disappear over time. Newly laid eggs are often dark brown but will develop mottling over time.
To incubate these eggs, they need to be kept damp and between 20-30°C (68-86°F), please keep in mind that excess heat and cold can inhibit the growth of the eggs, and a stable temperature is more important than having it particularly high. You can sit the eggs on damp kitchen towel (please replace this often to prevent mould, as mould will kill the developing embryos) or coconut fibre (again, please keep an eye out for mould). The eggs will take between six and twenty four months to hatch, with eggs produced via mating taking less time.
Nymphs (baby stick insects) are roughly 1.8cm long, black in colour with white bands around their feet and bright red heads, they are highly cute and incredibly fast, and may roam around at speed for a couple of days before they start to eat; to encourage eating, you can trim the edges of the provided food plant leaves to offer fresh, easy to chew morsels (alternatively, you can just shred the leaves for the smallest nymphs). Trimming thorns off food plant stalks is advised as I've read horror stories about mishaps nymphs have had with these.
This species is not cannibalistic but I advise keeping the smallest nymphs away from larger insects to prevent competing for food; these aren't an elegant species so you don't want the biggest ones to end up stepping on the tiny babies as they scurry around looking for food.
The nymphs should undergo their first moult at around one week of age, and again after another couple of weeks; after that, they typically moult once every four weeks or so until adulthood, growing significantly and developing their colouration as they go.
Phasmids, like all invertebrates, do not have a standard skeletal structure, instead they have an external skeleton known as an exoskeleton; in order to grow, your Macleay's spectre will need to shed this outer layer of skin in a process known as moulting. From hatching to adulthood, a male Macleay's spectre will moult five times, whereas a female will moult six times.
When your insect is due to moult you'll usually find it sits high up at the back of its enclosure, not moving for a couple of days and refusing food; their back should lighten in colour but this may not be immediately noticeable, and they may become fidgety as the event approaches. Moulting usually takes place late at night or first thing in the morning.
If your Macleay's spectre starts showing signs that it may be moult, I would advise keeping the enclosure slightly more humid than usual - simply misting the enclosure an extra time a week can be beneficial as the added moisture helps with the moulting process. Phasmids can become trapped in their old skin if there is not enough moisture in the air.
It is an exhausting process as your Macleay's spectre will literally have to pull itself out of its old skin (upside down!) so it's important to allow it time to rest and recover, it's also important to give it time as its new outer skin must harden - not allowing this time can cause damage and deformities. It's not uncommon for phasmids to eat their old skin as it's a valuable source of protein.
When a male Macleay's spectre moults into an adult, he will spend time after moulting "pumping up" a pair of beautiful wings; these will look like a pair of curtains until they harden, when they will become fully functional with beautiful mottled brown colouration and an impressive wingspan that matches or exceeds the insect's maximum length.
It is possible, although not overly common, for a Macleay's spectre to fall into difficulty during moulting: staying too close to the enclosure floor, falling or not having enough room to pull themselves free from their old skin are all possibilities; should any of these things happen you can intervene safely to stop deformities by gently lifting the insect by the feet of its old skin (holding a hand beneath just in case the insect falls out is helpful), moving this to a higher point in the enclosure, and then pegging the feet of the old skin to a branch. Sometimes you can hold onto the old skin and the insect will continue to moult while you do so (I've had this happen, it's an incredible experience!!).
The Macleay's spectre can be kept at room temperature and live well, but slightly above room temperature is even better. The higher the temperature (within reason), the faster the insect's metabolism and the faster it will grow (although it will have a shorter lifespan); the lower the temperature, the more lethargic your insects will be which can cause them difficulties later down the line.
This species prefers a well-ventilated enclosure with humidity not being too high (above 50%); this shouldn't be difficult to achieve, but it will depend upon the type of enclosure you use (please see "enclosure style" section for more information). Generally, it's not difficult to keep the humidity at the right level. Please keep your enclosure out of the way of draughts.
It's important to line your enclosure with something to make it easier to collect eggs (ova) or remove frass (insect poo); I've used kitchen towel successfully and highly recommend it: it is cheap, easy to get hold of, recyclable and simple to remove and replace. Coconut husk/fibre ("coir") can be used as well, but will increase humidity in your enclosure and typically isn't easy to use in a mesh enclosure.
For nymphs, it is beneficial to have slightly higher humidity to assist with moulting (more info on nymphs available in the breeding section).
You don't need to provide decorations for your Macleay's spectre, but a couple of branches will likely be appreciated as this species is arboreal, and feels safer off the ground.
This is an incredibly easy species in term of basic maintenance, especially if you line the enclosure with kitchen towel: simply remove the kitchen towel once a week, wipe down the bottom of the enclosure with a damp cloth (if it is a waterproof surface), dry it, then replace the kitchen towel. If you have an egg laying female Macleay's spectre, you'll need to remove eggs as well as poo, which can be a bit fiddly separating them out (but that may simply have been an issue I had due to poorly hands), so this is something to keep in mind.
Due to the nature of their food, particularly in the case of bramble, you might find other insects making a home with your Macleay's spectre whenever you feed them. To my knowledge, these potential "stow aways" are harmless, but I understand that they may be inconvenient, especially if you have house plants; as advised elsewhere in the guide, washing your food plants before feeding will help reduce the risk of encountering these tiny insects and their eggs greatly.
I have had occasions where aphids or other tiny insects have gotten into the enclosure and started crawling over my adult Macleay's spectres; this didn't cause them any problems other than a slight itch which, due to the mobility they have in their legs, they had no issues resolving! I found it fascinating to observe one of these gigantic insects scratching itself.
I would also often encounter caterpillars on my bramble sprigs that would end up undergoing their metamorphosis in the enclosure alongside the stick insects; usually, these would be moth caterpillars but any butterfly caterpillars I encountered I would carefully remove and place outside (as long as it was a local species). If you source your food plants locally, you won't have a problem releasing moths and butterflies that grow in your enclosure but if, for whatever reason, you go far afield to collect food plants and find caterpillars, please try to identify them before releasing them.
The height of your Macleay's spectre enclosure should be at least three times the length of the largest insect (so 30cm tall for a 10cm long insect), this is to allow plenty of room for moulting. The width of your enclosure depends on how many insects you are keeping together; 20cm wide is usually the absolute minimum for a single, adult insect, with 30cm wide suiting a pair very well.
As adults of this species do not moult, you can get away with a slightly shorter enclosure than the typical recommendation but please ensure your insects have plenty of space to climb and keep themselves off the floor, where they will feel threatened. 45cm really is the absolute minimum I would suggest for an adult, but you are free to use your discretion.
This species likes a well-ventilated enclosure and may exhibit health problems if kept too humid; an ideal enclosure is one that is constructed of mesh, perhaps with a single plastic side; butterfly & moth pavilions/pop up enclosures (or even pop up laundry baskets!) are usually fantastic for older Macleay's spectre, especially if they have multiple access points, they are also quite cheap and readily available on sites such as eBay. I advise against using butterfly pavilions that have a single access panel on the very top, as this can make it difficult to remove insects or food stuffs, but it depends on your preferences.
There are a few other options available with various pros and cons; if you would like to read about them, you can do so below. Please note that all of these enclosures offer a more humid environment than a mesh enclosure, but this can be beneficial for nymphs to help them moult.
Plastic tanks are lightweight, cheap and readily available in a variety of sizes and shapes (long, rectangular ones can be sat on end to offer plenty of space for safe moulting); they are usually simple to clean and keep secure as most have clip-on lids that can be easily removed during cleaning with brilliant ventilation built in. They have two major draw-backs: 1) they scratch fairly easily which can look rather awful and 2) they cannot be heated safely using a reptile heating pad due to the warping and the potential for dangerous gasses being released; external heating isn't usually needed for the Macleay's spectre during winter if you heat the room they are kept in, but it's worth keeping in mind that a heat pad can be beneficial.
While heavier and typically more expensive than plastic tanks, glass tanks do not scratch as easily, can be safely heated using reptile heating pads and can also be sat on their end to offer room for safe moulting. The biggest draw-back for glass tanks when talking about the Macleay's spectre is the lack of a suitable lid; it is entirely possible to make one yourself out of wood and mesh, but it can be a little challenging if you aren't sure what to do.
Costly but usually well-made, secure and sturdy, reptile vivariums are a good choice for this species of stick insect; specific brands come with lids that lock into place and are lined with mesh, offering fantastic ventilation. There are a wide variety of sizes and shapes available, including ones that favour height instead of width and depth.
Because of their specialist nature, the biggest draw-back of using a reptile vivarium is the sheer price; a 30x30x30cm (12x12x12inch) enclosure can cost upwards of £30 new, but when treated right these enclosures will last for many years. The other potential draw-back is the weight, as most are made of glass (which is safe to heat using a reptile heating pad), but they often have more than one way to access inside the enclosure, which makes cleaning it out a lot easier and simpler.
The largest expense for your Macleay's spectre set up will likely be its enclosure, the other things are usually either very cheap or are simple household items you may already have in your possession. I've put together a list and estimated cost for each item below; please be aware that you will only need an external heat source if your house is not heated in winter. You can always place a blanket over your stick insect enclosure during cold nights, as long as some air can flow through it to stop suffocation.
* Enclosure (£1 - £30+) (recommended: pop up laundry basket)
* Container for food plants (£1 - £5) (recommended: old glass jar with hole in lid)
* Substrate (£1 - £5) (recommended: kitchen towel)
* Sticks and branches (free if collecting) (optional)
* External heating source (£7 - £15) (recommended: only for glass vivariums)
Please ensure that whatever enclosure you choose is the right size for your insects and provides the correct ventilation and humidity levels. For small nymphs, you can always use cookie jars (or tall tupperware containers) with mesh rubber banded over the top to stop escapees. You really don't need to spend a lot of money on the enclosure, this species isn't fussy or overly demanding.
The Macleay's spectre is usually a fairly docile insect that can be handled with ease; they are big and robust, so make good pets for children under adult supervision. They do not bite maliciously (more info later) or sting, but they do have sharp barbs on their back legs that they will use if incredibly distressed, which can draw blood - this is easily avoidable and I'll explain further shortly.
Most insects have tiny claws on their feet which help them root firmly to a surface, this species is no different, so it's important that you don't try to pull an individual off its current perch as this can cause injury, including the loss of limbs. Macleay's spectre have an in-built desire to climb, which you can use for your advantage; position your hand near the insect, but slightly above its current position, then gently blow on it, this should trigger its leaf mimic behaviour (I love this - the insect will sway from side to side, pretending to be a leaf in the breeze) and will usually get it moving. It might take a little time and practice, but as you learn your individual insects you'll find techniques that work for you. The same technique can be used to return an insect to its enclosure.
Right, onto those barbs! The barbs on a Macleay's spectre's back legs are a final defence mechanism and can be easily avoided by respecting the insect and not poking and prodding it, particularly its legs and head - these are great to handle but should not be petted as this is very distressing to the insect. If one of your Macleay's spectres sticks its back legs into the air, it is preparing to use the barbs, so please give it a little room to settle down.
Another thing to keep in mind is that while these insects do note bite out of defence, they can unintentionally bite onto you if you allow them to drink water droplets off your skin; this is because they use mandibles to eat leaves, which clamp together tightly and believe you me - it hurts! This only happened to me twice in the two years I kept these magnificent insects, both times on the palm of my hand, and I was able to encourage the insect to let go by blowing sharply (but not too strongly) across the insect's upper body and head. Please don't shake the insect if you find it unintentionally clamps onto you as this can do a lot of damage... I'd also like to reiterate that this was an extremely rare occurrence for me and isn't something you need to worry about, but I felt it was important to mention.