This 33-year-old raises stick insects as a way to nurture her son’s love for bugs
Not even 500 stick insects can stop a mother’s love.
Every mother has her own way of loving her child. But just how many mothers are willing to go to great lengths to support their child’s interests?
For 33-year-old Pearlly Luo, she’s going as far to overcome her fear and raise insects.
While insects may make most uncomfortable, Pearlly is devoting her time to the creepy-crawlies because her son started showing an interest in those from an early age.
“As soon as he could talk, he was talking about spiders. And since he was little, he has always searched for information on spiders and that extended into books and the Internet. He even drew a lot of spiders,” she shares.
During the circuit breaker period, Pearlly brought her son to MacRitchie Reservoir where they saw various kinds of insects. That was when he opened up to her about his desire to have insects as pets.
Unwilling to brush her young son off, she began to do in-depth research on the possibility of raising insects at home.
“I felt that the best bugs to keep and raise would be stick insects because they are hardy and also legal to keep as pets.”
However, given the obscure nature of domesticating insects, finding information online was a challenge. She recounts turning to all sorts of forums and websites in hopes of finding some guidance on how to start.
“I went online and I searched the forums, I spoke to Australian scientists on leaf and stick insects and that’s when I learnt a lot more on how to take care of them. There’s not a lot of literature online so it’s really up to you to be proactive to search for all this information and ask,” she says.
Thankfully, she came across a handful of interest groups on Facebook and Instagram. Through those platforms, she was able to connect with more experienced hobbyists who shared tips with her on how to properly care for the animals.
Her first batch of stick insects were actually kindly given to her by two insect collectors she had met online.
It’s been two years since then and Pearlly’s collection has grown from the original nine to a whopping 500. She’s currently raising her fourth generation of stick insects.
While it’s undeniable that her stick insect collection managed to flourish much thanks to the supportive community, her success can also be attributed to her determination and perseverance.
As the Internet didn’t have answers to all her questions, Pearlly had to learn through several attempts of trial and error.
One such example was when she first started out and wasn’t sure what would be the best environment for the stick insects.
In the end, she bought a costly branded tank which came with substrates and fake leaves but soon realised that they weren’t necessary. In fact, they only gave her more trouble as the props and substrates made it a hassle to clean.
“It’s best for the bottom to be just paper towels or like a moss carpet because the substrate is actually quite unhygienic. It doesn’t allow you to change it out quite regularly. While the natural habitat does look better, it’s not the best for the stick insect’s health. So after a lot of trial and error and through my own experience, I’ve decided to go with what’s cleaner, what’s more hygienic and practical.”
Another similar instance was when her first batch of stick insects had a fungal outbreak.
“I was like oh my gosh, so scary, what do I do now?” she recalls.
Given that fungal infections are the most common cause of death for stick insects, Pearlly’s distress was warranted. She went with what she thought was best and bought extra tanks so as to separate the infected insects from the non-infected ones. Eventually, all but one recovered.
This experience was definitely a significant lesson for her and it also gave her more confidence in handling the insects. Most importantly, she was able to share her takeaways with others in the community.
As she’s become more well-versed in the area, she regularly chats with stick insect owners and exchanges ideas and tips on how best to keep them.
After having observed them for so long, her general knowledge of stick insects has also broadened.
“On the tip of the eggs, there’s actually this sticky thing. So this sticky thing in nature attracts ants and when the ants bring back the whole egg into the ant nest, it actually protects the eggs from droughts, fires and flooding. Eventually, when the eggs are ready to hatch, the ants will have already shifted homes. So when the stick insects hatch, it’s actually in an empty ant nest and that prolongs their lifespan.”
Seeing how comfortable she is with the insects, it’s hard to imagine the Pearlly used to fear them. It was only because of her son that she managed to suppress her fears.
“Since my son was interested in bugs, I didn’t want to show my fear because I feel like when you display fear it affects the child and it creates the impression that insects are scary. So I suppressed my fears and suppressed my itchiness to encourage him to look for bugs and observe them. I even helped to take pictures of them for him,” she shares.
Thankfully a lot has changed since then and her stick insects now hold a special place in her heart.
She recounts the time when her first generation of stick insects passed away and she got very affected. As with all deaths, saying goodbye is always the hardest. As she had grown so attached to the insects, she did a proper burial by placing them in the potted plants outside her house.
“It’s quite hard to show care for an animal that is not really responsive and you cannot really see it responding to what you say but that’s the interesting part of it, honestly and I feel that there’s a lot of unique phases in an insect’s life that we get to see,” she says.
What started out as an effort to nurture her son’s interests, slowly turned into a full-fledged hobby that now takes up quite a bit of time in her daily life. As these insects require a lot of care and attention, Pearlly advises those interested to find an insect that suits your lifestyle as well as your household.
For families with children, she shares that it’s important to have an insect that isn’t poisonous and doesn’t bite. It should also be one that’s easy to maintain and encourage your children to handle as well.
Now, Pearlly shares her love for stick insects by breeding and giving them away to fellow insect enthusiasts.
She says: “My son is able to see how the other party and their children find joy in having stick insects and there’s a lot of delight that we witness and I think that is very fulfilling for us.”