You have decided to keep pet insects but which insect should you choose? You should always start with some “entry-level” insects that are easy to take care of, and here are the top 7 entry-level pet insects suitable for children and beginners:
Roaches are arguably the easiest pet insects for children and beginners. They coexist with the dinosaurs a few hundred million years ago, and have survived the catastrophe that drove the dinosaur to extinction. There is a saying that nuclear war can wipe out the human population but not the roaches. That’s how hardy they are!
Keeping the roaches is almost free! You can catch a few roaches at your home, in a manhole, or around the rubbish bin center. But of course, I strongly recommend you to buy your roaches from a local pet store to ensure that they are germ-free! It costs you one dollar or more depending on species. Housing the roaches is easy – a clear plastic container with a lid and some egg carton. Your biggest investment in keeping roaches is probably a vaseline. You would need to apply some vaseline on the inner wall of your container to prevent them from escaping.
Feeding the roaches is very easy because they eat almost anything organic. You can feed them with kitchen residues and leftovers such as fruit skin, rotten vegetables, or a small crumb of biscuits. If you need to leave your house for a long period of time, just make sure there is enough water and some biscuit crumbs for your roaches. They will do fine!
Roaches can live for 1-5 years depending on species and how well you take care of them. If you start with both male and female roaches, by the time they die, they would have technically produced a few millions of offspring. But you do not have to worry about that because in reality it will not happen due to competition and limited resources and space. However, that does mean one day your kids can pass down their pets to their grandchildren. Isn’t that wonderful!
Madagascar cockroaches are one of the most common pet insects that people keep. You can refer to the rearing guide here.
Who doesn’t love the colorful butterflies? Although butterflies are beautiful, they are quite fragile and short-lived. But that doesn’t stop you from keeping a butterfly!
You might need to spend some time searching for caterpillars in your backyard or local park – which is a good family activity with your kids. Look for places you see butterflies flying. With some focus and effort you can find some caterpillars. If you have sharp eyes, you might find the cocoon and even some eggs.
Make sure you pluck some leaves on which you found the caterpillar/eggs. You will need to supply them with fresh leaves until they turn into cocoons.
Once they turn into cocoons, you have 2 options: transfer them into a larger butterfly cage if you plan to keep them longer; or if you plan to release them in a day or 2, keep them in the transparent container where you kept the caterpillar. Many butterflies do not eat anything. If they do, give them some syrup and that’s it. Cheap and easy!
Here is a mini project that you can do with your children on butterfly farming.
Crickets don’t bite, which makes them the perfect choice for kids. Keeping crickets is an ancient hobby in Asia, especially in China. In the older times, the upper echelon of the society keep crickets and make them fight in competitions or games. This ancient hobby persisted until today.
Crickets can be commonly found in your local parks. They sometimes enter your house at night. The easiest way to get them, though, is from a pet store. A container full of crickets costs you about 10 bucks.
You can feed them with cricket food to get them healthier. Do make sure you provide them enough moisture and water because those are vital for their survival. An adult cricket typically live for around 3 months
A male cricket chirps, and here is a fun activity that you and your kids can do with crickets: Count their chirp for 14 seconds, and add 40 to that. This will be the degree Fahrenheit of the surrounding temperature. Does that work out correctly.
Keeping beetles is very popular in some Asian countries such as Japan and China. In fact, it has become a culture for the Japanese kids to collect beetles every summer.
Beetles can be found almost everywhere. One out of every 5 species of living creatures on earth is beetle.Their sizes ranged from as tiny as a dot, and as long as 8 inches. Some of the notable beetles include firefly (surprise!), ladybug, rhinoceros beetles and weevils.
Before you get too excited, fireflies are one of the hardest insects to keep so I would recommend against it. Instead, you should try keeping dung beetles, eastern hercules beetles, goliath beetles, rainbow stag beetles or stag beetles. These beetles are gentle and they do not bite. They are bigger in size and covered with hardened armor, which makes them relatively easier to play with compared with other fragile insects.
Pet stores usually sell these beetles in the form of larvae, which are big fat worms. It costs 10-20 bucks per larvae. Most of the store do not sex the larvae, which means you would not know whether your larvae are male or female. I prefer a male hercules beetle/elephant beetle/stag beetle because they have a gigantic horn/mandibles which looks cool. But regardless of male or female, I am sure your kids will be amazed seeing how the fat worm metamorphs into a gorgeous beetle!
The larvae of beetles feed on raw woods and require moisture. At this stage you can place it in a recycled plastic container. After it turns into an adult, you want to move it to a bigger, clear container, or even a cage so that you can easily observe it. You can feed the adults with leftover fruits. Depending on species, adult beetles can live for 3-6 months.
Stick insects are also known as walking sticks, which highly resemble sticks or twigs. Searching a stick insect in the wild might not be easy though, because they are so good at camouflaging. Your best luck is to buy one from a pet store, which costs you around 10 bucks.
Stick insects feed on fresh leaves. Make sure you ask the seller what types of leaves your stick insect feed on because they can be quite picky on their food. If you caught them in the field, try collecting those leaves that you can find in the surrounding. You can keep the leaves fresh by preserving them the same way as cut flowers.
Do make sure that you use a container with a length at least 4 times the length of the insect and with height at least 3 times the length of the insect because it requires some space to move and grow. The only downside is that you will need to clean the container every week or 2 because stick insects produce quite a lot of droppings which make the container dirty. Here’s a guide on how to keep stick insects.
One interesting thing about stick insects is that in many species, the female can lay eggs without a male! If the eggs are laid without fertilization by the male, they will turn into females. You might need to do some homework in case your kids worried that they might get pregnant just like the female stick insect.
I’ve written a guide on keeping stick insects which you can refer here.
Mantis is one of the most popular pet insects because they are so cool! They are skilled predators who attack their prey using the 2 sharp claws on their front legs.
Similar to a stick insect, you can get a mantis in the wild, but your best luck is to buy from a pet store, and it costs you from 30 to 150 bucks depending on the stages, age and species.
I would spend another 100 bucks for a terrarium to house my mantis but you can definitely make your own terrarium with minimum cost using recycled materials.
Keeping a mantis required slightly more works than other insects. This is because mantis feed on other live insects. You can buy some feeder insects such as crickets from the pet store to feed your mantis. You might need to immobilize the feeder insects if you think that it is too strong or agile for the mantis to handle.
If you plan to keep mantis for the long term, you can consider buying a pair for breeding, especially if you are keeping a more expensive species. This is because a mantis typically live only for a year.
An interesting behavior that you and your kids must not miss if you are keeping mantis is the sexual cannibalism in females. This is where sometimes (but not always) the female mantis decapitate and consume the male during or after they mate. Because the portion of the “brain” controlling mating is located at the abdomen, decapitating the male does not stop it from continuing to mate. Isn’t that fascinating?!
In case you wonder if the mantis can cut or prick your kids’ tender skin with its claw or bite your kids, yes they might, but it is unlikely. And if it does, it barely hurts. Do prepare yourself mentally when handling a mantis so that you do not accidentally squash the mantis when it attacks you unexpectedly.
To learn more about keeping mantis, refer to the guide here.
Ants are tiny little critters that live in a colony. The person in charge of this colony is the queen. What about the king, you ask? Well, he died gloriously after inseminating the queen…
Everyone in the nest serves the queen, and the sole responsibility of the queen is to lay more eggs, every single day. The queen commands a group of workers which are infertile females. These workers look for food, feed the colony, build the nest, defend the nest, and do the cleaning etc. It is noteworthy that workers eat only liquid food. They require the larvae’s help to digest solid food.
You have a lot of options with ants. Catching your own or buying a starter or established colony; choosing between different types and designs of formicarium (ant farm); building your own formicarium or buying one.
Catching your own queen and building your own formicarium are some fun but cheap family activities that you should consider! If you prefer to buy a basic starter colony and formicarium, they should cost you no more than 150 bucks. Maintenance is quite simple because you can feed them with leftover food. Read this post for more guides on how to feed your ants.
Note that some ant species are very aggressive. They may bite or sting when you are handling them. If you are new to ant keeping, try the common black garden ant (Lasius niger) or carpenter ants (Camponotus spp). Avoid the like of fire ants, harvester ants, and acrobat ants because they hurt, a lot! Refer to this guide for a list of beginner species that you can start with.
Now that you have an idea on what are your options, you can start planning and getting the insects for your kids!
If this list is overwhelming and you don’t know which one to start with, I recommend you to check out this guide to help you make the right decision. And before you go ahead and get those insects, there are somethings that you need to know and consider.
I truly welcome you to the fascinating world of insects!