Looking for a unique pet, but not ready for a huge commitment? Insects might be perfect for you.
Insects are quiet, affordable and easy to care for. They don’t have the capacity to form attachments or show love, but that also means you don’t have to feel too guilty if they don’t survive a long time. In fact, most insects live no more than 2 months, so you can choose a different species in a matter of weeks.
For kids, insects are fun, educational pets. They can even use their pets as a science fair project, or just as an entertaining way to learn to care for a living thing.
With thousands of species of insects on the planet, there’s only a few that are typically kept as pets:
Starting An Ant Farm
Ants are everywhere, but they spend most of their time underground. To see an inside view of how an ant colony works and lives together, you can purchase or create an ant farm.
Traditional ant farms are filled with sand-like substrate. You can also create an ant farm by placing a small jar inside a larger one, then filling the gap with a sand/dirt mixture. You’ll need to moisten the sand periodically to ensure your ants stay hydrated. To feed your ants, you can drop crumbs and small scraps of fruits and veggies on top of the sand. If they’re interested, they’ll crawl to the food and eat it. Sand-based ant farms should stay in one place; the tunnels can easily cave in.
Newer ant farm products are filled with a gel-like material that provides all of the moisture and nutrients your ants need. They’re also more stable and less likely to cave in. All you have to do is add the ants and keep the gel covered so it does not harden.
How To Keep Your Ant Farm Alive For Generations
There are three types of ants: sterile, female worker ants, male ants, and queen ants.
A majority of ants you see outside or in your home are female worker ants. Whether you get your ant farm ants from outside or purchase them, they’re most likely to be worker ants.
Queen ants have wings. During mating season, they mate in flight, then land on the ground and lose their wings. Then, they lay their eggs underground to populate their colony. If you do not have a queen ant in your colony, you’ll run out of ants in a few weeks.
Male ants have wings, but they’re rarely seen. During mating season, they mate in flight with a queen, then die shortly after.
To keep your ant colony from dying, you need a queen to repopulate your farm. You can purchase a queen ant, or you can wait until the mating season and look for one on the ground that has recently mated. When a queen mates with multiple males, she stores their sperm for years. So, you only need one queen to keep your ant farm populated because she will continue to lay eggs long after mating.
A brief video on how to look after a captive ant colony:
Breeding Feeder Insects
Raising insects can be time-consuming, and you may grow bored of it unless you raise them for a purpose.
Bearded dragons, chameleons, leopard geckos, iguanas, and frogs are all fun pets that eat insects. It’s relatively inexpensive to keep your pet reptile or amphibian fed with fresh insects from a pet store, but you can save time and money by raising insects at home.
Crickets are fun to raise, and you might find the song of their chirping relaxing at night. You can even raise crickets to eat for yourself and your family, but you’ll need to source your “dinner crickets” from a human-grade cricket farm, not the pet store. If you’re just feeding your lizard, the pet store is a fine source for starter crickets.
Dubia roaches are another option, though you might not like the idea of purposely breeding roaches in your home. The upside is, roaches do not make as much noise as crickets, and they are hardier.
Feeder insects are very easy to care for and breed. You’ll need a container with tall, slippery sides that the insects cannot climb. An aquarium or Tupperware container with a ventilated lid will work. Use a soaked sponge to supply water; insects quickly drown in water bowls. Fruit and veggie scraps from your kitchen work well as food. Nuts, seeds and crushed, cheap dog food provide protein for more nutritious insects.
Raising Caterpillars To Butterflies
Raising caterpillars to butterflies is bittersweet. Watching them grow up is educational and beautiful, but you’ll have to watch them take off into the sky when they emerge from the chrysalis. You can make raising butterflies a springtime tradition each year so you’ll always have something to look forward to.
You can find butterfly eggs or caterpillars in your garden. Or, you can purchase them. A butterfly kit typically comes with Monarch butterfly eggs and milkweed-based food. Caterpillars are picky about which plants they eat. If you take eggs or caterpillars from outdoors, you will need to identify their type and provide them with the food they prefer. Butterflies lay their eggs on the types of plants that the caterpillars will want to eat.
Move your caterpillars to a large container with plenty of places for them to crawl up and form a chrysalis. By the time they’re large and eating constantly, they should be in the larger container.
Once the caterpillars form a chrysalis, it will take about two weeks for the butterflies to emerge. Their wings will be withered and damp at first. Just an hour later, the wings spread and the butterfly is ready to fly.
Release your butterflies no more than a few hours after they emerge. Soon after their first flight, they’ll take their first sip of nectar.
It’s easier and equally satisfying to attract caterpillars and butterflies to your garden so you can watch them go through their life stages outdoors. Plant milkweed, a Monarch caterpillar’s favorite food, to encourage butterflies to lay eggs in your yard. Also, provide colorful flowers that create lots of nectar for full grown butterflies to snack on. Butterfly bush, cosmos, azaleas and coneflowers all attract butterflies.
Have you ever kept insects as pets? What kind?