last updated 1/21/2011
I encourage all parents and children to consider keeping a live insect or spider as a pet. Life cycles of many insects are completely unlike human, dog or cat experiences where small hairy animals grow into big hairy animals. Consider the miraculous transformation of a caterpillar to a butterfly. The metamorphosis defies comprehension. Sure, feed a dog and it will grow as big as a ten year old human child, but never learn to use the toilet. If you enjoy carrying a plastic bag in your pocket while you go on a walk in the cold rain six months out of the year so your dog can leave a big steaming pile in the neighbor's front yard, that's your choice to make. Not how I choose to keep my hands warm on a cold day, though! And when man's best friend enters the house with muddy feet and wet coat, runs across the carpet while simultaneously shaking wet dog smell through the house, well--that's just gross!
Dogs and cats are beautiful animals with an amazing array of available breeds. If you can look past the fact that cats are second only to human beings in the decimation of neighborhood fauna, I suggest you get one. Give your cat a cute name like Whiskers and don't worry a bit about the fact that most people can't easily name ten birds or plants or bugs found in their own yards. Whiskers, though overweight and apparently happy, will go to great lengths to kill those silly little birds. Birdsong is easily replaced by one of those fancy alarm clocks where you get not just one digitally recreated sound of nature (that repeats every 20 seconds) but the soothing sounds of the ocean, rainfall, and crickets chirping on a summer night way back in 2008 before they paved the field across the street.
Other benefits of keeping pet bugs include teaching children responsibility. Any pet requires maintenance. Dogs and cats are rather high maintenance. Cage pets are easier. They do nothing to disturb the household and the house itself is less likely to smell like dog or cat or feces. You won't find hair all over your furniture either.
Shorter lifespans! So many people balk at the idea of paying money for a pet that will only live a year or two (though many female tarantulas and many other bugs can live 15-30 years). Guess what, when your ten dollar bug dies a beautiful, natural death, you get to replace it with something TOTALLY different! Variety IS the spice of life. No emotional burials or sappy sentimental photographs lying around to remind you of Fido as you lie on your own deathbed a few decades from now. No! I have so many pet bugs that none of them even have names.
Walk down your block and what do you see- house + 2 car garage + 2 cars + wife + husband + kids + dog? What does all that equal? My mom would sing a 2 note song right here that would go...BOR-ING!
Hi, my name is Ralph and this is my dog Ralph. It's not very creative, but we like the neighborhood. "Do you have a pet," Ralph might ask? And you could answer him. "I have a Dynastes granti rhino beetle". Ralph would either be very interested or more likely, visibly dissapproving! That's because Ralph just wants to get home and relax into his easy chair before the big game starts. It's okay...let him go!
Many people are deterred by the myth that bugs have short lifespans. First, everything in life is based on perspective. If your experience of a "pet" is limited to dogs and cats (like most Americans), this will be your truth. Just because these two pets, and their owners, represent the majority doesn't mean we should judge all pets by this measuring stick. In fact, when you consider every species of organism that is kept "captive" (and surely no home is a suitable life for anything but a human being and even that is aruable), dogs and cats are pretty average. Consider parrots that outlive their owners. It's an interesting perspective to contemplate your pet outliving you, isn't it? A parrot that lives 80 years will see the passing of many dogs and even numerous owners. Now that's a committment!
In the bug world, there are countless example of species that outlive their mammalian pet counterparts. Living in the SW United States we have the pet popular Aphonopelma tarantulas, living 20+ years. Desert Hairy scorpions also live a decade or two+. Blue death-feigning beetles are reported to live as many as 17 years, with other related darklings living many years as well. Australian rhino roaches can live a decade.
options are good!
Unlike dogs and cats that generally have long life spans, there are so many different pet bugs to choose from. The hobby clearly has something for everybody.
I cannot say enough about how interesting it is to have a rotating assortment of pets. Mantises, for example, tend to live about a year in captivity (less in the wild) from birth to death. Many folks considering their first insect pet will look at the ten dollar price tag and think it's too high for such a short-lived pet. This is a self-defeating perspective. A more optimistic perspective would be to consider that you can offer this insect a very wonderful life in captivity, with regular access to prey and the exclusion of predators and temperature extremes. At the end of your unique pet's yearlong life, you will have the wonderful feelings of:
1. Having provided proper care for a unique animal
2. Having shared a unique insect with many visitors to your home
3. A new opportunity to replace your old pet with something different, with limited feelings of remorse or attachment.
Granted, some people do shed tears over the passing of their pets and this is not to be minimized. People are different in their relationships with pets. Even individual pets within a species may have tendencies to be more tolerant (equates to affection in the human mind) of human interaction. Usually it is the human's actions that dictate the terms of the relationship, but in the many years I have been in this hobby I have heard some very amazing stories about unique behaviors from pet insects. My own mother had a pet mourning cloak butterfly that lived outside and would come when she called it each day. How can you trust anything in life if you are going to question your own mother's childhood memories. These data points may not affect the general curve of experiences much, but they still show up on the graph more regularly than logic would suggest they should.
Color and Movement
Color can make or break a species. Consider a 3 inch millipede that is brown vs. one that is bumblebee striped in black and yellow. Show me a dog like that and I'll shortly want a breeding pair! Now, everybody is familiar with the caterpillar to butterfly example, where something generally regarded as aesthetically displeasing, suddenly becomes this intensely colorful, fragile winged wonder! In the pet bug hobby, there are countless examples of this phenomenon. Larvae or nymphs hatch from eggs or via live birth, and grow up! The word larvae suggests a significant change before the animal matures, whereas a nymph suggests something that more typically, but not always, resembles the adult. Upon maturity, drastic changes usually take place, especially in insects. Sexual organs appear and become functional and in many cases. Colors burst forth and wings appear as if by magic. Show me a cat who can do that! With insects, there is often this long (by perspective) stage of anticipation, not unlike the achingly slow approach of Christmas for children. For example, a domino cockroach is a dull, brown bug for the first 8 months of its life. The nymph then has its final molt (shedding of the skin) and is suddenly this magnificent black beetle mimic with adorable white spots, yes, resembling a domino! At this time the insect also ceases to spend the entire day and night buried in the substrate and, instead, assumes a life on the surface, actively pursuing its feeding and mating drives. Adults of this species may only live for a couple months, but this doesn't have to be a deterrent to choosing them as pets. Consider a beautiful bouquet of flowers. It will likely cost twice as much as any starter colony of domino roaches. While the presence of flowers will gloriously brighten any room or mood, their beauty will fade in a week's time. Was it worth the expense? Of course! Part of being human is interpreting beauty. Part of being an individual human being is being committed to finding beauty and appreciating it. Your children need to learn that nature is the source of everything beautiful. When their domino roaches "bloom", their days will brighten!
More rantings to follow, soon!