Is your preschooler asking for a pet of their own? Is a dog, cat or even a fish a bit too much of a commitment for you? Maybe pets aren’t allowed where you live. Small mammals are generally not good pets for very young children. Have no fear: bugs make great starter pets. Your child can learn what it takes to care for a living creature and when you’re done you can simply let your pet go where you found it!
If you are not familiar with insects, Sally Kneidel’s book “Pet Bugs” (pictured above) is a great guide. And you can always look up information on any particular insect online. There are bugs you and your child should stay away from so be sure to know what you are catching. A few of the creepy crawlers to avoid are Velvet ants, certain spiders like black widows, bees and wasps, and some caterpillars (especially ones with bristles on their backs like the Saddleback caterpillar).
What type of bug do you want to keep? Some eat other insects and some eat plants. Even related insects can be quite different. A Praying Mantis eats live insects so you would need a supply of crickets and flies. It’s cousin, the Walking Stick, eats leaves of trees, specifically oak, black cherry, hickory, or locust. So for a walking stick you would want to be able to supply it with leaves from whatever tree you found it on.
Generally a terrarium works well for keeping bugs as pets, but you will need to research exactly what your pet’s needs are so it will have food, water (or moisture), and an appropriate habitat. A little knowledge is important. For example a Walking Sticks will die in the fall. Their life cycle is at an end as their food source disappears in nature. You may find it best to let it go where you found it as the leaves start to change color.
Crickets are popular pets for children around the world. They are easy to feed. They like decaying plant matter and will happily eat a piece of apple. Sally Kneidel recommends also giving them pieces of dog food or even cheerios that have been soaked in water. Sit back and enjoy their singing. Cricket or caterpillar, bugs are a great way to learn responsibility and care for a living creature without a major commitment.