Invertebrates can make good pets for children of all ages, providing that an adult is on hand to supervise their interaction and take care of the pet’s day to day needs. Inverts are understandably completely different in appearance, care and temperament from furry pets such as cats, dogs and rabbits, and can prove highly educational and helpful in teaching your children about wildlife, the natural lifecycle of wild animals, and the differences between different types of animals.
Keeping a pet of any kind, even a low-maintenance pet invertebrate that does not need to be handled, can also help to teach your children about responsibility and respect for all animals, large or small. Finally, getting to know invertebrates, understand how they live and the reasons for why they look and act as they do can go a long way towards instilling a lifelong love of all types of life into your children. Caring for and getting to know a pet invertebrate can help to ensure that when they get older, your child will not be nervous or frightened of bugs and other animals that they do not understand.
With this in mind, read on to find out five of the best exotic pet invertebrates for children.
The stick insect
The humble stick insect is one of the most popular insects for both schools and parents to use to teach kids about insects and caring for a pet. Stick insects are fragile and should not be handled unduly, although when carefully lifted out on a leaf by an adult, they will often sit happily on the arm of a relaxed child. Stick insects are a great way to begin to teach your children about evolution, and the way some animals have mastered the ability of blending into their environment for their own protection, and children will often remain occupied for long periods of time simply trying to differentiate the stick insect itself from the foliage of its tank!
Madagascan hissing cockroaches
Madagascan hissing cockroaches are impressive due to their large size and unusual appearance, not to mention of course, their fearsome hissing sound! Madagascan cockroaches are hardy, docile and easy to handle (with care) and are highly unlikely to bite. Teaching a child about the Madagascan hissing cockroach can be highly rewarding, particularly when your child reaches the point at which they are happy to hold and handle one of these large bugs and feel the sense of achievement that comes from mastering their natural wariness of the warning hissing noise the cockroach will probably make!
A pet that is both exotic and also venomous might not seem like the obvious pick for children, but do not discount a pet tarantula for your child too quickly! While many people develop a fear of spiders as they age, younger children are much less likely to be frightened of arachnids (unless they learn this behaviour by observation) and keeping a large, visually impressive and often colourful tarantula as a pet can be a good way to start your child along the path of respect and appreciation for spiders. Good docile species include the Chilean Rose and the Mexican Redknee, but even the most docile tarantula should never be held or handled by children.
Teach your children that some animals are nice to look at but not to touch, and ensure that your child cannot gain access to your tarantula’s tank, should they decide they would still like to hold it!
Tarantulas shed their skin on occasion, and the shed skin left behind can also be fascinating for children, and can be held and touched.
The praying mantis is an interesting carnivorous animal that needs to eat live food in order to thrive, so the praying mantis might be a good pick for children that are already enthused about bugs and willing to learn more! Teaching children about the life cycle, prey animals, and what other creatures need to eat to survive is a vital learning experience, but should be handled delicately.
The praying mantis is non-aggressive, and can be placed on the hand or arm of a quiet child. On extremely rare occasions, a praying mantis might nip your finger if it mistakes it for prey, so never handle a mantid that is hungry, and ensure that you teach your child how to hold their hand and fingers in order to keep them safe. The bite of a mantid is not venomous or particularly painful, but can still give an unsuspecting child a nasty shock!
Land crabs are a highly interesting pet to watch, and provide a neat alternative to the more common fish tank that often has little appeal to children! Land crabs are also usually vibrantly coloured, and prone to phases of activity within their tank that can make them fascinating to observe. The set-up of a land crab tank itself can be interesting and informative for children, and involving them in this process while explaining to them how the tank environment mimics the situations that they would live within in the wild can be educational.
Land crabs are fast moving, small and delicate, and may pinch with their claws (although this is not particularly painful) and so should not be handled unduly or given to hold by children.
Regardless of the type of exotic pet invertebrate that you choose with your child in mind, remember that you will ultimately be responsible for taking care of its various needs, and looking after it on a day to day basis. Even if your child helps with this process and is highly enthused about their unusual pet, it is important to ensure that you always supervise the care given and how your child interacts with their pets, and are able to step in if needed. For this reason, you should ensure that as well as picking an animal that your child will like, you are comfortable with your choice too, and are prepared to handle and clean out the tank and deal with live food, if necessary, without a problem.