Five good exotic invertebrates for children

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 tarantula

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.

Praying mantis

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

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.

Does a centipede make a good pet?

An ever-increasing range of weird and wonderful invertebrates are kept as pets in the UK today, and even the most exotic and unusual bugs and insects can now be found in the homes of enthusiastic keepers. While most people give leggy bugs such as millipedes and centipedes a wide berth, nevertheless, they have an undeniable appeal and fascination for many, who are keen to observe them up close and personal and so, may choose to keep exotic insects such as these within the home.

While centipedes can be found living native within the UK, these creatures can be hard to find, reclusive and are generally small, so the larger and rather more impressive foreign species are often kept as pets in their place, and these can be bought from various exotic pet retailers, invertebrate specialists, breeders and importers with relative ease.

If you are on the lookout for your next pet and are wondering if a centipede might be a good candidate, it is important to research this idea carefully before moving forwards, as the care and management of a pet centipede is not as simple as it may first seem! This article will give you a basic introduction to pet centipedes, plus a little insight into their temperament and care requirements.

What is a centipede?

A centipede is an arthropod with many legs, arranged in pairs along their segmented body. The name ‘centipede’ means ‘100 feet,’ although the total number of feet on any given centipede varies from species to species, and can range from twenty legs to as many as three hundred. Centipedes always have an odd number of pairs of legs, and never an even number! There are around 8,000 species of centipedes in the world, and they live in a geographically diverse range of environments, from tropical rainforests and deserts to the cold wastelands of the Arctic Circle. They are predatory animals that will eat live prey as well as sometimes vegetable matter, and can range dependant on species from just a few mm long to over 30cm. All species have a pair of venomous claws, known as forcipules, at their head, which are used to incapacitate and kill their prey.

Centipedes, biting and aggression

It may come as a surprise to many people to learn that the humble centipede is considered to be the most aggressive bug commonly kept as a pet, and every species of centipede without exception is considered to be rather grumpy and ill tempered! Centipedes are venomous, and the venom of some species of larger centipedes is actually potentially harmful to humans. A bite from a centipede can lead to localised swelling and significant pain, and even fever, chills and weakness in the adult human. In children and the elderly, the effects of a bite may be more pronounced, and can cause a serious reaction and associated sickness and pain. Centipede bites can also cause a very dangerous reaction in those allergic to the venom, as there is the possibility of a bite triggering anaphylactic shock in the odd unlucky person!

Smaller species of centipede will not be able to pierce the skin of the human and so this risk is negated, but the larger species that are often kept as pets are more than capable of doing damage! Centipedes also tend to be very free with their bites, and should never be handled due to their aggressive tendencies. This is one pet to keep very firmly at arms length, and is not one to pick up and play with.

Live prey

Centipedes need to be fed live prey, which is understandably not to everyone’s taste! Centipedes will often eat animals much larger than themselves, and the diet of the captive-kept centipede will commonly consist of insects such as crickets, cockroaches, flies and other small insects, and even, for larger species, defrosted pinkie mice.

Not only does this necessitate the centipede keeper acquiring and taking care of prey animals within the home, but also, being willing and able to fed said live prey to their centipede, something that many people are unhappy to do. If you are squeamish about the idea of feeding live prey to your bug, then a centipede is not a suitable pet for you!

The care requirements of centipedes

The housing, environment and care requirements of centipedes are very specific, and centipedes do not tolerate well any slip-ups or mistakes in their care. Centipedes usually require additional heating to the ambient temperature, as well as a relatively high humidity content that requires their substrate being misted with water regularly. Several inches of a suitable substrate must be provided within the tank, as well as a good range of textures including bark, leaf litter and rotting wood, to allow your centipede to burrow if they wish, and to thrive. Centipedes are fairly active creatures, so they can provide plenty of interest watching them go about their day, something that many other bugs and insects do not provide.

Additionally, centipedes are very strong for their size, and may potentially be able to escape from their tank by levering off the lid! Your centipede’s tank should be tall enough to ensure that even fully stretched and standing on any tank furniture, they cannot reach the lid, and the lid should be well secured ad clipped down on the outside, just in case!


Centipedes are challenging to keep, not least due to their aggressive temperaments, harmful venom and relatively specific care needs. Once you also factor in the necessity to provide live food for them, it is easy to see why many would-be invertebrate owners pass centipedes by after a little investigation. However, if you are looking for an active, interesting pet to look at but not touch, and are prepared to do your homework and find out about what your centipede needs to thrive and be healthy, you may well find that the centipede is a good choice of exotic pet for you.

Caring for an Emperor scorpion

The Emperor scorpion is native to Africa, and is one of the largest scorpion species in the world. They are one of the most popular pet scorpions within the UK, but they should still be handled with a significant amount of respect! They are one of the more docile scorpion species, although like all scorpions, they should not be handled unless absolutely necessary. The sting of the Emperor scorpion, while painful, is generally no more potent than that of the wasp.

They are black in colour, but interestingly, they glow under ultraviolet light. They are also a pet for those who are looking for a scorpion for the long term, as they commonly live for six to eight years. If you are considering keeping an Emperor scorpion as a pet and want to learn more about their care, housing and feeding requirements, read this introduction to caring for an Emperor scorpion.

How many to keep?

The Emperor scorpion is not a sociable creature, and they should be kept individually to avoid fighting! Breeding Emperor scorpions is a process to be undertaken carefully, as a male and female are as likely to fight as they are to breed if introduced to each other by an inexperienced keeper.

Housing and humidity

A single Emperor scorpion can be kept in either a vivarium or faunarium of around two feet long by a foot high and deep. They require a substrate similar to that of a forest floor, composed of additive-free peat and a suitable bark (such as orchid bark) around two to three inches deep. The Emperor scorpion likes to burrow, and will most commonly make their burrows at the cooler end of their tank. You will of course also need to ensure that you have a suitably secured lid for the tank!

Emperor scorpions need a reasonably high level of humidity in their tank to thrive, and so you should mist the substrate lightly every day with clean, fresh water. They will also require a water dish with a sponge in it, filled with clean, fresh water.

Heating and lighting the tank

The Emperor scorpion is nocturnal, and does not require sunlight to thrive. However, providing a UVB light on a timer can be beneficial to provide the effect of a day and night cycle within the tank, and to make it easier for the owner to observe their scorpion in what would otherwise be a rather dark enclosure.

An infrared heat lamp at one end of the tank is the best way of catering to the Emperor scorpion’s lighting and heating requirements, to provide a constant temperature of between 25 and 28 degrees Celsius, with a basking area (which will be the part nearest to the heat lamp) of around 30 degrees Celsius also available.

Feeding an Emperor scorpion

The Emperor scorpion is insectivorous, and eats live food such as black and brown crickets as the main part of its diet, occasionally supplemented by treats such as mealworms and other creepy crawlies. Live foods of these types are readily available to buy from most pet shops, or online retailers who deliver live insects through the post.

Exactly how much your Emperor scorpion eats will depend on their size and age, but a very broad rule is to feed them three times a week, and expect them to consume up to five or six crickets each time when fully grown.

It is important not to overfeed your Emperor scorpion, or leave uneaten food rotting in the tank. Also, take care that the insects that you feed are not too large for your scorpion to manage, as they might fight back!

Live food for scorpions will need to be gutloaded with a high-protein compound, to ensure that they fulfil all of the nutritional requirements of your scorpion. Scorpions also require calcium in order to keep their exoskeleton hard and healthy, and this may be provided by dusting live food with a calcium supplement before feeding your scorpion on occasion.

Working around your Emperor scorpion

Handling scorpions should be kept to a minimum, but nevertheless, sometimes you will need to put your hands into the tank or move your scorpion around, and it is important to do this safely! As well as of course, the sting in the tail, scorpions may bite or pinch with their claws, so they really do have a wide range of defences at their disposal.

If possible, do not put your hands into the tank; use long handled tweezers to remove uneaten food. If you need to move your scorpion or remove them from the tank, try to corral them using a small plastic container and lid, and secure them inside of this to remove them without handling them at all, if possible.

If you do need to physically pick your scorpion up, using a pair of long handled tongs or blunt tweezers is recommended, grasping your scorpion by the tail, just below the sting. Make sure you have a firm but not crushing hold of them in this manner before lifting them out of the tank, to avoid dropping them!

Troubleshooting tank problems and pests for invertebrates

If you keep any kind of invertebrate in a tank, you may find in short order that the enclosed environment of the tank and the humidity levels within it can potentially provide the perfect environment for a range of bugs, parasites and other pests than may prove detrimental to the health of your actual pet. Whether you keep arachnids, bugs, insects or anything else, there are a range of additional life forms that may also find that the tank environment is perfect to sustain life, and this is something that all invertebrate owners should be aware of and know how to address.

In this article, we will cover some of the most common pests and problems that can occur within the invertebrate tank, plus some tips on how to identify and troubleshoot them.


Mites are tiny arachnids from the order Acari, which are rife within the home and thrive around all sorts of life. Mites live on decomposing organic matter, such as shed skin cells and any other protein-rich elements, and can be inadvertently introduced into the invertebrate tank with relative ease.

Mites can lay eggs and reproduce on the body of various types of invertebrate, including arachnids, beetles, cockroaches and millipedes to name just a few.

Some mites even have a symbiotic relationship with their hosts, cleaning up dead skin cells and actually improving the living environment, while some types of mites are purely parasitic and can prove detrimental to the health of your pets in large numbers. You may be able to identify mites on your pet with the naked eye, although they are often hard to spot unless using a magnifying glass or microscope. Look out for general signs of decline in your pet as well as the actual presence of harmful mites in order to identify a potentially problematic infestation.


Nematodes are tiny translucent worms, and are one of the worst pests to find within the tank. They can cause extreme itching and irritation to your pet, and sometimes even consume their eggs. Nematodes are numerous and prolific, and are most easily introduced into the tank by using an infected substrate, such as soil or earth from the garden. They are also commonly found on wild-caught pet invertebrates such as tarantulas and beetles. Use only sealed and sterilised substrates to minimise the likelihood of introducing nematodes into the tank in the first place, as they can be incredibly difficult to eradicate safely and successfully.

Fungus and mould

Fungus and mould in very small quantities are to be expected in tanks that require a certain level of humidity in order to provide the optimum living conditions for their occupants, but imbalances within the tank ecosystem, too much humidity or not enough cleaning of the tank can soon lead to problems.

Mould and fungus will also thrive on discarded food that is not removed from the tank quickly enough, so cleaning out any uneaten food and replacing the substrate frequently enough to check the spread of fungus ad mould is essential. Fungus and mould can prove poisonous to your pet if consumed, and the spores can cause respiratory problems if inhaled in large quantities.

If you find that despite good husbandry, your tank continues to proliferate fungus or mould, you may need to consider lowering the humidity levels of the tank itself.

Fruit flies

Fruit flies and other small flying insects such as gnats and phorid flies are attracted to decomposing food, and a damp substrate. Some parasites such as fungus gnats are, as the name suggests, attracted to fungus and so again, managing fungus and mould within the tank can help to reduce the likelihood of their setting up home within the tank in the first place.

It is important to do what you can to keep these bugs from gaining access to the tank, as fruit flies and other winged flies can quickly lay eggs and reproduce in large numbers within your tank. Again, remove any uneaten food promptly and do not allow it to decompose within the tank. If you find that the ventilation or lid of your tank makes it difficult to keep flying insects out, you may want to use a fly strip on the lid of the tank that will trap any flies that are present, making sure of course that this is well out of the reach of your actual pet!

Bacteria and viruses

Various different bacterial strains and even some types of virus may be present within your pet’s tank and even within their bodies, and some of these are “good” strains that are essential to help your pet to break down food and fight off harmful strains of bacteria and infection. However, harmful bacteria and viruses can also potentially infect your tank and your pet, such as the Wolbachia bacteria that is often considered to be the cause of many unexpected deaths among pet insects.

Bacteria and viruses can easily be introduced into the ecosystem of the tank along with food such as crickets, so it is important to ensure that your live food supply is healthy, well, and comes from a reputable supplier that keeps their stock in the appropriate living conditions.

Regularly cleaning out the tank and taking care what you introduce into the tank in terms of substrate, food, and additional pets can all help to keep the presence and associated risks of harmful bacteria and viruses within the tank to a minimum.

Tarantula health and wellness

One simple fact that all prospective tarantula owners should be aware of is that it can be very difficult to get veterinary treatment for spiders! Unlike cats, dogs and other small pets, if you need help or advice with your tarantula, you will not be able to simply pop it along to the nearest veterinary practice to seek treatment.

General practice veterinary surgeons receive only cursory training in the care and handling of exotic pets, and when you consider how many species of animals there are altogether, it is understandable that standard veterinary training concentrates only on the most commonly found mainstream animals that live within the UK.

This is not to say that it is impossible to seek veterinary treatment for a tarantula, but it certainly often difficult to do so! You may have to travel some distance to find a specialist vet that is experienced and willing to treat exotic pets and venomous spiders in particular, or even have to look to other sources of help, such as professional arachnid keepers with private collections or that work within a zoo environment, or other experienced tarantula owners and enthusiasts.

This makes it all the more important to ensure that your pet tarantula is kept in the optimum living environment for good health, to minimise the likelihood of any problems occurring in the first place.

In this article, we will cover the most common threats to tarantula health and wellness, plus some advice on how to deal with common problems.

What might make my tarantula ill?

Tarantulas, while delicate, are generally fairly hardy animals, and provided that they are not dropped, exposed to predators or kept in poor conditions, will generally self-regulate their health and wellness without the need for external intervention.

The most common risks to the health of pet tarantulas are caused by falling or being dropped, or due to dehydration from an environment that is not humid enough to fulfil their needs.


Tarantulas acquire most of their water intake needs from their food, and you may often go for some time without seeing your tarantula drinking. Nevertheless, providing a water dish is essential, and the water within it should be clean, fresh and changed regularly. As well as providing for the tarantula’s need to drink, over time, the water within their dish will evaporate, providing necessary humidity within the tank. You may also need to lightly spray the substrate of the tank with fresh water regularly to ensure that the atmosphere is humid enough.

A tarantula that hovers or stands over its water dish without drinking is probably being subjected to an environment that is too dry, and is attempting to hydrate itself by standing over the water.

A tarantula that is dehydrated will over time become more lethargic and less active. The size and shape of the abdomen may well shrink as well, and eventually they may take on a hunched up appearance with the legs curled underneath the body. If your tarantula is dehydrated to this extent, you will need to act to correct the problem before it progresses any further.

You can create a simple tarantula humidifier by using a small Tupperware or margarine tub with tiny holes poked in the lid for ventilation, containing water-saturated paper towels in the base of it. Place your tarantula in this tub and close the lid, then place the tub somewhere warm but not too hot, in order to allow the water in the tub to evaporate in the air.

Your tarantula’s condition should improve significantly within 24 hours, and meanwhile you should use this time to address the issue of the water content and humidity within their enclosure, considering the temperature, water provision and substrate.

Injury repair and bleeding

If your tarantula falls, catches a limb on something or otherwise becomes injured, they will bleed a clear or yellowish liquid from the wound. Tarantulas do not have a lot of blood to lose in the first place, and so any amount of blood loss can be dangerous to them. Fortunately, healing an external wound on a tarantula is simply achieved with the use of a specialist skin adhesive glue, or even in an emergency, superglue! This quickly repairs ruptures and tears in the skin, and halts dangerous blood loss.

Losing a leg

Losing a leg is understandably a fairly serious business, but when you have eight legs to start with, need not be the end of the world! Sometimes, a tarantula will lose a leg after an injury or accident, or even potentially as a side effect of a difficult moult.

If your tarantula loses a leg and is left with a bleeding wound, use skin adhesive to stop the bleeding. Your tarantula should in time then regenerate the missing limb in their next moult, although the new leg may potentially initially be smaller and balder than the original legs!

Handling a sick or injured tarantula

It is important to remember that as with any animal (or person) illness, pain or discomfort can lead to grouchiness and defensive aggression. Not only will they be more delicate and prone to further injury from handling, but even the most laid back of spiders will be exponentially more likely to bite or attack defensively.

Handle your tarantula with extreme care if attempting any form of care for them, and always wear gloves. A handy trick to remember is that spiders become lethargic and sluggish in the cold, so placing your tarantula in a small container in the fridge for a short while before attempting to handle them can make things somewhat safer and easier.

Caring for a pet centipede

Many of the larger foreign species of centipede make for interesting and active pets, providing that you are happy to look at them but not touch! Centipedes, regardless of species, are very aggressive animals and the larger species can deliver a venomous and painful bite, so centipedes should never be handled.

If this does not put you off, then a centipede may be a good pick of pet invertebrate, as they tend to be rather more lively and entertaining to watch than many other bugs and arachnids, which often hide out of sight or do not spend much time moving around for large parts of their lives. Centipedes are fairly delicate, and require a stable and suitable living environment in order to thrive. While each species of centipede has slightly different care requirements, overall, their needs are fairly similar.

This article will furnish you with the basics of how to care and provide for an exotic pet centipede.

Housing a pet centipede

Finding an appropriate tank or housing for the pet centipede is relatively straightforward, and a glass or plastic rectangular tank is generally fine. Your tank should be large enough to allow your fully-grown centipede plenty of room to stretch out and move around, and as some species can grow to around 30cm long, this may mean a fairly large tank is needed. The tank should also be rather deep, as you will need to provide a deep substrate to allow burrowing, and also to ensure that the lid of the tank is well out of your centipede’s reach. The lid should also be securely clipped closed from the outside, as these aggressive creatures are very strong and often adept at escaping!

Centipedes like to burrow, and so the substrate of the tank should be deep enough to allow this. You can choose a substrate that is as deep as your centipede is long, although using a shallower substrate than this will mean that your centipede will spend more time visible within the tank and not hidden away out of sight. The substrate should be able to both support the burrowing structures that your centipede will make, and be able to retain moisture well. Potting compost, peat moss or a combination of soil, moss and vermiculite is fine. Peat moss is often favoured, as it has a fairly acidic Ph level that will help to discourage mould and fungus.

Temperature, lighting and humidity

Centipedes are nocturnal, burrowing animals who do not like bright light, so there is no need to provide lighting within the tank. You will see more of your centipede if their tank is housed in a shady area, out of the glare of direct sunlight.

Centipedes need to live in a moist environment, with a humidity level of 75%-85%, so spraying the substrate regularly is required to keep it moist. If the tank environment is too dry, desiccation is a big risk for the pet centipede. Allowing for the humidity needs of the centipede by spraying the substrate directly can lead to decay and fungus growth over time, however, so you might wish to look at alternative methods of keeping the tank humid enough. If the tank is firmly sealed with only small air holes to allow ventilation, the humidity levels of the tank will be easier to maintain, and should largely manage themselves due to the combination of warmth, a closed environment and evaporation from the tank’s water dish, which should be topped up regularly to allow for this.

Most of the larger species of centipede hail from warmer climes than the UK, and so the tank should be heated to a temperature of between 23-29.5 degrees Celsius, depending on species. This can be achieved with a heat mat that is moderated by a thermostat, and a thermometer to monitor the temperature.

Feeding a pet centipede

Centipedes eat live prey, and are very active and aggressive in their hunt for food. A wide variety of easy to source live food animals provided for the pet industry can be offered, including crickets, cockroaches, mealworms and even flies. Larger centipedes may even happily eat defrosted pinkie mice. Feeding a pet centipede can be interesting to observe, as centipedes are fast and aggressive hunters. Never place your hands in the tank with your centipede, particularly when feeding them, as you run the risk of acquiring a nasty bite from your pet!

Centipedes will eat relatively large prey compared to their own body size, but can run the risk of injury if fighting prey that is close in size to themselves. Never feed prey that is larger than half the size of your centipede in order to prevent this happening. Uneaten food and any discarded remains should be removed from the tank within 24 hours of feeding. Again, do not put your had into the tank to take uneaten food out, use long handled tweezers or forceps instead.

You should also provide a water dish for your pet centipede, and ensure that clean, fresh water is available at all times. This is not only important to allow your centipede to drink, but to help to contribute to the humidity levels of the tank as well. You can lift and lower the dish into the tank without risking your fingers by again using a pair of long straight forceps or tweezers.

Handling pet centipedes

Pet centipedes should not be handled; they almost certainly will bite, and a bite from a large centipede is both painful and can make you quite ill. This is not a pet to sit in your lap or hold on your arm to entertain your friends! As mentioned, never put your hands in the tank, and ensure that your tank is deep enough and has a well-secured lid to prevent escape. Any time you need to work within the tank, such as to clean it or to change the substrate, trap your centipede and remove them from the tank without handling them, securing them safely away while you get to work.