Bugs are little animals
When I was writing the book, Busy with Bugs, I had a surprising thought: Bugs are little animals. And getting to know them helps us understand the entire Animal Kingdom. Bugs live in every kind of habitat: mountains, deserts, rainforests, caves, rivers, oceans, fields, backyards – and our houses. Some bugs are predators; some are prey. Some are diurnal (active during the day); some are nocturnal (active at night). Some bugs hibernate; some migrate. Bugs fly, hop, crawl, and run. They eat, drink, rest, hide, communicate, build homes, raise young, attack, fight, die. They are little animals.
And since bugs are animals, we must treat them with respect and care. If you’re interested in catching and keeping live bugs, you’ll need to handle them gently and take care of them responsibly. By learning to love and protect all living things on our planet, you’ll become a better caretaker of our Earth.
Keeping bugs alive
Whether you catch a bug with a bug trap (see “My 5 favorite bug traps”) or find a bug when you’re exploring, use a paintbrush to push the bug into your collecting jar. If you find bugs under a rock or rotting log, gently replace the rock or log in its original position after you collect your critters.
Make sure your collecting jar has openings to let in fresh air. And put a damp, crumpled paper towel in the jar. That will keep bugs from losing moisture and give them a place to hide. These two simple steps will keep your bug alive. You can learn so much more from a living bug than from a dead one.
Taking care of a pet bug
How many children put a bug in a jar and give it grass to eat? But that doesn’t work, because each kind of bug has its own diet. It would be like putting you in a room and giving you grass to eat. You’d probably say, “Don’t they know that I like french fries?”
You can’t feed a bug until you know its name. You can start by counting its legs. All insects have six legs – and two antennae and three body parts (head, thorax, and abdomen). Other creepy crawlies, which I call bugs, may have eight legs (like spiders or daddy long-legs, which are not spiders) or fourteen legs (like a pill bug) or two pairs of legs on each body segment (like a millipede). Your job is to observe your bug, describe it carefully, then look online or in an insect field guide until you can identify it. You may need some help from an adult.
Once you know your bug’s name, you can find out more about it. Google “What do ladybugs eat?’ or “How can you keep a cricket for a pet?” Sometimes you can take a shortcut if you find a bug on a plant and see evidence that the bug has been eating that very plant. A feeding caterpillar will leave big holes in the leaves of a plant and also frass (caterpillar poop). Then you know exactly what to feed that caterpillar.
I worked very hard to make a Keeping-Bugs Chart for my book. It tells exactly what kind of food and shelter is right for different kinds of pet bugs. It also tells how to provide water with a damp paper towel, a mist or spray, or a certain diet. It even tells which bugs can be kept together in a terrarium. Working on the chart made me understand that you can’t keep a bug as a pet unless you know exactly what it needs.
But … once you’ve done your research and set up your bug’s home, it’s not difficult to care for a pet bug. And it can be extremely interesting. Suppose you’re keeping several crickets in a terrarium. You might observe them eating, chirping, kicking, head-butting, wrestling, establishing territories, or laying eggs. Be sure to keep notes and take photos. It might take care of your science project next year!
Toni Albert, M.Ed., is an award-winning author of more than 40 books. Her lifelong love for nature, children, and books inspired her to commit her publishing business, Trickle Creek Books, to “teaching kids to care for the Earth.”