Any pet can help teach children respect and responsibility for animals, but as a lot of invertebrates do not require handling, this can be a fantastic opportunity for children to really get to grips with the complexities of being a pet owner. It is always best to have Mum and Dad on hand, but allowing children to be hands on with their pet’s environment and food can be highly educational.
On the whole, invertebrates are relatively low maintenance pets. Introducing children to invertebrates can often mean they enter adulthood with no fear of spiders and insects. This can instil a life-long appreciation in kids for the welfare of all animals, no matter if a fluffy bunny or a robust cockroach.
All the invertebrates below would make ideal first-time pets for children, albeit with parents involved to help!
The humble stick insect is a great first pet for children, allowing them to learn what it means to care for another living creature. Schools also often have stick insects as classroom additions and are a fantastic way to learn about evolution and camouflage. The fact that stick insects can seamlessly blend into their surroundings can have children searching in their tank for ages! However, it must be remembered that stick insects are fragile and children should not be left to handle them alone. Stick insects, if lifted out of their tank by an adult using a leaf for support, will happily sit on the arm of a calm child.
Madagascan Hissing Cockroach
These 2-inch-long invertebrates are one of the lowest maintenance pets and are very easy to care for, making them ideal for children. Kids are fascinated by them due to their unusual appearance and formidable hissing sound. Due to their size, these hissing cockroaches are robust and easy to handle (with care) and are highly unlikely to bite little hands! At first, children can often be very wary of the Madagascan cockroach due to their warning hissing noise. But, as time progresses, many children learn to handle their pets with confidence and become an expert on their needs.
This is a pet where Mum and Dad may have to keep their peepers on their children at first. Land crabs are small and delicate, but can pinch with their claws. Although it is not particularly painful, it can be a shock for some children, so parents should monitor handling. Land crabs are ideal for older kids, who are a little tired of the common fish tank and have become interested by the more exotic pets. They are often vibrantly coloured and have periods of fast activity, making them interesting to watch.
A land crab tank is not the easiest to set up, as conditions must mimic their environment in the wild. However, this can be very educational for children and it is important to let them help with the entire process.
Parents are often put off by the fact that the praying mantis are carnivorous invertebrates, but they can be an excellent way for children to learn about the circle of life and prey animals. They need to be fed live food, such as locusts and crickets, which is not ideal for squeamish children.
Praying mantis are often coveted by kids who are wild for insects, as they are unusual looking and often a vibrant lime green colour. They will often happily sit on the arm or hand of their owner, but it is important that parents teach their children how to hold their hands and fingers to keep their pet safe. On the odd occasion, a praying mantis may mistake a child’s finger for a tasty caterpillar and give it a bite. Bites are not venomous or painful, but children should be prepared so that they do not send their mantis flying.
Due to a high percentage of the population having a fear of arachnids, particularly venomous ones, a tarantula may not seem like the ideal pet for a child. Kids are much less phased by spiders than adults, who have had time to develop deep fears! For parents who aren’t bothered, keeping a visually striking and colourful tarantula can help children have a great respect for spiders. The Chilean Rose and Mexican Redknee are the most docile species, but understandably, parents should not let their children handle their new pet straight away.
Children with tarantulas as pets often become experts, fascinated by the way they move and how their skin sheds. As children age, their confidence will grow, and they will soon be skilfully handling their pet and ensuring its environment is suitable.
Millipedes are another classroom favourite; they are docile and move slowly. For this reason, they are fantastic pets for children to handle when supervised. Millipedes can live together in one enclosure, perfect if you have more than one child and want to save any arguments! Just make sure you do not house males and females together, they reproduce easily.
Unlike the praying mantis, millipedes are herbivores, enjoying a diet of fruits and vegetables. There are a couple of cons to millipedes though. They are nocturnal creatures, so often you do not get to see much action for your pet during the day. Furthermore, when frightened, millipedes secrete hydrogen cyanide as a defensive strategy. This can stain the skin yellow, or owners can be sensitive to their chemicals. However, this should not perturb children from owning a millipede. They just need to feel calm and secure.
Giant African Land Snail
Referred to as GALS by snail enthusiasts, Giant African Land Snails are impressive molluscs. The most common species are from East Africa and boast a shell 10 to 15 centimetres long. However, this is nothing compared to their Ghanaian relatives, who can have shells up to 25 centimetres long in length!
Children often become enamoured with snails as they are easy to handle, and aren’t going anywhere in a hurry. They are fascinated by their size, the way they move, and the sticky trail they leave behind. There is something impressive about seeing a common garden visitor on a grand scale!
GALS need their space; despite their slowness they can certainly cover some ground. Parents should encourage children to read up on a perfect habitat and what their new pet will eat.
It doesn’t get more exotic or unusual than shield shrimps. Found in the fossils formed in pre-historic times gone by, they have been around since long before the dinosaurs and are distant relatives of crabs and lobsters. They are one of the easiest invertebrates to look after.
They are very reminiscent of a grown-up sea monkey. They are often sold in kits which includes eggs, a tank, and their food. Parents should help their children fill the tank with bottled water and place it under a desk lamp to warm up. Within a week the new additions should be around 6 millimetres long.
Sadly, shield shrimps often only live for about a month, having grown to around 6 centimetres long in this time. However, during this period, they will have laid plenty of eggs. This allows the process to begin again, providing children with an up close and personal view on the life cycle and reproduction.
Ant farms are not as trendy as they once were, but this does not mean that ants do not make fantastic pets for children. They are very easy to look after, and the best way to build a colony with your child is to purchase a ready prepared ant farm. Watching the ants tunnel into the sand, and witnessing the hierarchy between the workers and the Queen can be not only interesting but very educational for children. Understandably, ants are not a pet to be handled!
Parents, please remember that regardless of the invertebrate you introduce to the family, it is inevitable that you will be doing the majority of the caring until your children are experienced enough. Even the most enthusiastic and knowledgeable child will need supervision until they are older, and it is best that you are always on hand to step in. You must feel comfortable with the choice your child makes when it comes to invertebrates as pets and are ready and raring to help clean out tanks and deal with live food if necessary.