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Keeping insects and spiders as pets - Introduction to invertebrates

Keeping insects and spiders as pets - Introduction to invertebrates

To most people, the idea of having insects or spiders in their house, much less willingly, is something of an alien concept! However, to many other people, keeping a spider or insect as a pet can seem like a fascinating idea, and one that holds a lot of potential appeal. Insects and spiders fall into the animal grouping known as “invertebrates,” which is the designation given to huge variety of animal species from all over the world that do not have a vertebral column, or backbone. It is one of the largest animal groupings, and takes into account literally millions of different animals, almost every species except from mammals, birds, reptiles, fish, and amphibians.

What kind of invertebrates can be kept as pets?

Many different types of invertebrates can be kept as pets, and some of the most commonly kept “inverts” (a colloquial or shortened term for “invertebrates”) within the UK include stick insects, hissing cockroaches, praying mantis, millipedes, and of course the ever-popular tarantula. Invertebrates do not take up much space, nor require a huge amount of maintenance compared to other pets such as cats, dogs and caged animals. They do not require taming and handling (in fact, it is often recommended that pet invertebrates should be handled as little as possible) and are often fascinating to watch.

Nevertheless, invertebrates of every type have some fairly unique care requirements and special attention to be given to their housing, security, interaction with people and feeding, and are not a pet that should be considered a good pick simply to show off or to look cool.

Picking a suitable pet invertebrate

Generally, people who are considering their first pet invertebrate are fairly clear as to what kind of invert they would like to own, or have at least got as far as deciding between a spider and an insect. The best rule of thumb to follow with narrowing down the choice is to pick a species that is both relatively easy to care for and hardy enough to survive under the care of a beginner, and also one that is known to be either docile or not dangerous to their handlers. While invertebrates can be both educational and interesting to children, children should not, as a general rule, handle or be over all responsible for the care of any invertebrates, both for their own protection and that of the animal.

  • Stick insects and leaf insects are both very docile and not prone to biting or other forms of defensive attacks, and are relatively easy to keep. However, they are physically fragile, and need handling with extreme care.
  • Hissing cockroaches are a good beginner pick, as they are both hardy and robust, docile, and easy to care for, as well as not possessing a particularly impressive armoury that might prove dangerous to the novice handler.
  • Tarantulas are certainly in a class of their own in terms of the defensive arsenal available to them, and should only be considered as a viable pet for novices that are extremely enthusiastic about arachnids, and prepared to spend a lot of time researching and investigating what is required from ownership before going forwards. All tarantulas are venomous to some extent, although the bite of most of the tarantulas that are considered to be suitable for beginners is equivalent in severity to that of the average bee sting. While this will understandably be painful and unpleasant, it is highly unlikely to prove dangerous other than as a localised irritation in anyone other than people that are allergic to the venom and who may suffer from an anaphylactic reaction as a result of a bite.
  • Some tarantulas also have urticating hairs on their body, hairs that cause irritation when they make contact with skin. A tarantula that is afraid or threatened may kick off some of these urticating hairs from their abdomen as a defence mechanism, which can cause localised irritations to human skin and can be dangerous if the hairs make contact with your eyes.
  • The Chilean Rose tarantula is one of the most popular beginner spiders, closely followed by the Mexican Redknee and several other species of different types.

Considerations to bear in mind when looking into keeping an invertebrate

Whatever form of invertebrate you are considering buying, it is wise to double check beforehand if there are any rules and regulations regarding their ownership, particularly in the case of venomous invertebrates.

  • Spend a significant amount of time narrowing down what type of invertebrate you would like to own, and when you get as far as an actual species and type of pet, learn all about their care, feeding, housing and handling before you start looking around to buy.
  • Find out how long your potential future pet might live; most invertebrates have a fairly short lifespan, but some types of tarantulas can live for well over 20 years when well cared for!
  • Learn about the correct handling of the pet you are considering; if you will be able to handle them safely, how to handle them, and of course vitally, how you can work around them to clean their enclosure, particularly with pets that are not commonly handled.
  • Learn about what your new pet will eat; tarantulas are often fed live pretty in the form of insects, which means not only witnessing your pet killing and eating another animal, but also storing and keeping live insects in your house as well!
  • Find out exactly how venomous any invertebrate you are considering might be (if at all) plus if there are any other risk factors to bear in mind (such as urticating hairs). Consider carefully how you would deal with any potential injury, what path you would be able to follow in getting help, and how you would feel about keeping your pet afterwards.
  • Finally, consider the safety and feelings of any other members of the family; if someone who lives with you is terrified of spiders, then getting a tarantula, even one safely enclosed in a tank, is potentially going to be a never-ending source of problems.