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Want to adopt an insect? Any critter is possible on National Pet Day

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — For some, the thought of a tarantula makes their skin crawl. Not Keara Clancy. The more exotic the critter, the more she embraces it. From the time she was about 5, Clancy recalls collecting millipedes as pets at her school playground.

“As long as I can remember, I’ve liked bugs,” said Clancy, a University of Florida College of Agricultural and Life Sciences junior in wildlife ecology and conservation, part of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. “Classmates would call me, ‘the lizard’ or ‘the bug girl.’”

As National Pet Day approaches on April 11, many people think of adopting dogs, cats and tropical fish. Others, like Clancy, fancy the thought of snakes, lizards and insects in their homes.

Clancy tends to about 30 exotic pets, including a vinegaroon, a whip snider, snakes and a discoid roach in her Gainesville, Florida, apartment. She readily admits most people scream when they first encounter her pets.

“That’s a reasonable reaction,” Clancy said. Most people aren’t used to seeing, much less handling, exotic creatures, she said. “But by the end of their initial exposure, some people are holding them. They say they want one, which might not really be the case. But they’re just excited to be around those animals.”

Clancy said she loves exotic pets because they’re low maintenance. Clancy spends about a minute with any one of them in any day. She can go days without visiting with certain critters. Additionally, many of her insects only live a year or two, then she adopts new ones.

“They’re no different than having a pet fish,” she said. “They’re not inherently dangerous. They don’t really make any noise.”

Rebecca Baldwin, a UF/IFAS associate professor of entomology and nematology, can understand why Clancy likes to nurture insects – part of the family of species known as arthropods.

“Arthropods are the most diverse animal group on our planet, so they make fascinating pets,” Baldwin said. “People keep everything from millipedes to rolly pollies to praying mantises to tarantulas and scorpions. The fun thing about having insects as pets is that you can keep native species.”

If someone wants to start keeping insects as pests, Baldwin recommends checking out doodlebugs. They are found in sandy areas, and pet owners can keep them in a plastic shoebox, she said. They are predators, so they would eat small insects, like ants.

Clancy agreed research is crucial before adopting any pets. For example, if children express interest in exotic creatures as pets, they should consider something like the praying mantis, which only lives a year or two – so it’s not a lifetime commitment, she said.

“You might be committing to 15 to 20 years in the case of some female tarantulas, and that’s an important thing to take into consideration,” Clancy said.

For more information on cool creepy crawlies, click here: http://bit.ly/2HL95XF.

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By: Brad Buck, 352-294-3303, bradbuck@ufl.edu

The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents. Visit the UF/IFAS web site at ifas.ufl.edu and follow us on social media at @UF_IFAS.

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