Recently I was invited by our 4-H Agent Chelsea Woodard to help out with a Bug Club at a local Elementary School. In four sessions we had a chance to teach kindergarten through 5th grade students all about insects in Florida. We had a class on Native Bees (you can check out an article on them [here]), on Butterflies, and on Honey Bees. My favorite of the four sessions, however, was the one we did on Good Bugs and Bad Bugs, and is the reason I have a terrarium full of millipedes in my office now. Pet insects can make for a captivating learning tool, and are generally low care.
Picking Your Pet Insects
You can find some interesting bugs at your local pet store, but there are usually plenty running around outside with low care requirements that can make for some great classroom pets. The millipedes currently in my office were harvested out of our dormant summer vegetable garden, where they were making a home under weed cloth and mulch. These helpful detritivores eat decomposing wood and plants, producing ‘castings’ that make for a nice soil amendment. In large numbers they can sometimes be a nuisance to homeowners and Ralph E. Mitchell in Charlotte County has a good write up on that [here].
As with any pet, consider how much work you want to put in to caring for your insect. My millipedes require a humid environment and something to eat. While plenty of mulch and some dead leaves provides the food for months at a time, they do appreciate an occasional misting to keep things moist in their enclosure. Other insects will require more attention – from catching or rearing smaller bugs to feed them, to maintaining a certain temperature:heat ratio. Millipedes are a pretty easy starter insect, and also are non-aggressive, can’t fly, and don’t bite. The kids in our Bug Club were all excited for their chance to hold one, and the millipedes made good bug ambassadors for our class.
The Entomology Department at The University of Florida has a wonderful write up on native Florida insects that make for friendly, easy pets. The guide also goes over basic care instructions for most pet insects. You can find it [here].
Contact the Plant Clinic
The Seminole County Master Gardener Plant Clinic is open Monday – Friday from 9am-Noon and 1pm-4pm. For more information on how to contact a Master Gardener about your gardening questions, visit our website at this [LINK].