Throughout the world, there is a huge fascination with pets, and this fascination covers all the different aspects of animals ranging from the common, like dogs and cats, to the feared, like snakes and reptiles, to the most intelligent, like parrots and rodents. But there is another category that is often pushed into the shadows and rarely spoken of. The hobby of insect collecting is one of the largest hobbies in the world and deals with all of the world’s creepy crawlers. From the beautiful butterfly to the giant hissing roach and from the Goliath Bird Eating Tarantula to the Giant Black Millipede, the secret world of insect is vast and varied in the creatures that the hobby covers. For those reading this that know a thing or two about tarantulas or scorpions, will already know that they aren’t technically insects, but are actually arachnids just like Giant Black Millipede is actually an arthropod, but the point is that we are using the term “insect collecting” to cover a board range of creatures that are kept by hobbyists. The more technical aspect of insect collecting is to collect insect from the wild, kill them using different types of gasses, and finally mounting them using a pin in corresponding groupings to showcase different species and subspecies. Although we will briefly describe this hobby, we will be focusing more on the collection of insects from the pet industry. Since the hobby is so vast, we will be focusing on the insects in general, as well as arachnids and anthropoids because they are the most likely to show up in a pet store. Unlike the case of literal insect collecting, we will discuss the ways to keep these “insects” as pets.
An arthropod is an invertebrate animal having an exoskeleton (external skeleton), a segmented body, and jointed appendages. For our purposes, we will be covering two of the most commonly available arthropods that are available in nearly every pet store that has a reptile department. There are perhaps 20 000 arthropods throughout the world, but the two most commonly found in pet stores are the African Giant Black millipede and the centipede. Although both would appear to be quite similar by someone new to the hobby, both are considerably different and you should never mix the two up. The main difference between the two is that the millipede is a herbivore and the centipede is a carnivore. Due to their dietary needs, the millipede is naturally extremely docile and the centipede is naturally extremely aggressive. The fact is that the centipede will deliver one of the worst bites you will ever experience and is capable of delivering a painful, deadly venom filled bite. So dangerous is the centipede that most pet stores simply will not bring one in unless it is a special order. But why is something so deadly and violent yet still desired? Despite their aggressive nature, they are one of the most beautiful creatures in the hobby. But the millipede is also not without its defense mechanisms as when it is attacks, it curls up into an armored ball and produces a toxin that secrets out of its sides. It is not harmful to humans, but helps it not become a meal in the wild. Monkeys in the wild have actually been documented of rubbing the chemical on their bodies to prevent mosquito bites.
Although both of these arthropods’ diets are completely different, they can both be easily mimics in captivity. Since the millipede is a herbivore, their diet in captivity should consist of a variety of mixed greens and fruits and veggies. As with all animal species that are herbivores, the key to success is a large variety of food items to ensure your millipede gets all the nutrients that it requires. The centipede has the exact same diet as most commonly available tarantulas and scorpions. Their diet consists of live prey items, different types of crickets and worms, which they eat sporadically when they are hungry. It’s not uncommon for centipedes to simply kill a prey item and then refuse to eat it. Larger centipede can also eat small feeder rodents, live or pre-killed, to add a little bit of variety into their diet.
Arachnids are a class (Arachnida) of joint-legged invertebrate animals in the subphylum Chelicerata. All arachnids have eight legs.For our purposes, we are going to deal with two commonly available arachnids that are available in nearly every pet store that has a reptile department. Tarantulas and Scorpions are two types of arachnids that are usually found in pet stores. There are literally hundreds of each type, but the two most common are Rosy Tarantulas and the Emperor Scorpion. Why these two specifically? These are two of the most common because they are generally not aggressive and they’re venom won’t put you in a hospital if bitten. (Other similar tarantula species that are equal in terms of aggression are the Pink Toed Tarantula and the Red Kneaded Tarantula.) That’s right, both of these arachnids, like all tarantulas and scorpions have venom that they can deliver through a bite or a sting, but with these two types, their venom is no stronger than a bee sting and if you are allergic to bee stings, this is one animal that you should avoid. Although they can deliver a painful bite or sting, most would much rather retreat than deliver a bite. The other concern with these tarantulas is irritation and itching from special hairs found on some new world tarantulas. These tarantulas possess what are called "urticating" (itch-causing) hairs on their abdomens, which they can release by vigorously rubbing their abdomens if threatened. These tiny hairs are barbed and can work their way into the skin and cause itching and irritation. To ensure these hairs stay on the tarantula, stress is always something you have to keep to a minimum.
The other major part about caring for these unusual creatures is that they do not shed their skin like reptiles or snakes, but rather goes into a full body molt. As a tarantula or scorpion grows, they routinely molt their entire exoskeleton and produces a new one. This is perhaps the most stressful time for a tarantula or scorpion, and it may lead to a heightened but temporary aggression. During this time, they require a high humidity, a daily misting with a water bottle is usually enough to suffice, and will also stop eating until the molt is complete. The scariest part of this process is when unsuspecting keeping see their arachnid lying on its back looking like it had recently died. Thankfully it hasn’t, but it does have to lie on its back, sometimes for hours on end, in wait for the new exoskeleton to harden. After the process is complete, you will have a fresh hungry arachnid on your hands, and the old skeleton will be waiting looking like a dead tarantula or scorpion.
Diet for Tarantulas and scorpions are perhaps one of the easiest to mimic in captivity because they only eat live prey items. If you are squeamish about feeding live prey items, most common are crickets, then you should avoid arachnids if you already haven’t. For such large arachnids, they actually eat fairly little compared to other creatures. It is common to feed them every other day and usually only a few crickets at a time. Once they reach larger sizes, they are also able to eat small sized feeder rodent, either live or pre-killed. In the wild, the amount they eat is determined by how much they can catch. Most tarantulas require very little and in most cases will refuse to eat if they aren’t hungry, but scorpions, especially Emperor Scorpion, have a fondness for eating and are known to become obese in captivity. They also require a dish of water to be present in their enclosures at all times. For all arachnids, arthropods, and general insects, they need to have a sponge or cotton in their water to prevent accidental drowning.
Purchasing Your First Arachnid/Arthropod
The first rule about purchasing your first arachnids or arthropod is to buy a species that is interesting to you. Never be persuaded to purchase an animal that you don’t want because you are told it is an easier animal meant for a beginner. If it is an arachnids or arthropods that you don’t really want, then it is an animal that you will grow tired of in the future. Regardless of what type of arachnids or arthropod it is that you want, you have to ensure you do all the research about the animal prior to purchasing it so that you take proper care of the creature from day one. Care is a big issue, but research is doubly important for arachnids and arthropods because you have to make sure how aggressive it is, if it has venom and how much, and what it eats for a diet. Purchasing a colorful Tarantula is a great idea until you discover it attacks anything that comes close to it and has incredibly dangerous amounts of venom. For you own safety, and the safety of those around you, DO YOUR RESEARCH!
One of the most debated issues in all of herpetology is whether to purchase from a private breeder or from a pet store. Here is an argument that is based on a few too many bad apples spoiling it for the bunch. Without pet stores, there simply would not be arachnids and arthropods in captivity as pets because it was various pet stores that sparked the interest in them in the first place. But over the past twenty years, there have been numerous cases of animals being sold by people thinking only of profit as their animals suffer from neglect. Thankfully, there has been numerous enthusiasts stepping forward to challenge pet stores that simply do not live up to the standards that all animals require, and there have also been numerous pet stores in North America that have been promoting proper arachnids and arthropod care. The downside to purchasing from a pet store is that you will be paying higher prices because the pet store purchases from breeders and then mark up the prices to make a profit. The other issue with arachnids and arthropods is that a majority of the species found in captivity are still being wild caught. Although there are many species being bred in captivity today, there are still thousands that have never been able to breed to live a long time in captivity. As the industry advances, a majority of arachnids and arthropods will be captive bred, but for the time being, many arachnids and arthropods are being imported into North America.
As a general rule of thumb, always try to purchase the healthiest animal available. This is easily done by purchasing the largest arachnids or arthropods in a group that is active and regularly feeding. Larger arachnids and arthropods typically mean that they are being well fed and cared for. If an arachnids and arthropods is skinny and not active, then it is best to leave it be. Although most arachnids and arthropods are nocturnal, it is important that they are alert when uncovered or picked up. One of the most common reasons for buying a small sickly animal from either a breeder or pet store is because you want to save it and nurse it back to health. Although noble your intentions might be, a life time of health issues will not make you love your animal more, and health issues in arachnids and arthropods are incredibly difficult to treat especially if it is a young animal that has yet to build up a resistance to illnesses. A healthy arachnids and arthropods can live many years, and if you put in the time that is necessary, you will be rewarded in the long run. Since a number of these animals are wild caught, it is important to check them for mites that may have come from the wild. Mites are incredibly resourceful and difficult to get rid of, and they can cause enormous amounts of stress to your animal.
All arachnids and arthropods, regardless of species, require three main things to ensure that they not only survive, but thrive in their new home. The first thing that they require is an enclosure that is big enough for them to stretch out it, but also to mimic their natural ecosystem. For most arachnids and arthropods the space they require is typically quite small. Most species are perfectly happy to live in a 10-20 gallon tank for most of their lives, but some, like the Goliath Bird Eater needs at least twice that size since it has a 12 inch leg span. Most will require a shot enclosure with a lot of ground space, whereas some species prefer to climb and stay in the tree, which require taller enclosures. Since most of these species require high or moderate amounts of humidity, the substrate of choice is either dirt or a humid cypress mulch. Most important of all, especially if you want to keep you arachnids and arthropods in the cage, you have to have a tight fitting lid that they can’t push up or squeeze through. The fact of the matter is, if they can escape, they will, and just because you can’t see them trying, they are trying as hard as they can to escape.
The second thing to remember about arachnids and arthropods is that they are cold blooded, so they require an external heat source to keep their bodies warm. Without a heat range of 75 f to 80 f (For most Species), your arachnids or arthropods will be stressed out and will not be able to digest its food properly. A lot of times when an animal refuses to eat, it is because their temperature is simply too low for their metabolism to function properly. This heat can be from an external reptile heat bulb to heat the cage from above, or you can choose to use a heat mat to heat the cage from below. It is important to heat only one half of the cage give your pet a chance to regulate its body temperature by being able to move from one side of the cage to another.
The last thing you have to remember is that arachnids and arthropods like to feel secure. They do this by curling up underneath things that they can push up against and feel safe. The easiest way to do this is to purchase reptile hides from a pet store, like the ones that look like big hollow rocks that your pet can climb under. These are the easiest to use, most effective, and the safest. Some people choose to use real rocks, which are alright, but you have to ensure they cannot be pushed over because they can and will easily crush an arachnids or arthropods. And again, arachnids and arthropods like to regulate their temperatures, so it is important to have one hiding spot on the cool side of the cage, and a hiding spot on the hot side of the cage.
Although they can be some of the most feared, and in some cases, deadly animals in the world, arachnids and arthropods are some of the most sought after creatures for hobbyist’s collections. Although the hobby of “insect collecting” is the collection of insects, most often butterflies and beetles due to their unique colorations, followed by humanly killing them to prevent exoskeleton damage, and then mounting them in their species and subspecies groups. This is a hobby that has gone on for decades, but the keeping of arachnids and arthropods alive in enclosures is a considerably new hobby that calls for a lot of attention to detail. With thousands of tarantulas, scorpions, millipedes, and centipedes on the market, it is essential to do a lot of research to ensure what you are purchasing is what you want. Although care for all of them is generally the same, it is the dietary requirements that are the most necessary to know because it will also tell you what their general temperament is like. Where the millipede is a herbivore and very docile, the centipede is a carnivore and quite aggressive. That’s not to say that you should avoid aggressive or venomous arachnids or arthropods, it is more to say that there is a lot of respect that should be given to all these creatures because they are all unique in their own way. This is one hobby that turns your greatest fears against you in a way that is completely fascinating. Just when you think a tarantula or scorpion is not personal, they begin to watch you and come out when they thing you have food. Plus the less aggressive species of tarantulas, scorpions, and most millipedes don’t mind being held for short periods of time and sometimes like the amount of heat your body gives off. Its actually quite strange when you realize a big that you bought from a pet store has actually become a family pet that you love just as much as any other dog or cat.