Appendix B: Obtaining, Keeping, and Rearing Arthropods
For many lessons, live arthropods can be used to teach a particular topic, such as crickets, Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches, mealworms, and sow/pill bugs.
House crickets, in the order Orthoptera, can be raised for experiments of their own or as feeder insects for other arthropods (spiders, scorpions, praying mantids, etc.) No special temperature or lighting requirements are needed, and, as omnivores, they will eat most anything you give them. Visit the to learn more.
Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches
In the order Blattodea, these cockroaches are long lived and large sized, so are great research animals and classroom pets. They are omnivores, but especially enjoy cat or dog food, apples, and raw vegetables such as carrots and lettuce. As with crickets, no special heating or lighting is necessary. These insects also can be easily handled and…dropped…so they are ideal for teaching elementary school children! Read more about their care here:
Mealworms, in the order Coleoptera, are the larval stage of a darkling beetle. They can be used to teach about complete metamorphosis, as they go from egg to larva to pupa to adult, all stages looking different from each other. Reared in bran, oatmeal, or flour, they are easy to care for: .
Sow bugs/pill bugs
Although not insects, sow bugs and pill bugs (also known as “roly polies”) are fun little arthropods to observe. They are primitive looking crustaceans that like to live in or around moist soil or decaying material. They are good representatives of animal recycling processes. For more on how to care for them, check out .
These are just a few examples, but as we’ve seen from the lesson plans, there are many other arthropods that can be good learning tools in the classroom. Predators like praying mantids, spiders, and scorpions can be interesting when studying predator/prey relationships. Various Lepidopteran species, such as tobacco hornworms, can also provide a good exercise in learning about complete metamorphosis and/or pest species. Information about other common pet or research insects can be found at the University of Nebraska—Lincoln Entomology Department’s website.
Insects can be bought at local pet stores as well as many places online, including , , , and . Pet stores also sell inexpensive terrariums and bedding, or you can find these on Amazon or other online merchants.
Reducing Fear and Disgust
One of the most important aspects of using insects in teaching is emphasizing their part in nature and how they deserve respect and appreciation. They can be “ugly” or “scary” looking, but they play vital roles in our ecosystem, including pollination, recycling, biocontrol, and as pests. But they are the most numerous group of animals on the planet, and it’s easier to live with them than be afraid of them. Reducing fear in children can be mastered by giving them hands on experience with insects, which is why having insects in the classroom that children care for can be a good learning experience as well as eliminating the “gross out factor” associated with these creatures. All of the lesson plans in this publication will offer a chance to work hands on with insects, learning about them and how they interact with each other, humans, and the world.