of Kentucky Department of Entomology - KENTUCKY BUG CONNECTION
Youth Entomology Resources | MIDDLE - HIGH SCHOOL
- ELEMENTARY >4H RESOURCES
BUGS: Kentucky arthropods
and keeping of Kentucky arthropods
Kentucky insects and spiders are not as large and attention-getting
as popular exotic arthropods (like tarantulas and hissing cockroaches),
but they are still fascinating to observe. Not all Kentucky
arthropods make good pets, but some of them do well in captivity
when given the right conditions. Be aware that, because many
Kentucky insects and spiders die at the end of each summer, many
will only live for 1 year or less in captivity, even when treated
with the best of care. Some, though, like wolf spiders and
caterpillar hunters, will live for several years. Listed below
are some of Kentucky's most interesting and easy-to-care for arthropods.
Each entry contains care information, life span, and other
Information - Keeping
and caring for wild insects, spiders, and their relatives is great
way to observe these fascinating creatures. It is also a big
responsibility. Never keep an animal in captivity unless you
are prepared to provide the proper living conditions. Also,
never keep an animal in captivity unless it is a species that is
capable of thriving in captivity -- the reason we prepared this
list is to help you find wild arthropods that DO thrive in captivity.
- It is illegal to collect any animal (including insects and their
relatives) from certain nature preserves, parks, and other properties.
The best place to collect insects is from your own yard, garden,
farm, or other property where you have explicit permission to collect.
Praying mantids are a
favorite among insect enthusiasts, and are one of the best insects
to keep in captivity. Mantids are fascinating to observe and
easy to care for. Because they tend to remain still most of
the time, mantids don't require much space. The only problem
with praying mantids is that, like many Kentucky insects, they will
not live for more than a year, even when kept under ideal conditions.
A mantid can be kept in any container that is taller than the praying
mantid is long, with a diameter of 6 inches or so. A coffee
can is a good sized container, or a very large mason jar (1/2 gallon
or more). A 5-gallon aquarium or a medium-sized clear "critter
carrier" (sold at many pet stores) is also ideal. Make
sure that the lid has holes so that the mantid can breathe. This
will also make it easy to give the mantid water.
Mantids will want to hang upside down from some kind of perch
several inches from the bottom of the container. Lean a dried
stick inside the container and secure it so that the mantid can
hang from it without knocking it over. It is best if the stick
has a few branches. Line the bottom of the container with
an inch or two of moist garden soil (pesticide- and fertilizer-free
soil) to help maintain a medium-high humidity level.
Mantids are predators, and are built to capture harmless flying
insects like large flies and moths. 1-2 moths or flies per
day is usually sufficient, but the prey must be alive and mobile
when released into the mantid's cage. Mantids will also eat
caterpillars and crickets, but because these creatures do not fly,
the mantid may not be able to capture them easily. If it is
necessary to feed crickets or caterpillars to a mantid, it is best
to hold the prey close to the mantid with a pair of tweezers.
Always remove any
uneaten food after 1 day.
provide water to the mantid by misting its cage daily.
room temperature or warmer, up to about 85 degrees F.
Less than 1 year: in Kentucky, mantids hatch from eggs in early
summer and live until late fall in the wild. In captivity,
a well-cared-for mantid may live until November or December.
There are three species of praying mantids in Kentucky, the Carolina
mantid, European mantid, and Chinese mantid. They are all
cared for in the same way. Note that the European mantid and
the Chinese mantid are not originally from Kentucky, and are not
technically "native" insects.
For more information
about mantid biology and for tips on where to find mantids, visit
our Critter File: Praying
Although assassin bugs
are not closely related to praying mantids, they have very similar
behaviors and are cared for in almost the same way. Like mantids,
they are slow-moving, and need very little space when kept as pets.
Assassin bugs are very interesting to observe, and some species
make excellent pets, when handled carefully.
Assassin bugs CAN and WILL bite
fingers! Never handle them. Instead, use a stick or
a leaf to "herd" an assassin bug into a container. Normally,
the bite is very painful, but harmless; however, an assassin bug
bite can be dangerous to people with severe allergy problems. Assassin
bugs move slowly, and bites can usually be avoided.
Any small, escape proof container can be used, as long as there
is enough room for the assassin bug to move around.
a few sticks and leaves for the assassin bug to climb on. Use
moist garden soil (use pesticide- and fertilizer-free soil) to line
the bottom of the cage to maintain a medium-high humidity level.
Assassin bugs wait in ambush for crawling prey. Earthworms
and large caterpillars make excellent food. Feed assassin
bugs 4-5 times a week. If the prey items are very small (less than
1/2 the assassin bug's body length), feed every day. Remove
any uneaten food after 1 day.
an assassin bug will get most of its water from its food, but it
will benefit from a light cage misting every other day.
room temperature or warmer, up to about 85 degrees F.
Less than 1 year. Kentucky assassin bugs hatch from eggs in
early summer and live until late fall in the wild. In ideal
conditions, a captive assassin bug may live through most of the
There are many species of assassin bugs in Kentucky, and most of
them can be cared for in the same way, but it may be difficult to
find small prey for small assassin bugs. The best assassin
bugs for captive observation are the wheel bugs. Wheel bugs
are large (2") and gray, and are very common in Kentucky.
For information on assassin
bugs, including how to find and identify assassin bugs, visit our
Critter File: Assassin
are hundreds of different kinds of beetles that live in Kentucky.
Although most of them do not thrive in captivity, listed below
are 2 interesting types that do well in captivity when properly
Hunters (aka Fiery Searchers): Caterpillar
hunters are large beetles in the ground beetle family (Carabidae).
They are about 1 1/2 inches long with metallic-green wing
covers and purple legs. They are predators that feed on caterpillars
and earthworms. Caterpillar hunters can be cared for in the
same way as assassin bugs (see above), except
that at least 2-3 inches of loose, moist garden soil should line
the bottom of the cage -- these beetles spend much of their time
burrowing. Like assassin bugs, caterpillar hunters are able
to bite fingers. The bite is not dangerous. Caterpillar
hunters can live for several years when kept in ideal conditions.
Read more about caterpillar hunters at our Critter File: Ground
Beetles (aka rhinoceros beetles, unicorn beetles): Hercules
beetles are the largest beetles in Kentucky and are always interesting
to observe. They can be kept and raised in captivity, but
it is a very demanding process. Details on the keeping and
rearing of Hercules beetles is covered in full at our Critter File:
bees aren't normally called "pets," but many people maintain
bee hives to get honey and to observe colony activity. For
information on keeping honey bees, read our ENTfact: Starting
an Observation Honey Bee Hive
insects make great additions to freshwater aquariums. For
more information, visit our special section devoted to Aquatic
Most Kentucky spiders
do not thrive in captivity. Many of our spider species build
large webs, and most kinds of containers do not allow these types
of spiders to build webs of the proper shape and size. Wolf
spiders, though, do not build webs. Instead, they are active
hunters that search the ground for prey. Because of this,
wolf spiders do not need special housing. Wolf spiders are
also easy to find, easy to feed, and can live for several years
in captivity. In fact, because of their life-span and ease-of-care,
wolf spiders make some of the best captive arthropods.
Although wolf spiders are not aggressive, they are able to bite
people, and should not be handled. Their bites are normally
not dangerous, but can threaten allergic individuals.
A wolf spider needs only a few square inches of space. A small
(1 pint) mason jar or similar container is large enough for most
wolf spiders. A 2.5 gallon aquarium would also make a very
attractive home for a large wolf spider. Make sure to have
an escape-proof lid that provides some ventilation. Be aware
that wolf spiders are very fast: whenever their cage is opened,
they will try to escape. Be ready for an escape by opening
a wolf spider cage within another, larger container.
Line a wolf-spider habitat with an inch or so of moist garden soil
that is free of pesticides and fertilizers. Also add a few
large, dried leaves, chunks of bark, of pieces of moss for the spider
to hide under during the day.
Wolf spiders will feed on almost any living insect or worm that
is about 1/2 their own body length. Houseflies, small moths,
and caterpillars are usually easy to find outdoors. "Pinhead"
crickets, as sold in most pet stores, make especially good prey.
One small prey item every other day is sufficient for most
wolf spiders. Large species may eat up to one small prey item
per day. Make sure not to feed the wolf spider wasps, bees,
other spiders, or anything else that might injure the spider. Never
leave live prey in with the spider if the prey isn't attacked within
a few minutes -- even a small cricket can potentially injure a wolf
spider if the spider doesn't attack first.
Wolf spiders will get most of the water that they need from their
prey, but will benefit from a daily cage misting. Although
it is good for their habitat to be humid, do not allow it to be
room temperature or warmer, up to about 80 degrees F.
up to 3+ years, depending on species.
Wolf spiders are in the family Lycosidae. This family contains
dozens of species that live in Kentucky. Some of these spiders
are very small, less than 1/4." It is difficult to find
small prey items for these wolf spiders. Large (1/2 - 1")
wolf spiders are the best to observe and fair the best in captivity.
Please note that Nursery
Web and Fishing Spiders, although very similar to wolf spiders,
are not recommended to keep in captivity.
For more about the biology
and identification of wolf spiders (and where to find them!) visit
our Critter File: Wolf
more difficult to keep in captivity than other arthropods listed
on this page. They are very picky about temperature, humidity
and food. They are gentle and fascinating, though, and a patient
caretaker will be rewarded.
Millipedes do not need much space. Any container that is twice
as long and wide as their body length is large enough. The
lid should be escape proof, with a lid that provides some ventilation,
but which traps humidity inside the cage.
Millipedes need 2-3 inches of moist garden soil. Make sure
the soil is free of pesticides and fertilizers. Millipedes
also need hiding places, such as large dried leaves or pieces of
bark. Clean the cage by removing any uneaten food or moldy
Millipedes are picky eaters, and may want very specific food, depending
on the species. Most millipedes eat decaying organic material
or fungus. To determine what to feed a millipede, you must
first identify the millipede species and then research the internet
and field guides to determine the appropriate food. Some millipedes
cannot be kept in captivity because of their diets.
Provide water to captive millipedes by lightly misting the inside
of the container daily. Do not allow the container to become
between 65-70 degrees F.
1+ years, depending on species.
There are many millipede species that live in Kentucky. The
largest ones are the most popular to keep in captivity.
Read our Millipede
Critter File for tips on how to find millipedes, plus identification
and biology information.
The Southern Devil
Scorpion is the only scorpion species found in Kentucky. It
is common in Southeastern Kentucky, where it lives under rocks and
logs. These scorpions are small (less than 3"), slow-moving
and will thrive in captivity under the proper conditions, including
high humidity and relatively low temperatures.
Like all scorpions, the Southern Devil Scorpion possesses a stinger
on the ends of its tail, and should not be handled. The stings
are not very painful, however, and the venom is only dangerous to
people with severe allergic reactions.
container about half the size of a shoebox is large enough to house
1-5 Southern Devil Scorpions. The lid should be escape proof,
and should allow some ventilation while maintaining a high humidity.
Southern Devil Scorpions need 2-3 inches of moist garden soil. Make
sure the soil is free of pesticides and fertilizers. Scorpions
also need hiding places, such as dried leaves, pieces of moss, or
chunks of bark. The container should be kept humid enough
for the soil to stay damp. If the soil gets dry after a few
days, adjust the lid to reduce evaporation. Clean the cage
by removing any uneaten food or moldy leaves.
The best food for Southern Devil Scorpions are small (1/2")
"pinhead" crickets, available at most pet stores.
Provide water to captive scorpions by lightly misting the inside
of the container daily, but do not spray so often that the container
becomes sopping wet.
between 65-70 degrees F.
Read our Scorpion
Critter File for more information about Kentucky scorpions.
Entomology Resources | PRESCHOOL - ELEMENTARY
preschool and elementary educational materials, please visit our adjacent
B. Newton and R. Bessin, University of Kentucky Department of Entomology.
Original document: 19 April 2004
Last updated: 19 April 2004
page is maintained by Blake Newton, Department of Entomology, University
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