of Kentucky Department of Entomology - KENTUCKY BUG CONNECTION
Youth Entomology Resources | MIDDLE - HIGH SCHOOL
- ELEMENTARY >4H RESOURCES
Stephanie Baily, Extension Specialist & Joe Collins, Nursery Inspector
Updated 4/04 by Blake Newton, Extension Specialist
insect unit isn't complete without live insects and spiders in the
classroom. You can buy insects and spiders online and
at pet stores, or you can bring Kentucky insects to the classroom
from your own garden or backyard. You can also encourage students
to collect live arthropods.
Some insects and spiders
should only be observed for a few days, but some can be kept for
years. Whether you want to keep a tarantula for 30 years,
or a caterpillar for a few days, this guide will help you keep these
critters (and your students!) safe and healthy.
Mason jars, crispers, and plastic food containers all make excellent
home for terrestrial arthropods. In fact, almost any container
can be used, so long as it is escape-proof and large enough for
the bug. Any container should be at least twice the creature's
width and five times its width, or larger if the bug is particularly
active. Make sure that containers are completely free of chemical
residues. It is usually best to keep only one critter in each
container: often, insects and spiders will fight or eat one another,
even if they are herbivores! Lids for insect
and spider habitats need to have more or less ventilation depending
on the species. A rule of thumb: if you find the insect or
spider in a moist environment, such as under a log in the forest,
the lid should have enough ventilation to allow gas exchange, but
it should also trap humidity. To create this kid of lid, you
can take a plastic lid, cut a few holes in it, and make it escape-proof
by hot-gluing pieces of fabric over the holes. An insect that
is found out in the open will probably not need a high humidity
level, and can be kept in a cage with a screen lid.
Insects are picky eaters. Often, they will only eat one kind
of food. We cannot list all of the foods that every insect
likes to eat, but we will give you hints and places to look for
this information. If you cannot find out what kind of food
a critter eats, either on this page or in another reference, or
if you cannot provide the food, it is best not to keep the animal
in captivity for more than a few hours.
Every animal needs water. Insects and spiders are not exceptions.
Many of these creatures get their water from their food, but
many will need an additional water source. When in doubt,
provide the creature with a small dish of water and mist the container
with water every day.
Short-Term? Whenever you or a student brings an insect
or spider into the classroom, you will have to decide how long to
keep the creature in captivity. Certain arthropods will thrive
in captivity for years, others should only be kept for a few days
or less. Some dangerous species should not be brought into
the classroom at all. Below, you will find lists of the best
bugs for long-term captivity and short-term observation.
The vast majority of insects and their relatives are safe to bring
into the classroom. However, stinging insects like bees and
wasps should never be handled, and it is probably best if they are
not collected at all by younger students or by students who are
sensitive to stings. Young students should also avoid handling
ALL spiders and centipedes. Black widow spider and brown recluse
spiders should never be collected by students of any age. Make
sure that they know how to recognize these spiders. The following
ENTfacts have identification tips for these dangerous spiders:
If your students are
bringing insects and spiders into the classroom, make sure that
they know how to collect them safely. To safely collect a
bee or wasp, position a container or an insect net over the bug
while it is sitting motionless. When the bee or wasp begins
to fly, it will fly upwards into the container or net. Then,
the lid can be popped onto the container, or the net can be folded
onto itself to trap the insect. The best way to collect spiders
or centipedes is to "herd" them into a container using
a stick or a leaf.
Every science classroom
should have a tarantula, hissing cockroaches, an observation honey-bee
hive, or other "classroom pets" for students to observe
on a long-term basis.
Bugs for the Classroom: The best arthropods for long-term
classroom observation are probably tarantulas
and hissing cockroaches.
Tarantulas, especially the "rose-hair" and "red-knee"
varieties, are particularly easy to care for and will live for decades.
Hissing cockroaches do not live as long (1-5 years), but are
equally easy to care for.
native Kentucky insects, while fascinating to study, are more difficult
to keep long term than some of the exotic creatures. Large
are probably the best for a classroom. They will live for
2-3 years and are easy to care for. Another good option is
a freshwater aquarium stocked with aquatic
insects. An aquatic insect aquarium requires quite a bit
of maintenance, but not more than any other type of freshwater aquarium.
For a complete list of
the best arthropods to keep for long-term observation, visit our
Pet Bugs section. It
contains specific long-term care information for the following insects
and their relatives:
Arthropods - Introduction
Arthropods - Introduction
During the spring and
fall, there are many arthropods active outdoors that can be brought
into the classroom for temporary observation. In many cases,
it is best to release these creatures the same day that they are
caught. Some insects can be kept for several weeks, though,
if the right resources are provided. Listed below are care
hints for some of the best temporary insect visitors.
Of course, any of the
"long-term" creatures listed above, such as mantids
and wolf spiders,
can also be kept as short-term visitors!
There are hundreds of caterpillar species that live in Kentucky.
Large caterpillars are often brought into the classroom and
can be raised into adult butterflies or moths when given the right
kind of food. All butterfly and moth caterpillars feed on
plant leaves, but they are often very particular about what species
of plant that they will eat. Take note of the plant on which
the caterpillar is collected. As the caterpillar grows, bring
in more of the same leaves each day. Be sure to get the exact
same kind of plant: sometimes, a caterpillar will reject even the
closest relatives of its favorite plant. To find out what
a caterpillar eats, you will first need to identify the species.
Many books can help with caterpillar identification. Butterflies
and Moths (by Mitchell and Zim) and Peterson's
First Guide to Caterpillars (by Wright and Peterson) are
two inexpensive guides that show pictures of most caterpillars and
give host-plant information for many species. If you want
to rear a caterpillar to its adult form, make sure that the caterpillar
has a suitable place to pupate: some will pupate under dry leaves,
some will suspend their cocoon from a stick. Many will need
to go through a "cold" period before they are ready to
emerge as adults, and can be placed in a small container outdoors
for a few months during the winter. Again - research your
caterpillar species and find out what it needs to pupate.
and Moths: If an adult butterfly or moth is brought into the
classroom or is reared from a caterpillar, it is usually best to
release it as soon as possible. Butterflies and moths will
quickly damage their wings when held in a container. In the
case of newly emerged moths and butterflies, do not release them
until their wings have fully opened and dried.
Beetles: Lady beetles are active during the spring,
summer, and fall, and can be kept in captivity for a few weeks if
food is provided. Lady beetles will feed on aphids and other
tiny, soft-bodied insects (they will need at least 10 aphids per
day, per beetle). Provide water in a moistened piece of cotton.
Many lady beetles can be held in a single container without
injuring one another. It is possible to rear lady beetles
in the classroom, but it is a time consuming process. The
beetles will readily mate and lay eggs in captivity, but the eggs
will be quickly eaten by other lady beetles if they are not isolated.
There are several tricks to isolating lady beetle eggs: after
females mate, they can be placed in individual containers, and then
moved out once they lay their eggs (yes - they will eat their own
eggs if they are not removed!). As the eggs hatch, the larvae
must then be isolated, or they will eat one another. Lady
beetle larvae will feed on aphids, and they must eat several each
day. For more information about lady beetle biology and identification,
plus pictures of eggs and larvae, visit our Lady
Beetle Critter File.
Beetles: Also called "patent leather beetles"
and "bessbugs," these large beetles always fascinate students
with their curious squeaking sounds. Several bess beetles
can be housed together with a layer of moist soil and several large
pieces of rotting wood. They will usually not live in captivity
for very long, however, so it is best to release them after a few
Sticks: Walking sticks are often common in oak trees during
late summer. They can be kept for a few weeks if oak leaves
are supplied. A walking-stick habitat should be tall to place
oak clippings (in a small water-filled jar or vase) inside. The
walking sticks will likely stay on the oak clippings, which should
be misted with water each day. Walking sticks will not harm
one another if housed together. Contrary to a popular urban
legend, walking sticks are not dangerous and they cannot sting.
Bugs: These red-and-black insects are close relatives
of stink bugs, and are often found on milkweed plants in the summer
and fall. They will feed on milkweed plants when it is available,
and they can also be maintained on unsalted sunflower seeds during
the winter. A few dozen of these insects can be kept in the
same container and will complete their life cycle in captivity,
but their cage often gets very messy.
House and Field crickets can be mass-reared and are easy to maintain,
but can be messy and smelly in a classroom. They are an excellent
food source for predatory insects, spiders, and fish. For
the complete details about cricket rearing, visit our ENTFact: Rearing
Like crickets, mealworms can be mass-reared in a large container.
They also tend to be less messy than crickets. Mealworms
are actually a type of beetle: the worms feed, pupate, and emerge
as adults all in the same container. For this reason, a mealworm
colony is a great way to show students the life cycle of an insect
with complete metamorphosis. For all the details about rearing
mealworms, visit our ENTFact: Raising
The cockroaches that live in Kentucky are not as popular to keep in
captivity as hissing
cockroaches, but they are very easy to maintain. Cockroaches
can be found in basements and barns, especially around water. To
care for them, simply follow the care instructions for hissing cockroaches.
Arthropods: Other than the arthropods listed above,
most others should not be kept for more than a day using the general
care care information at the top of this page.
Insects in the Classroom: A Teachers Guide to Six-Legged Science
an Observation Honey-Bee Hive
Entomology Resources | PRESCHOOL - ELEMENTARY
For preschool and elementary educational materials,
please visit our adjacent site, KATERPILLARS.
B. Newton and R. Bessin, University of Kentucky Department of Entomology.
Original document: 19 April 2004
Except "american cockroach" and "mealworm," courtesy
Last updated: 21 July 2005
page is maintained by Blake Newton, Department of Entomology, University
Please send questions or suggestions to: firstname.lastname@example.org