Friday 5: A Trip to the Insect Pet Store

Last week NPR featured a pet store that caters to people interested in buying insects.  It happens to be in my hometown, so I was thrilled about the idea of going!  So, an entomologist friend and I made a trip there and I took a few photos.  I’m going to share some of the better ones (and mind you these were taken with my iPhone, so they’re not great) with you today to give you a sort of mini-tour of the shop for Friday 5!

I had the location of the pet store mapped out on MapQuest and knew exactly where to go to find the shop, but I’m very happy I did.  The shop was surprisingly poorly marked.  To be perfectly honest, I walked out of the shop without ever learning what the name of the place was!  My friend and I were also the only people there when we went, so it looked like it was closed.  Happily they were open, so we headed inside.

This is what you see when you walk into the store:

the store

The store

It’s pretty much exactly what they showed in the NPR story about the shop.  I got the feeling that the space was much, much larger than what you saw in the shop.  There was a big curtain that divided the storefront from the back area where I imagine a lot more things are stored (especially as the owner has a thriving online business in addition to the newer physical store), so the area we wandered though looking at the animals was not terribly large.  But there were some pretty amazing things there!  My favorite of the spiders was this one:

Indian ornamental tarantula

Indian ornamental tarantula

A really beautiful tarantula!  But apparently not one that you would want to hold as there was a sign on the cage saying this one has nasty venom.  I don’t hold tarantulas as the little hairs they kick off as a defensive mechanism bother my skin, but that sign would certainly deter me from ever wanting to touch this one.  It might be pretty, but certainly not a cuddly pet.

Speaking of signs, every cage had a little sign like this to go with it:



I thought this was a nice touch and gave you an idea of what you’d be getting yourself into if you bought any of the animals in the shop as pets.  I am a firm believer that people should go into pet ownership with their eyes wide open, so I really appreciated the signs.  As an entomologist, I also really liked being able to see the species name and the country where the animals are actually found.  I think that sort of thing makes them much more interesting.

One problem I had with the store, as cool as it was, was that a lot of the animals for sale were hiding in burrows so that you couldn’t see them.  Honestly, I don’t understand the point of having a pet that spends the majority of its life underground.  If I were going to buy any sort of arthropod, I would definitely choose something that was out and about in the cage like this large fellow:

Pink toe tarantula

Pink toe tarantula

This spider was actually crawling around, and was a gorgeous creature to boot!

In addition to the spiders, scorpions, and millipedes featured in the store, there were a variety of amphibians and reptiles for sale.  My friend and I both fell in love with the baby turtles, only 2 inches long, and were each tempted to get one.  I also really loved the water monitor lizard, though its sign said it was a baby and you could tell it would end up being a pretty gigantic lizard.  It was quite active and interactive, so it was one of the most appealing animals in the store for me.  What can I say?  I’m a dog person and I like my pets to actually acknowledge and appreciate the fact that I’m there.  Spiders just don’t do it for me.

The store had a fair number of animals available, but you could also buy supplies:

Supplies and gifts

Supplies and gifts

The aquariums that were for sale were really nice and I was very tempted to get a new cage for Mr. Rochester, Jane, and Blanche, but I resisted the urge to upgrade my roach quarters.  They just don’t need upgrading right now.  However, there was also a selection of insects in lucite, metal insect sculptures, and hats so there were other ways to spend money that didn’t involve live animals in any way.  I thought that was nice.

Two things really frustrated me about the shop, though, and will likely keep me from going back.  The first was it was really hard to figure out how much anything cost.  According to the NPR story, the tarantulas range in price up to $700 and I went in really wanting to know what a $700 tarantula looked like.  I walked out still wanting to know what a $700 tarantula looks like!  The other issue I had was the distinct lack of insects.  For a shop owned by someone with the words “The Bug Guy” in his name, you’d think there’d be more actual insects, maybe even a bug.  We saw hissing cockroaches and crickets, but no mantids or any of the other insects that are commonly kept as pets.  Maybe they just weren’t out in the store when we went, but nearly every non-reptilian animal was an arachnid of some sort and both my friend and I were disappointed at the lack of insects.  We’d expected more from reading the NPR story, but apparently they were using “bug” the same way as you see in the little tubes full of plastic toys: insects, arachnids, reptiles, and amphibians all mixed together.

Still, it was a fun field trip!  If I were the kind of person who liked to buy spiders, scorpions, or centipedes, I’d be in heaven.  I’m really not though!  Call me crazy, but I like to be able to pick up my pets without worrying about being bitten or stung.  But even if I didn’t buy anything and might not go back, I hope the shop makes it.  It isn’t everyday you can walk into a pet store that caters to people who like the less well-loved creatures of the world, so I’m glad I had the chance to experience one first-hand!


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RIP Mr. Darcy

Well, today is a sad day.  I found my giant male roach dead on the bottom of his cage.  Poor Mr. Darcy…  I had him almost 3 years, and he was an adult when I got him, so he had a good, long life.  I never expected to enjoy my roaches as well as I do, especially since the only reason I have them is because a student dumped them with me at the end of a semester, but I really enjoyed Mr. Darcy.  He was one charismatic little insect and I’m sad that he’s gone.  Who knew I could get so attached to a bug!

So rest in peace Mr. Darcy.  I will miss your angry, loud hissing that I could hear three rooms away.  I’ll miss how you pushed your young ones around and dominated the log in your cage.  I’ll miss taking you to classrooms where you distracted the kids by loudly and viciously attacking the other roaches in the cage.  I’ll miss how you hissed at me every time I got your cage out to add water, dog food, and veggies and when I poked you a little every now and again just because I knew it would annoy you.  You were a good roach.  The best roach.

hissing cockroaches

Mr. Darcy


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Hissing Cockroaches as Pets

A few years ago, one of my Insect Behavior lab students did his independent project using Madagascar hissing cockroaches.  Then he left them with me because his mom was “definitely not going to be okay with having them in her house all summer.”  I hadn’t ever cared for hissers, and suddenly I had a dozen of them.  I was determined to keep them alive, however, so I bumbled my way through the first few weeks and eventually gave all but 2 away.  The last two have been my pets ever since.

I hadn’t ever expected hissers to be enjoyable pets.  I knew people who’d had hissers, but very few of them kept them as pets that they actually interacted with.  I interacted with mine though, and I’ve found them to be really fun!  Today, I’m going to share how I care for my roaches in case any of you out there want to get your own roachy pets.  (You know you want to!)

But first, let me introduce my roaches.  Meet Mr. Darcy:

hissing cockroaches

Mr. Darcy

Mr. Darcy is an active, aggressive, and enormous hisser!  He spends a good part of his day hissing, roaming about the cage, and pushing his roomie around.  I can hear him hissing all the way in the next room!  He entertains me to no end.  And this is his equally large roomie, Elizabeth (who else?):

hissing cockroach


Elizabeth doesn’t hiss and spends most of her day being pushed around by the big bully she lives with or clinging to the walls of the cage near the lid.  She’s much less exciting to watch and has a less vibrant personality, but she’s also a lot easier to handle as she doesn’t run around constantly like Mr. Darcy does.

Caring for my pair of roaches has been ridiculously easy!  They live in one of those cheap little plastic aquariums that you can get at any pet store:

plastic aquarium

Plastic aquarium

I’ve set mine up so that they have a 1/2 inch layer of coconut husk in the bottom of their cage.  It’s great stuff!  It is sold in dense bricks in the reptile section of the pet store, but it expands enormously when you add water.  The coconut holds water well, and considering that these roaches are decomposers in forests in the wild, I think it probably mimics their natural habitat fairly well.

If you’ve ever had wild roaches in your home, you are aware that they like to have places to hide.  I got my roaches another item from the reptile section of the pet store, a half a hollowed log, to give them a hiding place.  My roaches are weird and spend most of their time on top of the log rather than under it…

hissing cockroaches

My hissers

…but it’s available for the rare occasions when they want to have an out-of-the-way place to go.  My setup looks like this:

hissing cockroach cage

My hisser cage

I feed my roaches a combination of foods.  I give them dry dog food because it has a lot of necessary protein and fat in it and they love it.  I toss in some of the alfalfa pellets that people feed to rats and other rodents, mostly because I happened to have a lot leftover when the last of my pet rodents died, but also to give them some carbs and nutrients.  My roaches also get a mixture of leafy greens (whatever salad greens I have in my fridge) and baby carrots.  According to what I’ve read, hissers REALLY love carrots and I’ve found that to be true:

hissing roaches eating carrot

Hissing roaches eating carrot

The combination of the dog food, alfalfa pellets, and fresh vegetables provides my roaches a well-balanced diet.  I leave alfalfa pellets and dog food in their cage all the time, but I only give my roaches the veggies every few weeks.

My hissers get water several ways.  Their main source is a piece of a sponge that I cut up, rinsed very well, and placed inside a yogurt cup lid.  Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth can suck water out of the sponge and I keep it wet all the time.  I also pour water into the coconut husk every few weeks to rehydrate it and spray their cage down with water to keep their log a little damp.  I’ve seen them suck water droplets off the side of the cage, the log, and the bedding, so they seem to take advantage of any water that I provide.

Then it’s just a matter of cleaning out their cage!  I only clean them every few months as they’re not very messy and I don’t have to worry about mold most of the year.  Cleaning them is a simple matter of removing the roaches (and listening to Mr. Darcy hiss – I imagine him screaming, “Put me down, you miserable wench!”), removing the dishes and log, dumping out the coconut husk, and then putting new coconut in before replacing everything else.  Easy!

If you happen to have a male and a female, you can tell you’re doing a good job caring for your roaches when you find a whole bunch of these in the cage:

immature roaches


Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth just had their first children!  The little roaches mean I’m going to need to ramp up my care a bit so I’m providing more food more often.  I also had to add a layer of fine mesh to the lid to keep them from escaping through the slats, but their care is otherwise exactly the same.

Hissers are great insect pets, especially for children, because they are completely harmless: they don’t bite, they don’t fly, they don’t sting, they’re not inclined to run very quickly, and they’re large.  They usually stop hissing once they get used to being handled, but Mr. Darcy isn’t your average roach.  He’s 33% bigger than any other hisser I’ve seen and he always hisses.  But that’s part of what makes him so fun too!  If you have more than one roach, you can also see how each has its own personality.  It’s really fun to see how different my two roaches are, and they’re both completely different from the roaches I’ve worked with for outreach events.  Their personality makes them feel a little more like a traditional pet rather than a giant insect too, which is always a plus when I have to explain why I have roaches as pets.

So, you all want pet roaches now, right?  (Hah!)  If you do, there are a few options.  Pet stores that specialize in reptile often have them for sale.  They should cost less than $3.  Or, you can buy them online and have them shipped to you in the mail.  Unless you live in Arizona.  Or California.  There are weird restrictions for mailing animals to some states, so check with the supplier before buying to be sure they can be shipped to your home.

My roaches are probably the lowest maintenance pets I’ve ever had and I enjoy watching them, so I’m happy that I got dumped with reject roaches.  I know it will probably seem a little strange to many of you reading this, but they really have been fun pets.  I highly recommend them!


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Friday 5: Insects The Dogs Ate

I’ve got two dogs.  This one was part of the bargain when I started dating the man who is now my husband:



Her name is Cotton and she’s a purebred coton de tulear.  She’s also purebred crazy!  I’m not a little white fluffy dog person at all, but I think Cotton’s pretty awesome as far as LWF dogs go.  She has issues.  Big issues.  I’m pretty sure she was a cat in a former life actually.  She doesn’t like to be touched, unless of course she decides she wants to be touched, in which case you are obligated to immediately drop whatever you are doing and pet her RIGHT NOW!  She won’t eat the same food for more than a few days in a row.  She scratches the hell out of your legs.  And, she is a fierce hunter.  See what I mean?  Cat!

This one is my baby:



Monkey is a mutt (obviously).  I rescued him from the pound, my reward to myself for passing my comprehensive exams.  And what a reward he’s been!  He came down with parvo two weeks after I got him and nearly died.  He came home from intensive care with a stubborn case of kennel cough, which eventually turned into pneumonia because the normal medications didn’t work.  He caught valley fever while he had the pneumonia and underwent treatment for that for about 6 months.  Next came inflammatory bowel disease (that’s right, my dog has a canine gastroenterologist) and most recently luxating patellas (might be getting an orthopedic veterinarian soon) and a skin disorder.  He averages one vet visit every 2 months.  But Monkey is worth every penny and every worry because he’s the sweetest, most loving, wonderful dog I could imagine having.  In spite of all of his illnesses, he’s full of life and personality.  He’s also a total mama’s boy.  I adore him.

My dogs are polar opposites.  Monkey craves (nay, demands!) attention while Cotton wouldn’t dream of demeaning herself with such base behavior.  Monkey is prissy and very clean while Cotton would happily spend the rest of her life rolling in a big ol’ pile of duck poop (the only reason why I’m convinced she’s actually a dog deep down).  Cotton is very nervous and barks at everyone and everything while Monkey would invite Satan himself into the house if it meant he’d be petted for a few minutes.  To hell with guarding the house!  That suspicious person knocking on the door might pat his head or scratch his belly!

They’re also very different in the way they handle bugs.  Monkey isn’t at all sure what to make of insects.  I think they scare him, which puts him firmly into the male camp in our household.  :)  Cotton’s hunting instincts kick in when she encounters an insect (she belongs to the female camp) and she’ll happily eat insects that are bothering her.  She’ll chase flies for twenty or thirty minutes at a time, even launching her whole body into the air trying to catch them (once again, cat characteristic).  Occasionally one of these ends up in her mouth and is quickly dispatched into her stomach:



Both dogs are incredibly jealous when the other one gets something that they don’t though.  It really comes into play in their dealings with insects around the house and jealousy can override their usual instincts.  One night Monkey was playing with a click beetle he found in the bathroom:

click beetle

Click beetle

He kept putting his paw on it and then jerking back when the beetle clicked.  He seemed to be nervously trying to figure it out, but then Cotton noticed he was up to something and ran in and ate the beetle so he couldn’t have it.  He chased her through the house for a while, presumably trying to get it back, but it was down the hatch the instant Cotton got it into her mouth.  Cotton doesn’t mess around.

Another night I was in the back yard taking photos by the porch light and Cotton was toying with a cicada.  Monkey was very upset that she was playing with something that he wasn’t, so he ran over, grabbed the cicada in his mouth, and ran into the house with it.  It was still alive, and considering his nervousness around insects, I can’t imagine it was pleasant for him to carry a screaming, angry cicada in his mouth.  He wasn’t about to swallow it, but he certainly wasn’t going to let Cotton have it either!  10 minutes later, I finally extracted this slimy, dead cicada from his mouth:



You can’t see the teeth marks from this angle, but the deep puncture wounds in its back were likely the source of this poor bug’s demise.

We’ve got a ton of these little ants in the house:


Ants on my kitchen counter.

Both dogs will eat these when they crawl onto their fur.  I’ve seen them stomp a few with their paws too.  I don’t think these ants sting, so I don’t worry about the dogs eating them too much.  The ants annoy the dogs and they respond by licking them up and swallowing them or crushing them.  But there are also a lot of these:



Monkey doesn’t like crickets at all and gives them a very wide berth.  Cotton eats them like candy.  She’s even tracked and eaten them before.  This is great because I hate the noise crickets make.  I’m happy that my little huntress exterminates them for me so I don’t have to do it myself.  Go crazy little Cotton!

Thankfully neither of my dogs have ever eaten any of the stupid things other dogs in Tucson have eaten.  The beagle I grew up with once ate a massive tomato hornworm feeding on a tomato plant and vomited more than it should be possible for a dog to vomit.  Yea for nightshades!  A friend of mine’s LWF dog licked one of the psychedelic toads we get in Tucson and nearly died.  There’s none of that going on at my place.  Neither dog has ever encountered a toad or a rattlesnake or a scorpion.  Monkey’s too chicken to eat most insects and Cotton sleeps 21 hours a day so she misses a lot of what’s going on around her.  Yep, my dogs live a pretty sheltered life.  It’s good to be a dog in the Dragonfly Woman’s home:

Monkey on back

Cotton on back


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