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Ideal Invertebrates for Beginners

By: Dr Gareth Evans - Updated: 9 Dec 2011 | comments*Discuss
Invertebrates Exotic Pets Tarantula

Invertebrates can make fascinating pets – but not all of them are ideally suited to beginners. For anyone new to keeping exotic pets, choosing the right one from the huge array of spiders, scorpions and scuttling insects routinely offered for sale can be a daunting prospect. When you’re starting out, no matter how well you’ve done your homework, it’s not always easy to tell which is the docile, relatively easy ‘starter bug’ – and which is an aggressive beast demanding highly specialist care.

Fortunately, with more than a million different species of animals without backbones to be found on the planet, there’s no shortage of candidates for beginners and with so many different varieties coming under the ‘invertebrate’ umbrella, there’s sure to be something to suit, whatever kind of creature appeals. Here’s our list of the top five for the inexperienced exotic pet enthusiast to consider.

Mexican Red Knee Tarantula

Tarantulas are probably the most familiar and popular of all invertebrate pets, and the Mexican Red Knee Tarantula (Brachypelma smithii) is arguably the best known of all. A large, heavy-bodied spider, with characteristic coloured bands around its legs which give it its common name, this tarantula makes an ideal introduction to the clan, being fairly undemanding in its needs.

This attractive spider doesn’t require a particularly large home; a small plastic tank is ideal – so long as it has a firmly-fitting top, as even Red Knees are sometimes overtaken by the desire to explore! You’ll need to keep the temperature inside to around 28 degrees C (82F) and maintain 75 per cent humidity, but neither is difficult to achieve with the aid of a good heat mat, a shallow water bowl and a simple humidity gauge. Add a good layer of sphagnum moss or shredded cork bark as flooring material, a few hiding places and arrange a supply of food in the form of crickets or mealworms and that’s pretty much all you need to keep your Red Knee happy.

Madagascan Giant Hissing Cockroaches

One of the largest species of cockroach in the world – growing close to four inches (10cm) in length – Gromphadorhina portentosa is also one of the best insects to keep as a pet. Like the rest of its kin, it eats just about anything edible, with the added attraction that it really does live up to its name – and the big ones sound like an angry snake!

Not exactly what you’d call the world’s most active pets, Hissing Cockroaches can be kept in any suitably sized container, but do make sure the lid attaches firmly. While these cockroaches are nowhere near as nimble as some of their more athletic relations, parents/ partners / household pets often react badly if they find them unexpectedly running around the living room! Keep their tank at a warm 25C (77F) or so – again a heat pad will do perfectly – and provide them with two or three inches (5 – 8cm) of leaf litter and rotten bark as a substrate, add a few bits of old cardboard as hiding places and a shallow bowl of water, and your cockroach home is complete.

Giant African Land Snails

Giant African Land Snails, or ‘GALS’ to snail enthusiasts, are really impressive molluscs, the commonest encountered variety from East Africa having a shell some four to six inches (10 – 15cm) long, while its even larger Ghanaian relative, Achatina achatina, takes the title of the world’s largest land snail, with a shell 10 inches (25cm) or more in length.

When it comes to housing these creatures – think big! Despite their lumbering appearance during the daytime, at night they can be surprisingly active, so give them some space and with a bit of luck, they’ll repay you with a turbo-charged display (or at least what counts for one if you’re a snail).

Keep them around 25C (77F), with a deep layer of moist compost or sphagnum to burrow in, feed them almost any kind of vegetable matter and if you have more than one, watch out for babies, since these creatures breed readily in captivity.

Indian Stick Insect

One of the most commonly encountered of its kind, the Indian Stick Insect (Carausius morosus) is probably the easiest of all unusual pets for the beginner to keep. Needing little more than a suitably sized aquarium tank – or even a large jar – as a home, these insects thrive at room temperature and eat a range of easily collected foods such as bramble, privet, oak and hawthorn. The only major demand they make is that it be presented as fresh as possible.

Like the GALS, Indian Stick Insects often breed very easily, so don’t be too surprised if you end up with a growing population.

Shield Shrimps

Shield Shrimps (Triops longicaudatus) are about as exotic and usual as it gets. With a fossil history almost as long as their Latin name, these strange, ancient relatives of the crabs and lobsters have been around since long before the dinosaurs – and they’re one of the easiest invertebrate animals to keep. Often sold in a kit which includes Triops eggs, a tank and their food, simply add some bottled water – not tap – put the tank under a desk lamp to warm it up, and within a week your new pets should be around half an inch (6mm) long.

Admittedly they are not the most long-lived of creatures – a month or so at the most – but they can grow to two and a half inches (6cm) in length during this time, and they should have laid plenty of eggs too, so before long you can start all over again.

So that’s our ideal top five beginner’s invertebrates – and of course, it’s only a very quick introduction to them. Whichever of these fascinating beasts you eventually decide to keep, there’s a lot more information about how to look after them – and lots of other great exotic animals too – to be found in the appropriate sections of this site. Have fun finding out all about your new pet!

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