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Insects as Pets: Consider the Advantages

April 3, 2019
Bamboo cage

Specially designed bamboo insect cages.

Pets are part of the family for nearly 62% of Americans. According to a recent pet census, a whopping 69.9 million dogs are kept as pets in the United States. And get this: There are even more cats – 74.1 million of them. That seems like a lot of dogs and cats.  U.S. pet ownership drops significantly after those two big groups – 8.3 million birds and 4.8 million horses. Statistics were not available for pet fish, probably because they are so difficult to count – always swimming around or hiding in the weeds, so they were lumped in a group called “exotic pets,” which includes all reptiles and most everything else, even insects.

The term exotic is generally used to describe something “foreign,” "different," or "unusual." A precise definition of exotic pets is somewhat open to interpretation, but most every pet that is not a dog, cat or domesticated livestock is considered part of this group. For example, pets such as rabbits, hamsters and guinea pigs are hardly unusual but are still lumped in the exotic pet category. These, as well as  pets such as birds, reptiles, amphibians, and even fish, are sold in pet stores as exotic pets.

Both federal and state governments put tight regulations on which exotic pets can and can’t be imported. Banned pets are always illegal, and special permits to transport or own certain other exotic pets must be obtained prior to adopting them. Animals that are endangered or protected or those that may pose a threat in the form of disease transmission or physical injury are considered exotic and come with a list of restrictions.

I am often asked whether any insects are illegal to keep as pets. Unless they are specifically listed on the USDA Registered Plant Pest List (those posing a significant threat to agriculture) or the Threatened/Endangered Species List (those in danger of going extinct), keeping insects as pests is not prohibited by law. Since most people will never encounter an insect from either of those two lists, you are free to capture any insect you find and keep it as a pet.

In other parts of the world, insects are often kept as household pets. In China and Japan, singing crickets and katydids are as commonly kept as dogs and cats are in the United States. Their owners claim that there is even some practical value in having such insects as pets. Night-singing crickets are said to warn of intruders, because the crickets suddenly stop singing when disturbed by other noises. This advantage seems a bit dubious for me because cricket chirping all night would tend to keep me awake and I would finally fall asleep when they quit, which would be the precise time home invaders were present, so I am not convinced that value in this regard is not overestimated. In America, this role has been taken by watchdogs and … we are still trying to figure out a practical value for cats.

Still, there are other advantages of choosing insects as pets, and we should  carefully examine and compare them in an effort to be all-inclusive and politically fair when selecting the perfect pet.

Let’s consider the following 10 advantages for keeping pet insects as compared to keeping dogs, cats or horses.











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