Insects in the Classroom

Nothing engages students more than live animals — and insects and their relatives are small, easy to rear, and useful for a variety of hands-on inquiry-driven projects.

Easiest Arthropods to Keep

  • Isopods can be captured in your garden to start a colony, and will happily live and reproduce on salad leftovers. (Note that these are crustaceans, not insects.)
  • Hissing roaches are easy to care for and low maintenance. These roaches retain their egg cases and give a form of live birth, which is exciting to watch. However, immature roaches are much more active than adults! A ring of vaseline around the top of the cage can help prevent escape.
  • Mealworms and superworms will go through their entire lifecycle in a plastic shoebox. They thrive on wheat germ, potatoes, and other non-fruit leftovers.
  • Tarantulas and other arachnids can be very low maintenance classroom pets, BUT you should choose the species carefully! Here’s a great reference.

Ethical and Legal Sourcing

You can buy nearly any insect or spider online, but that doesn’t mean it’s legal (or a good idea).

  • Look for captive-bred animals. That way you aren’t supporting destruction of wild populations through collecting. 
  • You can save a lot of money on insects and spiders if you buy juvenile (non- adult) specimens. 
  • Don’t import animals from outside the United States; that involves US Fish and Wildlife, as well as USDA regulations
  • Most non-native, plant-eating species of insect have some regulation via USDA, since they might have the potential to become established as an invasive pest. 
  • Most non-native spider species are not federally regulated, with the exception of species listed as endangered or threatened globally.
  • Most major biological supply houses (Wards, Carolina Biological, etc.) have appropriate permits for sale of a wide variety of regulated and unregulated arthropod species. Random people on the internet… not so much. You can buy a lot of stuff on Amazon.com, but they are not a reputable source for arthropods.

Euthanasia and Release

  • Please never release captive-bred arthropods into the wild. This includes butterfly releases, which are known to spread pathogens to wild populations.
  • Animals you capture wild in your schoolyard, keep for a while, and then release are considered low risk to wild populations.
  • If your arthropods need to be euthanized, putting them in the freezer for 72 hours makes sure they are dead. That also reduces the potential for pathogen spread to wild populations if they go to the landfill. The most humane method of euthanizing arthropods is using a CO2 gas chamber, but not everyone has that on hand.

Will Purdue Entomology Adopt My Pet Arthropods?

The answer is “it depends!”

  • We may accept insects to be used as food for our captive animals IF they are securely contained and are a small number of individuals.
  • We may accept tarantula and other arachnid species IF they have a secure cage, and are not species of medical concern.
  • We will accept arthropods that have been obtained illegally or that are CITES protected, and try to send them to zoos where they can enter captive breeding programs.
  • Please understand that you are surrendering your animals to a USDA Containment Facility. Once we accept them, they are no longer yours and cannot be returned for any reason.