Keeping insects is likely the only thing in my life I get more confused looks for than keeping reptiles.
Insects, some may say, are uninteresting, icky, and scary. Bugs creep and crawl their way into our homes, fouling our food and nipping at us in our sleep. They are pests, menaces, downright no-goodnicks!
Unfortunately, such is the stigma bestowed upon most "lesser creatures". Insects are tiny and unknowable to most, thus they are pests. As with reptiles, insects suffer for our own lack of education. I'm not going to attempt to give an overview of insects in general, as I'm admittedly pretty uneducated myself on the vastness of entomology. No, what I will be presenting here is some of what I've learned firsthand from my own critters.
I started keeping insects for purely practical reasons. Lizards need to eat, and unfortunately (for most) they often need to eat insects. So I began keeping Crickets.
I'm going to glaze over crickets. As far as insects go, these are some of the most annoying, smelliest, uninteresting there are. Crickets only become interesting when you're feeding them to something. Crickets are, like most feeder insects, omnivores. They will eat anything you can feed them. Ideally they should be provided with a mix of vegetables and grains, with occasional protein in the form of cat or dog food thrown in. They need to take in a large amount of moisture, and put out a large amount in turn. Humidity won't kill them unless they mould, but goddamn do they ever reek. In my experience crickets are the absolute worst bugs to keep.
Next I moved on to Silkworms. Silkworms have given me mixed success in the past, as they are extremely finicky.
Bombyx mori, the Domesticated Silkmoth. These are the same bugs which have been cultured for over 5000 years, cultured in the billions to produce that lovely silk tie of yours. Silkworms are the larval stage of the moths, and the producers of the silk humanity so adores. The larvae hatch from eggs approximately the size of the head of a pin, and grow to over 3 inches long in the span of about a month. This mammoth growth spurt is accomplished by near constant eating, eating of one specific food-plant: Mulberry leaves. Thankfully for those of us lacking access to a mulberry tree, a mulch that the silkworms eat just as readily, made primarily of the tree leaves, is sold to labs and hobbyists. When the larvae reach 3-4 inches they will spin cocoons and enter their pupal state. Two to three weeks later the moths emerge to do their deed. Lacking working mouthparts, all the moths can do is breed, the males will mate a few times before dying, while the females will usually lay eggs and die shortly after mating once. There is more I could go into on these little wonders, but I think I'll save it for a dedicated post at some point.
Silkworms proved frustrating. In the above I didn't mention the daily cleaning, often twice daily feeding, and high mortality rate if even one of the worms became ill. The immune system of silkworms is pretty much trashed after living protected for so long, and a single dead worm not removed timely can spell doom for the entire culture within days. I've turned to them on and off, as they make spectacular feeders for reptiles, but the work behind them is rather daunting. Mealworms are much simpler and hardier.
Mealworms and Superworms, Tenebrio molitor and Zophobas morio, respectively, are the larval forms of species of darkling beetle, and very common feeders in the reptile industry. The two are most easily distinguished by their size: Mealworms are rarely as long as an inch, while superworms, as the name hints, are often two inches long. Darkling beetle larvae look like tan-coloured, armoured worms. They have three pairs of small legs up near their darkened heads. Both mealworms and superworms are best cultured in bins of bran or other cereal grains, with vegetables provided as moisture. After taking the first basic steps, their care diverges.
Mealworms require very little moisture; they can often go weeks without fresh slices of vegetable or other water sources, simply ceasing to grow. They are best left on their own in the food-substrate with fresh vegetables provided as the old pieces dry out. Mealworms will pupate in the culture container, emerge as adults, and breed with little care other than the occasional vegetable. The eggs are safe from the larvae and adults, and a single culture can be kept for months as the generations go by, although monthly cleaning by sifting the substrate to remove frass (bug poop) is always good.
Superworms take more care than their smaller cousins. Left to their own devices with insufficient food or moisture, the larvae will turn on each other, hollowing out the delicious gooey innards of their kin and leaving only the exoskeleton to announce your failure of care. Feeding too little can quickly lead to a culture of only a few top-notch larva. Breeding also takes more work, as the justifiably paranoid bugs will not pupate if surrounded by other larvae. Personally I use containers from dollar-store nail packages; the multi-compartment containers are just the right size, and hold a dozen soon-to-be-beetles each. The packaging is far more useful than the crummy nails it once held. Most people use film cannisters (which are going extinct) or pill vials. When the adults emerge as beetles it is safe to reintroduce them to a properly fed colony, although many people suggest keeping the beetles separate to prevent them from eating the eggs. I think that's good advice, as my Zophobas production sucks. Unfortunately I'm rather lazy.
And where to go from there? Personally I moved on to fruit flies, Drosophila hydei, when I acquired my micro geckos. D. hydei is one of the common laboratory species of fruit fly, and also, thankfully, one of the flightless. These are slightly bigger than the D. melanogaster flies you are used to seeing in your house when one of your slovenly roommates or children leaves an apple core behind the couch for a week, or peaches anywhere for any time, and if they escape from their containers they leave only an immediate mess as they all die shortly without the opportunity to find food. Fruit flies are cultured in small containers (about the size of peanut butter jars) with coffee-filters or similar breathable materials as ventilation; they eat a prepared mixture made from nutrients, sugar and agar, or a simpler medium of instant mashed potatoes and banana. Vinegar is used in the homemade media to prevent mould and bacteria from setting up shop in the wet mix.
Roaches also make absolutely fantastic feeders. Some, like Blatta lateralis, the lobster roach, are about the size of crickets, can't fly or climb smooth surfaces, and breed prolifically. Oh, and they don't smell like crickets. In fact, the smell of their colonies can't even be compared on the same scale unless a piece of fruit or vegetable is too large to be eaten before it starts to rot. Unfortunately, lobsters are ridiculously quick, and do best as feeders if they're cooled in the fridge ten minutes or so to slow them down.
Another ideal roach is the False death's head, or Discoid roach, Blaberus discoidales. These massive, 2-3 inch roaches are much slower than lobsters, and one of the few insects large enough to be fed to the giant tarantulas. They also give live birth, which is pretty cool.
Unfortunately our government has banned every species of roach except for the German cockroach, which is the one you may see in your apartment. Their reasonings are good, as roaches do tend to be rather hardy, but an argument can be made that the tropical and desert species -such as lobsters and discoids- are too temperature dependent to set up shop in Canada. Then again, rules are rules.
Waxworms are a feeder that I have only a little experience with. They need to be ignored above all else, and it helps if you don't have a plethora of grain moths living in your house. To culture waxworms, a medium of bran and honey is prepared with some glycerin, and placed in a container with fine (very fine) mesh. Waxworms are added and left alone for a few months. Eventually they pupate, emerge as adult moths, and produce lots of little waxworm babies. Unfortunately, if you happen to have grain moths fluttering around your apartment, they wiggle their way into the culture and take it over with their significantly faster lifecycle. I have since given up waxworms until the time comes that I am no longer plagued with these damned tiny moths.
As feeder insects go, those are essentially all you will be encountering in our part of the world. Europe is big on Locusts, and you can culture some grasshoppers here, but I'm not familiar with them.
Of course your journey into insects doesn't necessarily need to stop with feeder insects. Bugs such as mantids and phasmids, as well as gastropods like Helix aspersa and Achatina fulica (giant snails) make fascinating pets due to their appearance and behaviour. Mantids seem the very embodiment of calm until they strike; phasmids (stick insects) vary between absurd, beautiful, and alien; giant snails are impressive just for their size, and have fascinating lifecycles that can be observed with any two individuals, as most species are hermaphroditic.
Once again, however, the government looms. All phasmids, mantids, and land snails not native to Canada are banned from importation and trade. This means no H. aspersa, A. fulica, nor pretty much every mantis and stick insect. Canada does have at least one species of both mantids and sticks that are just as interesting as most others, but unfortunately our snails aren't terribly fascinating. The same goes for millipedes, but oddly enough, not centipedes. This is something I have an issue with, but my griping will wait for another day.
With that, I leave you. I strongly recommend looking into the specific insects I've already posted about, and going further with species I have neglected to mention entirely. Go read up on assassin bugs, for instance, or diving water beetles. Of course there's arachnids, too!