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6 Cool Insects You Can Raise at Home

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Don't let Mother Nature have all the fun!

1. Monarch Butterflies

Raising monarchs is super easy. If you don't have a patch of milkweed handy, order the plants online and plant them outside in clusters of three or more plants. Check the undersides of the leaves for eggs and tiny caterpillars. When you find a caterpillar, dig up the milkweed plant, wrap it in tulle netting from the fabric store so the caterpillar won't get away, and bring it inside to watch it develop. (You can order the caterpillars online, too.) It will eat like crazy for about ten days until it pupates. If you're raising more than one, you'll need additional milkweed plants. After the butterfly has emerged from the chrysalis, release it outside. Monarch Watch has detailed instructions about rearing monarchs, and you can order tags for your butterflies if you want to help track their migration.

2. Silkworms

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Silkworms need mulberry leaves to eat, or you can order powdered artificial silkworm chow online along with the eggs. I asked around until I found a friend who had raised silkworms before, and she gave me a batch of eggs to keep in my fridge during the winter. When the mulberry tree in my yard started leafing out, I removed the eggs from the fridge. They hatched about nine days later. They should start to spin cocoons in a few weeks. This site shows a nice set-up using plastic deli trays and toilet paper rolls.

3. Crickets

Flickr: Ivan Walsh

Remember the children's book, The Cricket in Times Square? Crickets are charming and have been kept as pets in China for hundreds of years. If you can't catch a cricket in your house or yard, most pet stores carry them as food for larger animals. You can order a little cricket cage online, or use a jar with holes punched in the top. Place a piece of damp sponge in there so they can stay hydrated, keep them in a warm spot, and feed them scraps of fruits and veggies. Voila. Pet cricket.

4. Ladybugs

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Whether you catch a ladybug yourself or order ladybug larvae from the internet, these are also pretty easy to care for indoors for a short time. Like crickets, adult ladybugs need a damp paper towel or sponge to drink from. Aphids are their favorite food, but if you're only keeping your ladybug for a few days it can get by on fruit. Tip: Milkweed tends to get covered in aphids. If you're already growing milkweed for your monarchs, bam. Ladybug food.

5. Black Swallowtail Butterflies

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These gorgeous creatures like to lay their eggs in common garden herbs, including parsley, dill, and fennel. If you want to try to observe their life cycle, plant a big clump of parsley in a pot and keep an eye out for caterpillars, which are green with yellow and black markings and just as beautiful as the mature butterflies. If you have cats, tie some tulle netting around the pot so the caterpillars won't get eaten or crawl away. The black swallowtail chrysalis looks like a piece of bark or a small stick, so they can be hard to spot. I haven't had terribly good success with these, but a friend of mine raises them successfully every year.

6. Praying Mantises

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These guys are crazy. Not only does the female often devour the male after mating, but the babies devour each other if given a chance. I bought a couple of praying mantis egg cases (they're about the size of a small marshmallow, and beige in color) at a garden fair once. I kept them in my garden shed and checked them regularly until I saw a million billion babies in the container, and then I set them free in my garden in hopes that they'd keep pests down. You can raise them in a small aquarium too, or buy a kid-oriented kit. Like betta fish, they need to be kept in separate containers to prevent a fight to the death. Other requirements: Sticks to climb on, and plenty of bugs to eat. This is a little involved for me, but if you're into carnivorous beasts, knock yourself out.

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This Self-Cloning Tick is Terrorizing More States
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Few arachnids are as demonized in the summer months as ticks, the parasitic little nuisances that can spread disease in humans and pets. That's not likely to change now that there's a exotic new species that can not only self-replicate, but is also poised to attack animals like a colony of swarming fire ants.

This super-tick is Haemaphysalis longicornis, or the longhorned tick, native to East Asia and imported to the U.S. by unknown means. The first North American sighting took place in August 2017 in New Jersey when a farmer walked into a county health office covered in nearly 1000 ticks after shearing a pet sheep that had been infested. The insect was then spotted in Virginia, West Virginia, and Arkansas, with caution advised in Maryland. As of this week, it’s now a confirmed resident of North Carolina, The Charlotte Observer reports.

H. longicornis invites more dread than a conventional tick for several reasons. It can “clone” itself, with females laying up to 2000 genetically identical eggs without any assistance from a male, a process called parthenogenesis. Reproduction is faster, with offspring appearing in just six months compared to two years for common deer ticks. It’s also an aggressive biter, nibbling on any animal flesh it can latch on to, and is able to transfer a host of diseases in the process—some of them fatal. In addition to Lyme, longhorned ticks can transmit the flu-like ehrlichiosis bacteria and the rare Powassan virus, which can cause brain inflammation.

The news isn’t much better for livestock. Given enough opportunity, the ticks can siphon enough blood from an animal to kill it, a process known as exsanguination. The attack can become so concentrated that pets have been spotted with ticks hanging from them like bunches of grapes.

New Jersey officials have confirmed the tick has survived the winter by burrowing underground, a somewhat ominous sign that the invasive species might be durable enough to become a widespread problem. Experts recommend taking all the regular precautions, including wearing long pants when outdoors, using repellent, and examining yourself and your pets for ticks. While the longhorned tick hadn’t yet displayed a taste for human flesh, it’s better to be safe than sorry. As for the sheep: following a chemical treatment, she made a full recovery.

[h/t Charlotte Observer]

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Courtesy of Kari Kaunisto/Biodiversity Unit of the University of Turku
This Super-Stinger Wasp Was Just Discovered in the Amazon
Courtesy of Kari Kaunisto/Biodiversity Unit of the University of Turku
Courtesy of Kari Kaunisto/Biodiversity Unit of the University of Turku

Deserved or not, the Amazon has developed a reputation for hosting animals, insects, and other creatures that appear to exist solely to terrify humans. And everywhere in the world, you’ll find parasitic organisms that thrive when they siphon blood or other resources from hosts.

A new entrant has emerged in both of these charts: Calistoga crassicaudata, a wasp recently discovered in the Amazon that sports a stinger roughly half the length of its 9.8-millimeter-long body. The insect may as well come out of the workshop of Alien designer H.R. Giger: Its methodology is to impale prey with the stinger, paralyzing it, and then depositing eggs inside so they can hatch later. The hatching usually causes the host—typically a spider—to burst open and die in agony as C. crassicaudata laughs maniacally. Metaphorically speaking.

Researchers from the University of Turku, Finland, made the discovery between the Andes and the Amazonian lowland rainforest and reported it in the journal Zootaxa. The new species appears to be amazing wasp experts by the sheer magnitude of its built-in spear, also called an ovipositor, that delivers both venom and the female's eggs.

"I have studied tropical parasitoid wasps for a long time, but I have never seen anything like it," entomologist and co-author Ilari E. Sääksjärvi said in a statement. "It looks like a fierce weapon."

The good news? It’s not really strong enough to pierce human skin, so should you find yourself in its vicinity, you probably don't need to worry. Instead, worry more about the common paper wasp, which has a barbed stinger, takes only 0.5 seconds to impale you, and can retain its stinger to continue its assault.

[h/t LiveScience]

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