How to Set up Guest Quarters for Visiting Arthropods

Part of the Biodiversity Counts Curriculum Collection.

Many small arthropods can survive quite well in captivity for a short time. The trick is to replicate their habitat as closely as possible and to provide for all of their needs: food, water, shelter; appropriate levels of temperature, light, and moisture. So before capturing any arthropod, observe it carefully in its natural habitat.
  • Do some research to identify the arthropod and to find out what it eats. The plant eaters are easier to satisfy since you will often find them on or near their preferred food. The predators are more difficult since you will have to capture their prey for them and give it to them live. Offer fresh food daily and remove any food that has not been eaten.
  • Provide water either by very lightly misting the interior of the container or by setting out a bit of clean, damp sponge.
  • Provide hiding places, like some vegetation from the area where the animal was collected, a crumpled piece of paper towel, a paper cup, or a toilet paper roll.
  • Keep the container out of direct sun, or the creatures will cook.
  • Use a clear container that gives the animal enough room to move about. A wide-mouthed jar, a clear 2- or 3-liter soda bottle with the top cut off and then inverted for a cover, a clear plastic shoe box, or a small aquarium are all good choices. Provide for air circulation. Either punch holes in the lid of the container or cover the top with old pantyhose, cotton cloth, or cheesecloth. Secure the fabric with a rubber band.
  • Plan to release your guest in a few hours, or at the most, a few days. Take it back to the same spot to let it go.
guest quarters

Note: Some arthropods that make good classroom pets can be purchased inexpensively from biological supply houses. A sampling of what you can buy includes crayfish, hermit crabs, tarantulas, milkweed bugs, mealworms, butterflies, ants, and many more.