Insect keeping young girl looking at a butterfly in a jar on her windowsill.

How to Keep Bugs for Temporary Pets

Jar pets are a fun way to observe a little creature for a few days. My 5 year old and 8 year old got very excited about creating habitats for bugs. I think we would have had an entire room filled with glassed in creatures if I let them.

Keeping bugs as short term pets makes for a fun summer nature activity. Here's how to do it and ideas for ways you can expand on this activity for more enjoyment and learning.

For Keeping Bugs Short Term You'll Need:

  • A container – wide-mouthed glass jar or clear plastic container. Old peanut butter jars work well.
  • A lid you can poke air holes in.
  • An insect to observe – use common sense here. Don't go grabbing a scorpion.
  • Habitat material – dirt, plants and stones from near where you found your creature will make them feel most at home.
Hand holding a roly poly bug near a jar.
Photo Credit: Alissa Zorn.

Set up the Bug's Home

After putting in dirt, grass or other habitat material cover your jar with a piece of plastic with little holes poked in it. Use a rubber band or tape to secure. Our favorite bugs to keep have been roly polies. The boys found material from our yard to make the roly polies comfortable in their new jar home. They carefully and lovingly created a habitat for their short term pets.

Tip: It's helpful to set the expectation from the beginning that you are only keeping these bugs for a short time, especially if you've got a child who is easily attached.

Bug Activities

Consider making a nature journal page, a poster or mini book about your bugs. The kids enjoyed watching, discussing and caring for their “little roly poly friends.” We looked up roly polies online to learn more about them.

We took out a couple of the bugs and drew them in our notebooks. I asked what we had learned about the roly polies that the boys wanted to include on their page. They dictated their facts to me so I could include them in the notebook entry. 

Questions You Can Ask:

  • Where do these creatures live?
  • What do you think this creature eats?
  • What do you think eats it?
  • Do you think this is an adult or a baby? (We learned that a grasshopper in our yard was bright green as a baby, but brown as an adult.)

Other activities you could do include taking photos or making a video, or writing a poem or a story about the bugs.

Jar with grass inside next to drawing of a roly poly bug.
Photo Credit: Alissa Zorn.

Where Can You Identify Your Jar Pets?

We read about our roly polies on Wikipedia after searching for their common name. I also found the sites insectidentification.org and bugguide.net, which are filled with information about bugs and may help you identify your jar pet.

Bug Keeping Tips:

  • Use common sense when handling any wild creature.
  • Only keep your jar pets for a short time – let kids know ahead of time to set that expectation.
  • Keep the jar pets at kids' eye level so kids can easily observe the creatures.

Including Multiple Ages

Keeping Bugs is a Great Activity for Ages 5-8.  Here's how to involve children of different ages.

  • Babies: can enjoy being outside with siblings, look at the jar pet while being securely held by an adult.
  • Toddlers: can enjoy searching for a jar pet, collect materials for the habitat, enjoy looking at the jar pet – beware of storing the jar within toddler reach otherwise you may wind up with an escaped bug and broken jar. Toddlers may enjoy playing pretend and storing a plastic bug in a shoebox for “their own” pet.
  • Older children: can make plans and create a habitat for long term jar pet keeping, help younger kids construct the habitat, write about or draw the jar pet, search out identification and care information about the creature.

 

Author: Alissa Zorn

Title: Trauma-Informed Coach

Expertise: childhood emotional neglect, perfectionism, parenting, journaling, comics, doodling, coaching

Alissa Zorn is the founder of OverthoughtThis.com. She's a trauma-informed coach and cartoonist passionate about helping people overcome perfectionism and shame to build authentic, joyful lives. Alissa has been featured on the Good Men Project, Wealth of Geeks, Motherly, MSN.com and more.