Teaching care and respect for animals to children is a life-long lesson that can be instilled at a very early age. Having pets at home is a great way to do this. We have a Rainbow Stag Beetle, a Kelpie, and two species of frogs locally common to Melbourne (purchased from a pet shop, not taken from the wild). We have recently added about 50 or so mealworms to our menagerie! To feed the frogs you may think... But no, these are to keep as pets.
Mealworms are the larvae of the darkling beetle and offer a great opportunity for children to care, interact and learn about animals. The larvae are not actual worms, they have a rounded head, six legs (as do all insects) and a segmented body. Their sole purpose in life is to eat and eat and eat until they have enough energy stored up to pupate and then eventually transform through complete metamorphosis into an adult beetle.
Throughout the world, mealworms are the decomposers, breaking down dead and decaying organic matter and recycling that back into the system. They are also an important food source for many species of reptile, bird and amphibian.
My children feel great pride having their 'own pets' to look after. We have them in a plastic container with air holes, and put a base of oats and wheat germ for their habitat as they love to burrow down and keep hidden away (as they would do in the wild preferring cool, damp and dark places under leaf litter and decaying logs). We feed them pieces of potato and carrot, which also provides them with the water they need.
They are heaps of fun to hold as their little claws grip on to you, they move in different directions when you put them down and you can even have little races with them. The children have discovered that some like to walk backwards, why is this? The children are excited about the fact that they will change, and are asking how long will this process take? What will the beetles look like once they have transformed, what will they need to eat and what habitat will we need to provide? These are all topics we can explore, discover and research together.
We also use a mealworm journal for my older daughter to record her observations and information about the mealworms as they grow and change.
Some of the things my children have been saying about their new pets:
"Hey lets play with our mealworms"
"This is LuLu, Lily and Sophie" (they all look the same!)
"Hey lets have a race with our mealworms"
"Aaah they are trying to escape"
"Hey our mealworms can be friends"
"Ooh I have a baby one, that baby can go fast"
"I have four on my hand, they are very cute"
"Why is it walking backwards"
"It actually squeezes your finger a bit and wraps around - ooh"
"It's very sticky"
"Its got a very strong grip"
"Some have shed their skin, look!"
I actually underestimated how fun, educational and engaging these unassuming little creatures could be for my children, but each day we are finding they are worth every $1 of the $20 we spent at the pet shop!