The term “insects” refers to a class of animals who all share a few common traits, such as segmented bodies and three pairs of legs. While both professional scientists and laypersons use this term rather consistently, both groups use the term “bug” differently. When laypersons use the term “bug,” they are usually referring to any small critter lacking a spine. However, scientists use the term specifically in reference to a group of insects in the order Hemiptera.
The class Insecta contains approximately 1 million named species -- and several more million may await discovery. Within this class, scientists organize the various species into groups called orders. For example, ants, bees and wasps are members of the order Hymenoptera, while dragonflies and damselflies are members of the order Odonata.
One group, called the order Hemiptera, is comprised of about 35,000 species, who all have piercing-sucking mouthparts and hardened portions of their forewings. Scientists call these the “true bugs.” Therefore, while all true bugs are insects, not all insects are true bugs.
Most true bugs are easily identified by the presence of a hard, triangular plate -- called a scutellum -- located behind their head.
Common Insect Pets
Some of the most common pet insects include praying mantises, crickets, ants, cockroaches and mealworms. Most of these animals thrive in small glass or plastic cages, outfitted with twigs for climbing and pieces of bark to hide under. Room temperature usually is sufficient to keep most insects healthy, but some of the tropical species will thrive better at slightly elevated temperatures, so keep them in a warm part of the house or outfit their cage with a small, low-wattage heating pad.
Feed cockroaches, mealworms and ants a combination of grains and fresh vegetables, which also serve as a water source for the insects. Praying mantises require live prey, such as cockroaches, flies or butterflies. Provide them water by gently misting the cage with water a few times each week -- the insect will drink the droplets of water from the cage sides and furnishings.
If you wish to keep cockroaches as pets, opt for tropical species, which are not as likely to become pests if they escape from their cage.
Common True Bug Pets
Insect enthusiasts keep relatively few members of the order Hemiptera as pets. Several species are considered pests, and many others are capable of delivering a painful bite. Nevertheless, some keepers enjoy maintaining stinkbugs as pets, although it is important to identify the species you are keeping with certainty, as the diet varies from one species to the next. Most will thrive in a small glass or plastic cage with sticks and leaves for climbing. Some stinkbugs are herbivores, who require specific plants for food, while others are predators, who require live invertebrates as a food source.
If threatened or injured, stink bugs may exude a foul-smelling liquid.
Some enthusiasts keep assassin bugs, giant water beetles or water scorpions as pets, despite the fact that most species in these groups require live prey. While assassin bugs are terrestrial animals that require roughly comparable husbandry to assassin bugs, water beetles and water scorpions are aquatic creatures, who require an enclosed container filled with water from where they were collected.
Assassin bugs, giant water beetles and water scorpions can inflect very painful bites, and should not be handled carelessly.