Mankind has a strange relationship with fear. Biologically, fear is part of our primal reactions, meant purely for survival. And yet, we have made an industry out of attempting to scare each other: horror movies have their own cable network, Stephen King is one of the world’s most read authors of all time and Halloween has gone from a children’s holiday to a multi-billion dollar juggernaut. We love to be scared; we love the taboo, the eerie and the uncanny.
But how does this relate to the pet trade? As it turns out, according to a 2014 Washington Post story, the fear of insects and spiders is the third most frequent phobia held by Americans, ranking only below heights and public speaking. But for every person creeped out or disgusted by zombies or vampires, there are just as many people who find insects, arachnids and other invertebrates utterly fascinating, making them a prime target for a pet retailer looking to add in a bit of variety to their usual stock. Ken Foose, the head of Exotic Pets Las Vegas and a breeder with over 45 years of experience, notes that invertebrates have something of an “otherworldly look,” contributing to their unique appeal.
“Even though simple, they do possess their own personalities, which is also a draw,” he said.
Invertebrates is an umbrella term used to refer to the various species of insects, arachnids, arthropods and other similar animals; generally speaking, invertebrates have an exoskeleton or carapace rather than an internal skeleton. The most common invertebrates within the pet trade have typically been various types of tarantula (notably the rose-hair and the Mexican red legged tarantula), several types of scorpions and hissing cockroaches. Foose notes, though, that several new species of tarantulas and scorpions are gaining popularity within the pet trade.
Ken says that, “curly hair, pink toe and stripe knee tarantulas are coming more to the forefront, along with flat rock, desert hairy and Asian forest scorpions.” In addition to tarantulas and scorpions, other invertebrates have become increasingly popular with pet owners. Among these include millipedes and centipedes, species of mantises, and both rhinoceros and Goliath beetles.
Of course, because there are so many species within the greater category of invertebrates, educating your staff and your customers can be a challenge, but it also provides the opportunity for you to prove your expertise and knowledgeability. Invertebrates can differ greatly in terms of aggression versus docility, diet, caging and care requirements, so be sure that any new creature that enters your store has the items it needs, as well as welldocumented care sheets to assist both your staff members and your customers in how to properly care for that invertebrate.
As far as habitats and other essential care products, Zoo Med has recently launched a complete line of products called Creatures. Ashley Rademacher, Zoo Med’s animal care and education director, adds that this line includes a Low Profile Creature Den tank for keeping ground dwelling creatures, a tall Creature Habitat Kit for those pets that appreciate a little more climbing space, an LED black light for night time viewing of fluorescent pets, a four-watt Creaturetherm heater for creating proper terrarium temperatures, in addition to substrates, hides, light fixtures, food jelly cups, dishes, thermometers and more.
Aggression is particularly of note here, as that tends to be a defining feature for most first time invertebrate owners, particularly those who are purchasing for a child or teenager. The level of aggression for any given species provides a direct indicator on how good a fit that invertebrate will be for that pet owner.
Invertebrates like millipedes or cockroaches can make for great starter animals in this regard: most of these tend to be slower, don’t mind being held and eat vegetation, so there is little fear of being bitten or attacked. Tarantulas tend to occupy the middle of the road here, with American varieties tending toward more passivity, while Asian and African varieties have stronger venom and a tendency toward aggression. Centipedes and scorpions, however, are probably better reserved for experienced invertebrate owners, as they can be particularly aggressive and should rarely (if ever) be handled. Always be sure that your invertebrate enclosures have secure, locking lids so that the likelihood of escape is minimized.
Venom, of course, is a primary risk with any invertebrate. While nearly all captive-bred (and even wild-caught) invertebrates within the pet trade have relatively mild venom, that doesn’t mean that this should be discounted. Tarantula hairs and bites and scorpion stings should always be treated with great care. And, of course, customers who are particularly allergic to bee stings or other insect bites should perhaps be led toward a diff erent pet. Communication with your customers, as always, is key here.
Invertebrate aggression does, unfortunately, carry over into feeding. Most scorpions, certain types of tarantulas and many centipedes may strike if you reach into their habitat, which can lead to stings or bites. If you decide to carry invertebrates, consider carrying feeding tongs near their display for your customers. Not only can these make both your staff and your hesitant potential customers more at ease with your invertebrates, but they easily make for a quick add-on sale, both at the initial point of pet purchase and when a repeat customer comes in to purchase food or substrate.
While they may not be to everyone’s liking, invertebrates provide an expanding market within the pet trade and may fit exceptionally well within your local market. Consider adding some of these to your usual repertoire of animals, and see what our multilegged friends can do for your bottom line.