Choosing an Exotic or Unusual Pet

Choosing an unusual animal for a pet can be fun learning process, but should not be undertaken without proper research. Both adults and children can benefit from owning an exotic pet, and there are many that are easier to take care than traditional pets. Of course, there are unique responsibilities when choosing to bring an exotic pet into your home. While some exotic pets require special licensing to own within the United States, many only have minimal, if any, guidelines. Consider these animals when choosing your exotic pet.

Piranhas- A perfect pet for experienced aquarists, piranhas can and will devour human flesh! Care should always be taken when owning a piranha. In a home aquarium, piranhas can reach 8-10 inches. Found naturally in South America and Guyana waters, they are silvery-gold with a red through and mouth full of razor sharp teeth. Piranha’s aggressions are enhanced because they live in schools. While you can have an individual piranha, it cannot be added to group at a later time. Individual fish are less aggressive, but will attack if provoked or distressed. It is possible to include one to two Piranhas with other fish; however, they should be larger, more aggressive fish. Piranhas only eat meat, preferably live (such as feeder goldfish, minnows, and earthworms). DO NOT feed by hand. This high protein diet leads to a high waste product. Extra filtration will be necessary.

Madagascar Hissing Cockroach- An absolute impossibility for some, this pet can actually be quite interesting. Children especially would enjoy this pet- with a close eye kept on them, of course! Madagascar hissing cockroaches can grow up to three inches long and over an inch wide- much larger than your typical cockroach! They are clean, odorless, and very sanitary, and do not bite. Resembling a beetle, the distinctive hissing noise can be heard when the animal is disturbed, during mating rituals, and sometimes for no reason at all. Hissing cockroaches eat a wide variety of foods such as dog and rat food, fruits, and vegetables.

Wallaby- A miniature kangaroo, the wallaby is an affectionate, if mischievous, animal. Native to Australia, wallabies can be a great pet if you have the room. They should be raised inside for at least the first year. After that they will need a large area for hopping- and tall, sturdy fence. While they may be house-trained, they can open doors and cupboards, and love to jump. As babies, wallabies love to play-box. While females will generally lose interest in this behavior as they grow, males must be discouraged or they will become quite obnoxious as they grow. Wallabies will grow to about 2 �½ to 3 feet, weighing 30-40 lbs. They must be bottle-fed as babies, and then go on to eat vegetables, fruit, and kangaroo/wallaby pet food. They will generally get along with other non-aggressive pets, and can be leash-trained.

Tarantulas- A low-maintenance pet, these hairy spiders are not normally dangerous or aggressive. Most tarantulas will not bite unless provoked; however, their bite is venomous. More like a bee sting, tarantula venom can cause an unpleasant reaction in those allergic. Handling of tarantulas should be kept to a minimum for this reason and because their abdomens are quite fragile. Female tarantulas can live up to twenty years, while males only live up to three years. Any medium to large sized plastic or glass container can hold a tarantula; all it needs are a few air holes and secure top (they are terrific climbers). Recreating your spider’s natural habitat (depending upon which tarantula species it is) can be fun for you and good for your pet. Heat is a primary factor in keeping tarantulas healthy. They like to hide during the day, so their habitat should include a secluded spot. They also tend toward cannibalism, so multiple spiders are best kept apart. Tarantulas like to stalk their prey, making insects a perfect food for them. Adults only need one or two meals/week, will lots of water.

Skunk- As more and more people come to love these stinky animals, their reputation is slowly improving in the pet world. Not naturally found anywhere but America, the skunk is a uniquely American pet. Extremely intelligent, they have a great memory and tremendous problem-solving skills. Patience is required when training a skunk, as they are very curious animals. Rummaging through household drawers, purses, and any other interesting places, skunks exhibit many human characteristics. Baby skunks need to be held frequently for bonding and kept in a safe, restrictive place; after that they can generally roam free. They can be litter-boxed trained, and can get along with other pets if properly introduced. Skunks are not recommended in households with small children. A low-protein diet is recommended- do not feed them cat or ferret food. Vegetables, very little fruit, carbohydrates, and a little bit of olive oil is the perfect diet for skunks. Feeding schedules differ depending upon your skunk’s age. When choosing a skunk, be sure to do proper research, as they do require shots (like dogs and cats) and it can be difficult to find a bet willing to treat a skunk.

The “Pac Man” Frog- Legend has it that once bitten by a Pac Man frog, it will not let go until sundown. Of course, this is completely false- but the frog does have a very mean bite. They have a strong bite, with sharp tooth-like processes. Great care should be taken when feeding and handling the animal. The frog’s grumpy appearance is good indication of its nasty temper. A very large frog, females are bigger than the males. Despite the Pac Man’s grumpiness, it is a very easily kept and long-lived pet (captive frogs can live up to 15 years). These frogs require clean living quarters and a well -rounded diet consisting of earthworms, crickets, and freshly killed minnows.

Hermit Crab- Neither a hermit nor a crab, this pet is quite sociable. Unlike real crabs, hermit crabs have a long, soft, coiled abdomen with a hooked tail. True crabs have a short abdomen and large, hard outer shell. Hermit crabs are nocturnal animals and will not bite, although they will pinch if provoked. They often do better in groups, so they are good pet to choose if you want a ‘family’ of animals. They enjoy a variety-rich diet, including commercially prepared cakes and meals. Dry food should be moistened. Calcium is a high priority, and they also like fresh fruits and vegetables. Food and water both should always be available, although they may go up to a week without eating. To prevent drowning, keep water level below the crab shell height. Salt water should be offered once a week. Hermit crabs require lots of room to roam, so a glass or plastic cage/aquarium is ideal, but be sure it has tight-fitting lid and is kept very warm (70-75 degrees Fahrenheit).

Stick Insects- A very popular insect pet, these animals can hide in plain sight along plant branches. A great pet for children, these ‘walking sticks’ are fun to watch. When blown on, they will mimic the twig movement in order to stay hidden! While most are long and slender, some varieties have flattened bodies and hide on plant leaves. They can be handled, although care should be taken to not injure their legs. Many animals would rather lose a leg than let go of their hiding spot! Some larger varieties can bite or pinch and even spray a fine liquid as defense. Stick insects can be kept in a basic aquarium, but make sure to have well-fitting mesh lid in order to prevent a household invasion! Factor such as necessary humidity and warmth depend upon species type. Their diet consists purely of a wide variety of leaves (pesticide free), so maintenance is very easy. Water should be kept in a closed container (such as pudding cup), with a stem inserted in the lid to prevent drowning.

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