Children are fascinated by insects, but many of us eventually grow out of wanting to catch a firefly and keep it in a jar. For the people who never lose that urge, though, it can lead in directions that might be surprising.
"Roaches actually make really good pets," says Scott Martin of Rockville, Md. Used to skeptics, enthusiasts will explain that not all cockroaches are created equal.
Orin McMonigle is author of more than a dozen books on keeping pet insects, produces a magazine for hobbyists and even has a species of roach named after him. He doesn't like vermin scurrying about his kitchen any more than you do.
"I do not like pest cockroaches, I do not like mosquitoes, I do not like lice, I do not like German cockroaches. I just like the neat ones," says McMonigle, who used to be a licensed pest control operator. "By knowing the difference, I'm able to appreciate the neat ones."
The most common pet roach is the hissing cockroach, 2 to 3 inches long. Its name comes from the sound it makes when disturbed, although it may lose that habit when it gets used to being handled. Hissers make a good display not only due to their size, but also because they don't instinctively hide.
If one were to escape, McMonigle says, the only danger would be to the insect itself. Hissing cockroaches can't survive on their own in the typical home, where the temperature and humidity are unsuitable and they can't find food.
"There's over 4,000 species of roaches, and only about 25 are classified as pests, and only five of those are any good at it," he says.
Hissers aren't the only roaches kept by hobbyists, and McMonigle says there are even species that exist only in captivity. One mutation with white eyes, originally discovered in a deep coal mine, has been bred since the 1940s. Another species that was found only around a cave that was destroyed by mining is extinct in the wild.
Yen Saw of Katy, Texas, has been keeping mantises for nearly 10 years, since his son got interested in them. "But then he conveniently left the hard work to me and I got hooked," Saw says.
With insects, you can breed many generations in a limited space and over a short time. And unlike more conventional pets, they don't just get larger as they grow, but metamorphose through several different forms.