A Mother’s Guide To Temporary Pets: Options for when you are sick of killing fish

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Photo by Ahmed Hasan on Unsplash

What is it about becoming a mother than inherently makes us want more things to “take care of”? 

I have seriously less mental space or time anymore to do anything that doesn’t consist of my family and my home. Yet, like magic, I find that I have this uncontrollable pull to add MORE things to my mental load that requires caring for and keeping alive.

When our elderly dog passed away a few years ago, within a few weeks I went out and bought fish. I thought we needed a “pet” in our lives, and I had experience with fish. Even sickly pet store fish. And guess what? I am generally pretty good at it. 

Photo by Worachat Sodsri on Unsplash

We went super traditional with a blue Beta. We even named him, Mr. Fish for the main character of The Pout Pout Fish book (just the cutest children’s board book ever, and my kids’ favorite). He lived for a solid 3 months. 

I declared this a fluke and it must be the fish. After a few month break, we went for Fish, Part Deux. This time, I found a sickly one with a gimpy fin and declared him the winner. I figured if he was sick and going to die in the store, we might as well take him home and let him live out his last days in a better venue. Yeah, I know. I am a bleeding heart. Within a few days, our little weak finned Beta was thriving. However, this one too got sick and died at 3 months. 3 months longer than I ever would have guessed looking at that miserable little thing in the plastic cup at the pet store. But all in all it was defeating for me. I declared myself done with pets until we decided to reclaim our status as a “dog family.”

However, fate had a different plan for us. Enter what I affectionately have dubbed the “Temporary Pet.” And you know what, it works for us! Let me explain why and which ones I recommend in case you think that you too, may be a Temporary Pet candidate.

The appeal of the “Temporary Pet” is that they require minimal effort to feed, no effort to clean, and provide some element of excitement, entertainment, or education.

Ladybugs: Insect Lore Ladybug Land

One of our newly emerged ladybugs taking in the view. Photo by Lily Latson

We are new to ladybugs, but they may be my favorite. Firstly, we all learned something with these little insects. For example, ladybug larvae look NOTHING like I thought they would. They are not red, nor do they have spots. They are longer and are yellow stripped. Pretty, but pretty sure somewhere along the line I have killed them thinking they were some nasty, scary bug. Secondly, they have a very fast life cycle. Each stage of life happens every few days so even the youngest kids stay engaged. My 19 month old LOVES them. She calls them “Baba Bugs” (her best attempt at “ladybug”) and squeals with delight every time she sees them. She also dances in front of their little domed habitat and tells each of them “Hi!” The best part of these “pets,” at the end of 3-ish weeks, you get to set them free in your garden and they eat pests. Score for me. 

The ladybugs are very active and like to eat. So it’s fun to check in on them. The other nice thing about purchasing one of the kits is the larvae come with an enclosed habitat. After the initial investment, in the future you will just need to buy additional larvae and reuse the habitat.  As for feeding it is so simple. The larvae come with the food in the tube which all gets poured into the habitat. Once they become adults, just a few raisins soaked in water and they are happy little campers. Overall they are VERY easy, interesting to watch, and no mess/clean up. Only downside, the pupa stage is not cute like a cocoon. 

Butterflies: Insect Lore Butterfly Garden

Butterfly from our 1st ever release. Photo by Lily Latson

Butterflies were our gateway Temporary Pet. They are very educational and exciting for kids because of the visual stages of life. Even my husband and I get into the rapid growth of the caterpillars. They arrive in a jar with food built in and the only food they require after they emerge is sugar water. They have a longer life cycle and there are more interesting transitions than the ladybugs. And who doesn’t love butterflies? From start to finish, it can take up to 5 weeks depending on how little the caterpillars are when they arrive. They do require a little more care in that you have to move the cocoons from the jar to the tented habitat. Also, our first time around, one of the cocoons fell off and that butterfly ended up with a deformed wing and didn’t make it. I learned this time that the lid where the cocoons attach is sticky so we were able to reaffix the one that fell this year. 

Newly formed Cocoons. Photo by Lily Latson

The best part of raising butterflies is the release. Both my kids got to hold them last year as we let them go. Luckily, my daughter was too young and uncoordinated to catch them or it could have been less picturesque. And like the Ladybugs, after the initial investment of the kit, you will just need to buy the caterpillars as wanted. 

Newly released butterfly resting on my 6 month old. Photo by Lily Latson

Needless to say, this is a fun Temporary Pet and one we will do every year for the foreseeable future. The downside is they are fragile creatures so they do require more adult supervision. Also, they are seasonal so pay attention to your local outdoor temperatures before purchasing.

Praying Mantis & Frogs:

We have not attempted either of these for 2 solid reasons. 

The Praying Mantis looks creepy. And I am not sure I want to have an animal living in my countertop that rips the head off it’s mate. Don’t get me wrong, I think they are awesome creatures and incredibly beneficial for the garden. But I just don’t know if I want to have my coffee with one for a few weeks. Tell me I am wrong. 

Photo by Clint Patterson on Unsplash

As for the frogs, I REALLY wanted to raise frogs. I love frogs and think they have such a cool life cycle. I know my kids would be very engaged with these. And if we could find eggs/tadpoles in our back yard, I might be inclined. But as for the mail order ones, after a lot of research I decided it wasn’t the right thing to do environmentally. I didn’t want to be responsible for introducing a foreign species of frog into my local area that ends up upsetting the natural balance. So if you do decide to go this route, I just highly recommend doing some research on what your local species of frog/toad is and make sure you are getting ones that are indigenous. 

Photo by gary tresize on Unsplash

Sea Monkeys: Sea Monkey Kit

Photo by Lily Latson

I am conflicted on declaring these Temporary Pets. I think for most people they are, but our most recent experience left me staring at those creepy little aliens for 6 MONTHS. That was 6 months longer than I wanted. You see, these Sea Monkeys were a gift to my kids from their Grandfather and Uncle. After our fish died and our success with the butterflies, they thought this might be a good activity. And while I wasn’t super enthusiastic about having mini shrimp on my kitchen counter, I was game to at least try it. The kit came with water treatment, eggs, and food for the Sea Monkeys and 1 plastic reusable habitat. It does require some initial set up (treating the water 24 hours in advance with the solution provided), but once it is set up, it is pretty much all systems go. It requires occasional feeding, mainly in the beginning, and occasional topping off of water. Other than that, they are pretty hands off. 

After I got over the creep factor of those beady little eyes staring back at me, I kind of developed a fondness for them. The upside of Sea Monkeys is they eat algae. This means they literally require no feeding once you get a healthy algae bloom occurring. The downside is, you end up with a green habitat on your counter. However, the MAJOR downside is that all kids think sea monkeys are going to look like the adorably cute cartoon sea monkeys on the package. So there is some inherent disappointment for them when you show them the weird eyed shrimp swimming around. 

But for the bang for their buck, this one is a decent investment as far as Temporary Pets. Just don’t get stuck in the circle I did of having the lone Sea Monkey hanging in there at 5 months. It won’t die and you don’t want to kill it. I did feel a little sad when she finally passed at month 6. We were all rooting for her. And hey, if you want to try this one out, I might still have 1 set left.

Triops: Smithsonian Prehistoric Monsters

Photo Courtesy of Amazon

Billed as a prehistoric animal, this one is perfect for the science nerd and/or slightly older kids. We were gifted this one too after so much success with our Sea Monkeys. The habitat is bigger and the backdrop is every kids dream (spoiler alert: it is a picture of a T-Rex as seen above). In my experience, this one was a little harder to manage than the Sea Monkeys. They require more active feeding and they will cannibalize the smaller ones. In appearance, they are essentially Horseshoe Shrimp. These do require tiny bit more effort and are a good option if you have a kid who is really into dinosaurs, is a little older and can help, or is just really into Science.

Now don’t get me wrong, a “Temporary Pet” is not a dog or a cat and will never fill that void. These are just great options when you feel that bizarre compulsion that every mom I know experiences.  So next time you find yourself compelled to take care of something, or feel the call to see if you cannot kill something, these are a good solution. Trust me, they are less effort than the Sourdough Starter you are forgetting to feed or the herb garden you overwatered and drowned. 

Until next time!



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2 thoughts on “A Mother’s Guide To Temporary Pets: Options for when you are sick of killing fish

  1. This was so great, Lily! I laughed out loud about the sea monkeys. I’m definitely going to try some of these! The kids really want cats and I just don’t think we are quite ready.


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