Sea Monkey alternatives?
August 6, 2008 8:46 AM   Subscribe

Are there any frugal alternatives to Sea Monkeys?

I'm running a summer camp for four year olds and we have limited funds. We're looking for fun, interesting live "pet" alternatives to Sea Monkeys -- in order to give our kids a bunch of choices for a "create your own pet environment" project.

We think we can obtain some bulk brine shrimp as a proxy for Sea Monkeys, but I'm wondering if anyone has ideas for other types of tiny critters the kids can adopt -- and we can purchase in bulk relatively inexpensively.

Ants are an option but least desirable since the kids are quite familiar with them already.

Probably not flying insects, like ladybugs, because it doesn't seem like the kids will be able to create "environments" suitable for them.

Also, preferably the less "gross" the better since these are four year olds.

Any interesting or unusual suggestions hivers? No bees too :)
posted by pallen123 to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (25 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Gold fish? Setting up mini aquariums or fish bowls could be fun.
posted by at 8:50 AM on August 6, 2008

Google "minibeasts" - it's the magic keyword for "learning about insects" in the UK's national curriculum. Caterpillars, stick insects, snails, tadpoles, feeder goldfish.

Environments for flying insects are simple - mesh cylinders.
posted by Leon at 8:52 AM on August 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

For the goldfish, ask at the pet store for "feeder fish," for your carnivorous pets. They are about ten cents each.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:53 AM on August 6, 2008

The Chinese have collected crickets*, for ages.

*self link, scroll down a bit.
posted by advicepig at 9:10 AM on August 6, 2008

Do you have two to three weeks before you need to do this?

If so, I suggest mantids!

You can purchase a praying mantis egg case (called an ootheca) from a garden store and after keeping it at room temperature for two to three weeks, about 200 hundred of the little guys will hatch from the case. It's really fun and I imagine that kids would get a kick out of it.

The only throwback is that they're pretty tricky to raise, and the majority of them are going to eventually die. But when you're through with them for classroom purposes they can always be released into a garden - that's the point of selling them at garden stores anyway, so that they will eat "bad" bugs in your garden at home.
posted by Squee at 9:13 AM on August 6, 2008

Goldfish are cute, but what is the OP to do with dozens of goldfish after the project? Their lifespan can be up to 20 years... Not sure whether that's such a good idea.

Tadpoles are too sensitive, I think, apart from the problem that you probably can't buy them at the pet store. Also, many species of frogs/toads are endangered so catching their babies in the wild might not be advisable. Eponysterical, I know.

I would go with mealworms. You can buy the larvae at pet stores, keep them in a glass with flour, and track the developmental stages until they become beatles. They're very easy to keep, and quite interesting. I can still remember them from childhood experiments. I also remember that 4 year olds basically don't find anything "too gross", except if you tell them it is.
posted by The Toad at 9:15 AM on August 6, 2008

I'll just chime in to reiterate what has been suggested--keep in mind that these things are alive, and will need to be taken care of (or disposed of) properly once the camp is over. It would be best to stick with something native to your area, that can be released to the wild (within reason of course--20 beetles is okay, 100 rats probably not!). And please don't assume anything from your local pet store is native.
posted by Jemstar at 9:33 AM on August 6, 2008

Triops are available from plenty of places online in bulk. Same "instant life" concept as Sea Monkeys with the added benifit of being around an inch versus around a tenth of an inch.
posted by piedmont at 9:41 AM on August 6, 2008

While some types are expensive (e.g. $10 bucks each), there are some species of freshwater shrimp that are dirt cheap.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:08 AM on August 6, 2008

Is this a sleepover camp? Make firefly houses during the day and catch them by night? If it's not a sleepover camp, make firefly houses during the day and assign them to have mom and dad help them catch them at home at night.
posted by macadamiaranch at 10:31 AM on August 6, 2008

I was given a "grow your own" Triops kit. Never grew them but they are packaged similar to sea monkeys. You can read about them here.
posted by elkelk at 10:36 AM on August 6, 2008

White Cloud Mountain fish are better than goldfish for this sort of operation. They're smaller and more colorful and, unlike goldfish, they're likely to breed in your kid's fishbowl. You can keep one or two in a quart jar, and a regular fishbowl can easily maintain five or so.
posted by chrchr at 10:40 AM on August 6, 2008

crayfish would work, especially if they're native. not sure how hard they are to keep alive though.
posted by craven_morhead at 11:03 AM on August 6, 2008

I say no to triops.

Sea monkeys and brine shrimp are vegetarian and eat algae.

Triops are carnivorous and eat eachother.

and sea monkeys :(
posted by bradly at 11:31 AM on August 6, 2008

+1 for mealworms. They look after themselves, you can explain the life cycle to the kids, and then feed them to the birds at the end of the camp season. Or perhaps during, so you get the added benefit of the kids seeing birds.
posted by Solomon at 11:44 AM on August 6, 2008

Also, preferably the less "gross" the better since these are four year olds.

I'm thinking you don't really understand 4 year olds...

nthing mealworms. "Oh man that's so gross... cool!" is probably the response you'll get.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 11:54 AM on August 6, 2008

i kept crickets alive for a really long time (for crickets) when i was little. you can get them cheap from pet stores or scientific supply, they are sold as feed for lizards and other animals. i built a little house for them and would supply water in the form of a regularly moistened piece of sponge or paper towel and food in the form of a piece of graham cracker, could be moistened. they were very cute.
posted by dahliachewswell at 12:03 PM on August 6, 2008

What I used to call "potatobugs", actually known as sowbugs or pillbugs, are kind of fun pets - I kept them in terrariums when I was a kid and successfully (accidentally) bred them once.

Don't be fooled by their other name, "wood lice" - they're not lice, or even insects. They're actually crustaceans, which is cool. They're not harmful to people and not much of a household/garden pest.

Depending on where you are, they can be found under rocks and are easily captured and handled.

They like a moist environment. Take a mayonnaise jar, fill with a few inches of dirt, add a local plant or two, add pillbugs, moisten the soil, and put the lid on the jar with a few holes. If the plant stays alive to provide them food, they'll last for months with no maintenance. A bigger container (even a small aquarium) would be better to showcase them walking around.

Much more fun than sea monkeys.

Ant Lions were also fun childhood pets - kept in a butter dish full of sand, they'll build a cone-shaped trap and await prey. Kids can put ants or other small insects in the trap and watch them get attacked and hauled inside. They're harder to catch than pillbugs and not nearly as cuddly, though.
posted by mmoncur at 12:06 PM on August 6, 2008

Brine shrimp
Feeder guppies
posted by plinth at 12:26 PM on August 6, 2008

Mantises are seriously amazing, and some species lay so many eggs you'd have no trouble getting massive amounts for cheap.
posted by devilsbrigade at 12:52 PM on August 6, 2008

Red wriggler worms, so that you can teach them about vermi-composting.
posted by loiseau at 2:16 PM on August 6, 2008

And I will say that I would avoid goldfish, guppies, etc... (Eventually) killing vertebrates to impress four year olds just doesn't seem quite right.
posted by piedmont at 3:40 PM on August 6, 2008

Ant lions make me think of trying to keep the huge bastards in HL2.

Why would goldfish have to die? You could send 'em back with the kids, or have a big 'ol tank of goldfish at your house.
posted by craven_morhead at 4:03 PM on August 6, 2008

craven- Goldfish need around 10 gallons a piece and live for 10 years+. Not many parents will be willing to do that, effectively sending them to their death.

hortense- The guy that created them?
posted by piedmont at 2:17 PM on August 12, 2008

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