Unusual Pets

Unusual Pets

In open lots throughout the United States children of all ages enjoy an occasional aerodynamic feat achieved by putting into flight and manipulating model airplanes. These are usually power—driven craft less than a foot long that are guided by movements of a string tied to the air—craft. A skilled operator can make it do limited aerial exercise, but usually the model aircraft flies in a continuous arc the length of the string held by the person guiding it. Enthusiasts have discovered many inventive ways to fly and control a plane, but one that has escaped their attention is quite common in equatorial Africa.

Here the children have discovered a way to amuse themselves with a similar pastime, except that instead of a model airplane they use live beetles. A giant of beetles is the Goliathus goliathus, usually measuring over six inches long. It is quite capable of flight and makes a loud whirring sound as it flies. Native children search for specimens to use as pets and toys. They tie a long string around the beetle's neck and attach a stick to the other end. The beetle will fly in an arc the length of the string, making a loud whirring sound not unlike that of the toy airplane flown by American youth.

Beetle pets serve purely as a source of amusement, but in the Far East some practical uses have been devised for insect pets. Scientists generally agree that the praying mantis is among the most vicious of insect predators, but oddly enough it can also be a friend to man. In Asia the mantis is highly prized and is often kept as a household pet. The owners often tie the mantis by a thread to their bedpost; in this capacity it serves as excellent protection from insect pests.

As always, some people are excessively indulgent with their pets. One elderly matron was so proud of her pet mantis that she had a sliver collar designed for the insect and carried it on her shoulder, fastened by a tiny silver chain!

Others use insects as both pets and jewelry. Native women in Costa Rica secure luminous insects with tiny chains or cords and affix them to their hair or clothing. As the insect pets crawl about and flash their varicolored lights, they create a striking effect. Similarly, some women in Malaysia raise butterflies, using their pets as hair ornaments. The butterflies are extremely beautiful and display spectacular variegated colors. Tied to their owner's hair, they produce an unusual display as they attempt to fly about. The women are most attentive to their pets, each being identified by name.

An even more extraordinary custom has been practiced for centuries in West Africa. Here there are itinerant performers who capture and tame large scorpions, allowing them to live inside their voluminous clothing. The poisonous tail—spine is rarely removed, and yet these potentially dangerous creatures wander freely over their owners, even while they sleep on the ground. They never sting their hosts and rarely escape. They are truly pets and will respond to commands given by a touch of their owners' finger. Really now, there must be an easier way to make a living!

From the book: 
Our Fascinating Earth