When you hear about children in America wanting their own pets, it’s usually a dog, cat, hamster or something else that’s furry, cuddly and cute. That’s what we usually think of when we talk about companion animals. The ones that will fetch with you, curl up in your lap, ones you can stroke their fur during a quiet moment, basically animals you can form a deep with with. In the United States, children usually aren’t asking their parents for insects. And if they are, parents are not often granting their wishes.

In Japan, however, beetles are one of the most popular pets for children. While we view them as pests and shoo them out of our houses, Japanese children, their parents and hobbyists are paying anywhere from three to 10,000 USD per beetle. They don’t seem that pesky now, do they?


Not Your Typical Beetle  

The prized pet can’t be just any beetle, however. The in-demand beetles are either a rhinoceros beetle or a stag beetle. These are heavy duty beetles, too, growing up to three inches long. And the bigger the better. Stag beetles tend to cost more because of they are usually larger and have longer lifespans. A stag beetle can live up to five years, with rhinoceros beetles hatching in the early summer and dying in the fall. Also more expensive and more desired are the male beetles, which have large horns and jaws, unlike the females. These attributes are used in the wild, usually to fight over or attract the female beetles.

The beetles that get the mad cash dropped on them are a certain kind of stag beetle called o-kuwagata. These beetles can get up to 3 or 3.1 inches in length. But for those that just want a companion, they can stop by a vending machine that sells the beetles. Yes, you read right. A vending machine that sells insects.

Where It Began 

The tradition of getting a beetle as a pet during childhood came out of beetle fights. In the wild, fighting is natural for the beetles, with their horns used solely as weapons. The way children fight them is more like sumo wrestling, where two beetles enter a circle and the first one pushed out loses.

It’s not just beetles that get respect from the Japanese people. The culture embraces insects for many reasons. Fireflies are enjoyed for their illumination and many insects help people sense a change in seasons. In pop culture and entertainment, insects are commonly used. You can see them as characters in cartoons and books, with possibly the most popular example of this being the insect characters in Pokemon.


Is the Pet Attitude Better Than the Pest One? 

Japanese culture and its interest in insects can challenge us in a very interesting way. It can make us look at our two cultures and think about why insects are pests in one location, but prized in another. What is it about insects that creep us out? That make us jump on chairs and scream? Why are beetles such a popular first-time pet in Japan but goldfish and gerbils are here?

This topic also brings up additional questions when it comes to the beetles’ welfare. The insects are bred for desirable traits like size and lifespan, similar to the way dogs are bred in the United States. Breeding can be dangerous because the animal is looked at as a commodity, and their welfare does not always come first. The fact that they can come in a vending machine is also questionable as well. When you start to think about the way the culture “treasures” these creatures, it starts to look like consumerism.

It should also be noted that the popularity came in part from beetle fighting, which still goes on, although not as much due to the amount some pay for a beetle. The fact is the popularity came out of something violent and potentially lethal to another creature.

So when it comes down to it, there are downfalls to both the pets and pests outlooks. While one culture shoos insects away and avoids them altogether, another treasures them, but at the cost of consumerism. So, is one better than the other? It’s hard to say.


Image: Mergsie/Flickr