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6 live specimens that make great classroom pets

Best classroom pets that are live specimens

Elementary / Middle School / High School

Thinking of adopting a pet for your classroom? Classroom pets have been shown to boost social skills and academic performance in students. In a study of 3rd and 4th graders published in 2019, students experienced significant increases in social skills and reading comprehension when they had a pet in the classroom. The students also demonstrated less hyperactivity and more attentiveness than those without a classroom pet.

We suspect classroom pets help students probably at any grade level. Why? The students help take care of the pets, so they learn responsibility and self-control. They also have something (or rather someone) special to look forward to when they come to class, so it’s motivating. But instead of the typical guinea pig, you may be interested in a more unorthodox pet for your classroom…

Here are 6 live specimens that make great classroom pets:

1. Painted Lady Butterfly

For Grades K-8

Imagine beginning your life as a tiny blue-green egg no larger than the head of a pin and finally emerging from an egg-like structure, your wings folded and crumpled.

Meet the Painted Lady Butterfly—the most widely distributed butterfly in the world. Its natural habitat is open grasslands, woodlands, and deserts on several continents. They often escape predator birds, reptiles, and frogs through their quick flight.

This butterfly’s development is quick—about 14 to 26 days—so your students can study life cycle and metamorphosis. Take a look at our Painted Lady Butterfly Care Guide for all the information you need to raise this “princess.”

And check out our complete habitat sets!


Vanessa cardui painted lady butterflies

Ward's® Painted Lady Butterflies

Vanessa cardui Butterflies form chrysalides and transform into colorful butterflies right before your eyes.

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2. Axolotl  

For Grades K-12

This amphibian (also known as a Mexican Walking Fish) is low-maintenance and super-cute. All axolotls in the United States are laboratory-bred but originated from Lake Xochimilco, Mexico—their only natural habitat, where they’re critically endangered.

With this pet, your students can learn about animal behavior, neoteny, and regeneration (they can regenerate most of their body parts).

Axolotls are easy to take care of. You’ll need a small, glass aquarium with at least five gallons of water space per axolotl. Use pond, spring, or de-chlorinated tap water (to de-chlorinate, let tap water sit out for 48 hours or use a de-chlorinating solution). Feed them blackworms or pellets every other day.

Check out our brand-new habitat sets that include aquarium, plants, blackworms, and axolotl. Also available are albino axolotls.


Ward's® Wild Axolotl Habitat Sets

Set contains one wild-type axolotl, a package of blackworms for feeding, either Elodea densa or Egeria najas, and an aquatic habitat.

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For more information, see our Axolotl Care Guide.

3. Giant Hissing Cockroach

For Grades 1-6

OK, a cockroach in your kitchen is not what you want to see—but a Giant Hissing Cockroach makes one of the best classroom pets.

This species is non-native to North America, hailing from the forest floors of Madagascar. It’s a scavenger and will eat almost anything. In the wild it eats mostly fruit and decaying wood. You’ll hear its signature hissing sound—emanating from the breathing pores on its abdomen—during aggressive encounters, courtships, and disturbances.

This creature is easy to take care of. And perfect for elementary students. Students can witness defense mechanisms and observe group behavior.

Any escape-proof container with holes for oxygen exchange works for these little arthropods. Cockroaches don’t mind being crowded, but they like having dark spaces to hide in. Fresh vegetables and dog food along with a wet cotton ball provide the nutrients they need.


Ward's® Live Giant Hissing Cockroaches

Investigate insect life cycles, behavior, and much more.

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For more information, see our Giant Hissing Cockroach Care Guide.

4. Curly Hair Tarantula

For Grades K-8

Don’t fret: the Curly Hair Tarantula is one of the most docile species of tarantula. Its mild venom is used mostly for feeding rather than defense (though their bites can still cause a problem for those allergic to bees). Originating in the savannahs regions of Central America, this arachnid is nocturnal and regularly molts as it matures and grows. In its natural habitat it consumes insects and small lizards.

Some students may get the heebie-jeebies around a tarantula, but they’ll be so interested in it they won’t be able to look away. Students can watch and study the process of molting—and this can complement lessons on animal exoskeletons.

Use a plastic, escape-proof terrarium for your tarantula and provide it with crickets, waxworms, or other insects. Artificial plants or a small stick can be used for climbing and hiding. Remember to stick to room temperature, and never house two of these tarantulas together.


Curly Haired Tarantula

Brachypelma albopilosa.

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For more information, see our Tarantula Care Guide.

Contact us at for availability.

5. Fire-Bellied Toad

For Grades 1-6

Woe to those predators who eat the Fire-Bellied Toad! Apparently, it tastes terrible (frankly we can’t imagine a tasty toad). This brightly colored amphibian can be found in Europe and Asia. It loves small bodies of water—and the more stagnant the better.

This toad is a great choice for elementary students. It’s a nice addition for lessons on animal behavior and aposematic coloration.

Fire-Bellied Toads are happy to eat many different insects, including crickets and moths. These specimens are low-maintenance. Just give them an aquarium, damp moss, and live insects. They can even live up to 15 years in captivity!


Fire Bellied Toad

Bombina orientalis.

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6. White’s Tree Frog

For Grades K-8

Have you met White’s Tree Frog? This plump green fellow has been known to visit window sills in search of bugs haplessly drawn to light. Found in Australia, New Zealand, and parts of the U.S., this creature is valued for its skin, which has antibacterial and antiviral properties.

White’s Tree Frog is tailor-made for lessons on animal behavior. Students can watch the frog change color as it changes emotion! When stressed or startled, the poor frog can scream and squeak.

This amphibian is easy to care for. Provide a plastic terrarium and feed it fruit flies, cricket nymphs, and other small insects—and it will grow to about the size of a coffee mug and live about 16 years. Just make sure to avoid overfeeding (and no rover fireflies for this little guy).


White's Tree Frog

Litoria caerulea.

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From the Painted Lady Butterfly to White’s Tree Frog, these little critters are some of the best classroom pets, sure to interest your students and even boost their academic performance. If you’ve ever thought about having a classroom pet, now’s the time—don’t let the teacher down the hall beat you to it!

As always, if you have any questions about live specimens or anything else, just ask the Ward’s Science Plus Us team at Our in-house scientists and technicians are ready to answer even the toughest inquiries.