Adding Life to the Classroom

I’ve been considering adding some live animals to my classroom for my students to study. What should I consider before taking the leap?
—K., Washington


Live animals definitely make science real and much more interesting than pictures, books, or videos can. You can always find a use for them when teaching the nature of science standards and often in disciplinary core ideas. Here are some things you should consider before using animals in your classroom:

First, learn your district and regional laws and guidelines for collecting, importing, transporting, and using wild and tame animals. Read NSTA’s position statement, Responsible Use of Live Animals and Dissection in the Science Classroom at

Practical considerations:

  • Will you be able to afford and manage caring for them?
  • What contingencies do you have if they escape?
  • What care will they need over the weekends?
  • Will you take them home or come into the school, allow students to take them home or will custodians volunteer to care for them over breaks? (I gave nice gifts to custodial staff who did this for me.)
  • What species will you get? Do you buy them or capture them from the wild?

Of course, there are many animals you can bring into the classroom. I have experience in a few species which I will list below. Ask for details about their care if you’re interested.

Very easy care:
Darkling Beetles (mealworms and superworms), flour beetles, isopods (sowbugs/pillbugs)

Easy care:
Stick insects (Carausius morosus), protozoans, hydra, snails, amphipods (sideswimmers/scuds) and a few other aquatic arthropods

Medium care:
Butterflies, moths, freshwater fish, geckos, ant colonies

Marine fish, anoles

Hope this helps!


Photo Credit:  Anna Frodesiak (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

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2 Responses to Adding Life to the Classroom

  1. Tom Cubbage says:

    As a biology teacher I have always had live animals in my room. I use them as examples of all of the scientific phenomenon that we study. I have plants, fish, reptiles, amphibians, and even a parrot who comes to visit from my home once in a while. I have a colony of rodents called Degus (octodons Degu) that were originally brought to the US for diabetes research as they become diabetic when they are given almost any refined sugar. Being diurnal (awake night and day) they are great examples of metabolism, homeostasis, and lots of other biological activities. Yes they do take extra care and planning for their care, but being able to point to a live organism and talk about something that my students can see makes for a memorable moment when I am teaching!

  2. Chris Mainhart says:

    About 20 years ago, I was gifted an African Claw-Toed Frog. Ribbit has been an amazingly easy classroom pet. She survives on amphibian food and/or worms and bugs. She has been very popular with my students over the years (early childhood).

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