When I was a kid, we’d catch grasshoppers and put them in a grass-filled shoebox with holes poked in the top. You couldn’t see what was going on in there and the only way to check on your prisoners without letting them escape was to wait until they died. When we graduated to frogs and snakes, letting them die in a box is the stuff baby sister’s tears are made of. Even at that early age we knew being an amphibian was not a capital offence so, we’d catch some frogs, stare at their petrified faces for a while, and let them go. BOOOOORIIIIING.

The kids today get something about 360 times cooler. It’s a natural habitat that perfectly mimics the forest and provides a feeding hole you can stick bugs in. We got ours for $25 at WalMart but Amazon always has these things $5 cheaper.

The frog (or toad or snake or salamander or turtle) can cool off in the pond and later bask on a fake stump. When he starts to get really comfortable, he can feast on all the bugs you caught. Feeding them bread or processed food constipates them to death so you need to make sure they only get bugs. That’s where the second, drastically more awesome part comes in. We bought this laser bug vac with the habitat and you use it to vacuum bugs into a special chamber where the kids can look at them through a built in magnifying glass for as long as they want (which is a long ass time). Then you plug the bug chamber into the habitat and the bugs have no choice but to crawl out into the frog’s lair where they will eventually be consumed. The kids are fascinated by this process and it’s changed the way they feel about being in the country. Nature walks used to be a spectator sport where we’d walk through the forest like we were visiting the aquarium. Now the kids get their knees dirty and scour the forest floor for critters. Frogs and bugs aren’t gross to them anymore. One is cute and the other is food.

My kids were 2 and 3 when I got these toys and I tended to not let them handle the Bug Vac part of the process. It has too many pieces to lose and they would squeeze the vacuum trigger for so long, it would drain the batteries. Besides, it’s too fun to share. After stalking prey for a while, I started to understand why animals are so into hunting. I went from being annoyed by bugs in the house to thinking, “Oh, that looks delicious” and grabbing my weapon. The kids are 3 and 4 now and the Bug Vac is still Daddy’s toy. When it gets dark, we go to the porch light where dozens of confused bugs fly around in circles and I catch at least 20. We attach the canister on to the habitat every half-dozen bugs or so and the kids stare wide-eyed as the insects crawl into the unknown.

By morning, the bugs are gone and all the amphibians in the tank are wearing sweatpants and belching.

Most amphibians get stressed out easily and can even have heart attacks so it gets uncomfortable watching the kids manhandle these poor bastards. Salamanders seem particularly vulnerable but after a few tries, I realized getting the kids to take it easy on the creatures is a big part of the learning process. Today they handle everything so delicately, frogs and salamanders often wiggle free. They’ve also learned to get these cold- blooded vertebrate animals in the tank as soon as possible to minimize the panic.

If you’re particularly soft, you might feel bad about seeing this poor guy locked in a Plexiglas jail. Especially when the kids keep moving it around to get a better look. I felt this way at first but once the prisoners experience a 12-hour buffet, you’ll have trouble getting them to leave. After reaching in and pulling one salamander out after a night of endless feeding, I caught him crawling all over the thing hours later trying to get back in. The recidivism on this thing takes away the guilt of locking them up.

This obviously isn’t a city toy because even if you’re lucky enoughto find a frog, the odds of you finding enough bugs to feed it are low but if you’re spending any time in the country, this is a great way to make hanging out with you way more fun as you make nature way less weird.


One Response to “TWO COOL TOYS”

  1. writerdood Says:

    We had this stuff. Actually we still have it. I ran across the bug vacuum yesterday when I was moving stuff in the garage. Amazing how long the batteries in that thing last. I was wondering what was making that sound, and there it was, stuffed in the bottom of a box of toys. I took it out and sucked up some of the lint from my shirt before throwing it back in the box.

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