Karlsruhe / DPA
uck. Terrifying creatures are crawling all over his hands and face – humongous snails, huge cockroaches, gigantic moths.
It’s all in a day’s activity on the internet for a German 19-year-old named Adrian Kozakiewicz. The setting is not some tropical jungle in Brazil, but rather a nondescript middle class duplex house of a German suburb.
There, in the basement of his parents’ house on the outskirts of the western city of Karlsruhe, Adrian describes himself as Europe’s youngest breeder of insects, and in particular, a praying mantis freak.
And did we mention he’s an internet star?
Amid the hype surrounding him and his insects, his Facebook page “Bugs and Science” now has 270,000 subscribers, with up to two million people each week tuning in to watch his video clips.
Before the camera, he’ll let his insects crawl over his hands and face, with one prize specimen being what he says is the world’s largest cockroach. But his special passion for years now has been for the praying mantis.
“It is like an addiction, like what collecting Pokemon is for others,” says Adrian, who came to Germany from Poland eight years ago with his parents.
He learned the German language in pet stores where he earned pocket money cleaning terrariums, helping to feed and care for animals, attending exhibitions and fairs.
He can no longer recall the exact moment when his attention was captured by insects. “There was no beginning. It was always this way,” he says.
Already in his boyhood days in Poland he bred moths and grasshoppers. Germany is where his fascination with the praying mantis began. His family keep two dogs as pets. They are of no interest to the teenager.
Along the way, he has gathered a great deal of specialized knowledge in this area. “He is not a scientist per se,” comments Rolf Moertter, a biologist who supervises students in work group projects at Karlsruhe’s natural history museum. “But he really does know a great deal.”
After his middle-level school diploma, Adrian went to work at the museum, while expanding his own insect breeding activities and online firm Insecthaus.
He’s now writing a book and selling the insects he breeds to private buyers, dealers, researchers, and customers in Germany, Europe and even the United States. Not everyone is a big fan of Adrian’s way of posing with insects.
“The animal doesn’t get anything from it,” says Martin Hoehler, whose own company ThePetFactory is one of the few wholesalers dealing in exotic show insects. But he concedes that interest in such insects is steadily growing, with some insects being the perfect “starting pet” for small children. “One can take proper care of them at relatively low cost and effort,” he says.
But the German Aninmal Protection Society disagrees, and expressly advises against people keeping exotic insects. The society says there is as yet no certain evidence one way or the other about whether the insects are suffering.
“We’re sticking to our basic principle, ‘when in doubt, then on behalf of the animal’ and this applies firmly as well to insects and invertebrates,” says a society spokeswoman.
But she also suspects that this market segment is growing, although neither her society nor the German Aquarium and Terrarium Association has any firm data. Florian Grabsch, vice president of the latter group, estimates that one to two million people in Germany are keeping insects.
Kozakiewicz is certain that his insects are relaxed, and he says that 90 per cent of the comments on his video clips and posts are positive. In his basement there are rows upon rows of wooden shelves with plastic boxes and terrariums.
You can hear the quiet crackling sound of a cockroach, the soft buzzing of other inhabitants. It is moderately warm in the basement, and there is no discernible odor. But there’s something spectacular to see when you get closer to one of the terrariums.
On twigs and leaves there are the long-legged beauties that thrill Adrian so much – the praying mantises.
These mantises are green as grass, others are speckled and camouflaged to blend in with a wilted leaf, yet others are white and fragile like an orchid blossom. Adrian has 700 praying mantises in his collection, representing about 70 different species.
“I show people living creatures that they have never seen before,” says Adrian, who travels to Asia two to three times a year. He especially seeks out Thailand and Malaysia in search for praying mantises. There are some 3,000 registered species of the insect, and most are not under protection laws and can be brought into Germany without problems.
A praying mantis can sell for between 10 and 500 euros, but the 19-year-old is mum about how much money he makes.
But he does expound enthusiastically about why he loves the praying mantis, praising the insect’s masterful camouflage, the exciting process of shedding its skin, the sheer endless number of colours and varieties.
On his birthday, Kozakiewicz posted a photo on Instagram. In the picture were two black praying mantises – made of food dyes – crawling across the cake’s white icing.