Summer Collection Update (Part 1)

It would appear that my monthly intentions have become a quarterly reality. This update will span from the end of April to the end of August.

The eastern lubber grasshoppers (Romalea microptera) that hatched back in March thrived despite some care changes along the way. One of my primary concerns with this generation was providing a varied diet. I had read a few years ago that lettuce is nutritionally poor, even for herbivorous insects, and I postulated that some of my previous failures in raising this species, and Orthoptera in general, stemmed from culinary monotony. Once these nymphs reached 1.5″ in length, however, their appetites became large enough to make it nearly impossible to continue providing the variety of Wandering Jew clippings and other plants they loved. Not being able to trust outdoor plants due to living in a pesticide-ridden subdivision, I decided to start relying more heavily on lettuce. Apparently, my lubber issues in the past were not because of lettuce, at least not the lettuce itself (I did not have much experience avoiding and removing pesticides in insect food back then). I still plan to feed a diverse diet to the earlier nymphal stages in subsequent generations, but it seems that is not an essential requirement. This generation has already matured into healthy adults and are reaching the end of their lives. Fortunately, I have already found two oothecae in just a brief excavation. The next generation should emerge in about five months or so. As of September 1, there is one, cranky adult female left from this generation, but she has outlived all the others by several weeks and seems quite healthy. I am not entirely sure why she has lived so much longer than the rest, but I hope she is at least using her time to lay a few more oothecae.

And this is when I learned they are picky little plant murderers who are not fans of celery.
Subadult in late May
Feeding time usually involves some sort of spike-covered leg fight, even though there is plenty for all of the plant murderers.
The next generation: two dirt covered oothecae

Right at the end of April, I came across one of my favorite local carabids: the six-spotted tiger beetle (Cicindela sexguttata). I attempted to find another one to breed, but I was unable to capture another individual. The one I kept was a male, and unfortunately, he died before I could find him a female. I kept the tank intact for a few months in case I had been incorrect, and he was actually a mated female. Nevertheless, I saw no signs of larvae, and it seems that he was indeed a male. This seems to have also been the case of the individual in my previous post about this species. Captive breeding should be possible, but I need to find a better location to collect this species in order to find more than my current average of one per year.

This one was much more shy than my previous one, and I only got a few photos before he died. He especially refused to eat in front of me.
Dead bugs are much easier to photograph.

The Brunner’s stick mantids continued to hatch over the past several months, although it seems they have reached the end and no nymphs have emerged for many weeks. Of the nymphs that emerged, I sold a few to another hobbyist, and despite USPS trying to lose the package, they all arrived alive. I continued to rear several nymphs in the homemade Styrofoam chest tank. I learned this species is not the best for communal rearing when I saw an L1 nymph eating an L2 nymph! While I kept trying to keep several nymphs in the large tank with copious numbers of Drosophila hydei flies, I stopped adding new hatchlings to that tank and tried to rear them individually. As with my previous attempts, the deli cup tanks did not work well. Nymphs kept dying inexplicably. Eventually, the nymph population in the Styrofoam tank was equal to one. This last nymph, however, has thrived, and I think she is a subadult. Since this species is parthenogenetic, I should be able to get another generation despite managing to kill most of the nymphs from this generation. I hope to construct quite a few more foam tanks by the time the next nymphs emerge, as they seem to be perfect for this species.

Despite the eventual cannibalism, these nymphs do quite well together early on and seemed healthy.
The lone survivor molting to pre-sub.
Same individual on September 1st. Subadult now.

For the 4th of July, I prepared three buckets of flake soil to ferment in my attic. It has been almost 2 months since then, and it seems to be progressing properly. I used the guide posted by Ratmosphere from Beetle Forum. This is an older version, and I have the new version embedded right below.

Original version I used
Updated substrate instructions

I chose the first video because that is what I was used to using, and I found it to work for me. Once I have used up these ingredients, though, I will likely start using the new method.

For those who are wondering about the nature of flake soil, it is basically a way to create a homogenous substrate for rearing beetle larvae. It is meant to substitute wild-collected rotten wood, but because it is artificially fermented, there is usually no risk of pests in flake soil. For information from a more experienced breeder, this website has a more thorough analysis of the types and uses of flake soils.

Saturating the pellets in preparation to add flour.

I had a sad rearing experience with a subadult common true katydid (Pterophylla camellifolia) in the latter part of June. I received a subadult male from a friend who managed to catch one. This species is often hard to catch as it is a canopy-dweller and rarely comes to the ground. This individual was also a male, and in this species, it is the males that lure the females. I figured I would be able to get a breeding pair if I managed to rear this species to adulthood and then placed him outside to call a female. Unfortunately, he never made it to adulthood. He died mid-molt. I was unable to determine the exact issue, but the day before he decided to molt happened to be a day I did not mist his tank. I had not been misting everyday, but since I knew he should have been approaching a molt, I likely should have been increasing misting frequency. This is probably my favorite local katydid species, and fortunately, I stumbled upon two adult females at the beginning of August. The first one died almost immediately, but the other one lived for almost a month. I fed the adult katydids white oak (Quercus alba) leaves. Since the second one lived longer, I tried giving her some different foods, and she seemed to relish moistened bee pollen granules. The first female did not leave behind any eggs, so I was worried I might not be able to breed this beautiful species in captivity. I had given both females some soft sections of plant stem based on what I had read about oviposition for this species, so I was not expecting it to fail. After doing a more thorough search on their oviposition stimuli, I came across this article by Arthropod Museum in Arkansas that mentioned captive females utilizing cork for oviposition. Most of my cork was in the cockroach tanks, so I had the idea to try using Styrofoam instead. The second female katydid loved it! After she died, I removed the piece of Styrofoam to find at least a dozen eggs inserted into it. Based on the arboreal nature of this species, I am anticipating that the nymphs will require a large tank to allow them ample room to climb and spread out to feed.

Unlike some of my pets, he was quite cooperative with the camera.
These katydids made it quite clear that they enjoyed white oak leaves.
I personally think they are among the most accurate leaf mimics of the local insects.
The katydid eggs are the little dark objects in the slits in the foam.

Another orthopteran success involved an injured, adult female American bird grasshopper (Schistocerca americana) I found. Her injury was that she was missing both hind legs and could not jump. Since she could not panic, jump, and start flying around my room, I could hold her, and she was quite docile. This is a species that overwinters as adults, so she was nearing the end of her life. Nevertheless, she left me with an ootheca.

Since she was kind enough to place it against the clear plastic, one can see the placement of the ootheca under a foam plug.

On June 11th, I managed to track down a female common eastern firefly (Photinus pyralis). This species is quite common in my local area, but I usually found males. She was in the grass flashing at males like she was supposed to, but I had not found one until now, likely because of the aforementioned issues with living in a subdivision. I took her and a male with a misshapen wing home to breed them in captivity. Given that the females of this species wait in the grass to mate with the males, I planted sorghum seeds on a coconut fiber substrate in a repurposed pretzel jar. The result was at least a few hundred eggs. I separated out exactly 50 after the adults died and moved them to a separate container. The eggs began hatching in early July, and I officially saw the first larva early in the morning on July 5th. Invertebrate Dude informed me that they should accept soft-bodied prey, such as worms. After a trip to the pet store for red wigglers, I began feeding them worms. Unfortunately, I initially overestimated their appetites, and they seemed to just kill the worms and then leave them to rot. Mold overtook the breeding tank, but I fortunately noticed it almost immediately and took an hour to painstakingly transfer all the tiny larvae to a fresh tank. Not wanting to repeat the issue, I decided to try an alternative food source: fish food pellets. While I never actually witnessed the fireflies themselves eating the pellets, the population of phorid flies in the bug room laid eggs in the ventilation hole to allow their larvae to crawl to the food. The firefly larvae seemed interested in the phorid fly larvae, so I think the phorid flies eat the fish food and the fireflies eat the phorid flies. I can find plenty of larvae just by looking through the sides of the container. They seem to congregate further in based on what I found when transferring them, so I seem to have a good population. Hopefully, I can get some captive-bred adults next summer.

The adult pair
This was the very first larva I spotted in the tank.
As of September 1st, the larvae are still alive and doing well.

On June 12th, I acquired my first phasmids. Because of the USDA Regulations on phasmids under the Plant Protection Act, I can only acquire native species captured in-state. A friend of mine bred southern two-striped walkingsticks (Anisomorpha buprestoides) from a pair collected within the state, so when she offered me a few extra adults, I gratefully accepted the offer. A quick inspection of the substrate reveals dozens of eggs, so theoretically, I should have many more of them in a few months. Somewhat sadly, these walkingsticks are one of the species that possess a defensive spray, and they will use it at the slightest provocation. This limits their ability to be handled, as I have been told it is not fun to get in the eyes or if you leave it on the skin for too long. Even just changing the browse in the center while they sit on the wall can elicit some sprays! The browse I use for them is clippings of Chinese privet (Ligustrum sinense), which means putting an invasive species to good use.

The same male has been on the female since this photo was taken shortly after they all arrived. Even though there are two more males, it seems that they ignore her now.

I am going to pause there. Part 2 should be up in a few days!

Spring Collection Update

It appears that the past few months hath past without much notice from the perspective of this site, so this shall be a review beginning in December and extending to April 23nd.

In December, I completed a trade with another hobbyist. In exchange for four, captive-bred Heterometrus petersii scorplings and six baby green lynx spiders (Peucetia viridans), I received two adult male eastern Hercules beetles (Dynastes tityus) and about two dozen Turkestan roaches (Blatta lateralis). Both shipments were sent December 2nd to avoid Thanksgiving shipping delays, and all organisms arrived healthy. I provided the beetles a display tank, and although I had two males, I chose to house them together in that display tank the first night they arrived. I based this decision on the assertion in The Ultimate Guide to Breeding Beetles by Orin McMonigle that fighting is almost always harmless. Given that there was no female for them to fight over and that they were equal in size, it seemed safe to put them together. I have not heard of this being a problem for others, but one of the beetles, later named Jeremiah, mistook the other beetle for a female and attempted to mate with him overnight. This resulted in Jeremiah somehow pulling out part of the other beetle’s abdomen. I immediately separated them, and the injured beetle subsequently reabsorbed the disjunct part of the abdomen. Nevertheless, he died prematurely on January 5th. Jeremiah lived twice as long and died on Valentine’s Day.

Jeremiah quickly learned that he is not picky when it comes to sugary fruits.

Later in December, I began another conversation with the same hobbyist about a new trade. This time, I would be receiving a young Paragaleodes sp. solifugid, a Mastigoproctus giganteus vinegaroon, and a group of five Tylobolus uncigerus millipedes in exchange for starter colonies of giant cave roaches (Blaberus giganteus) and orange-headed roaches (Eublaberus posticus) and a Brunner’s stick mantis ootheca (Brunneria borealis). Everything arrived healthy on both ends, except the solifugid, which appeared mostly dead. Following the recommendation of the other hobbyists to just give him some time as it might be molting behavior, I proceeded to thoroughly ignore the arachnid for the next couple months. On February 20th, I decided to finally give up and reuse the tank (I had given this guy a large tank), but I found that he was moving around finally. Considering this individual looked dead for multiple months, I have to wonder how many of these fuzzy little arachnids are mistaken for dead.

The ancient, apparently ten-legged relatives of spiders and scorpions: the Solifugae
As I understand it, the small granules visible in the abdomen are fat reserves. If someone knows better, though, please correct me.
He was supposed to be eating the baby Turkestan cockroach, but at least he showed his jaws moving.
Just a vinegaroon on the head of a giant rubber duck. Nothing strange here.

Another major development at the end of 2019 was the acquisition of my first dedicated macro camera. I had been looking for a camera that was more durable than the iPhone I had been using and was capable of switching between macro and standard photo capabilities relatively quickly. I found the Olympus TG-6, which is durable to the extreme, even giving me the option of underwater macro. I have yet to fully utilize all its features, but given that it is waterproof, I should be able to use it far beyond my pet insects. The photos on this post have all been shot with the new macro (except the mantis tank as it did not require high-resolution), and I think it is far superior to my clip-on lens, particularly when dealing with uncooperative (aka. fleeing) bugs. As the weather gets warmer, I hope it will allow me to take better in situ photos.

Despite my focus on insects, this camera does birds fairly well too, as this roseate spoonbill (Platalea ajaja) demonstrates.
My first use of the underwater macro was on one of my favorite fish: the archerfish (Toxotes jaculatrix).
This green anole (Anolis carolinensis) surprisingly put up with a photoshoot.
Within a few feet of the anole in the previous picture, I found a Lytta aenea blister beetle rooting around head first in the dirt. Interestingly, the anole shown above passed within inches of the beetle but ignored it.

While not related directly to my captive arthropods, on the 24th of January, I saw a species of butterfly that I was not expecting to see in the wild: the atala (Eumaeus atala). This species was nearly extinct several decades ago. Nevertheless, its population has recovered due to the popularity of its host plant as an ornamental, and I saw this particular individual in Orlando, Florida.

While this butterfly was under an inch long, it had some of the brightest colors I have ever seen in nature.

Mid- February, I acquired some captive-bred Thyropygus pachyurus millipedes under one of my USDA PPQ 526 permits. Given that I think these millipedes could become a replacement for the now-scarce Archispirostreptus gigas in the hobby, I look forward to raising these millipedes to adulthood. Hopefully, the F1 generation of this species breeds as I recall reading that captive-bred A. gigas do not usually produce offspring, hence why they disappeared so rapidly from the US hobby.

The juveniles have a beautiful coloration that darkens with age.

March was the best month for my collection to date. On Pi Day (the 14th), the first of my Brunner’s stick mantids (Brunneria borealis) hatched from an ootheca laid by the adults I kept last year. (These nymphs are not from one of Jenny’s ooths, for those who were wondering. These are from Kim’s ooth.) As I mentioned in the linked post, these mantids hatch gradually from their ootheca, and as of 4/22, 38 nymphs have hatched from this ooth.

Feeding the nymphs was another problem I mentioned in the linked post above. I had read that nymphs of this species were quite delicate. As it turns out, this is apparently not true. My nymphs have been happily eating both Drosophila melanogaster and even the larger Drosophila hydei right after hatching. I also learned from mantodeology on Instagram that these nymphs should be fine in a large communal setup. In addition to that, he informed me that they benefit from a bioactive setup to allow for high humidity. I had originally been housing these mantids in individual, 32-ounce deli cups, but I was having significant die-off rates among the nymphs. I transferred them to a medium-sized Sterilite storage bin, and they did better but were still dying in disconcerting numbers. The next piece of inspiration came from ennisanna-fei, again on Instagram, through a post showing a mantis sitting in a Styrofoam container. This prompted me to take one of my Styrofoam coolers that was missing a lid and modify it by adding a glass door and a hole for an LED.

I did not have the best materials on hand, so twine and skewers became a hinge attached by hot glue, but it has a tight seal regardless.
I lined the bottom with foil to make it waterproof, as this type of Styrofoam is known to allow water to penetrate.
A couple weeks later, the grass (Sorghum bicolor) has filled in nicely, and most of nymphs are hiding in it.

I am currently planning to make a number of mantis enclosures out of the higher-quality, construction-grade form of polystyrene foam. I just need to work out some of the minor details, such as how the doors will work, but I have a decent amount of insulation foam to experiment with. Regardless, this first Styrofoam tank has been perfect for these nymphs, and they are doing much better.

Another project that has been ongoing in my collection is a small blatticomposting bucket. I had wanted to work with blatticomposting for a while as it is simply composting by giving cockroaches random food waste. I did not want to accidentally poison a whole colony, however. The perfect opportunity presented when my orange head roach (Eublaberus posticus) colony had become a bit too large, but rather than cull the colony, I took a part of the colony and put them in a Home Depot bucket. I now had a distinct population of roaches for the blatticompost bin, and in case they found something toxic in the organic matter I gave them and died, I have a backup colony that continues to receive the same food as the other roaches. Despite the necessary precautions, the roaches in the bucket have thrived. They will eat nearly anything. In the picture below, the white clump partially buried in roaches is paper towels that they have been eating. While I try to avoid anything that is likely to have pesticides or toxic constituents (e.g. pizza), this bucket has become the trash can for my entire bug room, including dead or mismolted insects, even if it is other cockroaches.

Maybe I should have a competition to see who can guess how many roaches are in the bucket? I am not sure how I would manage to count them myself, though!

Back in November, I posted a picture of my new, and first, tarantula: a curly hair (Tliltocatl albopilosum). While I am beginning to think that I am not feeding it as much as it would like and therefore inhibiting his growth rate, he has grown a bit. It does not particularly enjoy my presence, but hopefully, it will sit on the surface more when it is larger.

It turns out that an iPad makes a good background for macro photos.

On March 21, the first four eastern lubber grasshoppers (Romalea microptera) from the ootheca laid by last year’s adults hatched. Two years ago, I also managed to persuade the adults to ovaposit, but I was unable to rear any of the offspring past a few molts. Suspecting my problems were related to enclosure design, I immediately cleaned out the old, massive tank and began constructing a bioactive enclosure with live plants (aka. all-you-can-eat-buffet) for the lubbers. The first ones received romaine lettuce and wandering Jew (Tradescantia zebrina) cuttings, but I planted cups of sorghum grain with the eventual plan of replaceable food generators. In addition to the sorghum cups, I planted one cup with ‘Gold Rush” bush bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) as I have been told lubbers have a inordinate fondness for legumes. As of April 23, I have over thirty baby grasshoppers eating everything in sight, particularly the poor wandering Jew cutting. A few of these nymphs are approaching an inch in length. I have had almost no deaths, that is unless these grasshoppers are adept at eating dead siblings immediately, but then why did I see the few dead that I did multiple days in a row (holding out hope they might be alive)? Regardless, they seem to be thriving in their oversized tank.

What a cute little plant-murderer
This was the tank before the grasshoppers decided everything was delicious.
Tank as of 4/23

Those are some of the best developments in my collection, and hopefully, I will be back on schedule for May.

November Collection Update

I was slightly delayed in composing this, but a number of things have occurred in my collection. For starters, there was the golden orb-weaver exchange detailed in a previous post. Also, I received a large order from Bugs in Cyberspace in the middle of October. This order included three species of roaches, two millipede species, and a baby tarantula, which happens to be my very first one. I had been wanting to acquire some of the roaches in the genus Therea for quite a while, but I had not yet acquired any. This order included two species: the question mark roach (T. olegrandjeani) and the domino roach (T. petiveriana). The question marks require USDA permits to own, and I have the permits to receive and own this species. The domino roach was deregulated as part of a previously mentioned deregulation of roaches, and no USDA permits are needed to own this species. The individuals I received of this species were young nymphs and will take a while to mature, but the adults are beautiful.

The middle marking gives Therea olegrandjeani its common name as it somewhat resembles a question mark.
This adult female domino roach lays small oothecae (egg cases) that are about a centimeter long and differs from roach species that have live young.

The third species of roach from the order was the yellow morph of the Gyna lurida. This species was another one on the aforementioned list of deregulated “plant pests”, and I had read it was a decently easy one to rear. The nymphs are still small, and I have yet to see the adults in person. I have never even seen the normal coloration of this species, other than maybe a few dead specimens, so I am looking forward to watching this species develop.

The nymphs have a very intricate pattern.

Since I have not seen this species before, I do not have any pictures of the adults. The Bugs in Cyberspace YouTube channel was made by Peter Clausen, who sent the shipment, and here is his video showing both color morphs of this species.

My next species from this shipment was the Florida ivory millipede (Chicobolus spinigerus). I acquired a breeding pair, but unfortunately, a couple weeks after the shipment, one, I think it was the male, died. There are plenty of droppings, so the other one has been eating. I am hoping that I am correct that this one is a female as she could still lay fertile eggs and start a colony.

Here is the pair shortly after they arrived and I transferred them to their permanent tank.

The other millipede species I acquired is an Oregon-native: Tylobolus uncigerus. Since Peter Clausen lives in Oregon, he collects this species himself. I acquired five adults, and I hope to breed this species. I am experimenting with keeping this species at cooler temperatures. Since it comes from a cooler region, this species should do better with the cooler temperatures. My only problem experimenting with this has been that the chamber I designed to cool the millipede tank has been malfunctioning. It runs on a thermoelectric device called a Peltier cooler and is controlled by a 12-volt thermostat. The problems arise from the power supply. The power supplies I have used have some sort of safety mechanism that shuts off power when the thermostat tries to modulate the power. I hope that trying a general purpose adapter will just output a steady current and let the thermostat and Peltier cooler do what they are intended to do.

T. uncigerus are not that unique in coloration, but it is an elegant species.

My last acquisition from this shipment was a curly hair tarantula (Tliltocatl albopilosum). This species used to be in the more familiar Brachypelma genus, but it was recently reclassified. My little spider has been eating fairly well, and I have been using rice flour beetle larvae (Tribolium confusum) as feeders. The current enclosure I am using is an approximately 3 ounce, clear vial with coconut fiber substrate. I put an artificial leaf as a hide, yet the spider is quite audacious and just made a burrow against the side of the enclosure. I am looking forward to raising this little tarantula.

My little spider loves these tiny beetle larvae.

On November 8th, I was volunteering at a insectarium, and I was able to take home some extra larva from their Eleodes tank. They recently put a good substrate of mixed organic matter, and these beetles have been breeding out of control. I took a cup of larvae home, and put them in a ten-gallon fish tank filled with rearing substrate comprised of coco fiber, leaf litter, and some decaying organic matter. In addition, I have been adding ground fish pellets to the top of the substrate for protein. It has only be a couple weeks, but the larvae seem to be thriving.

Just a quick peek under a piece of wood in the insectarium’s tank reveals several larvae. There are hundreds more deeper in the substrate.
The larva would not cooperate for a photo and kept trying to burrow into my hand.

I mentioned the Abacion magnum millipedes in my last Collection Update, and I have learned quite a bit more about their nature since then. Talking to a renowned hobbyist, who owns the Invertebrate Dude blog, I learned that this species of millipede might be the Goliathus of millipedes. For those who do not get the reference, Goliathus grubs are carnivorous, whereas most of their relatives are detritivores. Regardless, the hobbyist forwarded the information from a millipede expert, who suspected this millipede species might require a higher protein diet. I am now feeding these millipedes with a fish pellet designed for carnivorous cichlids, and they are eagerly consuming the pellets. This suggests that higher protein may be what this species requires.

This species has minutely detailed ridges.
Within a couple hours of adding the pellets, the millipedes had munched considerable holes in them.

My next species is a common polydesmid in my area: Apheloria tigana. I want to breed this species in captivity as it has a beautiful contrasting colors of yellow and black. I am currently using my basic millipede substrate. I have heard some of the large polydesmids benefit from cooler temperatures, so once I fix the aforementioned glitches with the thermoelectric chamber, these millipedes will join the Tylobolus in the chamber. If I can get these to breed, then I am looking forward to having a large colony in a display tank.

My last find to describe is an unusual centipede. It appears to be in the order Geophilomorpha, but beyond that, I have not be able to narrow it down. If anyone recognizes it from the following photo, then let me know.

I am still working on some new pages and resources on my website. I will be updating my collection list with these new species. I am working on incorporating a guide to the USDA regulations into my website, but there is a reason that this does not really exist as it is hard to address all the complexities and exceptions in even a common taxon, such as Tettigoniidae. Eventually, I will finish this and publish it for people to use.

Millipede Substrate

I have been asked to compile a list of the ingredients in the substrate I use for my millipedes.

I vary the mixture by species, and I base my choice in components on how much of each I have available. It is better that a substrate not have a component than wait for the acquisition of the component while the millipedes starve without any substrate. My usual starting ingredient is fermented aspen wood chips. When I was first endeavouring to rear detritivores as pets, such as rhinoceros beetle larvae, I prepared this massive vat of aspen wood for fermenting. For those who are unfamiliar with the purpose of fermenting wood, the beetles I mentioned, in addition to most species of millipedes, require decomposed wood on which to feed. The fermentation is a way to artificially accelerate the natural process of decomposition in a controlled manner to yield a steadier, more predictable food supply when rearing these detritivores. I have since made other batches of this fermented substrate out of oak, which is preferred by many beetles. Regardless, I am still left with a massive bin of these perfectly usable wood flakes for the millipedes. My next ingredient is a bit of the aforereferenced fermented oak sawdust, but since I need this for the stag beetles I raise and never have excesses of this material, this component makes up a small proportion of the substrate. Dead hardwood leaf litter is an essential component of the diets of most detritivores, so the next ingredient is a decent pile of dry, shredded oak leaves. By a decent pile, I mean that the leaf litter would be at least ten percent of the substrate volume, before the substrate is mixed and inevitably compressed.

The remainder of the ingredients are added on a whim based on which ingredients I have a surplus of. Some of my tanks get hardwood mulch from Home Depot, which despite its mass-produced nature, seems to be a good food source for the millipedes. (Coincidentally, this mulch is quite useful for culturing bioluminescent fungi, on which a post is necessary [once I figure out how to capture the faint glow].) I sometimes add a bit of fresher wood to decompose and offer a longer term food supply for the millipedes. A couple of my more recent batches have included long-fiber organic sphagnum moss as other hobbyists have incorporated it successfully.

I also use the calcium sand sold for reptile substrate as a calcium supplement by mixing it into the substrate. I have seen some people use cuttlebone for millipedes and isopods, but the important constituent, calcium carbonate, is chemically identical in both of these materials. The cuttlebone seems to have some differences in its molecular structure, but I doubt the millipedes and isopods are affected by such a minute difference. Since millipedes take such small bites, my logic is that they would prefer little granules of a calcium-containing mineral to a large block. I mix in about a quarter of a cup of substrate per gallon of substrate volume.

I have recently have had quite a bit of success with my diplopods and isopods, and while part of this is inevitably due to rehousing into larger enclosures, improving the bioavailability of the nutrients in my substrate with mixtures outlined above must have also been a boon for my colonies.

Giant Golden Orb Weaver Rearing

On August 30th, I received several baby giant golden orb weaver spiders (Trichonephila clavipes) from a local museum where I volunteer. These particular ones were given to me because they were refusing to eat. I attempted to force-feed them, but the picky eaters all died despite my best efforts. The last one, however, happily began construction of a web in the corner of my room. For a short while, I had issues feeding her, yet when I realized that moths actually stuck to her web, feeding became much easier. Light trapping could now serve yet another purpose: to catch food for this little spider. Certain species of spider require a specific humidity level to optimize the effectiveness of their web, and I hope that the heater this winter does not dehydrate the air excessively for her.

The temperatures have become too low to catch large moths, but fortunately, black soldier flies (Hermetia illucens) also stick in this type of webbing easily. Someone who rears these flies in massive quantities for composting gave me some larvae, numbering at least several hundred, in the middle of September. While I could have done a better job with rearing these flies, they have still been developing to adulthood properly and are my spider’s new favorite food. I may have to look to find a supplier of these flies overwinter because they require warm temperatures and generate a smell that will likely prove too much for indoor rearing.

I have yet to measure the humidity of my room, but Spider Pharm (the original source that my spider came from) suggests that they require an above-average humidity and temperature. Regardless, mine has molted properly, and, as previously mentioned, the web has been functioning properly. Two possible consequences of an improper environment have not manifested.

As of November 1st, the spider was returned to the museum for their exhibit. Due to my success with this first spider, the museum gave me another spider to raise. Out of the babies I could choose from, I picked a young female that had fallen during its last molt and bent all her legs. Despite these injuries, the spider is still able to maneuver when she is placed on a proper web, such as the one crafted by my last spider in the corner of my room. She is still somewhat challenging to rear, however, as she cannot move as quickly to capture the insects I put in the web before those insects have a chance to escape. She also seems to be exceptionally timid, possibly as a response to her disability. This becomes a problem with feeding as these spiders are incredibly talented at determining what is in their web. If I try to place an insect in her web with the tongs, then she detects the difference in the vibrations from this insect and refuses to come eat. Eventually, a struggling fly will attract her attention, and she will overcome her fear, provided I keep the tongs still.

These spiders can be bred in captivity and are such interesting captives, so I may reach out to the original source of this spider, the aforementioned Spider Pharm, and see about getting a male. Their website currently lists males as out of stock, but if my current spider is able to fix its deformities when it molts next and the museum does not need her for their exhibit, then I will need a male for breeding. There is a paper linked on the Spider Pharm page that outlines a method for rearing large numbers of young orbweavers. If that method works (and based on the good things I have heard about this company, it will), I will be able to supply the museum with spiders for their exhibit. These spiders have also been nice for dealing with escaped flies in the room. I might put some of the males out in my greenhouse if I do not need them for breeding as they seem to be the right size for controlling a number of the pests in my greenhouse. For obvious reasons, I would not want to put females out in the greenhouse as they are not native to my area.

True spiders in general are lacking popularity relative to their cousins the tarantulas, and certain care requirements dissuade prospective keepers from pursuing orbweavers as pets. Nevertheless, these spiders can make amazing pets and have been decently easy to care for in my experience.

October Collection Update

I have decided that I have been worrying too much about writing long posts focused on a particular species or topic. While I do intend to continue writing posts of that nature, I want to make posts more frequently and consistently but concerning changes in my arthropod collection. I am going to start by attempting a monthly “Collection Update.”

Last month, I acquired a colony of eastern lubber grasshoppers (Romalea microptera). Since they were from an in-state source, I do not need USDA permits for this otherwise regulated species. Considering this is a phytophagous species, obtaining the permits for acquiring them from an out-of-state source would likely require a containment facility. I have been feeding these grasshoppers a variety of greens, including kale, lettuce, and canna lily, in addition to some random, pesticide-free plant clippings. This is by far my favorite species of grasshopper to work with, so I am hopeful that I can breed them and continue my population.

This male is showing off the defensive wing coloration of this species.
Such a cute face!
Is my iPhone too scary for your mate, little grasshopper?
These grasshoppers officially have the largest enclosure in my menagerie.

Another Orthoptera species I acquired at the same time as the lubber grasshoppers is a group of tawny mole crickets (Neoscapteriscus vicinus). These mole crickets feed on the roots of grasses and are considered a pest. I have heard that their particular favorite is Bermuda grass (Cynodon dactylon). I plan to start growing trays of this grass in my greenhouse to maintain a colony of these adorable crickets. Mole crickets are often quite common, but they are rarely seen because they almost never surface.

This one sadly died prematurely, but it did give me the opportunity to photograph its modified front legs, which are characteristic of mole crickets and evolved for digging.

My third and final species of orthopteran I acquired last month is Tachycines asynamorus, the greenhouse camel cricket. Before, I have kept individuals I found in my crawl space under the house, but those attempts at establishing a captive colony all failed. Fortunately, I have learned and corrected the mistakes that contributed to the demise of prior colonies. This colony has already been in my care for almost a month, longer than any other attempt, yet only one old adult has died out of a couple dozen individuals of mixed ages. I am sad that it took a couple failures to correct these mistakes, but I am glad I was prepared when the opportunity presented to acquire this group of camel crickets.

Many people fear these crickets, but I think they are amazing.

Next is a cockroach. Recently, I acquired a rare, primitive species of cockroach that is endemic to western NC and the surrounding regions. This primitive roach is Cryptocercus wrighti, and the cryptocercid roaches are thought to be the closest cockroach relatives of termites. I collected these near Asheville, NC and babied them on the drive home. I took some of the wood I found them in, and they seem to be thriving so far.

This adult female looks remarkably similar to the unrelated hissing cockroaches in the genus Gromphadorhina.
The nymphs do indeed look similar to their termite relatives.

Quite recently, in fact, just a few days ago, I discovered a site in my area that had dozens of an unusual and often unknown arachnid: the ornate harvestman (Vonones ornata). These harvestmen are in the same order as the ubiquitous “daddy long-legs,” but they have some unique features. First, their legs are not nearly as long as their renowned cousins. Second, there are conspicuous markings on their abdomens, and interestingly, these markings fluoresce under UV light similar to their other, more distant arachnid cousins: the scorpions. Peter Clausen of Bugs in Cyberspace has posted care videos on this species which I have embedded below. Basically, he feeds them high-protein fish food along with maintaining populations of microfauna, and this species thrives. I collected some of these unique arthropods for establishing a colony, and they are amazing to watch, especially under a black light.

Now here are some pictures and videos of my group I collected.

Their fluorescence is not as responsive as a scorpion’s, but with a sufficiently powerful UV source, they are still beautiful.

The Brunner’s stick mantis (Brunneria borealis) is my favorite species of mantis from the Continental US. This is an all-female species that reproduces only through parthenogenesis and are the only species of mantis known to rely entirely on this method of reproduction. Despite being a large species of mantis, their oothecae (egg cases) are miniscule and only about one centimeter in length. I found several this year at a new area that I had never thought to look, and I now have quite a few oothecae. Unlike some of my pets, I have been finding names for my mantids this year, and the one I am still keeping as a pet, Jenny, has laid three oothecae so far. (She also made the cricket population go extinct in the previously-vacant tank where I had accidentally created a self-sustaining cricket population.) From what I have heard, oothecae from this species are also unique in the way that they hatch gradually, releasing a few nymphs a week instead of all the nymphs exiting at once. This may make it easier to keep up with their appetites, and that is important as I have been warned that the newborn nymphs may require hand-feeding because they are so delicate.

Jenny poses perfectly for the macro lens.
This was Jenny’s first ootheca.

There is a rare species of millipede in NC, or at least it seems rare based on how rarely people report it. Abacion magnum is a relatively large species in the order Calipodida, and I have only ever found them in one place: my backyard. I always joke that my yard is pretty boring, arthropodologically speaking, but this millipede species (and a few others) clearly invalidates that claim. I have not found much information on care, but I find them in the same habitat as the more common Narceus americanus millipedes. I have kept them in the past for considerable amounts of time by mimicking this habitat, but unfortunately, I was unable to get more than one at a time as I only find a few each year. Yesterday, however, I uncovered two, and based on the size difference, I think there is a possibility that I have a male and a female. Today, I will set them up in a nice home with all the rotten wood and dead oak leaves they could want. I also want to get some better pictures using my macro lens, but I do not want to stress them out any more than they already are.

Finally, I am working on a complete list of all the arthropods I am currently working with, other than feeders. It will be linked in my main menu at the top of the page when it is active. (Also, as a side note, I think this update post took me longer to compose than any of my posts on a particular topic. So much for trying to simplify things!)

Fun with a Macro Lens

I recently decided to start photographing my pet insects using my macro lens to see if I could get some higher quality photos. I had originally been using my macro lens to get better photos of tiny insects for iNaturalist. Once I started using it on my pets, I realized how useful it was. Even photos of larger insects, such as giant cave roaches (Blaberus giganteus), were much improved with the macro lens. I also started taking photographs of all the different instars of my monarch (Danaus plexippus) caterpillars. For those who are unfamiliar with the term “instar,” an instar number is the number of times a larva has molted, counting hatching as the first molt. Therefore, the first instar is a newly hatched larva. The fourth instar is one that has hatched and then molted three times since.

Some of the best photos I have captured with my macro lens are of my spiders. For example, I managed to catch my pet brilliant jumping spider (Phidippus clarus) in impressive detail. The most impressive part of this lens, though, is the fact that it is just a simple clip-on phone lens. My iPhone pictures are so much improved by this lens that I must recommend the brand: LIEQI. I have their 15x macro, and it is incredibly useful, even for photos that would not seem to require a macro lens.

Deregulated Goodies

As I mentioned in a previous post, the USDA recently finalized a rule that deregulated many species of plant pests, including some insects. Quite a few of the species on the list are relatively uninteresting for hobbyists and are used in laboratories for various experiments or as feeders for other laboratory animals. Nevertheless, there are some nice species in the feeder roach section. One of them is Blaberus giganteus, which just happens to be the longest species of cockroach available in the hobby. Before this deregulation, the permits for this species required a containment facility. I had tried to obtain the permits for this species multiple times, but I was denied every time. After the official deregulation went into effect on August 9th, I was able to obtain a decent size colony.

I enjoy B. giganteus for several reasons. For starters, they are unable to climb smooth surfaces, so I do not feel the need to put them in the high-security gasket bins I use for many roaches. (The largest gasket bin is only 20 gallons, and especially for such a large species, I like to have more space for my colony to grow.) Another aspect is feeding. These things are little gluttons, and it is entertaining to watch the nymphs running off with little pieces of cat food to eat in peace only to have it stolen by nymphs who were making their way to the food dish. They will also swarm apple, banana, oranges, or other fruits. These roaches also have the funny habit of hopping off my hand. It would make them difficult to handle in front of a crowd, but it is cute nonetheless. I have also noticed that they almost seem to recognize their tank, and if they see it, then they will jump into it and hide. I doubt this is actually any recognition and attachment to their tank on their part. They probably just see the dark-colored coconut fiber in the tank contrasting with my cream-colored floor, think the tank is a hole, and therefore try to hide in it. Regardless, they are active, entertaining little pets.

This was about 60 seconds after I refilled their dish of cat food. You can see some nymphs fighting over some cat food on the left edge of the picture.
I managed to capture a short, slow-motion video of this roach hopping/gliding.

As far as care, these roaches are fairly simple. The first time I kept them a few years ago, I had a simple tank with a layer of coconut fiber and nothing for them to climb. I would not recommend this type of setup. It worked alright for my adults and the tiny babies, but later instars, especially subadults molting to adulthood, might not have been okay. I have researched a bit, and I now think that having a surface, such as cork bark, for them to climb is quite beneficial. Not only does something like cork bark provide a sturdy place to molt, it also increases the surface area of the tank, allowing more roaches to fit in a tank comfortably. The substrate also is important. Unlike some feeder roach species, this species does well with a substrate. They are from tropical regions ranging from Mexico down to northern South America, and the humidity from a substrate such as coconut fiber is appreciated. Despite the warm climates they inhabit, in my experience, these roaches breed well at room temperature (75-degrees Fahrenheit). It is possible that, since this species occasionally inhabits caves, it is used to cooler microclimates within a generally tropical region. Once a colony is established, these roaches are fairly adaptable and hardy.

Good News from the USDA

USDA-regulated organisms, such as giant cave roaches (Blaberus giganteus), orchid mantids (Hymenopus coronatus), and white-spotted assassin bugs (Platymeris biguttatus), are common in the US invertebrate hobby, yet many hobbyists do not have the proper permits to purchase these animals. The USDA rarely enforces the regulations, so these people keep their pets, breed them, and sell them to others. I strive to follow USDA regulations and obtain the proper permits for my regulated organisms. I currently have the permits to own 12 species of cockroaches, 3 species of exotic millipedes, 2 species of isopods, and the two most common species of hornworms in the genus Manduca. Since I have permits, the USDA sent me a notification about some upcoming reforms in the permitting system. One of the changes will be that a few hundred species of insects will no longer require permits in the continental US. The list is full of fairly common insects that are more common in a laboratory than in the pet trade, but there is a section that lists around 30 species of non-native cockroaches. Entomologists have been waiting for this list for over a decade.

The PDF file above is a draft of the list. The list includes species besides insects that are going to be deregulated, such as some fungi and plant diseases.

The changes will go into effect August 9, and up until that date, the species on the list still require permits. There may be some differences between the PDF and the official version when it is published, but the species should not change too much.

Birds of all Types

On the third weekend in May, I went with the Wake Audubon Society to a special property in the Uwharrie Mountains. This property consists of about 600 acres of restored prairie. The focus of the trip was birds and bird banding, but I only recognized about a quarter of the bird species we banded. By the end of the event, I had seen, and released, some incredibly beautiful native birds and deepened my appreciation for the vast variety of birds in North Carolina.

One of the birds I recognized: an American goldfinch (Spinus tristis)
Another species I was familiar with: white-eyed vireo (Vireo griseus)
A species I did not know: common yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas)
The ornithologists in the group said this was a rare find: a northern waterthrush (Parkesia noveboracensis)
I have wanted to get a close look at this species for a while: indigo bunting (Passerina cyanea)

Now comes the inevitable report of the insect finds on this property. The best insects I found were huge American bird grasshoppers (Schistocerca americana). I found both males and females, and I am going to breed the ones I captured. I did this last year and it went well (my Phalaenopsis orchid would disagree as its leaves were their favorite snack). I also found a massive, carnivorous beetle that I think is a margined warrior beetle (Pasimachus marginatus). This beetle seems to relish Hikari cichlid pellets. They are 40% protein and only 4% fat. This high protein to fat ratio makes them ideal for feeding many types of carnivorous arthropods, although it only works if their feeding response is activated by smell rather than movement. There were some other insects that I collected for breeding but many more that I did not bother to collect.

American bird grasshoppers mating
A friendly question mark butterfly (Polygonia interrogationis)
According to question marks and common buckeyes (Junonia coenia), dead box turtle (Terrepene carolina) is delicious!
You cannot catch me in the net if I cling to the handle.