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.

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.

Damon medius

I am giving my only amblypygid the honor of being the subject of the first post on The Mantis Menagerie. Amblypygi are an ancient and strange-looking order of arachnids. Among their members are the longest-legged arachnids in the world with leg spans exceeding two feet! My amblypygid is not one of the truly massive species but still has a leg span that exceeds a foot. My specimen is an adult female from west Africa, and I purchased her at a Repticon show in November 2018.

The most obvious characteristic of amblypygi are the large raptorial “arms.” Technically, though, those arms are not actually arms, but rather, they are called pedipalps and are the same type of structure as a scorpion’s pincher.

When I purchased her at the show, she was carrying an eggsack. I wanted to see the baby amblypygids hatch, but unfortunately, she decided to eat the eggsack. Since she had been well-fed and had no great need of the nutrients in her eggsack, I am guessing that she knew it wasn’t going to hatch. I was sad, but I plan to find her a male eventually, breed them, and try again.

Care of these animals is extremely easy, as long as basic tank construction requirements are met. These requirements do not necessitate a high-quality glass tank or special lighting. Indeed, I keep my amblypygid in a five-gallon bucket with a vertical piece of styrofoam. To mammal or reptile owners, this may seem like a cruel setup, and you would be right for most mammals, reptiles, and some amphibians. Invertebrates are different. First, their brains are not as complex as the aforementioned vertebrates. This means they cannot be bored from a simple enclosure, and as long as they can follow their instincts, they will be content with the setup (food is a different matter sometimes). Second, many of the aforementioned vertebrates require ultraviolet light to make vitamin D for regulating Calcium and therefore bone growth. Invertebrates do not have calciferous bones and do not have these requirements. Finally, amblypygi like the dark. Some species are even troglophilic, and therefore, in captivity, they are perfectly content sitting in the dark. My amblypygi is hard to get out of the bucket. She darts back and forth over the styrofoam, and it takes two hands to corral her a get her to crawl on one hand. Now you can see that the bucket setup, while possibly sounding like a cruel enclosure, is not at all cruel if used for the right animal. I mentioned a vertical piece of styrofoam in the bucket. The most important part of an amblypygi enclosure is having something for the residents to molt on. Molting is an essential process in the amblypygid’s life. In order to molt properly, amblypygi must have a surface they can grip well and is at least vertical if not leaned backward a little, so the amblypygi can hang from the surface and stretch its delicate legs. This is not a problem for most species as they never get large enough, but make sure your amblypygid can fully stretch its legs in the enclosure without hitting the walls. One final thing to watch with molting is humidity. There needs to be a moist substrate, such as coconut fiber, to maintain high humidity. Once you have a secure enclosure, a substrate to hold moisture, and a good place for the amblypygi to molt, your setup is ready.

The daily, or more like weekly, tasks associated with pet amblypygi include misting to keep the substrate wet and the humidity high, feeding crickets or roaches, and removing the occasional droppings.