Fall Collection Update

Since I am doing more quarterly scheduling, this update will start off at the beginning of September where the Summer Collection Updates (Part 1 and Part 2) left off but will end around the Winter Solstice, as that is the actual end of Fall.

On September 28th, I received 42 bumblebee millipedes (Anadenobolus monilicornis) from Arthroverts. All of them arrived successfully, and I set them up in an enclosure with a mixture of compost, fermented aspen shavings, oak flake soil, hardwood sawdust, hardwood leaves, and calcium powder. I have experienced some die-off, but there seem to be many that prefer to hide just under the surface of the substrate. I hope to have this colony begin reproducing prolifically despite the minor issues.

Back on June 19th, I had acquired about a dozen nymphs of giant peppered roaches (Archimandrita tesselata). It was not until September 29th that the first one matured into an adult. Of all the roaches I have, this species is the only one that eats dead hardwood leaves at a significant pace. According to Roach Crossing, this species is known to depend on the hardwood leaves, so I had fortunately read this prior to my acquisition and was well-prepared to incorporate more hardwood leaves into their enclosure than with most of my other roaches. After that first adult, I have since had 5 mature to adulthood, including three of those molting on Christmas Day 2020.

The first adult to mature
Two of the Christmas roaches
“Excuse me, are there still people who dislike cockroaches?”

Early fall in the American Southeast is definitely peak time for finding large insects. While there are some species, such as bird grasshoppers in the Schistocerca genus, that overwinter as adults and can therefore be found in spring, most species overwinter as eggs and therefore, the adults of the largest species are active in September and October. I typically find most of my mantids in the late Summer and early Fall and often keep several for breeding, however, the orthopterans are far more numerous in the right habitat. I do not work with as many orthopterans because I have had issues in past years with some more specialized habitat requirements for breeding. Nevertheless, this covers some of the interesting species I often encounter in early Fall.

An aptly dubbed red-headed meadow katydid (Orchelimum erythrocephalum)
Differential grasshoppers (Melanoplus differentialis) can chew through a fabric insect lid, noted.
I think this was a Carolina leaf-roller (Camptonotus carolinensis).
Scudderia furcata subadult
Lesser anglewing katydid (Microcentrum retinerve) subadult
Small female katydid nymph in the genus Conocephalus
Larger female nymph of the straight-lanced meadow katydid (Conocephalus strictus)
Invasive Japanese burrowing cricket (Velarifictorus micado)
Subadult obscure bird grasshopper (Schistocerca obscura)
Subadult sword-bearing conehead katydid (Neoconocephalus ensiger)

On November 29th, 2019, I had acquired two larvae of the western Hercules beetles (Dynastes grantii). For most of the time, they were pet holes, but on July 15th, I found the first one had pupated. The had come from a museum that wanted me to raise them. I thought they were a male/female pair initially, but once they pupated, I found they were both females. I kept them until they emerged as adults. The first one eclosed in the middle of August, and I pulled her out to the surface on August 27th. The second had just pupated a few days before on August 22nd, so there was about a month gap between them. The second one then eclosed on September 24th. The first imago began came up to begin feeding on September 8th. I tried to acquire a male of this species once I confirmed both of mine were females, but I was strangely unable to find any available this year, although as I recall, there were ads for adults of this species on Beetle Forum in previous years around these times. This species is not native to my state, so I had acquired them under a USDA permit and was not allowed to send them to other breeders to work with them unless the recipient breeders had their own permits. Therefore, they both lived a few months in my care, the first died on November 6th, and then the second died on December 4th.

Sep 24th second eclosed Aug 22, second pupa, July 15 first pupa

I understand that this is your first meal, but I need to change that moldy jelly cup.
See! That was worth letting me evict you from the moldy jelly, right?
The pupal shell has a really interesting, iridescent sheen.
Quit being so dramatic.
I had run out of bananas but had a dragon fruit laying around, so why not?

On November 28th, I attended a reptile expo, and I acquired a small Phrynus whitei from Classic Jurassic Exotics. I set it up in a small vial with a vertical piece of Styrofoam, basically making a smaller version of my Damon medius tank. The little guy was doing quite well, however, I noticed it had not molted and then died rather suddenly on January 8th. Afterwards, I learned from a fellow hobbyist that the staple diet of fruit flies that can work well for mantids actually lacks essential nutrients amblypygi need to molt.

The day I brought the little guy home.
Posing with a fruit fly.

In the Fall of each year, I tend to find several green lynx spiders (Peucetia viridans). This year, I collected an adult female and her egg sac. I am rearing the babies on fruit flies, and they seem to be doing fairly well. I have changed their habitat several times, and they are currently living communally in a 12” mesh cube.

The progenitor
The progeny.

This covers most of the new developments in the Fall. The Summer Updates 1 and 2 have already covered a number of the longer term projects, and due to concurrent composition, those projects were not covered here to limit redundancy. Those projects would include the lubber grasshopper colony, the Brunner’s stick mantises, and other such projects already addressed in the Summer Updates.

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.

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.