Summer Collection Update

This update will cover happenings from June 21st, 2021 to September 21st, 2021, following the official definition of summer. 

On June 26th, I found the first larva in my six-spotted tiger beetle (Cicindela sexguttata) tank. I have been adding Drosophila melanogaster fruit flies for the babies since then. The larvae are being kept communally, but there have not been any instances of cannibalism that I have noticed. Interestingly, despite the adult female dying on July 18th, the eggs seem to be highly variable in incubation time because new L1 larvae have been still showing up months after her death. 

Tiny little dirt monster

On July 1st, I found one of my Chinese mantis nymphs had fallen mid-molt, but I had found it just after it happened. Therefore, I was able to rehang it, and it had no lasting deformities as it was still soft enough to undo any damage. 

In early July, I was forced to go on a family trip to the frozen, Arctic wasteland commonly known as Michigan. There were not many unusual bugs, but there were several interesting plants in the Frederik Meijer Botanic Gardens. Of the bugs on the trip, most were common species, but there were more monarchs (Danaus plexippus) than near my house, probably because we were closer to the migration’s northernmost reaches. 

In late July, I finished configuring the lighting for my self-contained styrofoam mantis tanks. I used a shape of aluminum rod called a C-channel to make a simple heat sink for my low power LED strips. The lights could not be attached to the styrofoam directly, but the aluminum dissipated the heat to warm up the tank. 

On August 14th, I went to a Repticon show and saw a beautiful mantis that someone had brought. It was an adult female panther mantis (Tarachodula pantherina). This is one of my favorite species, but it is unfortunately kept without permits most of the time. Being an exotic species, it requires too strict of a permit for me to attain currently. Besides the illegal mantis, there were also some adorable green keel-bellied lizards (Gastropholis prasina). 

On August 26th, I hiked in Greensboro, NC at a spot a friend uses to find a lot of beetles. I did not find too many unique things outside of a few caterpillars, but I did find the elytra of an eastern Hercules beetle (Dynastes tityus), which at least means I found a good area for catching them. According to iNaturalist, the best time to find them is July, so if I make it back next Summer, I will need to head there earlier. 

This is a silver-spotted skipper (Epargyreus clarus) caterpillar that I found eating kudzu (Pueraria sp.).
Closest I have been to finding a wild adult D. tityus.

On September 4th, I finally received an insect that I have been trying to obtain for almost 4 years: the greater arid-land katydid (Neobarrettia spinosa). The single adult female was already gravid and has been laying eggs continuously. She enthusiastically eats cockroaches, as long as the cockroach does not scare her, wiggle the wrong way, poke her, or do several other things. To get her to eat, I have been decapitating the cockroaches to avoid accidentally spooking her and causing her to panic over food. 

This was her temporary tank for the first few days, and this photo gives a good reference for her size.
I had an adult male Stagmomantis carolina die prematurely, so I fed it to her.
Many katydids lay eggs in wood. This species in not one of those, but she tried anyway.

On September 18th, I added a dozen adult eastern lubber grasshoppers to my colony. The F2 generation was having more issues with mismolts, so I had arranged to acquire new, wild adults to breed with them. Since the original generation had only produced one ootheca, the F1 generation was entirely inbred, and the issues should hopefully be resolved with crossing in a new bloodline. 

Most of the other ongoing colonies and breeding projects are doing fine, but this update covers the new acquisitions and is already verbose enough. 

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!

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.

Carnivorous, Fast, and Very Green

While at the NC Zoo, I spotted an iridescent insect flying around. At first, I thought it was an orchid bee (tribe Euglossini) because it was such a vibrant green. After I followed it to where it landed just about a foot off the path, I saw what it was: a six-spotted tiger beetle (Cicindela sexguttata). I have been looking for these for a while as I want to try and breed them. They are such a beautiful color and would be amazing candidates for a living display tank. I seem to have gotten lucky as I think it is a female, and she may be gravid. (If any entomologists with expertise in Cicindela come across this post, then feel free to validate or refute my choice.)

The beetle’s enclosure has a substrate comprised of a coconut fiber/sand mixture that I hope is conducive to oviposition. I have read that it is best to collect soil from the habitat where you find a tiger beetle, but she was not near a typical tiger beetle habitat and was flying erratically. There was a thick layer of leaves as well, so I do not think she was trying to oviposit. What I have read is that their larvae thrive in sandy soil. There was no sand nearby.

This beetle loves being hand-fed baby roaches and rice flour beetle larvae. I use tongs to give them to her, and she will run up to the tongs and energetically grab the food off of them. Just like my mantids, she is easy to hand-feed. Also, her diet is nearly identical to the diet of a mantis nymph. I have been giving her a good amount of food for her body size, and she is very active. Hopefully that translates into lots of oviposition.

Cicindela sexguttata eating a rice flour beetle larva.

The larvae burrow and only stick their mandibles above ground to trap prey. They can take a couple years to mature and pupate. Unfortunately, the adults only live a few months at most. During their entire life cycle, they are carnivorous. Their diminutive size means I must find small prey to give them. As I mentioned in the preceding paragraph, I am feeding my beetle baby roaches and rice flour beetle larvae. I tried Hydei fruit flies (Drosophila hydei), but they have the opposite problem: they are a little too small for her. The Ultimate Guide to Breeding Beetles by Orin McMonigle says that young Cicindela larvae require springtails because they are so small. Hopefully, my springtail colonies cooperate with me as I have had issues before with the populations crashing (of course, they do fine until I need to use them).

My six-spotted tiger beetle is an amazing little beetle. She seems quite intelligent (for an arthropod), and I hope I get the chance to raise more of these beetles.