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.

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.

Drosophila as Feeders

Flightless Drosophila fruit flies are common feeders for small insectivorous pets, such as dart frogs (Dendrobatidae). They are also essential for raising many species of mantids in any sort of quantity. Two species within the genus Drosophila are often used as feeder insects: D. melanogaster and D. hydei. The main difference is size. D. melanogaster is slightly over 1/16th of an inch, but D. hydei are about 1/8th of an inch. Both are popular feeders and are sold by some of the vendors in the links section. There are other feeders that are the proper size, but they are more cumbersome to raise. The other feeders are impractical to breed in large quantities, whereas fruit flies are easy to breed. I only know of a few published recipes for raising these as pet food. Most people seem to choose to purchase media mixes from major fruit fly suppliers. I think many people would prefer to make their own media if they had a recipe. I have a recipe that works well. It is not quite as productive as the commercial mixes, but I find that it tends to produce a steadier supply of flies over a longer period of time. I have had cultures last for two months and constantly have hundreds of flies.

The cups used to culture flies are important. I use the vented lids from Josh’s Frogs in combination with 32oz deli cups. Unfortunately, Josh’s Frogs recently modified their vented lids. The new lids have thicker plastic and their logo, but the holes are slightly larger. The hole size is not a problem when keeping most insects in the cups, but the larger holes allow other types of flies into the fruit fly cultures. These other flies can wreak havoc on the culture by out-competing the fruit flies. Unlike the fruit flies, which are flightless, these invaders fly and are extremely annoying. To prevent other flies from invading the culture, I have put fabric lids on top of the vented lids. The vented lids provide the proper amount of ventilation and are easier to clean than the fabric lids (flies make a mess of their culture). The fabric lids keep the pests away. It is annoying to have to use two lids and makes the enclosures harder to stack, but at least there are no invading flies. I have shared my observations with the Josh’s Frog’s staff, so hopefully, the old lids will become available again. I would like to have both available because, while the new lids are bad for fly cultures, they are great for other pet invertebrates. The thicker design of the new lids makes it harder for beetle grubs and other strong-jawed pets to chew their way out.

Here is the recipe for fruit fly media:

  • 500 ml beer
  • 200g Mashed Potato Powder

Mix together until smooth

  • 100 ml White Vinegar

Mix again, and add water or potato power to perfect the consistency. It should be like a soft paste.

  • 1 tsp Active Dry Yeast
  • 3 tsp Methyl Paraben

Mix thoroughly and put into fly cups or refrigerate as one large batch.

This media works for either the D. melanogaster or D. hydei. The only ingredient that is not readily available (for most people) is methyl paraben. Its role is a mold inhibitor, and Josh’s Frogs sells it here. They sell it by the pound, which is sufficient for many dozens of cultures. The vinegar is also a mold inhibitor, but the methyl paraben makes a huge difference. This media can also take additives. For example, since I raise mantids with my flies, I often add bee pollen as it is rumored to be beneficial when incorporated into a mantis’s diet.