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.

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.

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.