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.

The Sad Truth Behind my Logo

The logo at the top of this site above the title, “The Mantis Menagerie,” is a picture of one of the most beautiful animals I have ever kept. This is a picture of one of my subadult African spiny flower mantids (Pseudocreobotra ocellata). This picture is about one year old, and it is sad because about that time, I had to get rid of these mantids. I had been researching USDA regulations for months because I had heard rumors saying that mantids not found wild in the US were illegal to keep without the proper permits. After many months of research, I found the contact information for Wayne Wehling, the senior entomologist at the USDA. He confirmed the rumors; although many species of exotic mantids are sold freely throughout the US, possession of exotic mantids without a PPQ 526 permit is technically a violation of USDA regulations under the Plant Protection Act. The reason mantids are still sold is because there is no enforcement of the regulations on mantids. The USDA only enforces the regulations on species they are actually concerned could harm US agriculture. Mantids likely pose a minimal threat to agriculture, but that chance puts them under the USDA’s jurisdiction and the USDA made them illegal by default. The USDA’s claim to regulating them is that, as potential predators of pollinators, they fall under the definition of a plant pest in the Plant Protection Act. According to the act, any non-human animal that directly or indirectly harms plants is a plant pest, and eating pollinators could indirectly harm plants.

I gave the mantids to a local museum that had the proper permits, yet I continue to research the USDA’s regulations on other species. I am hoping to obtain permits for these mantids and keep them again. Unfortunately, the permits require certain conditions that are difficult for the average person to meet. To keep these relatively common pets legally, you must have a containment facility, which is a special room designed to be impervious to plant pests. I personally think this is too prohibitive. These mantids have been kept as pets in the US since before the Plant Protection Act was even instituted in 2000, and I have yet to see any reports of exotic mantids found wild in the continental US. The common exotic species kept as pets simply cannot survive our climate. (I am referring to the cooler regions of the continent. I support the regulations in places with more suitable climates for exotic mantids to become invasive, such as south Florida and parts of California.)

The reason I believe that exotic mantids, particularly ones from tropical regions (the most popular pet mantids, such as Hymenopus coronatus, Deroplatys sp., come from these regions) cannot tolerate temperate climates is simple. I have given this topic much thought, and I have come to the conclusion that since tropical mantis oothecae, which is the stage in which mantids diapause, are naturally hung on plants and other structures above ground, the oothecae have minimal protection from cold weather. The other life stages are inconsequential. Even temperate species are vulnerable to freezing weather when in the nymph and adult life stages. Tropical mantids have not have had the selective pressure in their evolutionary history to develop the ability to diapause in their oothecae as a means of surviving winter. Therefore, outside of the aforementioned areas in the continental US with favorable climates, exotic mantids, particularly ones from tropical regions, should have no possible way of surviving winters.

Unfortunately, the USDA does not share my opinion. Mantids get lumped with the plant pests. Until someone is successful at revising the regulations, we need to adhere to them. I have found the USDA-APHIS site to be frustrating when researching the regulations on common pet insect species. I am attempting to construct a page, here, on this blog that can be an informative reference for navigating regulations.