Now that I am in the habit of following the official dates of the seasons, this post shall span from the Winter Solstice on December 21st to the Spring Equinox on March 21st.
The best to come of this Spring has to be the shipment of Thyropygus pachyurus I received on March 21st itself. I have been working with a colony of captive-bred juveniles since February 18th, 2020, but this shipment constituted three subadults and three adults. Coincidentally, I seem to have two females and one male in both age groups. My juveniles were large by comparison to native US species, but the adults are about nine inches long! Somewhat unfortunately, I shall soon be seeing the three adults and a subadult off to their final home as I was but a relay point in their journey. They will be going to Arthroverts once weather is ideal for shipping and Easter has passed. I will be keeping a sexed pair of subadults for myself, however, and I hope that these will begin breeding within a year or so. I have been keeping my juveniles in the same general conditions as I described a while ago in my millipede substrate post. I have noticed that they really seem to appreciate a whole, rotten log to burrow into. Following the most recent substrate change, I gave the juveniles a log that already had the bark detached and laid on top. They immediately congregated underneath that bark. My eventual goal for this species would be to see it replace the now-nonexistent Archispirostreptus gigas in the US hobby. The USDA is the main roadblock at the moment, but this species seems to be quite benign and may be allowed to a wider group of hobbyists eventually.
The F2 generation of my lubber grasshoppers (Romalea microptera) began hatching on January 14th. I started the nymphs off in a tank with dozens of cuttings of a prolific Pellionia pulchra plant that is intent on taking over my scorpion tank. I was hoping that the plant would be a suitable food source for them that I could just grow inside the tank with the grasshoppers, but the picky plant murderers disdained that idea. I now have a tank full of a plant that the inhabitants have no use for other than a perch. It could be worse, but it would have been such a convenient food source considering I prune the scorpion tank every couple months. Trandescantia sp. are still the favorite food, and the one cutting of wandering Jew that I planted in the tank was demolished within days. I am currently taking advantage of spring bulbs, and feeding them well-washed daffodils. They seem to approve, and I have noticed a couple pre-sub-adult nymphs.
Interestingly, although I did not find any more oothecae than the original two despite a more thorough search, I noticed what appeared to be egg shells in the main tank itself. I am thinking I may have missed some oothecae in my searches because the original two oothecae were placed in 32-oz hatching cups. I estimate that the two oothecae hatched at least 60 nymphs together, so I may have over a hundred nymphs hiding in the plantings. I do not plan to conduct a census of these hooligans, however, so this shall be left to speculation.
Arwen died on February 7th, which makes her the longest mantis to have ever lived in my care (about eleven months). She laid fifteen oothecae prior to her passing, so I should have plenty of Arwen Jrs. presently. Right now, I have the oothecae prepared for a staggered emergence with most of them in the fridge.
The giant stag beetle larvae (Lucanus elaphus) are doing well. The largest of the male grubs is approaching 10 grams and is as large as the largest grubs I have found in the wild. The photo below shows the tanks of the captive bred grubs. The numbering scheme is that the number of the female (27, 28, or 30) is followed by the number of the larvae and separated by a dash. First, yes, there was a female number 29 (these four were the ones from July), but for some reason, there were no larvae to be found in her tank. Second, GSB 30-1, 2, and 3 were used in an experiment with a different type of flake soil fermentation method. Unfortunately, that flake soil exploded in mold, and I could not save those three grubs. The basic idea of that flake soil was to use a rice cooker to maintain a temperature of 150˚F, which was ideal for certain microbial processes to decompose the lignin and other inedible components of raw sawdust. The supposed benefit was that it would take less than a week to complete the fermentation period, whereas normal flake soil takes at least a few weeks. I have gone back to normal flake soil and rotten wood substrates, but it might be worth more experimentation for someone with more larvae to feed. Finally, it is indeed odd that there was only one grub from Giant Stag Beetle 27. I did not see any sign of cannibalism or such, just one lonely grub.
That is most of the happenings of the past couple months. Winter is cold and mostly boring for those who enjoy finding the larger arthropod species, and therefore, the ongoing colonies are my primary focus. It has warmed up in my area, and I am chasing tiger beetles right now. My green findings posts (2019 and 2020) may soon become a trilogy.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I am going to pause there. Part 2 should be up in a few days!
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.
Later in December, I began another conversation with the same hobbyist about a new trade. This time, I would be receiving a young Paragaleodessp. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Those are some of the best developments in my collection, and hopefully, I will be back on schedule for May.
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.
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.
My third and final species of orthopteran I acquired last month is Tachycinesasynamorus, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!)