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!)

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.