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.

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!)