Thursday, December 24, 2020

How I Set Up My Ectobiids/Blattellids/Pseudophyllodromids

EDITED 1/12/2023 to reflect new taxonomy changes.

This is gonna be a bit of a DIY kind of post, showing how I typically house my small, fragile, climbing former Ectobiidae genera (so Ectobiidae, Blattellidae, and Pseudophyllodromidae). This cheap, easy to replicate setup style has worked well for me for Anallacta, Balta, Cariblatta, Chorisoneura, and Latiblattella in the past, and I'm using the same technique currently for my two Hemithyrsocera spp.! This setup would also likely work well for genera/species like Agalopteryx, Blattella, Ectobius, Blattellidae sp. "Little Penguin", Euthlastoblatta, Neoblattella, Plectoptera, and maybe Loboptera and Lobopterella, as well as a plethora of similar, small climbing species like these. 

First, I start with the container. A small plastic container that's at least a little bit taller than it is wide is my enclosure of choice for starter cultures, I've used Costco nut containers, Dollar Tree containers, and plastic gallon jars. An airtight lid is a must, as these roaches can usually climb very well and have tiny, tiny nymphs. For larger, thriving colonies of prolific species, a big gasket bin would likely be your best choice of enclosure.

Next, I cut/melt out a feeding/misting hole, usually near one of the bottom corners of the enclosure, about an inch to an inch and a half in circumference. This can be done with a razor blade, certain drill bits, or with a soldering iron, (I've historically gone for the latter, but in larger enclosures a drill would likely be better and easier). I then plug up the hole with a bit of sponge, (the kind you use for washing cars), cut out to be just a bit wider than the hole, so when it's squeezed and plugged into the hole it expands and creates an airtight seal that even the smallest of roaches can't wiggle their way out of.
I do this because a lot of these species tend to hang out on or right below the lid of their enclosure, so when you open it they'll just come pouring out... You could try to use something like silicone oil around the rim of the enclosure to stop them from climbing out, but the hatchlings of some small species may get stuck and drown in such a barrier. Additionally, that doesn't stop adults from flying out, which can be a big problem when keeping genera like Hemithyrsocera which can be quick to fly when disturbed. So, if you don't want to open the lids of their enclosures, it helps to have a backup entrance that they're less likely to escape from to feed and water them from.

Next up, ventilation. A lot of these species don't need a ton of airflow, but they don't like completely stagnant air either, if possible you should poke at least a few dozen pin holes in the lid or sides of the enclosure, but this can be difficult or impossible with thicker plastic, in which case you'll want to cut out holes in the enclosure and hot glue microscreen over them to make air vents. For species that need more arid setups (of which there are very few consistently in culture), and Hemithyrsocera spp. (which do seem to need a good amount of airflow), you'll of course want to give them much more ventilation.
It's important to either use pin holes or microscreen/mesh for ventilation, because the hatchlings of many of these species are extraordinarily tiny, and can get out of most other types of ventilation holes. 

So now that the enclosure itself has been constructed, it's time to furnish it. Most of these species seldom touch the ground or burrow at all, (though some will bury their ooths), so for substrate you can use plain coconut fiber, sphagnum peat, organic unfertilized potting soil, etc., they really aren't picky. Most of these types of roaches in culture like a humid, tropical setup, so you'll want to keep the substrate quite humid, but not soaking wet. For the few that like it drier, just keep half or a third of the substrate humid, the rest dry. 
For hides I typically use pieces of bark standing vertically, slanted against each other, and then cram in piles of leaf litter here and there. Keep in mind that a lot of these smaller species suuuuuuuck at finding food, so if the enclosure is TOO densely decorated, they might not be able to find the food you put in there... So I tend to keep their setups on the simple side, usually 3-4 pieces of bark, with leaf litter crammed only in one or two corners, with one corner relatively cleared as the designated feeding area. Once the colony reaches a large size, they seem to find food more easily, and it's less of an issue, so you can add more hides at that point if needed. 

Speaking of food, for most species in culture I recommend using dog/cat/fish/chick feed as the staple diet, with fruits offered every now and then if you wish. Exceptions include the palynivorous Hemithyrsocera spp., which prefer having pollen or artificial pollen in their diet, and really should have fruits available at most times as well.
Again, most of these species aren't the best at finding food, and while I've successfully used food bowls (in the form of milk caps) for most of them, I do always make sure the food bowls are right up against a corner of the enclosure, which makes it easier for them to find, and usually try to align the bark hides so that the base of the front one(s) reach the food bowl. For some species you may need to offer food in two or more places, maybe outside of bowls, especially in larger enclosures. Hemithyrsocera apparently like feeding on food in high places of their enclosure, which makes sense because they usually climb up to flowers and such to feed on pollen/nectar in nature. (I actually made my H.vittata an arboreal feeding station out of cork tile for that reason, though I realize now that offering food at the top of their bark hides works just as well).

Here are some pictures of a few of my enclosures, some from the past, a couple from my current collection:

Chorisoneura texensis enclosure, one of my first Pseudophyllodromid setups.

Cariblatta minima enclosure, a bigger setup this time.

Hemithyrsocera vittata enclosure, in a gallon jar.

Feeding port plugged up.
Feeding port, unplugged.
The sponge plug, with the indentation caused by being squeezed into the port.
Interior, note the arboreal feeding station, which is a bit redundant since I can just throw food on top of the bark...

And a Hemithyrsocera vittata pic, because why not?
Hemithyrsocera palliata enclosure, interior, also in a gallon jar.

Hopefully that gives you all an idea of my general climbing Blattellid/Ectobiid/Pseudophyllodromid setup, and proves useful for others when making their own setups. Even if people don't set theirs up the same way I do, perhaps they'll find one or two of the husbandry techniques listed above useful and incorporate them into their own setup style. 🙂

As for maintaining cultures long term after setup, the main things I try to look out for are frass/body buildups (harmful to some species, others not so much), pest outbreaks (for small species, even prolific springtails like Sinella curviseta are definitely considered dangerous pests), and overcrowding (again, harmful to some species, others handle crowding much better). Sometimes you'll need to completely revamp their enclosures every now and then, it all depends on the species. These kinds of roaches can be quite fragile and usually are completely intolerant of neglect, so maintaining cultures long term can be a bit of a pain, not impossible mind you, just a bit of a pain. 😅 Still, these tiny "micro-roaches" can be really neat and fun to watch, not to mention super pretty, culturing and collecting them is kind of like a hobby within a hobby, and thankfully there are quite a few native and introduced species present in the US, a few of which have yet to enter culture!

Well, that does it for today, I hope everyone enjoyed, thanks for reading, stay safe, and I'll see you all in the next post! 😉


  1. Thank you for the time to write and share this post! I really want to try this. I was wondering if I should keep the local (inhouse pest) Supella longipalpa just to try it out! 😅 Hope you had a great Christmas! And wish you a Hapoy New Year of 2021! Lets make this year the Year of the Roach !

    1. No problem, hope you found it useful! :) Haha maybe try a less pesty species first, no need to risk an infestation... 😂
      Thanks, hope you had a great Christmas as well, and happy new year! "Year of the roach" sounds good to me! 😁