Saturday, December 5, 2020

The Mysterious Tiger Hissers!

Magnificent Beasts Package Series Pt. 5/6
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My inner "Hisserdude" is really making a resurgence isn't it, even making me want to keep a species I've kept in the past! (though it was just a solo male, back before I actually bred roaches). 😂 Tiger hissers have long been a staple in US Blatticulture, though they are more finicky than most other hissers to breed, and for the longest time they've been labeled as "Gromphadorhina grandidieri". However, they are not similar at all to museum specimens or descriptions of that species in scientific articles, thus have almost certainly been misidentified.
In Europe, there are very similar strains of hissers called "Princisia vanwaerebeki - Tricolor" and "P.vanwaerebeki - Black & White", but adult males from pure stock of these and the US Tigers have pronotum and horn structure that differs a bit from that of normal vanwaerebeki IMO (notably, just a much shallower anterior pronotum notch, and smaller, less pointed horns)... So I wasn't sure about that ID, and sadly it seems a lot of the EU "Tricolor" and "Black & White" strains have been hybridized and have inconsistent adult coloration anyways, with G.portentosa-like individuals popping up on occasion. The US Tigers have little adult color variation, but have been known to throw out pitch black individuals, though that has become a VERY rare occurrence in US cultures, so most stock within the US seems to be pure. 

It's this uncertainty about their identification that actually made me want to acquire this species, as I wanted to send pictures of the pronotum of a large adult male to George Beccaloni, the man who is responsible for the Cockroach Species File and is working on revising the Gromphadorhini. While I have personally thought this species might be undescribed, (if they are indeed pure and the coloration isn't a man made result of hybridization or crazy selective breeding, which I doubt because they just popped up on US lists with this appearance from the beginning), I figured it couldn't hurt to have a taxonomist's opinion, specifically one who has been working on the Gromphadorhini. 
And so, I asked Brandon Maines for a large male, and a pair of nymphs too, because why not? They can be somewhat finicky compared to other hissers, and I feel it'd be good to have another person working with pure stock of these in the US. 😄

I have my trio (one large adult male, and a sexed pair of large nymphs) set up in a well ventilated container, with a substrate of coconut fiber, and bark for hides. I'm keeping them on the humid side of things, with about two thirds of the enclosure kept humid, the rest dry, as this species actually likes things more humid than other hissers. I'm keeping them warm, 75+F°, and will feed them chick feed, fruits, and maybe the occasional bit of artificial pollen. 

Anyways, here are those long awaited pictures of the adult male:

A striking species, one that I'll hopefully be able to breed well! 🙂 I sent those pictures to George Beccaloni, asked him about the pronotum differences between these and normal Princisia, and this is what he had to say:

"IMHO it is a variation of Princisia vanwaerebeki. Yes, there are some differences in the pronotum structure - but the shape is still more similar to Princisia than any other genus."

I then asked about the consistent size differences between these and normal Princisia vanwaerebeki in culture, to which he replied:

"The smaller size could very well explain the different pronotal morphology. Could be a different population - even a subspecies. The distributions of no species of hisser are really known at all. I found mine [vanwaerebeki] near Fort Dauphin - but perhaps the tiger hissers were collected in a different area. I still think they are P.vanwaerebeki. Within a population - especially in captivity, the pronotal morphology varies dramatically with body size."

Finally, I asked about how I should go about naming these, and he said Princisia vanwaerebeki "Tiger" would be the most accurate name for them ATM... Technically I could call them "Tricolor" or "Black & White" like they do in Europe, but those stocks seem to be a bit different in comparison, so I'm just gonna keep the "Tiger" moniker for US stock for now...

I'm definitely thinking that if these are truly Princisia vanwaerebeki, then they must represent a new subspecies for sure, or at least a VERY distinct geological phenotype... Because while the abdominal patterning is similar to that of the holotype individuals of P.vanwaerebeki, the size difference between these and typical Princisia is quite significant, as is the pronotum structure, (which seem to go hand in hand). That being said, of all the ID opinions to go with, I'm going to side with the taxonomist who's working on revising the Gromphadorhini and has been on hisser collecting trips to Madagascar himself, (and who actually has dried WC Princisia specimens he collected from Madagascar). Would love to send him dried specimens of these Tigers for him to inspect in person, I'll have to try that once I have more adult males to part with.

So, I guess I'm going with the name Princisia vanwaerebeki "Tiger" for now, at the very least, it's more accurate than Gromphadorhina grandidieri... I mean, just compare the above roach to this wild G.grandidieri male specimen George collected (which he directly compared to the lectotype male of G.grandidieri).

Wild male G.grandidieri. ©George Beccaloni
For good measure, here's an old black and white photo of the male lectotype and female allotype of G.grandidieri, from the paper redescribing that species (the very same paper also contains the original description for P.vanwaerebeki funnily enough):

See? Looks nothing like the "Tigers", in coloration OR pronotum morphology. Now hopefully George will also deal with the question of whether Princisia is a valid genus or not when making his revision to the group, as that'll make this deliciously more complicated for the hobby if Princisia ends up a synonym of Gromphadorhina... 😜🤣

Well, that's gonna do it for this, hope everyone enjoyed, thanks for reading, stay safe, and I'll see you next time! 😉

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