Friday, December 18, 2020

The Real Roach Blues

Unfortunately I've got some sour news regarding a few of my rarer roaches species. 😔 Never a fan of making these posts, I much prefer new acquisition or successful breeding report posts... 😅 But I hate it when breeders only leave updates on their collection when it's positive news, especially since much can be learned from the failures of others, so here we are. 

Let's start with my Pseudoglomeris cf. magnifica. Unfortunately, the original owner of this particular colony gave her culture unsterilized leaf litter, and reported having fungal issues with them. Then she passed them on to my friend Leo, who had unusual deaths in his culture, with the dead individuals often being consumed in a short, white mold growth... And now that I've got them, I'm sad to report that the unusual deaths of both the adults and the nymphs have continued... The nymphs are often (but oddly not always) completely covered in short growing, white mold, and the adults usually have the same mold bursting out of leg joints and the mouthparts. 

Unfortunately the whole scene is rather reminiscent of the time I had a protein hungry, entomophagous Trichoderma species infesting some of my roach and darkling beetle cultures years ago, which was brought in with a bad batch of unsterilized leaf litter I gathered myself... Given the otherwise seemingly unexplainable manner of the deaths, and the type of mold growth present (which I very rarely see grow on dead inverts in my collection), and the fact that one of the previous owners used unsterilized leaf litter for this culture, I am forced to come to the conclusion that this colony is contaminated with a similar species of Trichoderma mold, which unfortunately probably means the end of this colony. 😭 

I'll do what I can for them, but this particular fungus is difficult to rid roaches of completely, and the process can be rough on younger individuals... Essentially I'll need to keep them bone dry, feed them only fruits, (no proteins), and very well ventilated for several months. The adults could probably handle it, but I fear the nymphs will all perish if I do this... Granted, they're slowly dropping one by one anyways, (though the deaths have slowed oddly), so it probably doesn't matter either way. I'll keep you all posted, but I expect this culture is probably kaput... 
What sucks is there's only a couple people in the US left with this species, and their cultures are also in precarious states, (for different reasons though), so it would have been really nice to get this specific culture breeding. But oh well, what can you do? Let this serve as a lesson to others not to use unsterilized materials for their roaches, certainly not the rare ones at least, it's always better to be safe than sorry and go through the trouble of sterilizing your materials, (which I ALWAYS do nowadays).

Next up, my Myrmecoblatta wheeleri... 

It's been months since I've had my small group of this tiny, obscure species, and I've not once seen my females produce an ootheca. I had hoped that they were doing it very secretly, but after bringing up my husbandry parameters with my buddy Alan Jeon, the one who collected them, he suggest I keep them warmer to induce breeding. I had been keeping them rather cool, around 68-72F°, both because I thought they'd like it cooler since they live within ant nests tunnels in logs, where it's probably cooler than it is out on the surface, and because I didn't want to keep them in the warm part of my room near the rest of my roaches, for fear of their deli cup being infested with all manner of mites and springtails, (both of which I had been successfully keeping out of their enclosure). But, Alan said their habitat was actually pretty warm, so it became apparent that I would need to heat them up if I wanted viable ooths. So I moved them next to the rest of my roach collection, where it was warmest in my room.

Unfortunately, as I suspected, moving them to that part of my room next to all my other roaches did inoculate their setup with several springtail species, which recently exploded in numbers in their deli cup to a level I perceived to be harmful to the roaches... And indeed, the other day I checked on them and the adults looked skinnier than usual. 
So the other night I made them a fresh new sterile enclosure, inoculated with mold for them from a separate, sterile mold growing container I specially set up for them months ago, (since it seems they do like feeding on mold at least a little bit). I made the ventilation holes on this new container smaller, and planned on setting it up in a different position amongst the other roach enclosures so that hopefully little to no springtails will get in. 

HOWEVER, as I proceeded to move the adult Myrmecoblatta from their old deli cup, I saw that their legs and even their mouthparts were covered in these freaky, TINY, yellow mites!!! The mites are about half the size of an average grain mite and matte in texture rather than glossy, but apparently whatever they are they have a hyposus stage like grain mites do. I'd seen them feeding on the food in their enclosure, and thought they were weird considering I'd not seen them in ANY of my other enclosures before, but I assumed they were mostly harmless, as there weren't even that many in the enclosure. But apparently there were enough to make them think they needed to start latching onto my precious ant roaches. So, I quickly moved the adults to a quarantine setup, with paper towels as the substrate, and am hoping to rid them of these mites and then move them to the new setup. 
Thankfully it seems most of the mites have already left the Myrmecoblatta, and the roaches have also plumped up a bit, evidently feeding on some of the chick feed or artificial pollen or apple slices I've offered them in their quarantine setup. So hopefully I'll be able to move them to their more naturalistic, breeding ready setup soon. 

Speaking of breeding though, what REALLY worries me though is that I tore apart their old setup and could not find a SINGLE ootheca, not one... So I don't know what I'm doing wrong in that regard, at least my buddy Brandon Maines (the last person to work with this species), was able to get ooths from his adults and hatch them, though the resulting offspring passed away rather quickly (he thinks due to the mold in his setups dying out at the same time), but apparently I can't even get a single ooth from my females... I'm thinking it's gotta be ventilation related, as Brandon kept his much more well ventilated than I've kept mine (and I know from experience that some Corydiids will withhold oothecae if ventilation levels aren't high enough), so I am ensuring their new setup has lots more airflow than their old setup, (from lots of tiny, tiny pinholes). The real question is will my adults be completely rid of those yellow mites and survive to be put into their new setup at all...? 😥 

Hopefully they'll pull through and I can get them breeding, lot of pressure riding on this particular species, as Alan drove several hours down to FL and got his hands all bit up by angry Camponotus floridanus ants just to collect these roaches, really don't want his efforts to be in vain. So I'll continue to give it my all and get them breeding, hopefully after this quarantine they'll breed readily in their new setup, we'll see. 🤞

Lastly, my Gyna capucina, and man I tell ya, my experience with keeping this species has been just one simple mistake after another, slowly dwindling down my culture... It's almost comical TBH. 

So, last we left off with this species, they were recovering from a major colony crash due to me inadvertently starving them by offering their food in food bowls, a problem I've since rectified. Now, the premature deaths have stopped, so that issue has been solved completely. But my adults still aren't producing offspring, just had one adult female die, presumably due to old age, with no babies produced... In fact I actually ripped her carcass open just to see, (which was freaking gross BTW), and she actually did not have an ootheca inside her, so she must have aborted it at some point... 

Why the lack of reproduction? Well, I believe I've actually been keeping them too cool for reproduction these past few months. 😐 😂 Because, now that Summer's obviously over, I use a heat cable to warm my roaches, and I have to put it under their enclosures. However, the five gallon bin I use for my Gyna capucina (overkill at this point considering how few of them are left) is made of rather thick plastic, so not THAT much heat gets through, at least not from the third of the bottom that's actually heated, (it's not the longest heat cable, and I have lots of roaches to heat...). Additionally, the substrate on the heated areas is dried out completely by the heat cable, and not only that, but it clumps there too, so the Gyna often can't access the warmth, or just don't wanna spend their time in the completely bone dry, hot area of the setup. And I've just noticed the rest of the enclosure isn't all that warm, so yeah I think they've just been kept too cool to gestate their broods successfully, and so must be aborting their ooths... 🙃

So, what have I done to correct this? I've isolated all six of my remaining adult females, paired them off in three small enclosures with an inch or so of well aerated substrate with proper vertical humidity gradients, and have put them all in my little "hot box", the short but wide cardboard box my two five gallon bins sit on, that's rather warm inside due to the heat cable winding underneath the big bins on top of the box. Since the heat is in the air, coming from above, not below, this solves the issue of the substrate drying out and clumping at the bottom, and leaves the Gyna with a proper vertical humidity gradient, and more heat than they had originally to boot. This is my last ditch effort to get my remaining females popping, hopefully they've not already aborted all their ooths... 

I've also moved the remaining half a dozen small nymphs, half a dozen adult males and single subadult female from their five gallon setup to smaller, two gallon bin, which is made up of a thinner plastic, so the heat cable they're resting on will more adequately heat them up, (though the drying and clumping of the substrate on the heated side will still be a bit of an issue). Hopefully that subadult female matures soon and mates, I'll probably just leave her in that setup when she does, see how it works, unless I have great success with the isolated females in the "hot box", in which case I might just do the same with her to be safe. 

Hopefully I can save this colony from the brink of a complete crash, though even if I fail, I have at least done what I intended and have dispersed this species to several other breeders in the US, (most of which seem to be having better luck with theirs than mine at this point! 😂), which is great considering how few people were still breeding them when I got my colony originally. So hopefully they'll persist here in US Blatticulture, whether or not my colony survives. But, you know, it'd be nice if my colony rebounds for sure, so I'll keep my fingers crossed! 😅🤞

Oh, and I guess enjoy some pics I took recently of a pair mating, don't know where else I should post these, and I figure this post should have at least SOME pictures:

Anyways, that's gonna do it for today, kind of a bummer, but just thought y'all should know what's going on ATM. I hope you all found it at least partially informative, thanks for reading, stay safe, and I'll see you all next time! 😉

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