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Contains articles on a wide variety of both reptile and amphibian species. Commonly addresses topics which affect herps in capitivity as a whole.

Flour Beetles (Confused or Rice Flour beetles, Tribolium confusum and Red Flour Beetles, T. castaneum) – a valuable food for small amphibians and reptiles

Flour beetles of various types are serious pests in grain product storage facilities, and those discussed here are worldwide in distribution.  However, the traits that make them successful invaders also render them easy to culture in captivity.

The larvae, or grubs, of the beetles offer an easy way to add nutritional variety to the diets of tiny reptiles and amphibians, most of which must subsist on only a few food items in captivity.  The adult beetles release an irritating gas when disturbed, but are none-the-less consumed by some reptiles and amphibians.

Obtaining Flour Beetles
I was first introduced to flour beetles some 20 years ago by Bob Holland, an amphibian expert who was setting longevity records with poison frogs long before most zoos kept any at all.  In those days, we collected our founding stock by searching through old containers of dry dog food and cereal.  Today, cultures of confused and red flour beetles are available from private breeders and biological supply houses.

Culturing Flour Beetles
Although most beetle breeders advise keeping the animals in a mix of flour and yeast, Bob’s method of rearing them in dog biscuits has worked very well for me.  The problem with a flour mix is that the medium must be sifted through a fine net each time larvae are needed, which leaves one with unwanted beetles, pupae and shed skins.

Dog biscuits provide all the food, moisture and shelter needed by the beetles (be sure to crack open the biscuits to give the beetles easy access to the interior).  When larvae are needed, I simply tap a biscuit over a Petri dish.  The larvae can also be concentrated by tapping several biscuits over a separate container, into which only 1 biscuit has been placed.  All the grubs will eventually gravitate to the 1 biscuit, allowing you to collect many in a short time.

Using Flour Beetles
The adult beetles live for approximately 1 year, with the period from egg to adult being 4-6 weeks, depending upon temperature.  The larvae are 3/16th of an inch long when fully grown – an ideal size for poison frogs, harlequin frogs and newly morphed froglets of small species such as spring peepers.  I have also fed them to red-backed and red salamanders, the larvae of various newts and to small granite night lizards.

An article concerning the natural history and pest status of flour beetles is posted at:

Zoo Med’s Canned Freshwater Shrimp – an important new food reptile, amphibian, fish and invertebrate pets

Can o ShrimpAs I noted in an earlier article (Canned Insects and Other Invertebrates, July 1, 2008), several companies are now marketing canned grasshoppers, snails, silkworms and other invertebrates.  I believe these to be an important means of providing dietary variety to a wide range of captive reptiles and amphibians.

I have recently been experimenting with the canned shrimp offered by Zoo Med.  What caught my interest was the fact that the shrimp used, Macrobrachium nipponense, are a freshwater species.  Freshwater shrimp are an important and often dominant part of the diets of a great many aquatic animals, and their nutritional value varies greatly from that of both insects and fish – yet they are difficult for the average pet owner to procure.

Of course, it is great fun to collect and breed freshwater shrimp, but how many of us actually have the chance to do this?  Generally, we are left to use pieces of marine shrimp (usually pre-cleaned and thus missing nutritionally valuable internal organs) purchased at food markets, or frozen/freeze dried marine species marketed for the tropical fish trade.  While such are useful, they are far from ideal, as there are a number of health issues involved in the long term feeding of marine species to freshwater pets.

The shrimp used by Zoo Med are small, whole animals.  Feeding them to a large turtle would be impractical, but they are ideal for innumerable smaller creatures.  I have found them to be readily accepted by a wide variety of creatures, including aquatic frogs (African clawed, dwarf African clawed), newts (eastern, marbled, ribbed), aquatic salamanders (sirens, axolotls) and turtles (spotted, painted, snapping, musk, mud).

Tropical fish of all kinds also relish these shrimp, as do US natives such as Banded Sunfish and Tadpole Madtoms.  I have also fed them to other freshwater invertebrates, such as Bamboo Shrimp, African Filter-feeding Shrimp, Crayfish and Caddisfly Larvae.

I am excited by the possibilities offered by this product – perhaps the nutrition contained in them holds the key to maintaining delicate aquatic amphibians and other creatures that now fare poorly in captivity.


Cicadas – An End of Summer Treat for Pet Reptiles, Amphibians and Invertebrates

As summer winds down, resourceful herp keepers are presented with a unique opportunity to treat their pets to a novel food item – providing, at the same time, a source of important nutritional variety. The waning days of summer bring with them the annual die-off of untold millions of large, juicy insects – the annual and periodical cicadas.

More than 100 of the world’s 2,000+ cicada species make their home in North America, and they are widely distributed. I still hear them regularly in the heart of Manhattan, and various species are quite common in and near other large cities as well. Most have a life cycle of 2-8 years, but 7 species in the eastern USA have a 13 or 17 year cycle and a number reach adulthood in 1 year.

The entire cicada population of a given area expires within a short period, usually at the end of August or in early September in the northeastern USA. This yearly event provides a bonanza (up to 1.5 million periodical cicadas may emerge from a single acre of soil!) of nutritious food for a wide range of creatures – deer mice, wood turtles, box turtles, skunks, flying squirrels, black bears and a host of others have been observed gorging on cicadas. Even adult copperhead snakes, not normally thought of as insect eaters, partake of the feast.

If you are alert at the right time, you may find hundreds of these normally arboreal songsters, spent and cicadaabout to die, on the ground. Your medium and larger sized reptile, amphibian and invertebrate pets will consume them with gusto, and you can freeze the excess for future use. Cicadas occur on every continent except Antarctica, and pets both native and exotic – American bullfrogs, African mud turtles, red-kneed tarantulas – unfailingly attack them with gusto. You can also collect the nymphs as they emerge from the ground in early summer – this usually occurs at night, and often within as short period of time as 1-7 days.

Dietary variety is an important key to keeping your pets healthy and in breeding condition. Those of us who keep insectivorous herps and invertebrates often face limited food choices. The annual cicada die-off may provide a relatively easy way for some of us to remedy that situation.

One word of caution: I have noticed that populations of annual cicadas near NYC have seemingly declined drastically in recent years. A colleague suggested that the insecticides sprayed to control mosquitoes bearing West Nile Virus may be the culprit. I tend to agree – cicadas, with their largely arboreal lifestyles, are easy targets for insecticides sprayed from airplanes (far easier targets than mosquito larvae, which seem as common as ever). I have not run into secondary poisoning problems when feeding cicadas to captive animals, but suggest that you do not collect in areas that have been commercially sprayed.


Image attributed to wikipedia: http://www.cirrusimage.com/homoptera_cicada_T_linnei.htm

The Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum spp.) – a versatile terrarium plant for land or water

In my own tanks and those I design for zoos and aquariums, I have long been fond of featuring exposed root systems.  I am also drawn to what used to be termed “shoreline terrariums” – exhibits highlighting shallow water fish and semi-aquatic amphibians, reptiles and invertebrates.  Zoo exhibits are often quite deep and not always equipped with lightinPeace Lilyg that meets the needs of aquatic plants, so water-tolerant land plants often fulfilled my needs.

One species I have come to depend upon is the Peace Lily, a common house plant.  Its genus contains over 40 South American and Southeast Asian species, and the leaves are fairly “generic” in appearance, and so the plant handily fits the themes of a wide range of exhibits.  I prefer the “Mauna Loa” strain, which is readily available and amazingly resilient.

Most Peace Lilies prefer slight shade, but thrive under lights and tolerate fairly dry to wet soil. In my opinion, they really come into their own, terrarium-wise, when planted or suspended in water.  Peace LilyThey thrive for years this way, and send out truly impressive root systems in short order.  Fish, shrimp, crayfish and snails will spend hours foraging among these, and the roots also have a beneficial effect on water quality.  Their intertwined tendrils provide vital shelter to young fishes and shrimp, and lend a stunning look to planted aquariums and terrariums.

As you can see from the accompanying photo, the sturdy leaves function almost as do water lily pads, and easily support the weight of an adult Green Frog.  The other photos depict a Southern Leopard Frog resting on a leaf draped over a stump, and the extensive root system that was formed from one small plant (5 leaves).

Peace Lily

I have even seen Peace Lilies sold for use as totally aquatic plants, but have not tried planting them in this way.

Building a Termite Trap – gathering termites as food for poison frogs and other small amphibians and reptiles

Termites make a great food for some small herpsHerp enthusiasts are, along with entomologists and exterminators, the only people who actively seek out termites – but we have good reason.  These insects (fascinating in their own right, by the way) are a valuable food source for a number of reptiles and amphibians.  Termites are particularly important for poison frogs, and form a major component of the natural diet of many species.


Termites are a valuable food for small terrarium animals, and for the young of others, because our options are limited with regard to such creatures.  Most consume a wide variety of prey in the wild, but in captivity must make due with pinhead crickets, fruit flies and springtails.  I have used termites to feed the young of a number of reptiles and amphibians (other than poison frogs) including five-lined skinks, flying frogs, marbled salamanders and others too numerous to mention, as well as species which remain small as adults (alpine newts, spring peepers, dusky salamanders etc.).  The rapid decline of many animals imposes upon us an obligation to become more effective in our captive breeding efforts – I urge you to experiment with termites and other insects.


To make a termite trap, simply take a plastic storage box – the shoebox size works well – and cut several holes of 2-3 inches in diameter into the 4 sides.  Stuff the box with damp cardboard and you’re all set (termites relish cardboard – I guess if your normal diet is wood, something softer seems like a treat!).


Search for termite nests beneath rotting logs and under the bark of dead trees.  Your trap should be located about a foot away from the nest, buried so that the top of the box is flush with the ground’s surface.  Cover the lid with a thin layer of earth and secure with a rock.  The termites will establish feeding tunnels to the box.  Remove the termite–laden cardboard from time to time, but leave the box in place so as not to disturb the tunnels.  Those more mechanically skilled than I may wish to construct PVC tube-within-a-tube systems with screw-off tops, but the plastic box works just fine.


For those of you with wide interests – termites are also eagerly consumed by tropical fish, finches, red-crested cardinals, sunbirds, bulbuls and other cage birds, and invertebrates such as whip scorpions, ground beetles and flower mantids.  The termite life cycle is very complex – escaped workers (those individuals that you will catch) cannot establish new colonies in your home – any termites that may infest your home will arrive courtesy of a colonizing queen, so please don’t blame me!



Interesting correspondence between hobbyists using termites as frog food (and a man who has trained his dog to detect termites!) is posted at: http://www.utoronto.ca/forest/termite/Decompiculture/Decompiculture/Termiticulture_emails.htm

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