Medications Based on the Immune System of the Mealworm or Darkling Beetle (Tenebrio molitor) may someday prevent the Emergence of Drug Resistant Microbes – Research Update

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.

Mealworm BeetleThe mealworm has long been valued by pet keepers, but medical researchers are now giving it some respect as well.  A recent (December, 2008) article in the journal Science reveals that antimicrobial peptides manufactured by the mealworm beetle destroy any bacteria that happen to survive the original onslaught launched by the beetle’s immune system.

 

This is important because bacteria and other microbes that are not killed by drugs or immune system defenses often evolve into resistant strains, which are then very difficult to control.  This is currently a very serious human health concern, especially as regards hospital-based micro-organisms. 

 

It seems that insects are particularly effective at preventing the development of hard-to-kill microbes, and that most of the credit for this is due a unique group of chemicals known as antimicrobial peptides.  It is hoped that human medications modeled after these peptides may serve to limit the emergence of dangerous drug-resistant bacteria, fungi and other microbes.

 

Thanks, until next time, Frank Indiviglio.

Mealworms have a long history as important laboratory animals.  You can learn more by checking the forum at the following location:

http://tenebrionidae.net/forum/

Please also see my article on the proper use of mealworms as a pet food: Making the Most of the Mealworm: some tips on enhancing the nutritional value of this pet trade staple
Image referenced from Wikipedia and originally posted by http://www.entomart.be/

The Orange (or Guyana) Spotted Roach, Blaptica dubia: an Interesting Pet and Valuable Food for Reptiles, Amphibians, Invertebrates, Birds and Fishes – Part 3

Note: Please see Part I and Part 2 for further information on the captive care and natural history of this insect.

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.

Social Grouping

The orange-spotted roach is sexually dimorphic – males have full wings (but rarely if ever fly), while females have only wing-stubs.  A ratio of 1 male per 3-5 females is ideal…excess males should be preferentially used as food for your collection.  Maintaining the roaches at this ratio will provide for a great deal of social interaction (please see Part I, Captive Habitat) and increased reproduction. 

Males attempt to bluff intruders onto their territories by rising up on their legs and fluttering the wings.  If this fails, a shoving match will ensue, with the loser retreating intact (well, except for his pride!).

Captive Longevity

The life cycle is 18 months to 2 years…but this is not well documented.  Please keep notes and pass along anything new you might learn.

Reproduction

Fertilization is internal, via a sperm packet deposited by the male.  Females produce the typical roach oothecum, or egg case, but retain it internally for a gestation period of approximately 1 month. 

The young, 20-30 in number, are born alive and reach sexual maturity in 3-4 months (this varies with temperature and stocking levels).

Miscellaneous

The reduced wing size in female orange-spotted roaches (and similar species) is attributed to paedomorphosis, or the retention of juvenile characteristics, rather than to wing growth inhibition. 

Flight muscle is, metabolically, one of the most active of animal tissues, and very “expensive” to support.  It is theorized that the resources put into maintaining the flight muscles may, in roaches, take away from reproductive potential.  In other words, female roaches are, in essence, “trading” flight for the ability to produce additional eggs.  Males of some species are though to retain the power of flight so as to be able to cover more ground when searching for mates.

I’ll cover additional types of roaches in the future.  Until then, please write in with your questions and comments. Thanks, Frank Indiviglio.

A description of the journal Cockroach Studies, along with photos of long-winged and wingless species, is posted at:

http://www.nhm.ac.uk/about-us/news/2006/may/news_8129.html

Image referenced from Wikipedia, here.

Methylene Blue as a Treatment Option for Fungal, Protozoan and Bacterial Infections in Frogs and Salamanders: Amphibian Health

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.

A common drawback in dealing with pathogen outbreaks among captive amphibians is the great sensitivity of most species to available medications.  Drugs formulated for fish, used as a soak or bath, have great potential.  However, amphibians absorb liquids over a much greater surface area than do fishes – in some cases with the entire skin surface – and it is therefore difficult to ascertain proper dosages.  Dose reduction is largely a hit-and-miss prospect, as each amphibian differs in absorption ability – medication failure and patient death are all too frequent.

A Malaria Medicine Rescues Stranded Tadpoles

Methylene Blue, a compound that found favor in 1891 as a human anti-malarial agent (and subsequently lost favor due to its propensity to turn the urine green and the whites of the eyes blue!) is one of the safest medications to use with amphibians.  It is widely used as a fish medication, but often overlooked by those working with amphibians.  I was first impressed by its benign nature when called to rescue several hundred American bullfrog tadpoles from the bottom of a recently drained pond in NYC.  The tadpoles had been flopping about for over an hour by the time I arrived, and were all cut up and bleeding.

Without much hope of success, I transferred the tadpoles to several plastic garbage cans and added Methylene Blue at a concentration a bit higher than recommended for fish.  Normal procedure would have been to use ½ fish strength and gradually increase the dosage while observing the tadpoles’ reactions, but such takes time and these fellows had little of that.  I was surprised to see no signs of stress, and astonished the next morning when most looked quite well.  Eventually, a great many recovered.

Use Methylene Blue

I have since used Methylene Blue in private and public collections for a range of amphibians, including Argentine horned frogs, spotted salamanders and Surinam toads.  It has been successful against fungus (most likely Saprolegnia) and certain bacteria associated with wounds and “red leg”.  I’ve had mixed success in using it to combat fungus on amphibian eggs (smoky jungle frog, bell frogs, poison frogs) – the results likely depend upon the species of fungus involved.  I begin with ½ the fish dose and a soak time of approximately 1 hour – gradually increasing both if necessary.  For eggs, I dilute the Methylene Blue in water and then use an eye dropper to place it on the eggs (approximately 1 drop per 2 inch square of egg mass).

Treated amphibians will be stained blue for awhile (as will your hands if you do not wear gloves), but results have been very good.  Where the compound has not worked, it at least caused no harm, and therefore lent the option of using alternative medications. 

Amphibian medicine is, in many ways, in its infancy. This is one area where hobbyists can make real contributions to our knowledge base.  Your own notes, thoughts and questions would be most welcome.  Thanks, until next time, Frank Indiviglio.

Drug resistant strains of malaria have researchers once again investigating the use of Methylene Blue as a treatment option for people.  An interesting article regarding this is posted at:

http://www.malariajournal.com/content/4/1/45

Conserving the Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizi): why good intentions must be paired with knowledge

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.

The desert tortoise was at one time collected in huge numbers for the pet trade.  Unfortunately, most were not properly cared for, and survival rates were abysmal.  This, combined with massive habitat loss in the American Southwest, led all states within its range to adopt protective legislation, and to its listing with CITES and the IUCN.

Unwittingly Introducing Pathogens

Many people cooperated – releasing their pets or, through various organizations, rehabilitating injured tortoises and then turning them loose.  Unfortunately, a respiratory disease commonly afflicting captive tortoises took hold among wild populations, and more harm than good resulted from the rescue and release efforts.

Incomplete Habitat Protection

On a grander scale, the habitat protection granted the tortoises often failed to take into account a unique twist in the species’ life history.  In the northern portion of their range, desert tortoises migrate to hilly areas at the onset of cold weather and hibernate in communal burrows that are 15-35 feet in length.  These long-established burrows are essential to winter survival, as a burrow of suitable length (15+ feet) cannot be constructed by a single tortoise in one season. 

Setting aside areas where the tortoises were observed to forage and nest was an admirable step, but ultimately fell short of what northern populations required.  The hibernation sites, often far-removed from foraging areas, were not always taken into consideration.

Both problems have largely been rectified, but only at the cost of lives and time.  The key point to be taken here is that we must all read, exchange information and observe…either of the above might have been identified by anyone who looked closely enough – pet keeper or field biologist alike. 

Please write in with your questions and comments. Thanks, until next time, Frank Indiviglio.

A California Department of Fish and Game report on the desert tortoise’s  natural history is posted at:

http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&lr=&as_qdr=all&sa=X&oi=spell&resnum=0&ct=result&cd=1&q=gopherus+agassizi+natural+habitat&spell=1

Image referenced from Wikipedia Commons

The Natural History of the Ball Python, Python regius: Ball Pythons in the Wild – Part 2

Click: The Natural History of the Ball Python, Python regius: Ball Pythons in the Wild – Part 1, to read the first part of this article.

Status in the Wild

This species is threatened across large areas of its range by collection for the food, leather and, in the past, pet trade.  Today the vast majority of animals in the pet trade are captive bred.  It is listed on Appendix II of Cites.

Diet

Grassland rodents comprise the majority of the diet.  Recorded prey species include cane rats, Nile rats, gerbils, jerboas, jirds and zebra mice.  They also feed upon shrews and ground-nesting birds, and hatchlings may take lizards.  Wild individuals often favor particular prey species, and may be difficult to habituate to commercially available rats and mice when taken captive.

Ball pythons often inhabit areas subject to long periods of hot, dry weather, during which food is scarce.  Animals in such populations may aestivate in mammal burrows or similar underground shelters for several months.  It is theorized that the internal circadian rhythms of these pythons may be responsible for the long fasts that captive animals often undergo.

Reproduction

Females produce typically 6-7 large eggs at yearly or less frequent intervals.  Eggs are typically laid in abandoned aardvark or rodent burrows, and hatch after an incubation period of 3 months.  In common with other family members, female ball pythons remain coiled about the eggs during this time, providing protection and temperature/humidity modification. 

Female pythons of various species have been shown to actively raise the temperature of their clutch by coiling about the eggs and “shivering”.  In captive situations, I have observed incubating female blood pythons (Python curtus) and Burmese pythons (P. molurus bivittatus) to raise their eggs by 7F above the ambient air temperature.  Field research conducted with ball pythons, however, indicates that incubation mainly functions to conserve egg weight by preventing water loss.

The young measure 10-17 inches upon hatching, and reach sexual maturity at 3-4 years of age, by which time they are approximately 3 feet in length.

Economic Importance

Ball pythons are heavily utilized as food by people throughout much of their range, and are harvested for the leather trade as well.  Until captive bred stock became widely available, huge numbers were collected for the pet trade and exported to Europe, Japan and the USA.

Miscellaneous

The common name of this snake is derived from its habit of coiling into a tight ball, with the head hidden within the center, when threatened.  Once so situated, it is difficult to uncoil the snake, and it will remain so even if rolled about (not recommended!).  However, some ball pythons surprise attackers (and annoying keepers!) by biting savagely when disturbed.  Actually, a number of other pythons and unrelated snakes utilize a coiled defensive posture, but in none is it so well developed as the ball python.

On to captive care next time.  Until then, please write in with your questions and comments. Thanks, Frank Indiviglio.

An extensive CITES-generated study of ball python populations and management in Ghana is posted at:

http://www.stevegorzulapresents.com/study_royal_python_ghana.pdf

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