The Orange Spotted Roach: an Interesting Pet and Valuable Food for Reptiles, Amphibians, Invertebrates, Birds and Fishes – Part 1

Orange-Spotted RoachHello, Frank Indiviglio here.

The orange-spotted or guyana roach, Blaptica dubia, often starts out as pet food but winds up as a pet. It’s small wonder, as these attractive insects are very interesting in their own right, and most agreeable to exhibiting their natural behaviors to the patient observer.

Coming into Their Own

Roaches are finally getting the attention they deserve from pet keepers, and even zoos are beginning to highlight them in exhibits.  I housed many species at the Staten Island Zoo, and a new exhibit at the Bronx Zoo features a hollow tree stocked with thousands of Malagasy hissing roaches.  But my favorite was set up many years ago at the Cincinnati Zoo’s groundbreaking Insectarium….visitors looked through a cutaway cabinet at a “kitchen” stocked with a colony American roaches.  The huge insects were fed from cereal boxes, sandwiches left on a table and so forth…years later I tried to replicate this at the Bronx Zoo, for Norway rats, but the idea failed to impress my curator!

Classification and Diversity

Cockroaches, with a fossil record stretching back 300 million years, are classified within the order Blattaria (or Blattodea).  Over 4,000 species have been described, and entomologists believe that as many more may be awaiting discovery.  The largest species, Latin America’s Megaloblatta baberoides, sports a 7 inch wingspan while the heaviest, Macropameothia rhinoceros of Australia, weighs in at 1 ½ ounces.  The lime green banana roach, Panchlora nivea, sometimes available in the pet trade, is to my eye the most attractive.

Orange-Spotted Roaches

The orange-spotted roach ranges from tan to reddish-brown and black in color, and is mottled with light orange dots.  It reaches 1 ¾ inches in length.  The natural range is usually given as northern South America, but there are records from as far north as Panama and as far south as northern Argentina.

As a Feeder Insect

This roach makes an excellent feeder insect as it rarely flies and cannot scale glass or plastic (unless either is very dirty!).   Adults and juveniles alike have a soft exoskeleton, and are thus an ideal food for amphibians, birds, spiders, scorpions, fishes, reptiles and certain small mammals (I have used them as treats for flying squirrels and deer mice).  The nymphs are only .1 inches in length, and eagerly accepted by tiny amphibians and reptiles.

CAPTIVE HUSBANDRY

Note: long term exposure to insect colonies may lead to sensitivities or allergies in some people.  You may wish to consult your doctor in this regard.

Captive Habitat

The Enclosure

Orange spotted roaches can be housed in plastic terrariums, aquariums or sweater boxes.  Sweater boxes should be ventilated with screened-over panels cut into the lids and sides.  Fine-meshed “insect screening” is best, as the nymphs are quite small.  Be sure that the mesh size on commercial terrarium lids is small as well – if unsure, add a second layer of finer mesh.  The roaches can chew through some plastic screening, so use metal when re-screening.

Heat and Humidity

This species tolerates temperatures from 68-95 F, with breeding and growth being most rapid at higher temperatures.  If you are interested in observing them, and not in producing large numbers as a food source, 75 F is ideal.

Heat may be provided by an incandescent bulb during the day and a reptile night light during the evening.  I highly recommend the latter…the roaches will feed by day, but really put on a show at night, and a night light will allow you to observe them doing so.  A ceramic heater or under-tank heater may also be used.  In all cases watch that you do not over-dry the terrarium (keep an eye on shedding, please see below).

Orange-spotted roaches tolerate far drier conditions than do most of their relatives.  Technically, they can run into difficulty in molting if a bit of humidity is not provided, but this is not common.

Misting the enclosure can result in the growth of mold and fungi, some species of which may be linked to colony failure.  If conditions warrant it, mist lightly (glass only, not cardboard if such is used as a substrate) and be sure the glass dries within an hour or so.

Click: The Orange Spotted Roach: an Interesting Pet and Valuable Food for Reptiles, Amphibians, Invertebrates, Birds and Fishes – Part 2, to read the second part of this article.

Image referenced from Wikipedia Commons, here.

Hibernation/Brumation in Captive Bearded Dragons and other Reptiles and Amphibians: Request for Information

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.

Bearded DragonThe process of hibernation (or brumation) in reptiles and amphibians seems subject to a great many factors.  For example, I have noticed that spotted and Eastern box turtles, and other temperate North American species, vary greatly in this regard.  In captivity, wild-caught individuals usually slow down (activity and feeding) during the winter, even if kept warm and given a photoperiod of 12 hours.  Captive-born animals of the same species most often continue to feed throughout the winter.

Green frogs, garter snakes, musk turtles and others, however, usually stay active if kept warm in winter, even if wild-caught.

A recent email from a colleague brought up the subject of bearded dragons.  His animal becomes lethargic and ceases feeding in October, despite a long photoperiod, and high ambient and basking temperatures.  Most bearded dragons in the US pet trade are several generations removed from the wild, yet the tendency to hibernate persists in some.  Many bearded dragons, however, remain active all year.   I am wondering if what we are seeing is related to the natural range of our pets’ ancestors… perhaps those from certain areas hibernate in the wild and retain this pattern in captivity?

A Request for Help

Internal (circadian) rhythms exert their influence on most animals, and an understanding of their workings is vital from both a pet-keeping and conservation point of view.  I would greatly appreciate being informed of any seasonal changes in activity that you notice among your pets.  Please write in and I’ll mention your observations in future articles.

Thanks, Frank Indiviglio.

Some North American turtles are incredibly cold-tolerant, and are being studied to see if the mechanisms they use might be applied to the possible storage of human organs destined for transplant.  The abstract of an interesting The Journal of Herpetology article is posted at:

http://www.jstor.org/pss/1565569

If you’re looking for general care information on bearded dragons, check out my article: Bearded Dragon Natural History and Captive Care.

Product Review: Gel-Based Water Sources for House Crickets (Acheta domestica)

Cricket Gel SupplementThe house cricket is something of an insect oddity…at once both an adaptable, widely introduced species and a somewhat delicate captive.  Native to southwestern Asia, it fares poorly in the damp conditions favored by field crickets and other North American species. 

Providing a Water Source: the advantages of gels

House crickets will not survive long in damp conditions, but they do need to drink quite a bit of water, and herein lays the main problem in keeping them.

The crickets drown rapidly in standing water, and cotton or gravel-filled bowls foul quickly.  Stagnant water, and mold on damp sponges or oranges (2 other common methods of providing water) supports bacteria that seems, for reasons not completely understood, to rapidly decimate cricket colonies.  Misting the colony, a useful technique as regard many insects, is worse, and again will result in heavy losses.

The advent of gel-based cricket water substitutes is one of the most important recent innovations in food animal maintenance.  These products save time and money by cutting down on losses.  More importantly, crickets that live longer have improved chances of consuming a nutritious diet, and thus are themselves a more valuable pet food.

I use Cricket Drink and R-Zilla Cricket Calcium Drink Supplement exclusively.  Both are fortified with calcium and other nutrients, and are readily consumed by crickets.  No other water source is necessary.  Millipedes and sow bugs will also feed upon these gel cubes, and they would be well-worth trying on scorpions and tarantulas.

A Warning: Condensation

Even when fruit and standing water is dispensed with, be sure to guard against condensation buildup.  This occurs most frequently in crowded enclosures, and will wipe out your colony in short order.  Adequate ventilation and roomy holding containers are of key importance in avoiding damp conditions.

Next time I’ll review some commercial cricket diets.  Please write in with your own tips for keeping crickets and other food animals.  Thanks, until next time, Frank Indiviglio.

You can read about the natural history of the house cricket here.

 

My Animal Collection: How a Herpetologist Keeps American Toads and Related Species, Part III

Hello Frank Indiviglio here.Please see Parts I and 2 of this article for information on housing and diet. Today I’ll conclude with some thoughts on toads in community terrariums and the wild.

Tank mates
American toads are quite peaceful towards one another, but larger animals will nudge others from food, so keep an eye on them at feeding time. The conditions favored by toads are also suited to a number of other interesting creatures, and their diets and temperaments suit them ideally to community terrariums.

Wood FrogCompatible animals include spotted, tiger, marbled, slimy and other terrestrial salamanders (see photo), wood frogs (see photo), gray, barking, green and other native treefrogs and land snails. Assuming that space permits the establishment of a warm basking area (without over-heating the toads), you can also house a number of small reptiles with American toads. I have had kept them with 5-lined skinks, Italian wall lizards, green anoles, DeKay’s (brown) snakes, ring-necked snakes and smooth green snakes. There are other possible toad-companions as well – please write in if you would like more suggestions.

Free-Living Pets
Spotted SalamanderAmerican toads will utilize favored burrows for years on end, with wild individuals documented as remaining within the same territory for over 20 years. If you have a population living nearby, encourage the toads to stay nearby by providing a shallow, easily-exited pool and some retreats in the form of half-buried, inverted clay flower pots. Resident toads will learn to gather at an outdoor light in hopes of an insect meal, and will otherwise delight you with their comings and goings.

Please write in with your questions and thoughts on keeping native amphibians. Thanks, until next time, Frank Indiviglio.

We know little about the movements of adult amphibians, but it does seem that American toads are usually found within a limited home range, so one can become quite familiar with the individuals resident in a garden or similar area. An interesting article on the home ranges of American toads is posted at:
http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3845/is_/ai_n17183721

Research Update: Sea Snakes Shown Unable to Drink Sea Water despite Living in a Wholly Marine Environment

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.

The 60+ species of sea snakes – brightly colored, highly venomous relatives of the cobras, mambas and coral snakes – are little studied and not often seen in zoos.  I was fortunate enough to have worked with yellow-bellied sea snakes (Pelamis platurus) at the Bronx Zoo, but the species is no longer exhibited there (perhaps something to do with the preferred diet of live moray and American eels?).   If you have the opportunity to visit a zoo that keeps sea snakes, by all means do so – you will not be disappointed.

How Marine Snakes Find Fresh Water

A recent Physiological and Biochemical Zoology article, written by noted herpetologist Harvey Lillywhite, dispels a popular belief concerning marine snakes.   Sea snakes, it seems, do not use special glands to extract salt from sea water, thus rendering it drinkable.  These glands remove excess salt from the bloodstream, but the snakes can drink only fresh or very dilute sea water. 

Research focusing on the black-banded sea krait (Laticauda semifasciata) showed that the snakes obtain all their drinking water from fresh water springs (sea kraits leave the water on occasion), and refuse to drink sea water even when dehydrated.  The majority of other sea snakes, which do not travel overland, are presumed to drink from the surface layer of fresh water that develops on the ocean when it rains.  Indeed, sea snakes reach their greatest diversity in regions with heavy rainfall, and sea kraits are most common near fresh water spring outflows.

Notes on Marine Reptiles in North America

The study seems to raise questions as to the drinking habits of other marine reptiles, such as sea turtles.  It brought to my mind time spent observing mangrove salt marsh snakes (Nerodia clarkii compressicauda) in Florida – that particular snake lives largely in salt water, but periodically travels to nearby fresh water swamps to drink. 

At the mouth of the Nissequogue River on Long Island, NY, I encountered a population of snapping turtles (Chelydra serpentina) that have been documented as having salt-excreting glands not possessed by snapping turtles living further upstream in the same river.  I’ll soon review an article written on the turtles in that habitat, with a view towards reconciling it with this surprising new information.

Your questions, observations and research tidbits would be most appreciated. Thanks, until next time, Frank Indiviglio.

You can read more about the natural history of sea snakes and sea kraits at the web site of the Chicago Field Museum:

http://www.fieldmuseum.org/aquaticsnakes/true_sea.html

Image referenced at Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Banded_Sea_Snake-jonhanson.jpg, and originally posted by Jon Hanson on FlickR.

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