Beyond the Cricket: Alternative Foods for Arachnids

Page 1 of 3 | © 2005-2010 text by Michael Jacobi

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Preface to E-Zine Article

This article has been slightly edited and expanded from its print release [ARACHNOCULTURE 1(3)] for this E-Zine version.

Introduction

The Back Page column of this magazine’s debut issue was entitled "Crickets Suck!" The Back Page is intended to be irreverent and amusing, while still being instructional. Within the sarcasm of the cricket piece, among the points made were that crickets are expensive, short-lived, noisy, foul-smelling, and may present risks to captive arachnids by killing them during molts, attracting pests or transmitting parasites. A comprehensive discussion of the methods of culturing and rearing some of the food items is beyond the scope of this article, but some breeding and care tips will be given along with pointers to more detailed information.

Roaches

Many arachnid enthusiasts not only raise exotic roaches as food for their animals, but also have a great interest in these fascinating creatures and keep them as pets. What roach haters do not realize is that of the thousands of roach species worldwide only a few dozen are actually pests. These pest species prosper in filthy environments, but roaches are not themselves dirty. Most live in forest leaf litter, caves and other areas away from human habitation.

A wide variety of roach species are now cultivated in captivity and are readily available to the hobbyist. These species can be split into two groups: those that can climb smooth vertical surfaces such as glass, and those that cannot. A popular example of a glass-climber is Gromphadorhina portentosa, the Madagascan hissing roach. This is a popular pet species, but avoided by many roach breeders due to their hard exoskeleton and climbing ability. Nauphoeta cinerea, commonly known as the lobster roach, is a small climbing roach species that produces babies small enough for tiny spiderlings and scorplings and are among the most prolific and hardy roaches in captivity. The roach species I raise and recommend are all non-climbers: Blaberus craniifer, B. discoidalis, B. fusca, Blaberus sp. hybrids and Blaptica dubia. Two Eublaberus species, E. distanti and E. prosticus, are also popular among keepers, but the latter species is partially carnivorous and cagemates eagerly chew upon each other. This tendency can be reduced by adding foods very high in animal protein (e.g., ferret food), but the activity never disappears completely.

egg carton holding boxRoach husbandry is fairly straightforward. A secure and ventilated enclosure of adequate size, shelter and climbing surfaces, heat, and food and water are the basic requirements. Although aquaria can be used, less expensive and fragile containers such as large plastic storage tubs and 5-gallon buckets are preferred by many keepers. To provide ventilation a sharp knife may be used to cut out sections of the top and sides of the enclosure and these openings should then be covered by aluminum insect screening affixed by hot glue or aquarium-safe silicone sealant. Finer screen such as microscreen (or a porous fabric) may be necessary to prevent small gnats and flies from entering the enclosure to help themselves to the roaches' food. Egg cartons [see www.eggcartons.com] are the best material to provide the roaches with both shelter and climbing surfaces. When placed vertically—identical sides against each other to prevent nesting of the cartons—the increased surface area provided by the egg cartons allows a greater number of roaches to be housed in a container.

As with keeping other invertebrates, substrate is a matter of personal preference. Some roach breeders provide no substrate at all to facilitate maintenance, whereas others choose aspen shavings, coconut coir, peat moss, or soil. Substrate seems to be beneficial as roaches readily burrow in it, especially babies. Regardless of what substrate is chosen, it is important to remove uneaten fresh foods and monitor moisture to prevent mold and fungus.

A heat source is necessary to maximize roach production. It seems that the hotter roaches get, the faster they breed. I know of a keeper who maintains a special closet for his roaches at 90-95°F [32-35°C]. He reports an increase in production during the summer when temperatures can exceed 100°F [38°C]. Besides heating a room or an area, two methods can be employed for providing supplemental heat: incandescent light or ceramic heat emitters and heat tape or mats such as those marketed for reptiles. My roach enclosures are in an 80°F [27°C] room and heat tape is used to raise one end of the enclosure to 90°F [32°C]. All heat sources should be thermostatically controlled for safety. If incandescent light is used for heat, special bulbs that produce minimal visible light are best. A number of reptile product manufacturers market red, dark blue and black bulbs that are ideal [e.g., Exo-Terra® NightGlo™ moonlight lamp and HeatGlo™ infrared heat lamp] and also make ceramic heat emitters that are installed in light fixtures yet produce no light at all.

Fresh water can be provided to roaches in a shallow dish or by using a chick waterer (often sold by cricket farms as "cricket fountains"). Some keepers use water gel sold in reptile specialty pet stores or made with polyacrylamide crystals obtained from horticultural companies [see www.watersorb.com]. Sponges should not be used as these quickly become filthy bacteria breeding grounds. Personally, I do not provide my roaches with any water. I have found providing them with plenty of vegetables and fruit with high moisture content keeps them well hydrated.

The recipe for my Bug Power Feed dry diet is downloadable here. Plenty of leafy dark greens, zucchini and yellow squash, carrot, apple, orange, and banana should be offered in addition to this dry diet.

For more information on roaches see Allpet Roaches by Willis & McMonigle [www.elytraandantenna.com] and download my "General Care and Breeding of Roaches of the genera Blaberus, Blaptica and Eublaberus".

 

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