Wednesday 27 June 2007

The Monarch Butterfly

The Monarch (Danaus plexippus) is one of the most widely recognised of all butterfly species. It is also one of the most interesting, with some individuals migrating thousands of miles, but unfortunately it is under threat. The migration route covers Mexico, the United States and some individuals make it as far as Canada.

The threat comes across this region. The caterpillar feeds on the various (100+) species of Milkweed in the US. Unfortunately much of the grassland is now agricultural, and the use of herbicides has had a large impact on the amount of Milkweed, as well as other flowers that provide nectar for the adults. Here in the UK there has been a considerable amount of pressure from various organisations as well as professional and amateur naturalists to promote the idea of leaving the margins around fields to grow wild - and a similar scheme in the US would be very likely to have a positive impact on this and many other species.

The butterflies roost in high mountain forests in Mexico, and these too are under threat. The actual regions they roost in are officially protected by law, but a complex legal and land ownership system means that rogue logging operations cans till occur in these supposedly safe areas. Thinning of the canopy causes a greater temperature fluctuation at night, and as a consequence many may freeze to death.

Roosting Monarchs in Mexico

The Monarch gets its name from the 'crown' that is visible on the pupa.

Today I went to a lecture at the Natural History Museum, London by Professor Lincoln P. Brower - who has done much to help the conservation of this species. This article is based on his talk Conservation Issues and Survival of the Migration of the Monarch Butterfly.

Monday 25 June 2007


Cockroaches have always been of interest to me, although the first time I encountered a live one in a rented holiday cottage in Dervyshire I was slightly less than enthusiastic. Recently I have been doing some work with George Beccaloni on the Blattodea Species File and Blattodea Culture Group.

George has recently shown (finally and definitively) that termites are part of the order Blattodea (i.e. they are cockroaches). The highly organised social communities of termites are far from what most people imagine cockroaches to be, although as an order cockroaches have an immense variety in the amount of parental care given and received.

One of the most interesting of these various methods has been described here. I find the whole idea quite remarkable.

For any follow enthusiasts the Blattodea Culture Group has been reformed, and has a swish new journal, Cockroach Studies, which contaains a mix of popular and scientific articles. I am currently working on an English version of the website, which should be online soon. All of the group's publications are in English, and I wonder how many people have been put off the German only site? Until the new site goes online you can contact me using the meebo box (to the left somewhere) even if I'm offline and I will send you more details.

Saturday 23 June 2007

Philippine Leaf Insect

These photographs are of an adult female Phyllium sp. from the Phillipines that I have just obtained from A. Harman. Apparently this is the easiest species of leaf insect he has kept, with a very good survival rate. It is, as yet, unidentified but hopefully it will be identified soon and remain in culture.

Ocnophiloidea regularis (Trinidad Twig)

This has long been one of my favourite phasmids to keep in culture. It is a far cry from being 'showy' and is anything but large, but is somehow, for me at least, just as fascinating. The adult females are only around 5cm in body length, with the males being slighty shorter than this.

This species has been in culture since 1980 (PSG 32). The small size, and lack of wings in both sexes means that this species does not need as much space to moult as some of its larger cousins and is therefore ideal to keep in (relatively) small containers.

Thursday 14 June 2007

Sipyloidea sipylus (Pink Wing Stick Insect)

I have realised that I have not, as yet, put any photos of descriptions of phasmids up here, which is probably rather embarrassing considering my editorial responsibilities for the Phasmid Study Group Newsletter. Unfortunately the number of species I keep has been reduced in order to fit other commitments, but I do like to keep a few "old favourites" as well as some of the more "showy" species.

Here are some close up photos of the head of an adult female. This one is particularly lively and is a lot more willing to fly/glide than most of the other individuals I have kept.

Wednesday 13 June 2007

Some Invertebrates from Costa Rica VII: Blue Morpho Emergence

Some Invertebrates from Costa Rica VI: Miscellany II

Some more invertebrates from Alajuela, Costa Rica in April 2007

Cicada casing

Baby(?) snail

Unidentified Orthopteroid

Unidentified leafhopper

Unidentified Odonata

Some Invertebrates from Costa Rica V: Leaf-Cutter Ants

Alajuela, Costa Rica April 2007

Some Invertebrates from Costa Rica IV: Spiders

Alajuela, Costa Rica April 2007

Some Invertebrates from Costa Rica III: Some Beetles

All of these were found in Alajuela, Costa Rica in April 2007

Tuesday 12 June 2007

Some Invertebrates from Costa Rica II: Blue Morpho

This video was taken at a butterfly farm near Alajuela, Costa Rica. Blue Morphos are one of the country's must-see invertebrates. We did see the occassional flash of blue whilst hiking in the rainforest but wer nowhere near quick enough to record them on camera.

Sunday 10 June 2007

Apheloria tigana mating video

This video shows a mating pair of Apheloria tigana, a millipede native to the United States that I managed to successfully breed last year. They are best kept on a container containing 4-5cm of peat, covered with deciduous leaf litter (e.g. oak). These millipedes are relatively active and grow to around 7cm.

Rumina decollata

Rumina decollata (Decollate Snail) is a predatory snail found in the Mediterranean region that feeds on other small snail species. Unlike the familiar snail species the end of the shell is truncated and has a 'plug' at the summit to retain shell integrity. Adults generally retain around four whorls. The shell in adults is usually pale brown or yellow, baby snails are generally much darker.

I obtained half a dozen adults from a friend in Italy, where the snails are known to aestivate in periods of low humidity and/or high temperature. It has been noted that the snails may burrow to considerable depths in the soil in extreme cold, and are capable of withstanding dehydration for several months. Dundee (1986) noted that markecd snails released into the wild did not stray more than a metre from the point of release over a period of six months!

The 'decollation' or removal of the apex whorls is said to be aided by the snail violently banging the shell against rigid objects - but this is unconfirmed. The evolutionary benefit of decollation is liekly to be due to increased agility due to a smaller shell and a lower weight.

Snails start to reproduce around the age of 12 months, and the 2mm diameter eggs are laid in shallow depressions in the soil. A typical incubation time is around one month.

The snails supplement their diet of vegetation with other small snail species, slugs and even worms. I have managed to successfully rear and breed this species on a diet of apple occassionally supplemented with other fruits and salad leaves.

My first baby snails hatched in early June 2007, although I was unable to observe the eggs or egg laying. I estimate that I have around 20-30 baby snails, although this could increase as they often burrow.

The snails do not seem to predate their own species, even when transported in close confinement. They can be kept in a large tupperware container, as long as there is space for 4-5cm of soil, and at least 10cm free space above the soil layer. For this species are use an approximately cubical container, withs ides of length 20cm. This is suitable for 3-4 adults. The soil should be kept mosit at all times. The snails may benefit from a period of drying out (maybe 4-6 weeks) to replicate summer conditions but sof ar this has proved unnessecary in my breeding attempts.

Baby snail on petri-dish

Costa Rica - Some Non Invertebrates

Here are a few of the non-invertebrates that I found in Costa Rica. These are a lot easier to identify than the invertebrates. I have also included a list of other animals that were seen, but were gone too quickly to be photographed.

Ground Anole/Humble Anole Anolis humilis
Lowland tropical wet forest at Golfito.

Unidentified Motmot - (Baryphtengus martii?)
Garden in Alajuela

Social Flycatcher/Mosquero Cejiblanco/Pecho amarillo Myiozetetes similis
Garden in Alajuela

Also seen (a selection of):
Granular Poison-arrow Frog - Dendrobates granuliferus - Lowland tropical wet forest at Golfito
Gren Poison-arrow Frog - Dendrobates auratus - Lowland tropical wet forest at Golfitio
Central American Smooth Gecko - Thecadactylus rapicauda - Lowland tropical wet forest at Golfito
Green Iguana - Iguana iguana - Lowland tropical wet forest at Golfito
Central American Whiptail - Ameiva festiva - Lowland tropical wet forest at Golfito
Chestnut-mandibled Toucan - Ramphastos sulfuratus - Lowland tropical wet forest at Golfito

Saturday 9 June 2007

Some Invertebrates from Costa Rica I: Miscellany I

I have not the time to even begin identifying these yet - I will keep you all updated as I do.

There are a few (non-invertebrate) photographs here.


I was sent a few months ago now a colony of Springtails that were cultured from some which "appeared" in a vivarium in the UK. They are a UK native species Folsomia candida. They feed on various moulds, and may have a use in controlling the growth of mould on various Phasmid eggs in captivity.

They can be cultured in decaying leaf litter but an easier (and cleaner) method is to place a layer of plaster of paris mixed with a small amount of activated charcoal (available from chemists) in the bottom of a margarine tub or similar. When the plaster has set dampen it so that it is near saturation and sprinkle some yeast (from the supermarket) on top. Add your springtails (Collembola) and wait for the colony to spring into action.

A word of caution - colonies are known to fail unexpectedly, so once it gets to a good size it is a good idea to split your culture into two.

Springtails make good food for small carnivorous insects and amphibians.

Not the best photograph - I will take a better one as soon as I have the time

Actias selene - Indian Moon Moth

This is one of the easiest of the tropical silkmoths to breed in captivity, feeding readily on rhododendron. Foodplant should always be fresh (this requires keeping it in water and changing at the very least every other day). It s best to keep the caterpillars well ventilated to prevent moulding of the faeces and disease.

These images are of the caterpillars and a freshly emerged adult male. For some reason I do not have photographs of the other stages, but I will take photos as they happen and post them on this blog.

2nd Instar Caterpillar

2nd Instar Caterpillar

3rd/4th Instar Caterpillar

3rd/4th Instar Caterpillar

Freshly emerged adult male - still enlarging its wings

Update: While going through some unsorted material in my collection I found a couple of cocoons and pupae. These were both spun around some loose sheets of newspaper placed in the cage - which is easier to handle and prevent from moulding than cut foodplants. After one of the moths hatched I cut open the cocoon so the pupa could be viewed.