Sunday, September 24, 2017

I do some thinking

I still haven't located very many interesting insects for observation/captivity. Here are my thoughts about the currently targeted species/groups:

After browsing through some more of the scanty information on Coniontis darkling beetles, I have concluded that they should be fairly easy to find by flipping objects in the right places. Unfortunately, small vertebrate frass is quite abundant in such locations in my yard.

The local footspinners (touched upon briefly here) should be easy to capture in large numbers if I dig around in decaying, leafy soil. The garden leaves are mostly rather disgusting and dusty, but at least the spinners are widespread.

I have also seen a red-edged seed bug (very similar in appearance to Melacoryphus lateralis) in numbers at a light in previous days, but I cannot locate host plant information online. Rather ironically, there are plenty of oversensationalized stories online about lateralis "invading" areas in large numbers.

It is somewhat hilarious that I am spending lots of time trying to work out the habitat and behavior of tiny (all in neighborhood of 1 cm) insects that no one pays attention to. Still, there are many people who keep dull-colored or small aquarium fishes, so it isn't really that strange. The seed bug is quite pretty, though, and could easily compete with a guppy or neon tetra at the pet shop if insects were as popular pets as fish.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Lawnworld: another slow day

I still haven't found an efficient way to organize my labels, so this post is mostly label-free.

After contacting Peter at bugsincyberspace about my flightless green fruit scarab's restless wall-climbing (see two posts below), he finally gave a reply which stated that Cotinis mutabilis is ordinarily an extremely active flier, so its behavior was likely normal. Phew again. I will also have to deal with some other issues, such as avoiding pesticide-contaminated produce for insect food, but such issues are beyond the scope of this post. Update: the captive fruit scarab has become slow-moving and is approaching death. Though wild adults are mostly restricted to the summer months, its stay in captivity has presumably lengthened its life.

Last night I went on another insect hunt in the yard. As the title suggests, it was not very successful or exciting. However, despite their uninteresting behavior the lawn arthropods were still fascinating to document. Elsewhere, one of the mantids I had been feeding fruit to did apparently attract a male, but neither party moved very much and I was stuck watching the lawn. The most conspicuous lawn arthropods in the area are undoubtedly the pillbugs, which wandered around the concrete but were more abundantly seen lounging around in loose "flocks" near the edges of the lawn, almost reaching the density of crickets in pet shop bins. Occasional wingless earwigs of various sizes were seen hanging around with the pillbugs, often with only their front ends visible. Multiple snout beetles (weevils) with short snouts were seen as well, though much less frequently than the earwigs. Their round-segmented, dot-covered bodies strongly resemble those of Otiorhynchus cribricollis, though some of the Otiorhynchus beetles look alike. Behavior was similar to that of a long-snouted weevil (not seen) resembling Sphenophorus; they sat calmly on concrete right next to the lawn and appeared to be reflectively observing the world. I presume both the long and short-snouted beetles feed on grasses, as multiple individuals were seen next to lawns. Despite being rather disappointed with the session, however, the atmosphere was greatly enhanced by a handful of medium-small crambid moths flying slowly and semi-smoothly inches above the grass.

Unfortunately, photos and videos will be coming only after I improve my camera skills.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Current status: a few more pleasant distractions

Update: The specimen of Cotinis mutabilis has slept well and resumed its appetite again. Phew! Hopefully no mysterious relapses occur.

The captive Cotinis fruit scarab is not doing well at all, even though I scanned furiously through my two insect-keeping books, and I am having a lot of severely unpleasant days as a result. I will make one desperate last bid to achieve proper husbandry before it gets euthanized. Here are some pleasant (though a bit slow to come) happenings:

Out of boredom, I consecutively fed two resident mantids some banana. I had been feeding various members of the population (A beetleforum member ID'd one a few yrs ago as possibly Stagmomantis limbata) dried mealworms and fruit occasionally for quite a while, and they seem to be quite common due to their sedentary habits, which presumably limit cannibalism. They eagerly ate it when I touched it to their mouthparts and calmed down somewhat while doing so, but like other individuals were quick to become paranoid as soon as it lost contact with their mouths. Luckily, they both eventually grabbed it with their front legs without mistakenly attacking my fingers (quite painful).

After the second mantis refused to finish its meal (satiated?), I found a small carabid ground beetle in the pool. It instantly reminded me of the "common sun beetle", Amara aenea, and after checking bugguide right now it does appear to be identical, right down to tiny details of surface texture. Unfortunately, identical appearance often cannot guarantee a correct ID. The insect's upper surface was a glossy bronze-black, which contrasted quite attractively with its completely black underside. I fed it some banana left over from feeding the mantises and then released it, so it did not exhibit the wary, skittish behavior carabids are well-known for

I also found out that my captive Coniontis was not only somewhat day-active but also did not seem to mind being taken from a dark area to a brighter one. It gnawed on a chunk of algae wafer (fish food) in bright light as well.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Current status: Hopefully things will improve

Last night I threw some wet paper balls in my Cotinis mutabilis enclosure, and the green fruit scarab soon went to sleep, though it adjusted its position a few times.

The centimeter-long Coniontis darkling beetle lunged straight from its shelter at a piece of moistened algae wafer (for feeding herbivorous fishes) in bright electric light, despite its semi-nocturnality. It later ate from a defrosted pumpkin piece as well and hamstered about in its paper towel substrate.

Hopefully I can figure out what husbandry errors my "pet" insects are encountering, and whether/when trying persistently to climb unclimbable walls is a normal behavior.

Update, 9/14

I checked Orin's Invertebrates for Exhibition and it said that Gymnetis, a close relative of Cotinis, must have humid, damp enclosures with limited ventilation. I tried modifying the enclosure with the paper towels and plastic wrap available, but another sleepless night occurred yesterday for the Cotinis scarab and myself.

Update on update, 9/14

After barely accepting a hard-fleshed fruit and frantically trying to climb the slippery plastic walls all day, the Cotinis scarab settled down after I put in banana. However, I highly doubt unsuitable food is the cause of its restlessness, as it has rejected in the past watermelon and blueberries, which are both very soft, and it often refuses to sleep. I will email Peter from bugsincyberspace.

Update on updated update, 9/15

Strangely, it slept well last night.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Elytra + Antenna book review

I have two books by expert author Orin McMonigle, and reviewing them would be a better idea than lethargically rereading them over and over again.

A few years ago, I got The Ultimate Guide to Breeding Beetles and Invertebrates for Exhibition in the hopes of supplementing my beetleforum membership. I was quite excited when they arrived at my house that summer, and quickly read/finished them in a linear fashion, the same way I would read novels.

Insect keeping is a rather small hobby, perhaps because the general Western public is absolutely terrified of arthropods. Orin provided detailed information that would otherwise be only available through beetleforum in both books, but I still felt rather unsatisfied and empty after finishing both. This may not have been any fault of Orin himself, as I have a pronounced tendency to wish that books do not end. It seemed to me that the books were merely guides and reference books, and too short to read like novels. 

Another factor involved could be the result of differing preferences. The Ultimate Guide heavily emphasized a few species, such as Dynastes tityus (Eastern hercules beetle), which were large and "magnificent" but spent most of their long adult lives resting in diapause. I personally lack interest in them, because I mostly care about observing fascinating behavior, not "monstrous" size or fancy appendages. Invertebrates for Exhibition also seemed to be not what I was looking for, since I was expecting more non-typical (for the hobby) invertebrates, such as seed/plant bugs and smaller, long-lived moths.

There are a few errors and other minor issues in both, such as overgeneralizations ("the Cetoniinae are impossible to catch outdoors if the collector's approach detected" is certainly not true of unsuspecting and slow-escaping Cotinis beetles, which are featured in the book), but these should not deter the serious hobbyist much.

I would highly recommend the Ultimate Guide to scarab enthusiasts, but I would rather have ugly and small insects that are fascinating to observe over long periods than large pretty ones that tend to keep me waiting.

Stars: (please note that I highly respect and admire Orin; I simply dislike the main subjects of the books)

Ultimate Guide: 3.7 out of 5
(Revolutionary new info, but too megascarab-obsessed)

Invrts. for Exhibition: 3.5 out of 5
(Revolutionary new info, but not enough interesting things for me)

Monday, September 11, 2017

Current status: More corpses, and darkling-flavored cake

Last night I visited a house (social gathering "party") that looked like it was in good beetle habitat. It seemed to be near the foothills and had many trees. Soon after I arrived, I saw a dead, web-wrapped Coniontis? darkling beetle outside the front door. It was slightly bigger than the one I am keeping alive at home and could have been either a different species or a large individual (female insects are often bigger than males). Despite the slightly repulsive appearance of the dead beetle, I was excited because insect corpses often signify the presence of living individuals nearby. Coniontis beetles, like many darklings, prefer to locomote by walking about and may be physically incapable of flight, so it seems unlikely that it was just a random individual. Unfortunately, the sun soon set, so I was unable to see any live specimens.

The cake mentioned was one of several served at the party. The sweet, chemical taste and smell greatly resembled that of almond-scented soap and the "stink" bombs of certain adult darklings and ground beetles, including Zophobas morio, known as "superworm" in its immature stage and used as lizard food (Coniontis seems unable to produce any scent, however). I enjoyed it very much, and later found out it was rum-flavored.

I later found a male Oligotoma? footspinner (possibly two) attracted to the lights. Footspinners resemble pincerless earwigs and look/act quite like "ordinary" insects to the casual observer, but if kept for a while in a box they soon "draw" silken shelter tubes with their front legs. I have seen adults and immatures in my yard many times before, but was under the impression that their population was limited to the area around my house. This sighting, along with a dead male (only males fly) in a spiderweb seen elsewhere a while ago, suggests that they are less localized than I thought.

Unfortunately, I did get quite bored by the lack of very many interesting insects attracted to the light, but at least the discovery was a semi-pleasant break from worrying about my poor Cotinis mutabilis (green fruit scarab) all day.