Interview with a Premier Blatticulturist!

Hello all, this time we are jumping tracks in terms of posts, and I am happy to present you my interview with Tristan Shanahan AKA TJ Ombrelle AKA Hisserdude AKA Invertebrate Dude (that’s a mouthful)!

Tristan is one of the premier invertebrate enthusiasts in the US, focusing mainly on roaches, but also with experience in a wide variety of other invertebrates. His blog has served as a source of credible information and experience for more than five years, and, fun fact, was one of the inspirations for this blog itself! Needless to say it was only a matter of time before I would try to get the scoop (so long as he agreed…) on this contributor to the invertebrate hobby.

And so, without further ado, I present to you my interview with Invertebrate Dude and a few photos of his specimens, past and present!

Arthroverts: “How did you get into the hobby?


Invertebrate Dude: “I’ve always been interested in wildlife, from a very young age, with a particular fascination for animals often perceived as “gross” or “scary” to people, prime examples being cockroaches, snakes, Suriname toads, hagfish, etc. I was always out catching various invertebrates, (roaches were a favorite), sometimes keeping them in jars and such temporarily. I was around 9 years old when my grandfather, (who kept and bred ball pythons and other reptiles), gifted me a male Madagascar hissing cockroach, (a Gromphadorhina hybrid), and I believe that’s what really kick-started my love for keeping invertebrates in captivity long term. Over the next couple years I started getting more males of other hisser species, and then started attempting to keep and breed almost every US native or adventive invertebrate I could find. A few years later I started keeping breeding groups of exotic roaches for the first time, and that’s when I founded my blog. :)”

A: “Over the years as you have detailed your experiences in the hobby on your blog, there has been a noticeable shift in your interest towards roaches; what is it about these insects that so captivates you?

ID: “To be honest, I’m not really sure, for some reason I’ve always loved animals the world loves to hate, and roaches are one of the most misunderstood insects out there. Periplaneta spp. were also a common sight in the areas I lived as a younger child, and having such large, non-biting insects to catch and handle often probably helped me develop a love for roaches early on. As for keeping them as pets, roaches are pretty easy to maintain, even most of the more difficult ones are relatively simple to set up compared to many other invertebrates, they’re also a very diverse group, and this is reflected in the array of species available in the hobby. I’d say those are the two major drawing factors for roaches that I can’t resist. “

Lanxoblatta rudis nymph, an incredible South American species that precariously exists here in the US in the hands of a few breeders. Easily one of my favorite roach species, I hope to one day acquire them and get them firmly established here, though by that time I hope they already are…

Lanxoblatta rudis adult. The texturing on this species is incredible…

A: “What do you have in your collection currently? Do you think it’ll grow further?

ID: “I currently have two roach species, (Gyna capucina, Bantua sp. “Namibia”), three darkling beetle species, (Eleodes nigrina, E. obscura, E. sp. subgenus Blapylis), and I have some interesting click beetles on the way as well. I was planning on keeping my collection down to ten species, but I’m not sure if I’ll be able to adhere to that. I definitely won’t be keeping anywhere near 100+ species like I did in the past though, and several of the species I’ll be keeping will be on a temporary basis, just to help get them established in the hobby. “

Gyna capucina specimen, a more finicky species in the genus, and one of the two species of roach Invertebrate Dude is currently keeping. Look at those colors!

Eleodes obscurus, a rare Eleodes species within the hobby.

A: “Do you have a favorite species/genus?

ID: “Hands down, my favorite genus is Pilema, a weird genus of cockroach that spends most of it’s life in a neat round burrow dug into hardened clay. They may look boring to some people but I absolutely love their weird habits, they’ll eat decaying organic matter around their burrows, and mothers will keep their offspring in their burrows for at least a molt or two, often building up little “chimneys” to accommodate them all. I actually had plans to acquire a Pilema species this year, but unfortunately I may not be able to period, thanks to the pandemic…”

A: “Is their still a “holy grail” species that you’d like to one day acquire?

ID: “I’d really like to try my hand at Archiblatta hoeveni, they seem like they’d be easy enough to breed if consistently given proper care, just so long as one took into account their solitary and arboreal nature. The closely related Catara rugosicollis would also be nice to work with.”

A: “You have talked quite a bit about the importance of conservation (such as in your post on Platerodrilus sp. beetles), both in captivity and in the wild, of various invertebrates. Where do you see the hobby being in this regard?

ID: “I see the hobby as potentially being very helpful in the conservation of many species, but also being detrimental to the conservation of others. Some species, particularly of well known and commonly kept orders, can often easily be kept and bred long term in captivity, and if they’re pretty or interesting enough, usually a wide variety of people will want to keep them, thus cementing their place in captive breeding. However, I believe that other, less studied organisms, ones that have traditionally done very poorly in the pet hobby like trilobite beetles and Madagascan pill millipedes, should only be kept by zoos and labs until adequate, repeatable husbandry methodologies can be produced, after which introduction to the pet hobby could potentially be very beneficial. Unfortunately where we stand right now, there is next to no effort from professional labs or institutions to successfully cultivate most invertebrates, so the pet hobby can be hit or miss when it comes to conservation. Sometimes we can save species from extinction or eliminate collection pressure for some species with captive breeding, other times we can actually harm wild populations with excessive collection, which is normally only a problem with species that are extremely difficult to keep or species no one even tries to breed (like Emperor scorpions, Chilean rose hair tarantulas, etc.). In my opinion we should strive to successfully breed as many species as possible, and thus greatly reduce or eliminate the collection of wild individuals of said species. For those that we can’t seem to breed after dozens of tries, giving up and fighting instead for conservation of their wild habitats may be the best course of action.”

Panchlora sp. “White”, another amazing, maddeningly-sensitive species that has also gone the way of Arthopleura in the US…

A: “Where do you see yourself in the future in this hobby?

ID: “I hope to continue to get enjoyment from this hobby, help establish as many species as possible in captive culture, and be a reliable source of husbandry information for newbies and experienced breeders alike.”

A few of you may recognize this amazing photo capturing the bioluminescent glow from a Pyrophorus noctilucus, a species of elaterid beetle formerly kept by Invertebrate Dude. Truly an incredible specimen. Can’t wait to see what new species of elaterids you are getting Tristan!

A: “Do you see yourself continuing to dial in on roaches or perhaps expanding into other invertebrate groups once again in the future?

ID: “I think I’ll probably keep honing in on rare roaches for the time being, (I say as I currently have more beetles than roaches), but branching out is bound to happen, I’m sure I’ll be keeping some non-roach oddball inverts in the future, though they will have to be true oddballs or otherwise very remarkable to earn a place in my collection.”

Psytalla horrida adult. Big. Colorful. Expensive.

A: “Finally, do you have any tips for an aspiring blatticulturist like myself?

ID: “So long as you’re consistent with your care, start out with widely recommended beginner species, and are sure to get husbandry information from not just one, but several trusted sources, there’s almost no limit to the species you should be able to breed in this hobby! Also, pro tip, if something goes wrong and a colony crashes for seemingly no reason, just know that while inbreeding is usually the big bad boogeyman people point their fingers to first, inbreeding’s almost never actually the cause. Pro pro tip, large, prolific springtails and many isopods can actually be as detrimental to roaches as grain mites can, so be careful what you use as cleaner crews.”

Hormetica strumosa adult. A site to behold that alas, is quite rare in the hobby…

Huge thank you to Tristan Shanahan AKA Invertebrate Dude AKA…you know who he is…

Anyway, again, thank you Tristan for sharing your knowledge and photos with us! I greatly appreciate it, and look forward to seeing you continue to share your knowledge, experience, and pictures with us on your blog and elsewhere. If you want to see all of Invertebrate Dude’s content, check out his blog here, his YouTube channel here, and his forum activities here, here, and here.

Surprise L. rudis profile photo!

That’s all for now, catch ya on the flip side, or if I’m not there, look for me outside wherever there is creation and invertebrates!

Thanks,

Arthroverts

Protecting your collection…

Whoa, a post on the first of the month??? And there was a post in the month before?? Consider yourselves lucky…

This time I will be sharing some info and tips on how to protect your collection from earthquakes, and to a smaller extent wildfires and flash floods. This information was garnered from a brain-storming meeting at one of the Invertebrate Club of Southern California meetings. Since we are in an area that is expecting a “Big One” (we are actually very overdue for a large earthquake), we figured this would be a pertinent topic to discuss. However, since Southern California is not the only place that has earthquakes (I’m thinking of our fellow Indonesian enthusiasts), this info should be of use to all those who live in earthquake zones.

So how do we protect our collections? The first step is making sure your racks, bookcases, shelves, or whatever it is that your enclosures are on, do not fall down. To do this, you must have some form of strap that secures to the wall stud. I use these ones (https://amzn.to/2Zewvgx), although I’m sure similar products work just as well. Another thing that can be done is to place heavy enclosures, such as large glass Exo Terra or Zoo Med cages, down on the lower shelves of a rack. I’m sure we can all imagine what will happen if one of your racks falls down, especially if you have more potent/aggressive invertebrates.

With this done, you then need to make sure your containers do not slide off; this can be achieved by either placing enclosures on top of non-slip rack liners (https://amzn.to/30joqsf), or by using the metal racks with bars that also help prevent sliding. In the event that an enclosure does get flung off, it is very important to make sure you use containers with lids that close tight, otherwise you may end up with a Leiurus quinquestriatus or a Cyriopagopus lividum prowling around. Double containers may also work if you have large numbers of small slings in deli cups with lids that don’t always snap perfectly tight (taping the lids may also work). If you have hard plastic or glass cages (Critter Keepers, Sazon containers, glass terraria), it would best to place them lower down on the racks so that if they do fall off, there is a less chance of the plastic or glass cracking or shattering. It is naturally of utmost importance that you don’t have extra glass on the floor after a large earthquake, or venomous invertebrates running around; while they (the invertebrates) are more likely to run and hide, there is always a chance one may decide to stand its ground and fight. That is pretty much all you can do to prepare for an earthquake.

However, you must also make sure that after an earthquake hits, you have a plan in place to keep your collection alive during the recovery process. After the earthquake, it is possible, if not likely, that you won’t have running water, electricity, gas, etc. Therefore, it is important to make sure that you have the necessary means to keep your collection cool/warm, depending on the season. Most shelters will not accept pets outside of dogs, cats, horses, etc., so you cannot rely on them as places to where you can take your animals.
If it is summer, you can keep your collection cool with the use of chemical cool packs, moving enclosures to a cooler room or in a lower area (as heat rises), or if you have regular winds, opening a window may be all that is needed to keep your collection cool. If it is winter, chemical heat packs and moving your enclosures to a warmer area are your best bet.

The problem of not having running water can be remedied by using the number of water filtration units that are available. Bottled water, and water from a pool if you have one can also be used if necessary. You should irregardless have an emergency store of water to supply you, your family, and all your animals in case of situations like this already. Many invertebrates can survive short periods in dry conditions, but if you have moisture dependent animals, it is important to have an emergency store of water to supply them for at least a week as well. Most invertebrates should be able to survive several weeks without food, but if you are worried about it, you can start a small colony of crickets, roaches, or mealworms to supply you in case of emergencies.

Your collection is an investment, especially if you have a large collection and/or expensive animals. While the local invertebrate market will likely be down for a long while after a big earthquake, you may be able to sell some specimens off to those outside of the affected area to help pay with repairs/necessities. It’s not likely, but it is still something that should be kept in mind.

I know that none of us would want to lose our collections, especially if it survived a large quake only to die in the chaos afterwards. Keep that investment alive, and you never know how it may pay itself back in the future.

Finally, other natural disasters; flash floods you usually don’t have to worry about, but if you think you may be in an area prone to flooding, move your invertebrates to a higher area in the house/room. Otherwise, there is not much that can be done in case of a flash flood.

For wildfires, you can only hope and pray that the fire does not take your house, because if it does, there is nothing you can do to save your collection. Most of the time you will have a small time frame to gather up valuables before having to evacuate, but I cannot stress this enough: make sure you and your family are safe first. If you have time, grab any irreplaceable items and vertebrate pets (as unlike most invertebrates, they will feel pain and suffer if left behind), such as picture albums, important documents, cash, the family dog, etc. Then if you have enough time, grab the invertebrates that you care about the most. It would be helpful to make a list of the specimens you wish to grab first beforehand, so that you are not stressing about which creature to take in the confusion of an evacuation. Naturally, if you have enough space and time, you can try and bring everything, but this may not always be an option.

And that is pretty much it! While it’s not suggested for you yo become an invertebrate doomsday prepper, with an underground bunker all ready to defend your valuable T. seladonia from anarchists, looters, and rouge USFWS agents, we do suggest that you at least take some precautions and have a plan in place for when an earthquake or other natural disaster comes. Just remember; you and your family’s and friend’s safety should take precedence over all your animals. There will always be another such-and-such invertebrate to replace one you lose, but human lives are irreplaceable.

Thanks,

Arthroverts

Velvet Worms are in the US!

NOTE: Currently not selling any velvet worms. Please see the below comments for a link to a seller who might have some available.

Hello all, I have some very exciting news! I have been able to bring a brand new invertebrate into the hands of private US breeders for the very first time; Epiperipatus barbadensis, or the Barbados Brown Velvet Worm! I am super stoked to have received these. If you are wondering how in the world these made it to the US, let me tell the story…

Back in October of 2018, I was perusing Arachnoboards like I often do, and I came across this awesome thread started by Mackenzie Harrison (or @AbraxasComplex as he is known) on his velvet worm vivarium. I was immediately blown away by the incredible vivarium, but even more so by the creatures that were living inside it; Epiperipatus barbadensis, or Barbados Brown Velvet Worms!

Prior to seeing this thread, I had only known velvet worms existed from a very short bit in which they appeared in a graphic novel (about insects, coincidentally), but I never researched them further. However, as soon as I saw these on Arachnoboards I made sure to claim a spot on the not-yet-formed waiting list for these with a few other enthusiasts. One slight problem however: Mackenzie was in Canada. Seeing this, me and two other enthusiasts, M.S AKA @schmiggle (M.S are his initials, as per his request) and Carter AKA @Cresto on Arachnoboards created an email thread between us and started researching the legality of these incredible creatures. Not long after we we’re delighted to find that Epiperipatus barbadensis is completely legal to import and keep in the US! The USDA, USFWS, and APHIS had no problem with these, so we started talking with Mackenzie about importing and costs. Carter and M.S did most of the footwork in garnering information, and I am incredibly grateful for their support and help. Unfortunately, the original price for velvet worms was much higher than we had been let on to believe, so in February-March of 2019 things kind of dropped off.

However, in April I came across a few more people wondering about the legality of keeping/importing velvet worms in(to) the U.S. I talked with Carter and M.S about sending them the info we had already found. They agreed, and a few months later I started gathering email addresses from those interested in joining the Velvet Worm Club of the USA, which was the semi-official name I gave to the loose assemblage of enthusiasts interested in velvet worms. I started an email thread between all of us, as well as Mackenzie, and soon after we started having some more serious conversations about pricing and importing.

Before this however, in July, I had been talking with Mackenzie about possibly importing some other invertebrates with another friend. That fell through, but in the process I discovered the price on the Epiperipatus barbadensis had dropped considerably. Ecstatic, I sent a message to Carter and M.S about the price drop, and that was when (in August) we started bringing other velvet worm lovers into the club and started working on the finer details of importing.

The only catch was that the easiest way to get the velvet worms from Canada legally was to go through a broker. We didn’t know much about brokers, but Mackenzie suggested we use Reptile Express, which not only takes care of the legal issues at the border, but also has an agreement with FedEx to overnight shipments of live reptiles/invertebrates through them. Mackenzie even offered to be our intermediary between Reptile Express and us since he had worked with them before on an export to Europe, which made our lives much easier. Thanks Mackenzie!

Now, with 8 of us spread across the US in on the import, shipping wasn’t exactly going to be cheap to send the velvet worms to each person individually, at least not with Reptile Express. While brainstorming, we discussed sending the velvet worms to maybe one or two trusted people within the club, who would then ship out to each person via overnight shipping; this would help keep our import costs down. After some more discussion, we decided this would be the best option. However, with 8 people spread so wide across the US, we decided on two shippers, one for the West Coast and another for the East Coast. I was the only person on the West Coast with shipping experience who was available at the time, so I volunteered to have part of the import delivered to me and then send it on to 3 other people.

With the shipping details taken care of and all our payments in, the date the package was to be sent to Reptile Express was set for September 25th. It would then be flown into the US, inspected, rerouted, and delivered to the two intermediary shippers on the 26th. The other shipper and I then shipped out the majority of packages via overnight mail on the 27th, except where bad weather required the packages to be held for a few days. By the 30th, everything had been delivered. All the while the velvet worms did fantastically! They ship very well, and to my knowledge there were no losses. I took great care, with much help from my brother, who is amazing at packing things, to ship them out with the utmost care however. Thank God for styrofoam insulation!

I received my 3 baby velvet worms about 1″ long and got them into their cage on the 26th, because I was one of the intermediate shippers and therefore received them early. Insofar they seem to have done very well, but they are exceedingly secretive; I have only seen them twice since I’ve received them! Food continues to disappear, however, so I’m hoping they are feeding and growing. With good care and a lot of prayer, I will hopefully have a colony of these established in a few years, and then be able to continue to spread these amazing creatures amongst enthusiasts in the US invertebrate hobby. Pictures below!

Two babies when I was unpacking them.
Epiperipatus barbadensis are capable of greatly expanding or shrinking their bodies, similar to millipedes; the above photo shows what they look like when they shrink down; this photo shows how they look when they expand.
And here is the enclosure; a 10″ x 10″ x 5″ Sistema enclosure with a 1 1/2″ hole covered in microscreen in the lid. Despite this, a kind of fly similar to scuttle flies has still managed to get in. *sigh*

The substrate is made up of ABG soil with a New Zealand Sphagnum moss covering portions of the substrate. Two medium pieces of cork bark provide hides. I mist regularly in the evening to keep the humidity up and stimulate evening activity, as Epiperipatus barbadensis seems to be more active in the evening after it rains. I keep the temperature up by placing the enclosure next to my Rosy Boa cage which has a heat mat under it, as these fascinating creatures prefer a temperature in between 72 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Lastly, I feed small crickets every two weeks, as well as medium Porcellionides pruinosus “Powder Blue” isopods in between the cricket meals.

And those are my new velvet worms! If you have further questions, don’t hesitate to leave a comment and ask. I have also attached Mackenzie’s care sheet for this species for those who would like to know more.

And last but certainly not least, I want to give a huge shoutout to those who helped make this happen; thank you to Carter and M.S for getting the ball rolling in the early days of our velvet worm fascination; thank you to Mackenzie for being so incredibly helpful all the way through the process (he smoothed out all the problems for us and made sure each velvet worm arrived safely even though it was an international operation!); thank you to those who already had this species and contributed to the pool of husbandry knowledge; and thank you to each and everyone who helped bring these into the US by ordering some; I couldn’t have done this without you guys!

That’ll do it for now; I’ll see ya next time!

Thanks,

Arthroverts

Invertebrate Club of Southern California…

Yes, yes, I know, I didn’t post for July. That month was crazy! Anyway, here is the post that was meant for July. Another for August coming soon(ish)!

Hello invertebrate enthusiasts! In a previous post I talked about how I had gotten my Blaberus giganteus, and mentioned that I would talk a little bit more about that in the next post. Well, that post has arrived!

Back in September/October of 2018, I was perusing through Arachnoboards, and I came across some posts from an old invertebrate club, SCABIES (SCABIES: Southern California Arachnid, Bug, Invertebrate, Entomological Society). As I live in Southern California, I immediately looked into joining the club. However, after some more research, I discovered the club went defunct back around 2010. I was disappointed, but then realized there was still quite a few SoCal invertebrate enthusiasts on Arachnoboards and Roach Forum. After some thought, I decided to launch a new club on the 1st of January 2019. The ICSC (Invertebrate Club of Southern California) was born!

It turns out there was a lot more than a “few” invertebrate enthusiasts in SoCal, and we held the first meeting in February! Since then, we’ve held monthly meetings where we’ve discussed a myriad of topics concerning the invertebrate hobby, gone to reptile shows together, and we are currently gearing up for our second club collecting trip. We also have scored some sweet trades and deals between members! The diversity of interests amongst members is also boggling; everything from whipspiders to tarantulas, scorpions to isopods, true spiders to millipedes, centipedes to primitive spiders, slugs and snails to true bugs, roaches to aquatic invertebrates. And still the list goes on!

Anyway, we are now successfully past the 6 month mark, and looking forward to a bright future! I am working on our website, which I will link to when it is finished. If you are interested in joining, please leave a comment with your email address and I will get back to you as soon as I can!

That’s all for now!

Thanks,

Arthroverts