The ongoing mystery of the Extinct in the Wild Roach

Unwinding the situation behind a presumed conservation success.
Note: this post will be updated as further information becomes available.

Simandoa conserfariam, known as the “Extinct in the Wild Roach,” “Extinct Roach,” “Simandoa Cave Roach” and the “Conservation Roach,” is a roach species from West Africa that has spread across the globe in captive collections. Easy to care for, prolific, and pleasingly colored, its popularity with roach hobbyists belies a darker fate in the wild.

Adult male Simandoa conserfariam. Photo compliments of Tristan Shanahan.

S. conserfariam was discovered in 2002 in a cave in the Pic de Fon Classified Forest, an ecologically-diverse area situated on the slopes of the Simandou Mountains of south-eastern Guinea. The remote mountain range is famous for its biodiversity, one of 36 global biodiversity hotspots recognized by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund. It is home not just to S. conserfariam but also to more charismatic megafauna, including threatened chimpanzee populations and a diverse cast of bats.

Look below the surface however, and the Simandou Range reveals that it is not only one of the richest regions ecologically, but also one of the richest mineralogically. In the late 1990s Rio Tinto, the second largest mining company in the world, began surveying the area for iron ore. Later, in 2008, the Guinean government estimated that the Simandou Range held 8.6 billion metric tons of iron ore, making it the largest untapped source of high-grade ore in the world.

The sheer monetary value of such a discovery led to massive legal battles over the mining rights in the Simandou Range that drew in not only Rio Tinto and the Guinean government, but also companies like Vale SA, Beny Steinmetz Group Resources, and the Chinese state-owned Chinalco. Though the ore deposits have been known about for decades, legal wrangling has prevented it from ever being extracted, though construction for eventual large-scale mining has continued, including in the Pic de Fon Classified Forest (PFCF).

The PFCF, located in the southern end of the range, is one of a few protected regions in the Simandou Range, established by the French colonial government in 1953 as a conservation area and preserved by the Guinean government after Guinea’s independence in 1958. Though it has been legally protected for the entirety of its 71-year existence, due to its remoteness, regional political instability, and governmental corruption its biodiversity has never been adequately studied, much less protected.

The Simandou Range, highlighted by the yellow box, is in a remote part of Guinea. Google Maps.

There are no known current conservation initiatives for the PFCF, and the only available management plan for the forest, published in 2010 by the Guinean government and the forestry organization Centre Forestier de N’Zérékoréin, allows Rio Tinto, at the time the company with control of mining rights to the range, to manage conservation operations in the area. It provides no specifics for protecting the forest’s ecology or limitations on what Rio Tinto can do within the PFCF. Furthermore, there is no information available online about the forest’s present protections.

Thus, though large-scale exploitation of the Simandou Range’s ore deposits has faltered, construction for roads and railways to eventually move iron ore to ports Guinea’s coast has continued in the PFCF under both Rio Tinto and various Chinese mining companies, while logging, slash-and-burn farming practices, and cattle grazing from local farmers and communites have eaten away at the PFCF’s borders. The lack of protection has allowed anyone with the right connections in the Guinean government free access to the area.

Though what information that is available about the Simandou Range’s biodiversity shows that it is indeed a global hot spot for species richness, the remoteness, political difficulties, and legal challenges have made it difficult for any extended study of it. In fact, the mountains’ were so understudied that it was difficult for Rio Tinto, the first company to try and exploit the mountains’ iron ore in the late 1990s and early 2000s, to comply with international conservation law. In order to continue its operations in the area, in 2002, Rio Tinto called in Conservation International (CI).

CI, a conservation organization formed in 1987, decided to perform a Rapid Assessment Program (RAP) of the range. Since 1990, CI had conducted RAPs in understudied regions around the world. Comprised of small, flexible teams of conservation scientists that rapidly catalogued a region’s biodiversity, RAPs were “ecological SWAT teams,” according to CI’s founder, Peter Seligmann. With scientists drawn from all branches of the life sciences, RAP teams were capable of finding and collecting vast numbers of species during several weeks spent in the field. Later, back home in labs around the world, RAP members worked to identify and, in many cases, describe their finds as quickly as possible in order to help the scientific community and companies like Rio Tinto understand what lived in the region and how to best protect it.

The RAP team sent to the Simandou Range in 2002 included 13 biologists of varying specialties, and examined two different sites in the range in November-December of that year, including a location in the PFCF. Overall, the team cataloged at least 797 species, including several new species of plants and katydids, a frog, and a small, unusual roach.

Simandoa conserfariam freshly-molted large nymph. Photo compliments of Tristan Shanahan.

While many roaches choose to live above ground in leaf litter or tree trunks, S. conserfariam was found in a bat cave. Piotr Naskrecki, one of S. conserfariam’s discoverers, recounted in the paper describing the species that the cave was “…open on both ends, allowing for a considerable amount of light to penetrate most of its area. The distance between the openings was about 35 m, and the distance from the floor of the cave to the highest point of its ceiling was about 20 m…humidity was high, maintained by a small stream running through it.”

Guano from thousands of Egyptian fruit bats (Rousettus aegyptiacus) covered the cave floor, in some areas to a depth of a meter/three feet. In this guano, colorful roaches were found by the thousands, usually in large aggregations of several dozen individuals. Two other species of roach, a tenebrionid beetle species, and Phaeophilacris cave crickets were also found in the guano and on the cave walls. Naskrecki and Louis M. Roth, another entomologist, collected several of these roaches for study, and a year later, in 2003, it was given a name: Simandoa conserfariam.

While the RAP expedition was successful in documenting the PFCF’s biodiversity, it was less so in protecting the forest, and the Simandou Range more broadly, from mining development. What Rio Tinto did with any recommendations provided by the RAP expedition is unclear, and development of the area has continued apace despite numerous setbacks. This year The Assay reported that Rio Tinto recently approved funding for a massive new development in the region that will hopefully start producing iron ore by 2025.

However, as early as 2013 Naskrecki and others were warning of the possible extinction of S. conserfariam. Naskrecki wrote on his blog that “The cave was on the path of a major road that was being constructed and it may no longer exist.” Satellite imagery obtained through Google Earth shows an inconclusive picture, but no defined cave entrances can be seen. Imagery from before the construction for comparison has not been attained. Further development of the area for mining seems highly likely.

Imagery from 2015 and newer shows a road nearly running over the GPS coordinates given for the cave in S. conserfariam‘s description. Google Earth.

Since the cave’s original discovery in 2002, the only other known expedition to it was during a 2008 bat survey. Led by mammalogist Jan Decher, it found only one Egyptian fruit bat in the cave. Reasons why the population might have been so reduced, and the state of the cave, were not discussed in the paper describing the results of the expedition, but Decher later clarified over email that the cave, called “Whiskey 2,” was not damaged when he visited.

Decher further noted that the bats probably only occupy the cave seasonally, though disturbances from the nearby road could have driven them away. He did not see any roaches, but at the time he was unaware of the description of S. conserfariam and did not look for them. Decher also cautioned that while there may be other caves in the area, many of the cave-dependent bat species do not necessarily need caves like the one S. conserfariam was found in. They could instead roost in rock piles, crevices, or overhangs.

While the cave has remained unvisited since 2008, it is possible the stream that ran through it has been visited as recently as 2022. From 2011 to 2012, a team of researchers led by Oi Edia Edia surveyed the aquatic insects of streams around the Simandou Range, publishing their findings in 2016. One of the streams they sampled was called “Whisky 2,” and was found to have a disturbance factor, or the degree to which it had been damaged, of “None;” other, nearby streams were also undisturbed.

While, the GPS coordinates provided for “Whisky 2” do not match those of the cave provided by Naskrecki and Roth in their paper describing S. conserfariam, instead pointing to a spot farther down the western slopes of the mountains, this could be because the stream was sampled at a lower elevation, or because it joined another, larger stream somewhere below the cave. Though its endpoint is not known for sure, if “Whisky 2” is the same stream as the one that runs through the “Whiskey 2” cave mentioned in both Naskrecki and Roth’s description and in Decher’s paper, it is unlikely that the cave had been destroyed at the time. If it had been, the stream would show signs of fouling and damage as it eroded a new path for itself out of the cave.

Locations of “Whiskey 2,” the cave where S. conserfariam was was found, “Whisky 2,” the stream sampled by Edia et al. in 2011-2012, and another stream sampled by Edia called S10, or the Foko stream, in the Simandou Range of eastern Guinea. Both streams surveyed by Edia had a disturbance factor of “None.” Google Earth.

Over email, Edia, said that he did not know if the stream was the same, though he had worked on the “Whisky 2” stream in 2022. He further noted that mining in the region was stopped in 2014-2015, and had only recently started again farther north near Oueleba Mountain. Because of this, Edia said that “I am more than reassured that this cave still exists.”

Whether or not the cave is gone, S. conserfariam is still very much alive. Naskrecki, along with the preserved specimens used for his description, collected living specimens: one male, three females, and several nymphs. He brought them to Harvard University to establish a colony, and almost ten years later, in early 2012, he sent specimens to Peter Clausen of Bugs In Cyberspace, one of the largest pet invertebrate retailers in the United States. 

Clausen established his own colony and later sold an estimated thousands of specimens to other roach enthusiasts in the US. The species then spread to collectors in Europe and Asia, thus fulfilling its name conserfariam, which means “conserve in many places.” Even so, there is no official recognition of S. conserfariam as extinct in the wild by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), an organization that tracks extinctions through its Red List of Threatened Species. 

Of course, S. conserfariam might simply have been missed amidst broader conservation priorities; Lucihormetica luckae, an Ecuadorian roach that is widely believed to be extinct, is similarly not on the IUCN Red List. This discrepancy between S. conserfariam‘s reputation as extinct in the wild and its official recognition of such might also be due to the limited information available on its range in the wild. Roth and Naskrecki wrote that it was unknown if the roaches could be found outside the cave, and given S. conserfariam‘s easy adaptation to a wide range of captive conditions, it seems quite possible that the roach could be found outside in the forest. The cave might have been a place where the roaches could proliferate easily, but not be their only or even their primary habitat.

Even if caves were S. conserfariam‘s primary habitat, the specific cave they were found in was only one of many in the Simandou Range. The 2002 RAP also surveyed bats, finding at least 10 species dependent on caves as resting places. The scientists studying the bats, Jakob Fahr and Njikoha M. Ebigbo, noted that “The bat fauna [of the Simandou Range] is also characterized by the high proportion of species that depend strictly…or partially…on caves.” However, they also pointed out that only one bat cave was studied during the RAP expedition, and that was the cave with the Egyptian fruit bats and S. conserfariam. Might other caves where S. conserfariam lives be out there?

There are no known sightings of S. conserfariam in the wild since 2002, a fact reflected on the species documentation website iNaturalist.

Regardless of whether or not the extinct roach’s cave still exists, or whether its primary habitat is even caves at all, the species has not been documented in the wild since 2002. Thus the question remains: does the extinct roach still exist in the wild, or is it truly gone from its natural habitat? And while it is most certainly not completely extinct, its fate raises questions about the rest of the Simandou Range’s biodiversity that is unknown and potentially threatened. How many species were lost without ever being known, if any?

Over 20 years later, the case of S. conserfariam still raises more questions than it answers.

An Interview with Dr. Derek Hennen!

Apheloria cf. polychroma. © Connor Smotzer. Used with permission.

Hello all, it’s been a minute!

A full life, website issues, draft posts that I revise endlessly…c’est la vie. But all that’s to say, today I am super excited to share an interview with Dr. Derek Hennen!

Dr. Hennen has studied millipedes, more specifically American xystodesmids, polydesmids, and platydesmids, extensively, having written a complete field guide to the millipedes of Ohio, contributing to the description of the stunning Apheloria polychroma pictured here, and perhaps most famously, naming a millipede after Taylor Swift!

Amongst all this work however, Dr. Hennen is also involved in science communication, appearing on several podcasts and YouTube channels to share about the fascinating field of myriapodology. You can learn more about all of this, as well as his publications and his blog (check out the post on Berlese-Tullgren funnels!), on his website. He is also the world’s no. 2 overall identifier for millipedes on iNaturalist!

To the interview!

Arthroverts: How did you become interested in pursuing myriapodology professionally?

Derek Hennen: It was completely random! When I was an undergraduate student at Marietta College, I had the opportunity to attend a millipede and centipede identification workshop at the Edge of Appalachia Preserve in West Union, Ohio. It was taught by Dr. Bill Shear and was my first introduction to the world of myriapods. I was totally hooked from then on because their biology was fascinating. Plus, they needed a lot of taxonomic work still, and I could find them in pretty much any patch of forest that was nearby.

A: What is it about millipedes specifically that interests you?

DH: Millipedes are a group of animals that I never thought about growing up, so maybe the fact that I knew nothing about them prior to that identification workshop made me want to make up for lost time. Some are very colorful and smell like cherries, while others have muted colors and aren’t very interesting to look at, but have speciated tremendously. With millipedes, there’s always something new to discover and they’re easy to find in a forest. I like that they’re easy to find with simple collecting methods, and people have likely run into one at some point. Many species are endemic to small areas, which is neat from a natural history perspective. Having a species near where you live that doesn’t live anywhere else is really cool, and it’s a great way to connect with your local nature.

A: What is one thing you want people to know about myriapodology?

DH: Now is a great time to get interested in myriapodology! With the advent of websites like iNaturalist, it’s much easier to get a basic grasp of the group’s taxonomy and to see what species might live near you. There are also more identification resources available now (such as my Millipedes of Ohio Field Guide), which make identifying your local species much more straightforward than having to comb through the primary scientific literature.

A: As one of the top millipede identifiers on iNaturalist, what is one thing you wish more people would do (or not do) when sharing millipede observations?

DH: I wish more people would make sure to take in-focus photos of their millipedes from close up. Oftentimes, submitted observations are taken from far away and are blurry, which makes identification difficult. I think people are a bit scared to get too close, but millipedes are harmless and won’t mind if you get in close to take your photos! A good photo from above the millipede and also one from the side are very useful for identification purposes.

A: What is your favorite part of the research process? Why?

DH: Getting out into the woods and collecting specimens! The millipedes and centipedes I study usually live in nice habitats like forests and occur in the leaf litter, under logs, and near streams, so my field collecting often takes place in beautiful spots. I enjoy wandering through the woods and seeing what I can find—you never know what you’ll get each time you go out, which is a small thrill.

A: Do you have a favorite species/genus/family? Completely understandable if this can’t be answered ;).

DH: How can I choose a favorite child? I like the families Xystodesmidae and Parajulidae, both of which are common in eastern North America. When pressed, I usually tell people that my favorite species is Semionellus placidus, the salmon cherry millipede, because that’s the species that sealed my choice to study millipedes. I found it at night using a UV flashlight and it glowed a beautiful blue-green color, it was just astounding. It blew my mind and I decided “okay, this is what I want to study.”

A: What can amateur invertebrate enthusiasts do to aid myriapodological research?

DH: Submitting observations on iNaturalist can be helpful because sometimes that’s how myriapod scientists can find rare species, or even unexpected species in new places. The best thing that invertebrate enthusiasts can do is to work to protect natural habitat. The number one threat to species is habitat loss, so preserving the natural spaces we have is very helpful.

A: How can invertebrate enthusiasts help with the conservation of millipedes, especially cryptic endemics like many xystodesmids?

DH: A big way to help is to be ambassadors for invertebrates like cherry millipedes. Larger animals like mammals and birds receive a lot of conservation funding, so championing lesser-known animals like invertebrates and getting them into the public consciousness is a good way forward. In the past decade, we’ve seen increased funding and recognition for invertebrates like native bees, and I think we can do the same for the cherry millipedes.

A: As you know, I come from a background of culturing various species in captivity. What do you think about attempting to unravel the life histories of some of these cryptic species in captivity?

DH: I think captive rearing can be very useful for studying the life history of cryptic species. For my taxonomic research, I often reared juvenile millipedes to adulthood so I could identify them to species and had great results from it. There’s a history of captive rearing in myriapodology to study how species’ morphology and physiology changes as they grow because captive rearing is often the only way to study these changes.

A: Do you have any tips or advice for people wanting to pursue myriapodology professionally?

DH: Get acquainted with the scientific literature! If you’re interested in taxonomy, you’ll be reading a lot of old papers to learn how species are described, and many species have only been collected a few times. There’s a lot of leg work to be done, but it’s rewarding. Most professional myriapodologists work in academic settings, so if you’re not interested in academia but still want to pursue myriapodology, you may have a more difficult time finding a government or private sector job that involves myriapods. If you pursue graduate school, make sure to advocate for yourself and build a supportive friend group to get you through it.

A: Lastly, any sneak-peeks on what’s in the pipeline for you?

DH: I’ve been sampling for myriapods on a nearby mountain for about the past year with leaf litter collection methods, which I’m planning to write up soon. The most difficult part is knowing when to stop collecting and get to writing, but I’m excited at the prospect. I planned this as a “place-based study” to see how many myriapods I could collect from a forest, and so far I’ve identified about 50 species, which is pretty good! What surprised me the most was how productive collecting myriapods in the late fall and throughout winter can be. I’ve collected some species during the cooler months that you don’t ever see active in the spring or summer, so if you’re not out looking when it’s chilly, you’re probably missing some species. That’s good news because now I have something to do during the winter!

A big thank you to Dr. Hennen for sharing his experience and advice, and on behalf of amateur millipede enthusiasts everywhere we wish you the best of luck with all your endeavours!
Dr. Hennen can be reached at his website here or via Instagram here.

Also a thank you to Connor Smotzer for providing the banner photo of the Apheloria cf. polychroma!

Till next time all!



A Tropical Trip

Heyo all, recently I had the opportunity to visit Costa Rica, specifically Puntarenas Province on the Pacific Coast. I spent 12 days there, and while hunting for invertebrates was not the goal of the trip, I definitely made the most of the opportunities to explore what ecosystems and habitats I could!

Herein I present a photo journey through my trip. Coming from the hot and dry Mojave Desert, to explore a tropical rainforest, where invertebrate, plant, and fungi (and much else besides) populations are very dense and diverse, was a life-long dream realized!

Note: I will add in names as I get identifications. Find me on iNaturalist and follow me to get updated when I upload my observations from the trip (including some stuff not shown here).

Second note: all reptile/amphibian pictures are at the bottom of this post.

Wasp feeding on smashed mango in Jaco, a city on the Pacific Coast. These wasps were common at fallen fruit and in open spaces.
Also in Jaco. Interestingly, ants, the usual first responders to fallen fruit, were superseded by their flying kin at these bonanzas (though that did not stop me from getting some wonderfully fiery Solenopsis bites later on). I count four species in this shot.
Miros Mountain. As a millipede keeper, seeing these 3″/7.62 cm Chelodesmidae for the first time had me over the moon. These were very common amongst leaf litter, irrespective of light level. I tried to see what they were feeding on as keeping these sorts of polydesmids in captivity successfully seems highly dependent on providing the proper food, but did not have much luck.
Central America also has dragons! Dragon millipedes, that is. These Paradoxosomatidae were fairly common under large stones and pieces of concrete, even in disturbed areas, and give the Asian Desmoxytes a run for their money in both color and size, being about 1.5″/3.81 cm in length.
Paradoxosomatidae that I (jokingly) dub “White Dragons.” Considering the state of millipede taxonomy, and the difficulty of identifying species from photos, this may be the closest identification I get. I only saw two of these, and they were just a tad smaller than the black-red Paradoxosomatidae above. I am pretty sure they are a different species but who knows?
Beetle found under a piece of concrete. It reminds me of a stockier Coniontis.
These beetles would fly onto leaves, tease your camera out, and then fly off just before the shutter clicked.
Firefly larva? One evening while hiking back down the mountain, I was surprised to see familiar winking lights hovering in the air…fireflies. The last time I saw fireflies was years ago in Alabama, so to see them again was a treat. They are strangely exciting creatures in the unknowns of a foreign country.
Ectobiid roach! This gorgeous bugger was hanging out on this enormous leaf in broad daylight. It was fast, so presumably such a trick was not too dangerous. I only ever saw these on living plants off the ground by 4+ feet, so they are probably arboreal.
More ectobiids, probably nymphs of the species above. There were a few of these on a bamboo-and-wood bridge over a little creek. Very fast and camera shy, these were difficult to photograph.
Terrestrial planarian (flatworm) under a rock. Sort of a nondescript specimen, I didn’t see any of the famously colorful species known from the tropics unfortunately. I wasn’t in the jungle when it was pouring however, which is from what I understand usually when such animals come to the surface…
When you’re expecting “new” and “exotic” species and run into good ol’ Peucetia sp. you can only laugh as your expectations get subverted by a familiar, but still amazing, genus, ha ha!
Nephila? Female and male. These were everywhere along one trail.
Jumping spiders were everywhere, some quite large, some quite small, like this specimen, which was probably not much more than 10mm.
This spider, presumably some kind of orbweaver, dropped out of the trees and onto my party like some arachnid pirate with an upturned bicorne cap. It walked the plank back into the undergrowth without harm.
“Avast, ye scurvy bipeds!”
When you notice a hole in the wall with a mat of webbing, what do you do?
I was not hopeful to lure this specimen out of its hole in broad daylight, but it was either hungry or super defensive (or both) because then bam, tarantula! Psalmopeus maybe? Leg span was maybe 4″/10.16 cm.
Tarantula tarsi and setae are strangely alluring to photograph.
A little spider making its home in the crook of a leaf. In the jungle, I had to learn to check leaves far more closely for what might be living on them, which is not something I have to do as much in the deserts or chaparrals of California.
Dung beetle found on some horse scat at night. This specimen was about an inch/2.54 cm in length. The following pictures are from my phone…
Miros Mountain. Unidentified Flying Phasmid (UFP) observed at night.
This approximately 1″/2.54 cm roach was found scurrying across the trail at night.
Gazing out from the ruins of a resort that was left half-finished on the slopes of Miros Mountain.
Colorful Lycosidae, of which there were many in leaf litter and under logs.
Inside the darkness of the resort ruins, stranger things stalk the walls…
Just look at those spinnerets!
Those with me shouted “Executioner wasp!” as soon as we saw this. All I know is that a 2″/5.08 cm wasp is quite intimidating.
Those who don’t know me will think I included this photo because of the bats. The correct answer is that there is some sort of arachnid to the left of the bats that is infinitely more interesting…
The bats had taken over the darkest rooms of the resort ruins.
One of the final species from Miros Mountain, Archimandrita! High up on the wall in one of the bat rooms, this was the best picture I could get.
Switching from mountains to tidepools, these zoanthids were found in only one pool, though there were hundreds, if not well over a thousand, polyps, some quite near the surface as seen here. There was also a green species in a nearby pools, which I am kicking myself for not trying to photograph (they were in deeper water). Urchins, several species of fish, anemones, barnacles, sea slugs, and berserk amounts of Grapsus grapsus (Sally Lightfoot crabs) were also present. At times the rocks looked like they were running away, there were so many crabs. Thousands of Coenobita compressus hermit crabs ruled the wrack line of the beaches.
I wonder if these are the only photos of zoas not under blue actinic lights…
Back to the mountains, this time on an island. My family went on a tourist trap tour to one “Isla Tortuga” for snorkeling and the like. Jumping into the murky water was not…comfortable at first (I had two major fears as a child: arachnophobia and sharks/stingrays, the latter of which has turned into an uneasiness with the ocean), but after settling in it was a huge treat to get to see Diadema (longspine urchins) and blue sponges for the first time in the wild (kicking myself for not bringing my waterproof camera for the swim). Unfortunately, though there were a number of fish, the coral population of this part of the Pacific appears to have been almost completely wiped out. I only saw one sickly SPS specimen.
But anyway! There were also a few hiking trails on the island, and under logs and rocks along the trail I found Gecarcinus lateralis, which was another bucket list species. All were more than several hundred yards from the beach, sometimes near freshwater streams, but usually far away from any consistent water source. I even found some near the island’s mountain summit, over 2000 feet above sea level! I speculate in captivity this species might not need any saltwater outside of reproduction. That said, they look so much nicer in the wild…
One of the first rocks I flipped on Isla Tortuga checked another arachnid order off my bucket list. Amblypygi! Probably Phrynus, this juvenile had maybe a 3″/7.62 cm whipspan. This is a phone picture; at the time my hands were dirty from rolling logs.
Gazing up the coast.
At the time I did not realize there was a storm brewing, though the clouds are clearly ominous in this picture. The storm would illuminate the boat ride back to where I was staying with brilliant flashes of lightning (and soak me and my family with several inches of rain).
There were several of these 3/4-1″/2-2.54 cm polydesmids under logs and rocks on the island. I also saw a small round millipede that looked vaguely like a Spirostreptidae on a dead tree branch. Unfortunately I did not get a good photo of it; in fact, while trying to manipulate the stick to get a shot of it, it fell down into the undergrowth (lesson learned).
Sea arch and sea caves on the peninsula tip across from the island. What creatures lurk inside, I wonder?
An adult Phrynus! Some background: after finding the juvenile at the start of the hike, concerned as the trail was ending and I wanted to see another one to get some better photos. Heading down the final slope, I prayed that I would fine at least one more amblypygid. Bending down, I flipped a rock on the side of the trail, and there is this big, gorgeous, chill Phrynus. Whatever you believe, I was thanking God!
I will add a note here: bug spray, bring it. I counted 22 mosquito bites on my legs and feet after this hike (not counting lingering fire ant bites from Miros Mountain). What is odd is that this was only on Isla Tortuga; for the rest of the time in Costa Rica I did not get a single mosquito bite, though I did kill a handful of specimens that tried to bite me or family.
The nice thing about the equator is that bugs just show up. Case in point, so many interesting species interrupted meals, like this little golden beetle.
I pulled this Camponotus sericeiventris queen from the shoreline where it was trapped by the water tension of the wet sand. Approaching an inch/2.54 cm long, iridescent green, fast, and with massive jaws, I will admit it set me on edge. The eyes were reminiscent of a shark to me.
After a helter-skelter photoshoot it was removed to a safer location. Identified by ponerinecat.
In the backyard of the building I was staying in, Atta daily went to town on the clover growing in the lawn. I was so stoked to see these famous ants go about their work, but I didn’t realize they used clover for their farming. These were easily the most common ants I saw over the entire trip.
This Camponotus sp. that was near the Atta was not having a good time, missing an antenna and looking poisoned. Identified by ponerinecat.I counted five or six ant species in the backyard alone, including this photogenic little Camponotus sp. Identified by ponerinecat.
This large mosquito was waving its rear legs (the one with the white tips) in circles slowly.
There were crabs under nearly every piece of cover around the building. Unfortunately, due to their speed the only specimens I could photograph were the injured ones, such as this specimen that looked like it had been stepped on or poisoned.
These orbweavers were all over the backyard, and posed me a real photography challenge to say the least.
This jumping spider was being abducted by aliens, hence the green, hypnotic eyes.
An Archimandrita adult that appeared at breakfast one morning. Not an unpleasant interruption…at least, not for me.
One of the few slugs I saw on the trip, though this one looks oddly similar to some European Limacus I’ve seen. Invasive?
A mass of Eciton sp., Army Ants, thankfully not in the backyard where I was staying. I missed an opportunity to photograph a huge, bright yellow major, gah! Identified by ponerinecat.
Off the beaten track of Costa Rica tours there is this place called Rainmaker Conservation Park, a private wildlife refuge that has hiking trails, swimming holes, and suspension bridges galore. Mercifully, it is one of the least touristy tourist places you can go. I took over 500 photos in a few hours here.
One of the first insects at Rainmaker, an assassin bug hanging out on a leaf.
I was intrigued by these burrows I kept seeing along the trail, and tried to lure whatever was inside out. Soon these grinning faces appeared.
I found this huge, dead drone (Atta?) on a suspension bridge. From all the queens and drones I saw, it must have been nuptial flight time for a lot of species.
Remember that Camponotus sericeiventris queen I found on the shore? I found workers alongside four more queens. These massive ants were not only fast but aggressive too. Far be it from me to touch the suspension bridges with anything other than my feet! Identified by ponerinecat.
Psuedomyrmex! I have searched for these for a while now in California, and whaddya know, they aren’t that hard to find at Rainmaker. I found at least one colony inside a fence post, and then several workers running along this root avoiding larger ants of another species. Identified by ponerinecat.
These Camponotus sp. kept the pseudomyrmecines on their toes. Identified by ponerinecat.
Pseudomyrmex queen! Identified by ponerinecat.
Only after looking at this photo upon my return home did I realize this ant has eight legs, which would explain a lot.
Another beetle species that liked to tease out the camera then fly away just before you get a good shot.
Tortoise beetle. It was incredible to see how many creatures lived on plant leaves.
…or died on plant leaves.
…or were already dead on plant leaves. This well-camoflauged/armored larva (caterpillar? Beetle larva?) appeared quite dead on this leaf. There is a much higher density of life in the jungle, but by the same token that means there is a much higher mortality rate I suppose.
A freshwater crab found under a stone near a stream. It was maybe 1.5″/3.71 cm across.
I only saw three isopod species over the entire trip, this being one found under a rotting piece of wood. I am unsure if this is an adult or a mancae.
This isopod was found on the underside of a living, Selaginella-covered leaf. The arboreal isopods I’m familiar with are quite spiky, but this cryptic species seems to rely on camouflage and speed.
One of three katydids I saw (I heard plenty more).
The final katydid I saw on the trip. It was quite interesting as I was looking at a hemipteran, and then happened to glance at a leaf and there this katydid was. Their crypsis is impressive.
Stability amidst chaos. This overgrown log is also a great example of the boggling plant diversity of the jungle. If I had been paying closer attention to the number of plant species I saw it very well might have been close to or more than the number of invertebrates.
Seeing vigorous plant specimens in their natural habitat also makes keeping them in terrariums lose its luster.
Tree snails were quite common pretty much everywhere in the jungle, seeming to especially favor still-living leaves that were overgrown with mosses or clubmosses.
Glow worm lines under a rock overhang?
One of many diverse planthoppers.
Nyssodesmus? These 3″/7.62 cm millipedes were common on rotting wood.
Another species of large polydesmid that were active during the day.
A roach nymph of some kind found on a fence. It was such a light green that the natural light and then my flash kept washing out the shot. Fast too, it would not stay still.
Another spotted jumper like the one found at Miros Mountain.
This massive spider was in a bromeliad about five feet below a suspension bridge. Phoneutria?
This spider guarded its wooden post with careful vigilance as I departed Rainmaker in a rainstorm…
At Ballena National Marine Park, the humidity and sand made handling the camera treacherous as I rolled logs and rocks. However, when leaving the park my hands had dried enough to snap some long distance photographs of Cardiosoma crassum. A few other tourists wanted to know what I was photographing; they were unimpressed. Identified by orchidloveXTM.
A hemipteran feeding on flower-juices.
A green shield hemipteran.
Another jumping spider. I saw five or six different species of salticids alone over the course of the trip.
The colors on this hemipteran were jaw-dropping. I believe it was freshly molted.
Towards the end of the trip I was looking, not without some franticness, for a final new place to visit. While out for a drive I spotted a turnout.
A river was flowing nearby, and a little footpath went down into a bit of jungle before dying in the shrubbery. It revealed another interesting species of chelodesmid, and a lot of them at that.
I count five millipedes in the photo.
The plants with the thin leaves are all touch-me-nots (Mimosa pudica). Touching one in a store is cool; waving your foot over a whole clump of them and watching the plants virtually disappear in front of your eyes is fantastic.
Fishing spider near a river. These were common on the rocks, ostensibly feeding on flying insects and the like attracted by the water. They did not move unless disturbed.
A little ways on from the river turnout I stopped at an area that had been cleared, probably for development, but at that time still sat vacant. Blister beetles(?) like this one were common aerial visitors.
Under many chainsawed logs that still sat in the field were more “dragon” Paradoxosomatidae, both adults and the whiteish juveniles.
Also under some of the logs were these roaches, which were always found singly.
A snail that wasn’t in a tree, surprisingly. After seeing pictures of Megalobumiulus in the Ecuadorian Amazon, my expectations for tropical snails envisioned large specimens everywhere. Reality, of course, tends to be smaller: this specimen was less than an inch/2.54 cm long.
Opportunistic shrubs had already started to fill in the field, and on these a variety of creatures could be found. I saw several of these gorgeous planthoppers but only managed to photograph one.
Another hopper, this time of grass, enjoying the view.
The tall plant in the foreground is being worked on by an army of Atta. Note the leaves reduced to mere skeletons of their former leafy glory.
I am not sure what these Crematogaster were doing, grouping together on the top of a leaf in broad daylight, but they seemed quite content in any case. Impressive abdomen! Identified by ponerinecat.
The promised herp photos. These tiny frogs were common near the river where I saw the fishing spiders, touch-me-nots, and chelodesmids, leaping away quickly whenever one would approach.
A stately green iguana. These were everywhere along the coast. They were not particularly bold despite being around people frequently.
The basilisks were much less fearful of people, if not completely unwary.
Dendrobates auratus! I saw two or three of these over the course of the trip, and it was always as they were jumping powerfully away, hence the poor photo.
I have no idea what happened to this specimen’s back left leg; it was jumping fine, and I didn’t notice its odd look until reviewing the photo for this post.
A wary gecko on a tree trunk. The camouflage on many of the lizards I saw was incredible; I remember bending closer to look at a tree root and then bam, a lizard of some kind swishing off it and away; I had been starting right at it!
I was saddened not to see any snakes on the trip, but the lizards definitely did their best to make up for it. This beautiful specimen was alongside the trail, trying to avoid detection as best it could.

Thus ends the photojournal. Some lessons I learned:
The amount of water present in jungles means that flipping rocks and logs with a camera in hand is a much different proposition than doing the same in drier climes. Frequently my hands swere o wet or muddy that I was unable to handle my camera without dirtying it.
I had read in Piotr Naskrecki’s excellent book, The Smaller Majority, that photographing in rainforests is a unique challenge because of how difficult it is to protect cameras and other equipment from the water, and he was more than right.

A team of two – a photographer and a flipper – might be ideal for this kind of environment to get the best shots and find the most invertebrates. Or maybe I just needed to get a rag to wipe my hands on…
In any case, rain is a major danger to any electrical equipment, and a waterproof bag is an absolute necessity. My phone, which is housed in a snug-fitting OtterBox case that is largely water-proof, got water trapped in between the screen and the plastic screen protector twice, which shows how pervasive moisture is in this environment.

A second lesson I learned is that checking foliage, especially the underside of leaves, is not only a good idea, it is really a necessity for finding a lot of rainforest fauna. I’ve never seen so many creatures hanging out on leaves and tree trunks, especially not coming from an area where yuccas, rabbit brush, and pines are the most common plants.

Finally, a very simple thing is to make sure to use the flash. It gets quite dark under the dense rainforest canopy, and not using it is likely to be very damaging to any photography efforts. Trying to wrangle the unwieldy pop-up flash of my Nikon CoolPix S9900 for macro shots was a frustrating experience at times, but not having to rely on inconsistent natural light made it worth it (at least with my camera). A quality diffuser would be a good idea.

Till next time, Arthroverts out!



A Living Amber Scorpion

Last November I made a trip to south-eastern Arizona, specifically the Dragoon and Chiricahua Mountains, for the express purpose of finding invertebrates. Granted the timing was not fantastic and I had only about two full days of time to explore, but I was expectant of finding cool invertebrates nonetheless after the success of Michael Jacobi and Co. in the fall of 2019. While I did not find any Aphonopelma or Scolopendra heroes, I did discover one other reason why Arizona continues to draw invertebrate enthusiasts from around the world: the scorpions.

To be clear Arizona does not possess the incredible Kovarikia or Cataliniae my home state of California has, and so therefore one can only be so impressed (;D). But I will say that finding scorpions in Arizona in fall/winter is a lot easier to do than in California; all told I found 11 specimens in roughly two days of haphazard searching spread across 4 locales of 5 species. Comparing that to the fact that I have only ever seen 2-3 Superstionia donensis, Paravaejovis puritanus and confusum, and Smeringurus vachoni in California in the fall/winter after several years of searching, that is pretty good.
Anyway, one of these species I found in Arizona was Vaejovis electrum from Mt. Graham in the Pinaleño Mountains, a very unique vaejovid species that was only described in 2011. It lives under rocks in the forests at higher elevations (8000-9000+ feet) along the mountain side. My adventure in finding them was relatively typical; I arrived near the type locality and started flipping rocks, ha ha. They are decently common, as within the space of an hour I found five specimens, all within a relatively small area, though I only managed to catch four, the first escaping as I tried to photograph it in-situ. This species seemed to favor rocks (themselves often covered in lichens) that were set fairly deep into the ground near the roots of trees, though this could just be a sampling bias as for some reason most of the rocks were near the pine trees that dominate the forests at this altitude on Mt. Graham (or vice versa). It was interesting to note that this species does not seem to be communal, as specimens were only ever found individually, unlike, say, Vaejovis carolinianus which is often found in loose aggregations under the same log or board. I did only seem to find adults or large juveniles, which could have been due to the time of year, as I imagine in the wild this species does not breed like it would in the spring or summer when food is plentiful, though this is just speculation on my part.

Some of the rocks I found a specimen under, alongside my Concealed Carry Catch-Cup from Tarantula Canada.

I was disappointed to learn that “electrum” did not refer to the electric-appearance of this species, ha ha, rather meaning “amber” in Latin and referring to their amber coloration. I personally don’t really see much amber in my specimens, but it is apparently quite a variable species in terms of coloration, and on top of this I am red-green color deficient (partially color blind), which doesn’t help with seeing the subtle hues that so often comprise amber.

Anyway, after returning home with my prize I rehoused the specimens into 5.5 ounce deli cups on slightly-moist peat with some bark and oak leaves to hide under, essentially mirroring the habitat I found them in as much as I could (I did not have flat stones small enough for them, hence the bark). Unfortunately one of the smallest specimens died soon after this for reasons I am not fully sure of, leaving me with three scorpions. These seem pretty forgiving in terms of husbandry all the same, handling both dry and moist conditions well.

I don’t believe in collecting animals as trophies, and I collected these in the hopes of breeding them; three is not great for a breeding project, but there is still hope!

…At least, there was hope until I learned that the most reliable way to sex this species is through various measurements of the body (such as the width of the chelae), measured in millimeters, as noted in the original description of this species by Garret B. Hughes. Now, V. electrum is a very small, highly skittish species, so much so that even getting a pectinal tooth count, which is helpful for sexing other species, was going to be hard, so I highly doubt, even if I had such tiny calipers to take the necessary measurements on my specimens, I would be able to sex them (alive anyway). The count of the pectinal teeth can be helpful for V. electrum, as males have a mode count of 12 and females a mode count of 13, but that is a scarce difference with plenty of room for overlap and observer miscount (1).

I count 12 teeth for this specimen, meaning this could be a male.

Thus, I am not totally sure how to proceed. I do think I have three adult specimens, and I will try to count the pectines to at least get an idea of what the sex ratio might be, but otherwise it may come down to simply putting specimens together and keeping my tongs and tongue depressor handy. In the meantime I definitely plan on upgrading the three specimen’s enclosures to something bigger and more suited to an ecoscape similar to where I found them, and perhaps I will reach out to Richard F. Ayrey, who studied this species’s reproduction in his 2013 paper “Reproduction and Birth in the “Vorhiesi” Group of the Genus Vaejovis (Scorpiones: Vaejovidae). Part I. Clutch Size”, to see how he went about sexing the specimens he used for his study (2).

Anyway, it’s been an interesting experience finding this species in the wild, studying them in captivity, and learning about them further through the published literature. I definitely hope that a breeding project is still possible for my trio of specimens, and if so their good-sized clutch sizes definitely makes the further dissemination of this species to breeders a strong possibility (2). It seems, here in the USA anyway, that enthusiasts and breeders so often miss out on our own wonderful scorpion diversity amidst an emphasis on larger, perhaps more charismatic, exotic buthid species…even though electrum is way cooler of a name then bicolor.

Why not have both?

Till next time,



1. Hughes, G. B. (2011). Morphological analysis of montane scorpions of the genus Vaejovis (Scorpiones: Vaejovidae) in Arizona with revised diagnoses and description of a new species. The Journal of Arachnology39(3), 420–438.

(open-access here, from pages 420-438:

2. Ayrey, Richard. (2013). Reproduction and birth in the “vorhiesi” group of the genus Vaejovis (Scorpiones: Vaejovidae). Part I. Clutch size. Euscorpius. Euscorpius, 166:1-17. 10.18590/euscorpius.2013.vol2013.iss166.1.

Velvet Worms in Need of Some Help…

Hello all, one of the interesting things about my blog is that about 90% of the traffic to it, and more than that of comments, are coming for my posts on velvet worms, specifically the Epiperipatus barbadensis I helped import to the US. This is great, but today I want to talk about another species of velvet worm from New Zealand in need of some help.

Recently I attended the 2022 Myriapod Meet-Up hosted by Paul Marek and the Marek Lab of Virginia Tech University. This was essentially a mini-conference on the subject of myriapods (centipedes, millipedes, pauropods, symphalans, and the honorary myriapods, onychophorans, or velvet worms), bringing together about 70-80 professionals from all six inhabited continents(!) to present on and discuss various discoveries in the field, and dialogue on taxonomic and conservation issues. Unfortunately, while I missed the first two hours of the conference due to forgetting the time zone change (when someone in Virginia says 8:00 AM they mean 5:00 for the West Coast…), the rest of the time I was able to listen in as such giants of the field as Sergei Golovatch, Thomas Wesener, Paul Marek, Jackson Means, Carlos Martinez, Petra Sierwald, Sam McNally, Pavel Stoev, Peter Decker, and many others discussed all manner of subjects relating to myriapods. I learned a lot, made some good contacts, and it was a true pleasure to see how international and diverse in every which way the study of Myriapoda is.

But all this aside, one of the last presentations was made by David Randle, a conservationist from New Zealand who has been working in the city of Dunedin on the south island for over 40 years. As he related during the meet-up and afterwards in private conversations, he discovered a species of velvet worm in his back yard in 1990 that is believed to belong to not just a new species, but a new genus entirely by several onychophorologists including Dr. Hilke Ruhberg. Unfortunately, for various reasons, a proper description of the species, which would have to be included in a larger revision of New Zealand velvet worms, has not yet been undertaken, so this species remains under the common name Caversham Valley Peripatus.

Now, New Zealand velvet worms have often appealed to enthusiasts such as myself due to their incredible coloration, and this species from Dunedin is no exception!

An adult specimen of the currently undescribed Caversham Valley onychophorans. Photo by Dan Barrett.

Two of the incredible things about this species is that it is capable of colonizing disturbed areas near human habitation and roads, surviving and thriving even under rotting logs of introduced tree species, and that it is found in enormous densities in good habitat. Dave mentioned that when the New Zealand Transport Authority (NZTA) widened the Southern Scenic Route, shown below on the map, he removed over 10,000 specimens from the 40 meter (130 feet) strip of land alongside the road where the expansion would take place, and when he first discovered the species in his yard in 1990, he found a colony of over 2,000 specimens living under a brick pile! This is a far cry from the single-digit number of specimens so often found in Asia and South America even by experienced field researchers, and is a testament to the prolificness of this species. I can only imagine the population density of this species in a single hectare of quality habitat (old growth forest with lots of rotting logs from native tree species such as tree fuchsia, Fuchsia
, broadleaf, Griselinia littoralis, blue gum eucalyptus, and a thick layer of leaf litter).

On the subject of land, if one looks at a map of the Dunedin area, it is easy to see that almost the entire area has been developed, which naturally raises the question of where these velvet worms live in such a region, and unfortunately the facts of that part of the story are much grimmer. Near Dave’s house remains one of the last patches of old growth forest in Dunedin, and it is here that the Caversham Valley Peripatus cling to life. Originally 10 hectares (24.7 acres), the area has since been reduced to six (14.8 acres) by continued development, and is threatened to be shrunk even smaller by plans for a new sub-division right over the best habitat in those six hectares. Dave currently manages two hectares (4.9 acres) in the affected area, but it is obvious that if the available habitat is reduced from such a small area to that even smaller one, the probability of ecological and population collapse only grows.

The area inside the blue is known velvet worm habitat, and the area inside the yellow is the best habitat in the entire area. From what I understand, part of the area inside the yellow to the west and part of the area inside the blue to the north is what is going to be developed as a sub-division, and as you can see there is already a barren area outside the blue to the north where the forest has been razed. The forest itself is already surrounded by houses and major roads on all four sides.

Thankfully, velvet worms seem to be pretty resistant to genetic depression as shown through the continued viability of captive Epiperipatus barbadensis populations after four years, 5-10 generations, and thousands of specimens, all of which come from a starting population of about 30 individuals. However, for wild populations this is obviously not a preferable situation, and other creatures, such as a species of skink only found in the forest and grasslands of the area, will be wiped out due to habitat loss and population collapse if the sub-division is put in.
Old growth forest, which is what is being threatened in Dunedin, has proven to be important to not only invertebrate fauna but all sorts of other creatures, whether in the USA, Madagascar, or in this case New Zealand, and it is hugely disappointing that it is not appreciated even though such forests are incredibly valuable parts of ecological heritage. This was made even more poignant when Dave noted that the council of Dunedin is breaking New Zealand conservation laws and a conservation plan that was put into place by the prior council in order to get the sub-division built. A contract was signed by the current council with a construction company already, and since financial law is so often placed above conservation law, getting the contract overturned and the development stopped involves going to a High Court in New Zealand, which costs around $40,000 USD (the enforcers of the law are the ones breaking it in this situation). Discouraginly, this is something out of reach of the majority of conservationists, who are so often unfortunately one-man armies.

All this was related during the Myriapod Meet-Up, and Dave’s impassioned call for help really resonated me; he has been working to protect this area for 40 years and the velvet worms inside it for over 20, and his love for the environment and the animals directly speaks to my my Christian faith of properly stewarding the natural world. I also have a similar, if not quite as urgent situation, here in my home region of Southern California and more specifically the Mojave Desert, which has seen rapid development since the 1990s. Year after year I have watched as quite literally parts of my childhood are fenced off, graded with bulldozers, and destroyed, with armies of houses, warehouses, and shopping centers replacing priorly pristine desert. I recently discovered a rare species of tenebrionid in the genus Schizillus in an area that will probably all be houses in the next ten or so years; the memory of creatures like Aptostichus lucerne, and the possibility of there being other species like it that we will never know about, continues to bother me. I have even seen such iconic species as Joshua Trees, Yucca brevifolia, be illegally chainsawed and left to rot ahead of planned development.

Those who have not had emotional connections to parts of the natural world will not understand so easily the pain of what it’s like to see it destroyed, and so it is understandable why, by and large, the plight of the Caversham Valley Peripatus remains unknown in recent times in the midst of various other tragedies.
Even for conservationists in general, who have seen this cycle repeat itself over and again, it becomes hard to have empathy when it seems like there are so few victories over which to rejoice. And I feel that’s not only sad, but dangerous, as losing empathy before the work is finished desensitizes us to these struggles, and keeps up from really investing in the work. This desensitization almost is something I have had to guard myself against with regards to human disasters, and am now realizing that it is also something I need to guard against in relation to the natural world as well. I want to approach each of these situations, whether human or natural, as an opportunity to show the content of my character and grit of my spirit, and I hope those who care about these issues also resolve to do the same.
But that may be too grand to say for now, and in any case I am here to talk about velvet worms.

What can be done to help the Caversham Valley Peripatus/velvet worms/onychophorans, even in the midst of this seemingly hopeless situation?
First off, spread the word. If I could I would fly to New Zealand to show support to Dave in person, but barring that I want to encourage anyone reading this to share this with other invertebrate enthusiasts you may know. This also effects a species of skink that Dave mentioned is only found in the area that is being developed, so share it with reptile enthusiasts too if you know of any who would be interested. I am just one blogger in a corner of the internet, but together we can make a difference for good, and as the news spreads to others it will invariably become harder for the destruction of these velvet worms to be snuck by. It is only in silence that such things can happen; Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing,” and this is true for abuses against both humanity and nature.

Second, reach out to Dave and let him know you care about his efforts. As I noted above, it can be discouraging when one is seemingly the only person fighting to protect a species or area, and by making connections between all us one-man armies we can encourage and strengthen each other, bearing one another’s troubles so to speak. I know the community of professional myriapod researchers is now aware of this issue, and if amateurs can come together with them to support Dave and his work to save these velvet worms, skinks, and their habitat that would be amazing.

You can reach Dave by email at dhrandle30 @, and again I encourage everyone to pass the information along to others. If you want to help in a way besides the two I list here, please send an email to Dave, as he is familiar with the situation and the velvet worms themselves.
Please do not message him to ask about acquiring specimens for personal collections or to ask about care information; while I am sure many of us would love to breed these velvet worms in captivity, the bigger concern here is making sure they are not lost from their native habitat, which is obviously the best place for them to be, and captive breeding programs would be a last-ditch effort for New Zealand conservationists and enthusiasts to attend to.

If you would like to learn more about these velvet worms and the current situation in New Zealand, please email me (see bottom of page), and I can send along some more photographs and documents that Dave has shared with me. There are so many more interesting aspects of these velvet worms I haven’t been able to fit in here, and even now I am stirred to go see them myself! If only international travel were a little easier in these days…

Share this image to help raise awareness about the plight of these velvet worms.

I hold onto the hope that through the raising of awareness, the sharing of information, and bringing together of many who care about these things, the Caversham Valley Peripatus can be saved.

“For we know that the whole of creation groans and travails together until now.”



Migidae sp. “Madagascar” and Conserving These Beautiful Spiders

Back in 2019-2020 a small number of trapdoor spiders were imported from Madagascar into the USA and sold under the name Thyropoeus mirandus. They were enormous for trapdoor spiders, easily matching the largest American trapdoor spider species (Bothriocyrtum californicum) and dwarfing the majority of other species kept in captivity, including Liphistius. They by and large sold pretty quickly, and within a few months none were to be found available anywhere, except for perhaps, of course, Madagascar itself.

Madagascar is a biodiversity hotspot to put it mildly, being home to such hobbyist favorites as Zoosphaerium, Aphistogoniulus, Monocentropus lambertoni, and Calmanesia, and therefore it should come as no surprise that such an interesting trapdoor spider would come from the island. What is surprising is to what degree Madagascar is suffering both in terms of its human population and its ecosystem, with over 2 million people below the poverty line and little hope for self-improvement with 9 out of 10 children being illiterate according to the World Bank (1). These terrible statistics point to a likewise depressing point; in the Malagasy Central Highlands, 60% of wetlands and 30% of riparian forest has been lost in the face of subsistence farming and slash-and-burn agricultural practices; this is just the highlands, and this info is quite old already, being from 2013 (2). The situation is grim across Madagascar for both the wellbeing of the people and the wildlife that call it homes, and though things like lemurs and chameleons get a lot of conservation attention, other, less-noticeable species, are pushed to the edge; multiple species of Aphistogoniulus are now restricted to small patches of rapidly-disappearing forests (3).

If Aphistogoniulus and other such invertebrate species are largely missed in the broader conservation picture (most poignantly by hobbyists so often unfortunately) despite being quite “obvious” in terms of color and size, the situation is quite possibly worse for cryptic species…such as trapdoor spiders like Migidae sp.

Now you may be thinking, “Arthroverts, what’s the deal with Migidae? Sure it’s sad what’s happening in Madagascar but what’s the deal?” Well, the answer to that is I have one.

To be clear, I won’t buy these, or most any trapdoor spider, now, and the reason for this is that back in 2021 I was very fortunate to be able to attend the February meeting of the Invertebrate Club of Southern California, at which Dr. Jason E. Bond of UC Davis (of Cryptocteniza kawtak fame) came and dialogued with club members about the conservation and cultivation of various trapdoor spiders. One of the families that came up was Migidae, and Dr. Bond expressed his deep concern over the practice of collecting and selling such spiders given the situation in Madagascar. His words have stuck with me, and in the time since I have decided not to acquire any trapdoor spiders from Madagascar if it meant buying them. By that time it was largely a moot point as the stock of such spiders had dried up, but soon after that meeting with Dr. Bond a friend of mine put his specimen up for sale or trade, and incredibly, I was able to trade for his specimen on very favorable terms. Since my friend had purchased it from an importer and was now looking to part with it, my trading for it would not incentivize further wild collection of this species (as far as I am aware), hence why I felt it was ethical for me to acquire it.

Anyway, of course, since we are dealing with a trapdoor spider, I only saw it once in the entire time I had it, and that was an unclear view through plastic and webbing. Crickets disappeared irregularly, and while it sometimes appeared as if new webbing or burrowing had taken place, I couldn’t help but wondering if I was just seeing what I wanted to and not something that was actually there (c’est la vie for keepers of such mygalomorphs). It remained unseen for close to a year.

At least, up until a few days ago.

My first full view of Migidae sp. “Madagascar”!

In repeated discussions with my friend RezonantVoid (whom I interviewed a little while back), and through personal observations in the field, I have come less and less to appreciate coco coir as substrate for non-tarantula mygalomorphs (and tarantulas to to an extent). The Migidae specimen was housed on coco coir, about 12″ of it with the burrow to prove it, and so I let it be for, gosh, come to think of it, it’s been almost a year now. However, my itch has always been to rehouse it onto something with more clay content for better burrow building, and having not seen the specimen in the entire period since I got it, I was beginning to wonder if it was still alive; fungus had also started to spread throughout the substrate, necessitating a change sooner rather than later. I carefully dumped the whole block of substrate held together by hyphae into another bin, and slowly started to dismantle it with my tongs. Before long I found tube of the main burrow, and saw a very suspicious wiggling in it…

Ta-da! I was immensely happy to see that that wiggling was of a healthy, if a little thin, trapdoor spider.

On a taxonomic side note, these spiders were sold as Thyropoeus mirandus, though various other enthusiasts and breeders have taken issue with this identification, some suggesting that they are idiopids, others another genus in the Migidae, and still others, including Dr. Bond, have just left the identification at Migidae sp. I have tried to look farther into identifying this particular specimen myself, with the most recent literature being an article from 2001 entitled “A Monograph of the Migid Trap Doors of Madagascar and Review of the World Genera (Araneae, Mygalomorphae, Migidae)”, by Charles E. Griswold and Joel Ledford, which was published in Occasional Papers of the California Academy of Sciences (4). I am still continuing to work through this article and comparing the diagrams to my specimen, and will update on what, if anything, I find out. Insofar my specimen seems to match Thyropoeus in terms of external characteristics (how I wish I had gotten better pictures of leg III now!), and considering Tom Patterson found the original ID of T. mirandus accurate that is probably what it is, but until confirmation I follow the friend I got this specimen from and Dr. Bond and leave the identification at Migidae. If anyone has insight on this please be sure to comment or contact me directly.

This specimen’s fangs make it look much larger than it actually is, and while it is not particularly fast, such powerful-looking jaws do make me nervous of ever getting my finger too close, ha ha. I was, and am, absolutely floored to have this specimen. It is ostensibly a female that is probably over five years in age (at least two years in captivity now, I estimate at least three in the wild to grow to this size); considering the slow growth of most trapdoors it is quite possibly closer to a decade old, which would be longer than I’ve been keeping invertebrates seriously.

The realization of dealing with something so old has made me completely reorientate how I view keeping trapdoors and threatened mygalomorphs in general, and I strongly believe, after talking with Dr. Bond, seeing the danger to Madagascan wildlife, and finding trapdoors here in my home state of California, that such spiders should not be kept in captivity for any purpose other than life history studies or captive breeding. That’s a pretty narrow view I know, but I can’t help but feel that the removal of such amazing creatures from their native habitats, which, as far as we can be aware, was not because it was about to be destroyed given most wholesale collectors situations (in which case collecting would be justified), for the sole purpose of sitting in a jar of dirt on the shelf of someone’s collection as a trophy pet is hardly a responsible “use” of the creatures we are charged to protect. And I know I’m generalizing, and I am indicting myself in saying this because for many years I did the same thing, but I feel it is a necessary indictment of a hobby that has, by and large, ignored the wider picture in a search for the next cool species, and in doing so incentivized bad collecting methodologies and further exacerbated conservation crises the world over. There are bright spots; Simandoa conserfariam, the Mexican tarantula breeding project headed up by Dr. Jorge Mendoza, Cubaris sp. “Blonde Ducky”. But crucially, all of these projects have been reactive; reactive to the fact that the bauxite mine that destroyed the habitat of S. conserfariam was going in, and reactive to the rampant overcollection of Brachypelma and Tlitocatl to support the demand coming from us enthusiasts; in the case of C. sp. “Blonde Ducky” I think it was largely luck that specimens were collected prior to the destruction of their cave by another mine (from what I understand).

Being reactive means we are beaten to the punch; we lose our opportunity to do good for goodness’s sake because, for whatever reason, we are distracted elsewhere, and there are only so many Jorge Mendoza’s and Piotr Nasckrecki’s who can be in the right place at the right time to pull things back from the edge. I want to call us all to step into being proactive, and that means making sure we don’t incentivize the collection of threatened species in the wild, or irresponsible collection with regards to any species anywhere really. And when species like Migidae sp. “Madagascar” come in, we work together to make sure that they aren’t lost in a whirlpool of trophy-pet keeping and indiscriminate collection. Again, in this regard I am not someone to be praised; I had a general idea of what I just shared above, but did not attempt to seriously try and form a team to try and breed them, if that were even possible (the majority of the imported specimens are mature females I believe due to their size). And it is also possible that there is some enthusiast somewhere already doing yeoman’s work in trying to breed these and document their life history that I don’t know about. But regardless of either, the point remains, and for Madagascar’s sake, and truly the sake of ecosystems the world over, we need to get our act together and change this “hobby” from merely being a reactive one that in many ways supports bad ecological practices into a force for good. The world is bigger than our enclosures, and we need to start seeing it that way.

What does this mean for my specimen? I hope to keep it until it dies of old age, and then I will preserve it for further analysis. If before then I can find other people with this species, aside from being over the moon, I will most happily see if a breeding project can be undertaken. But aside from these, I hope it will help us visualize that we can both do great and terrible things for the natural world, and it’s about time we as invertebrate enthusiasts and breeders started to do more good, both for Madagascar’s sake and the rest of the world.



Referenced Material:

  1. (2020). “The World Bank in Madagascar”. The World Bank.
  2. Kull, C.A. (2013). “Air photo evidence of historical land cover change in the highlands: Wetlands and grasslands give way to crops and woodlots”. Madagascar Conservation & Development.
  3. Wesener T., Enghoff H., Hoffman R.L., Wägele J.W., Sierwald P. (2009). “Revision of the endemic giant fire millipedes of Madagascar, genus Aphistogoniulus (Diplopoda: Spirobolida: Pachybolidae)”. International Journal of Myriapodology.
  4. Griswold C.E., Ledford J. (2001). “A Monograph of the Migid Trap Doors of Madagascar and Review of the World Genera (Araneae, Mygalomorphae, Migidae)”, Occasional Papers of the California Academy of Sciences.

Conservation: A Great Paradox

I’ve been mulling the problem of conservation lately, at least more than usual as it is a issue I routinely consider. It really is a pertinent topic in today’s world, where the marvellous life forms we care so much about are being overhunted, overfished, overcollected, threatened by habitat destruction and the rampant chemical usage in everything from farming to manufacturing, not to mention things like pesticides…it reminds me of that Bible verses that say “For the creation waits with eager longing…for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay.”

And we see this bondage to decay everywhere by it being subject to the will of humans, as I have already mentioned. It stirs within me the passions of the ultraconservationists, risking life and limb to preserve the beauty and wonder of the natural world. But even at the same time, reality tends to return with thoughts of the dirt-poor the world over who use and abuse the environment not because they want to, but because not doing so would result in ruin. I think of the subsistence farmers of Madagascar with their slash-and-burn farming that has destroyed so much forest, or I think of those in the Amazon cutting down balsa trees that will be made into wind-turbine propellers, surviving from paycheck to paycheck.

Now, that doesn’t mean destructive actions against the environment are completely justified. But so often those of us who call ourselves conservationists, who all too often come from the rich West, forget that behind so much exploitation of the natural world lies people who are hurting and suffering, struggling to make it through to the next paycheck or even meal so often; I think of the bushmeat trade in Africa. Now, on the other side of that coin are large corporations who seek profit above all, and who turn a blind eye to where their materials are sourced from (such as what is happening with the balsa trees in the Amazon). It angers me to think of how so often areas that have been overfished in the ocean were done so by large fishing companies who treat their sailors and fishermen like trash; even those that don’t still treat the ocean like trash. But anyways, my point is that there is a human element to conversation that so often goes ignored. You can’t just tell subsistence farmers to stop slashing and burning; if they do, they starve. You can’t just tell poor miners working in the insanely destructive strip mines found the world over to stop working for the good of biodiversity; again, if they do, they starve.

And herein lies conservation’s great paradox: to protect the environment from the depredation that us humans are so willing to inflict, yet also protect against the economic depredation that people the world over face. So often the emphasis goes to the former, while the latter goes ignored. There are bright spots, as ecotourism has shown, but this is not enough considering the absolutely incredible biodiversity of our world; Australia, Borneo, China, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (consider the unknown diversity of this war-stricken region!), Ecuador, we could keep going down the list of ABCs and virtually everywhere has amazing species, habitats, and natural wonders. There simply aren’t enough tourists to support all these areas that need protection.

All that’s to say, I don’t have a solution. I could throw one up, but each case of conservation is different and requires a unique approach. I would be the last to say that I am familiar with all these situations, where so many variables influence, of which probably the most important is the local community. But I honestly think we need to balance our approach to conservation; our common firebrand approach, at least here in the West, to the problem of conservation currently does not consider the down-to-earth realities of what it means to be impoverished or taken advantage of, as so often those who damage the environment are. Am I generalizing here, and ignoring the great damage done to the environment by large companies with well-paid workers, or that done by rich nations pursuing raw materials for their technological advances? Of course. And that’s a topic for another post.

But I keep coming back to this, this great paradox. We cannot just ameliorate human suffering without doing the same for the natural world; that is unsustainable. And we cannot just guard the natural world without seeking to help the people who survive by its providence; that is callous.

We will never protect the environment adequately by not protecting the people who live the closest to it.



An Interview with Arachnid Addicted…

Hello all, today I am happy to announce an interview with (quite literally) Arachnid Addicted! Aside from posting marvelous photos on his Instagram page and on Arachnoboards, his collection remains the envy of all other arachnid enthusiasts, junkies, and fellow addicts. If it has eight legs and is predatory, he has it. Let’s get right into it!

Arthroverts: “When did you first become seriously interested in arachnids?”

Arachnid Addicted: “Seriously, I think it was back in 1999, or before. I always liked them though. I actually don’t have any memory of me being afraid of arachnids.”

Polybetes rapidus.
Polybetes rabidus. Just look at those eyes!

A: “What is it about arachnids and invertebrates in general that grabs you?

AA: “To be honest, I like any Arthropod that is a predator. I like the way they hunt, the way they grow, the whole process of ecdysis always caught my attention. Not to mention, there are some that make real strategies to hunt (Portia spp., I’m looking at you 😂) which is even more incredible.”

Avicularia taunayi.
Avicularia taunayi. One of the more obscure Aviculariinae, though no less colorful.

A: “How many species/specimens do you have in your collection? Do you see that number growing further in the future?

AA: “I have a list, but I’ve never summed them up. Considering only Theraphosidae, I had 157 different species in the first semester of this year. I believe this number have already grown, ha ha.”

Avicularia rufa.
Avicularia rufa. Freshly molted spiderling.

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

AA: “It’s hard to choose only one so I’ll say 5 NWs and 5 OWs.

In no particular order:
New World – Grammostola, Vitalius, Iridopelma, Pamphobeteus and Psalmopoeus.
Old World – Poecilotheria, Chilobrachys, Heteroscodra, Pterinochilus and Hysterocrates.

It was really hard to make this list and it will probably change tomorrow, please, don’t make me choose a favorite species 🤣 .”

Corinna sp.
Corinna sp. A wonderful little trapdoor species that is the envy of all enthusiasts outside of South and Central America.

A: “On the forums you regularly post about taxonomic changes and updates; is there a taxonomic issue (a “favorite” so to speak) related to arachnids/invertebrates that you hope is resolved soon?

AA: “We have to be really careful when it comes to “taxonomic solutions” these changes will always happen and we can’t be biased ourselves on them to be honest. There are taxonomical changes that won’t affect the pet trade in any way. Lasiodora spp., for example, is so messy right now that even when the revision comes up, what we have in the hobby as L. parahybana or L. klugii will remain that way; that’s what happened with Tliltocatl. Hobby individuals will continue to be chaotic.

About any revision that will be released soon, I don’t know, there are so many taxonomists working in the field right now, I’m only updated by looking at the World Spider Catalogue.”

Opisthacanthus cayaporum.
Opistacanthus cayaporum. This shot shows just how flat this species is. And those setae…wow.

A: “Are there any problems related to classification within the hobby that you think a greater awareness is needed of? An example would be the whole Grammostola pulchra/quirogai mess.

AA: “Yes, there are a lot. But honestly, most hobbyists won’t care about them. Using Grammostola as an example, G. porteri is a really odd species to science, its type is still known as Lasiodora porteri and no one knows if it is still “useful”. In the hobby, though, this doesn’t matter, they were named as G. rosea before but hey, nowadays, if you explain all of it, some keepers won’t believe or will get offended (which honestly, is lame 😂. ). So, I’m still trying to explain these mistakes on the forum or on my Instagram account. If one decides to research it further or not, that, unfortunately, is not my problem.”

Tityus stigmurus.
Tityus stigmurus. A small, colorful, parthenogenetic species.

A: “How is the hobby doing in terms of conservation in your opinion?

AA: “Man, this is controversial. What I honestly think is that sellers use this whole “conservation debate” as an excuse, what are they doing for conservation, really? Breeding spider to make a profit out of them? Sorry, but that means nothing.

Conservation issues are not about that in my opinion, one has to think about how to preserve X species in situ, if there’s no way to do it for whatever reasons, one has to make projects (serious ones) to keep them in captivity.

Believing that because there is one person breeding and selling Pokies it is enough to conserve the species is naïve. How many individuals will die in the care of the keeper? How many individuals will actually make it to the sling stage? How long will one keep working with the species?

I think these are some question we really have to make (me included). Mexico is making a good job towards it, maybe other countries should try things based off them.”

Poecilotheria subfusca "Whatever Land".
Poecilotheria subfusca “Whatever Land”. Goes to show just how messed up Poecilotheria in the hobby likely are…

A: “Your macro photos of arachnids, some of which I have shared in this post, are just flat out incredible; do you have any wisdom for those who want to take better photos of their collection and are just starting out?

AA: “Nowadays, there are lots of equipment available for any style you want to learn. As to our hobby, I believe the key word is research. If you want to work in photography, then probably equipment will matter, especially for printed images. In case you want to take some photos as a hobby, then semi-professional equipment would probably be fine.

In my opinion, important thing is to learn how the light works, how to compose an image and, especially, to know how your equipment works out of the auto shots. Nowadays there are also a large variety of techniques, and it’s important to learn your style; that will come in time. It is important to talk to other photographers, whether they are more experienced or not, I still learn a lot from them.

As for myself, my specialty is macro photography, that’s what I like the most and I still have a lot to learn; I don’t know how to stack yet, for example. I like to take pictures of other animals, other perspectives like landscapes, and I also like to make some panning style photos. But what I’m really into is to improve and get better with macro shots.

You can know a lil’ bit about everything, but as time passes by, you’ll focus in on one, or maybe two, styles you like more, and that’s when the magic happens (cliché, 🤣).”

Scolopendra viridicornis viridicornis.
Scolopenra viridicornis viridicornis. This photo captures the water glistening off the forcipules and the antenna wonderfully on an already beautiful specimen.

A: “Lastly, any advice for those who also want to become arachnid-addicted?

AA: “As I always say, study, don’t be afraid to ask around, don’t ever think your questions are dumb, and doubt anyone who tells you they are. Debate, discuss, speak for yourself and share your experiences. If you think something is wrong, say it. If you think you are wrong, listen. This is an awesome hobby, but it is also a place of egos, envy and disagreement, so know how to filter information.
And of course, more importantly, take good care of your animals ;).”

Ornithoctoninae sp. "Hati Hati".
Ornithoctinae sp. “Hati Hati”. What a gorgeous specimen! Pictures of these out-and-about are rare due to their pet-hole nature.

I’d like to say thank you to Arachnid Addicted for sharing some of his insights and photos with us, and for continuing to contribute to the advancement of the hobby. Make sure to check out his Instagram page and catch him on Arachnoboards!

Surprise photo!

Actinopus rufipes.
Actinopus rufipes. *sigh*

May your collections grow,


Interview with RezonantVoid!

Hello all! Today we once again have post that is a bit different from the usual collection update. Instead, I present to you an interview with Declan Hegge AKA RezonantVoid from Arachnoboards!

For those of you who don’t know, RezonantVoid is one of the premier Australian invertebrate enthusiasts. Besides maintaining a collection containing many of the native Australian species of tarantulas across all four known Australian genera (Phlogius, Selenocosmia, Selenotholus, and Selenotypus), he also keeps a wide array of non-tarantula mygalomorphs, scorpions, centipedes, and various other invertebrates, to go with a few species of reptiles. He is mainly active on Arachnoboards, where he teases shares his knowledge and photos with us foreign enthusiasts, while also dialoguing with and helping the many other Australian enthusiasts to be found on the forums.

I reached out to RezonantVoid during the Australian bushfires catastrophe, which we discuss a little in the interview, and he granted me permission to ask him a few questions. So without further ado, here is my conversation with him.

Arthroverts: “How did you originally get into the hobby?

RezonantVoid: “Okay so I guess to kick off, inverts have always for whatever reason held a special place in my heart since I was literally 4 years old. Ever since I can remember I’ve always been flipping rocks and logs, seeing what I could find underneath. But what really got me started on becoming a dedicated hobbyist was discovering “The Dark Den” on Youtube in late 2017. I’d been casually keeping a handful of scorpions since 2008 but never as a serious hobby, yet watching his video just fanned the spark of enthusiasm I had into a blazing inferno.

I can’t remember the exact dates, but I’m pretty sure by mid or late January 2018 I had my first 3 T slings (I’d unsuccessfully kept a few slings in the past but this time I was determined to get it right), and before I knew it I had like 11 T’s across all 4 described native genera. My first time dealing with trapdoors was rescuing a bunch from a job site before a [concrete] slab got poured, and I fell in love with them so much that I primarily shifted to keeping our non-tarantula primitive species, going on eventually to mouse spiders and Atracids.”

Euoplos turrificus. Simple coloration does not always make for an unhandsome specimen, as exhibited by this specimen.

A: “What is it about invertebrates that so interests you?

RZ: “I can’t really say there’s any one specific thing that makes me feel drawn to them. I will say though, that a truly massive part of my interest in wildlife as whole came from Steve Irwin. As a kid we had almost every one of his films on DVD or even video tape (far out, times have changed!), I swear I must have watched those things almost daily. He taught me and no doubt many others that our wildlife is not all dangerous, just grossly misunderstood. That’s a lesson I’ve taken with me ever since and almost certainly a big part of why I ventured into inverts despite most people’s reactions. You can gaze at them for hours and learn something new just about every time. And of course, nothing can surpass the elation of opening a burrow to find hundreds of tiny spiderlings inside and realizing that pairing 6 months back was indeed successful.”

A: “Do you think that being an enthusiast in Australia, decidedly limited in the exotic species available, ha ha, has either helped or hindered you in your hobby journey? Does the plethora of native Australian species make up for it you think?

RZ: “Lack of exotics was a roadblock I hit very early on and admittedly I did get very down about it. Next day I read an article about our unnamed floodplain tarantulas in the northern territory that spend months underwater. I was asking for stuff out of reach when I had insane critters right under my nose that I had no clue even existed. I really went all out researching at that point, pretty sure around March-July 2018 almost constantly studying our described native Mygalomorphae, and let me tell you, its crazy how many we have. Between Nemesiidae, Atracidae, Idiopidae, Barychelidae, Migidae, Theraphosidae and probably 20 others I forget, the number of species offsets the lack of exotics 10 fold. in fact, I would go as far as to say living here is the hobbyist dream. Name one other place where you can go to just about every untouched piece of bush and find multiple species of primitives that most likely aren’t even described! If I could have bought things like Brachypelma and Poecilotheria, I can guarantee I would never have had the variety I have now.”

Aname sp. “Gold”

A: “Even so, is there a foreign species that you wish you were able to keep?

RZ: “That question is quickly summed up with Linothele megatheloides.”

A: “What is your favorite species you’ve kept? Is there still a “Holy Grail” species you’re searching for?

RZ: “Its a very tough choice but I’d have to narrow it down to either Hadronyche formidabilis or Idiommata sp. “Silverback/Electric Blue”. Both are my top 2 rarest species and have me checking their containers first up every night.

Right there’s a holy grail species, Xamiatus magnificus. The world’s largest known wishbone spider. It is so rare that no photos of it exist online, but there are a few of Xamiatus rubifrons, a very similar looking smaller species. I actually know where the latter are found but haven’t had the opportunity to visit yet. I’m honestly not sure if I will ever find it, but I’ll absolutely keep looking.

Hadronyche formidabilis. The deep black is strangely attractive. Much more so than anything Grammostola pulchra can offer anyway.

A: “How large is your collection? Do you see it growing further in the future?

RZ: “My collection is actually way smaller than I originally thought, unfortunately I lost a few species recently. Probably at around the 60 or so permanent members mark. I’ll definitely be trying to grab a few more things soon though, in particular from the Nemesiidae.”

Namea salantiri. Gorgeous coloration on this specimen.

A: “We’ve all heard about the Australian bushfires, but how has it affected you and the Australian front of the hobby?

RZ: “I know others including at least one other Arachnoboards member who have been directly impacted, but if I’m honest I personally have been largely unaffected to this point. I live outside the fire grounds, but not 2 hours south of me the Coffs Harbor area got really badly scorched. Unfortunately this area is home to a massive diversity of araneofauna including some species that are almost never seen by members of the public, such as the genera Xamiatus and Ixamatus. I know one private property in that area (luckily I think the fires missed it) with the following species just in their front and back yard:
*Aname/Namea sp.
*Australothele nambucca
*Australothele jamersoni
*Missulena bradleyi
*Hadronyche macquariensis
*Ixamatus webbae
*Arbanitis sp. “Coramba” 1 & 2
*Xamiatus ilara

So there are places quite close to me that have suffered significant loss, especially amid wandering male season, but not me. Worst we’ve had is extensive smoke blanketing our town but my inverts don’t seem ‘badly’ affected yet by it.

However, the absurdly high temperatures also call for massive shipping delays with inverts, and I even got my first thermally insulated box with a cold pack the other week haha. Breeding efforts in captivity will surely have slowed down too, prices go up as does demand, and more species get impulse collected from the wild by panicking collectors. I would say that increase in collecting most definitely affects all major invertebrate groups, but since spiders are considerably easier to locate and capture than scorpions and centipedes I would have to guess they are being hit the worst.

A picture of the havoc taken near Declan’s abode. The white marks on the ground are where a tree was literally reduced to nothing but ash.

A: “Are captive breeding efforts the only remaining hope for some species who have had their native locales destroyed?

RZ: “I think this is quite an accurate statement. From my perspective, I’ve already seen a handful of colonies obliterated, with the greatest effect being on lidless trapdoors like Arbanitis. I’m sure a regular low intensity bushfire would normally be quite survivable, but we are talking drought fueled megafires over 30m (90ft) tall that vaporize just about everything. One locale about 40 minutes away was reduced to nothing more than charred burrows with a few exoskeletons inside.

Let’s say a fire goes through a 10,000 strong colony spread over 1 square kilometer, and wipes out half of them. 5,000 is still a lot, but that number may take decades to replace the original numbers. Ants are the quickest insects to bounce back from a fire, which aren’t the most nutritious food for growing slings. Many slings may even get eaten while trying to catch them, due to a lack of other available prey.

So what happens to colonies reduced to mere hundreds or less? Depending on how spread out the survivors are, the 3 day average lifespan of male traps in the wild is hardly enough time to pair with a female. In such a case, captive breeding is almost 100% the most effective way of repopulating, being able to guarantee the survival and growth of every individual sling from an egg sac. Saddest of all though, while the fires have indeed stopped, is for many species this has come too late. National parks are a great way to keep wild populations safe, but in my opinion there is no point in doing so if you don’t have backup populations in captivity. I hate to think of the hundreds of species lost this summer in such areas because nobody was allowed to secure a handful of individuals prior to the fires”

Burnt-out Arbanitis sp. burrow.

A: “Do you think the Australian government will change the regulations in regards to this at all?

RZ: “I have to say I strongly doubt it. The vast majority of attention has been given to protecting Koalas and other mammals which while are definitely important to conserve, are not the baseline of the ecosystem. Very little regard is given to invertebrates down here other than by hobbyists and scientists. I was actually really impressed to see there was one single news article that did mention how we need to shift a lot of attention to protecting invertebrate fauna, but it was very brief. With their attention fixed on “bigger” issues, I can’t see politicians making any adjustments to current national park laws allowing more people to establish captive populations. You can apply for Scientific Collection Licenses but the aim is more for studying specimens and less about conserving them. I also believe you need prior qualifications to obtain one but I hope I’m wrong. In any case, I think some of even the more commonly available species in the hobby here have become a heck of a lot more important to keep established and hybrid free in case there is a need for wild release in the future.”

Scorched forest areas. These photos were taken a few weeks after the fires went out, hence the new green growths on the trees (gumtrees have specially designed, fire-resistant branches, allowing them to kickstart the process of regrowth in regions ravaged by fire).

A: “How can we foreigners help? Is sending money and raising awareness enough?

RZ: “It’s difficult to say exactly what effect overseas funding would really have, because there aren’t a lot of organizations that could use it efficiently for its intended purpose. Nearly all hobby species here come from regular civilian enthusiasts going out collecting, and the majority of hobby expenses come from the exact same things as anywhere else (such as buying feeders, enclosure supplies and whatnot). It’s not like a ton of hobbyists can just throw up their bank details online and expect heaps of people to donate them money “for the conservation of critters affected by the fires”. I’m sure there are many other groups here that care for general animals hurt by the fires (like koalas, possums, native birds, and the like), and for the time being any willing donations are probably best spent on them until an organization arrives that pays veteran collectors to gather endangered inverts for captive breeding.

From my perspective, the best thing everyone can do to help our inverts, is simply spread the word about their importance and share our love for this wonderful hobby. Only by raising more awareness of how essential they truly are to everyday life, regardless of how scary they may appear, can we squash the stigma people have about inverts, and not inverts themselves.

While I would never wish this dreadful virus on anyone, I think its actually going to be interesting to see how quarantine has benefited various insect populations worldwide. With less traffic on our roads, late blooming mature males and flying insects are less likely to get hit by cars, meaning more of them successfully make it to a female. Maybe this short breather after the fires here is just what they need to get back on track to repopulating lost habitats. All we can do is hope.”

A: “Hope is indeed something we could all use right now, whether it be for humans or animals.

Arbanitis sp. “Coramba”

I’d like to thank RezonantVoid for agreeing to do this with me. If you’d like to help but don’t know how, remember what he said; “Only by raising more awareness of how essential they truly are to everyday life, regardless of how scary they may appear, can we squash the stigma people have about inverts, and not the inverts themselves.

If you have further questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to me or RezonantVoid. Only together can we work towards conserving species, in Australia, the US, or wherever you are.

“For we know that the whole of creation groans and travails together until now.”



Blatticomposting: Work Smarter

“When unable to come up with an applicable name for your post, one option is to take a commonly-known phrase and redirect it to apply to your material. Puns, play-on-words, and other such linguistic ploys only help in this situation.”

Blogmaster Handbook, p. 293.

Now obviously, I just made that up, but it does seem very applicable for the title of this post.

Anyway, welcome once again! Short post today, but I shall reveal my much-speculated (not really) blatticomposting project.

What is blatticomposting? In a nutshell, it is basically composting with cockroaches. Not only is it faster than traditional composting methods, it is also exceedingly more efficient and hygienic than the similar vermicomposting, or composting with worms, as blatticomposting bins do not acquire a strong odor and will rapidly turn large amounts of leftovers into soil (quite unlike most worms which will take weeks to eat any large amounts of food). It is usually carried out with members of the genus Eublaberus, most often sp. “Ivory”, though for this project I decided to experiment with Eublaberus serranus, because A) I already have E. sp. “Ivory”, and B) The E. serranus were a lot cheaper. Those of you who know me well enough will realize option B had a disproportionate effect on my decision.

Anyway, after months of attempting to get this off the ground, I finally worked it out. The 119-something (ordered 100) specimens I received from The Invert Shop all arrived safe and sound, and they went straight into their enclosure upon arrival. For this project I decided to go with a bucket cage, which is exactly what it sounds like: a 5 gallon gasket-seal bucket. I did not drill ventilation holes, mainly because I was simply too busy to deal with it at the time, so the lid isn’t fully screwed on at any time; thankfully this species is incapable of climbing smooth surfaces and isn’t arboreally-inclined as it is. Two heat pads were taped to the sides of the bucket to provide heat, as I got these back in the frigid winter months, though I have since removed them as the temperatures in the room the roaches are kept in has climbed a full 10 degrees Fahrenheit to the 77-78F range. I originally was using a substrate made up of coco fiber, filled up to about 4-5 inches from the bottom, with a medium-sized branch sticking up out of it as the adults need space to escape the ever busy juveniles. However, I learned the hard way that a full piece of melon can turn a gallon of substrate into a perfect, anaerobic swamp. As I don’t keep swamp invertebrates (yet) I pulled the roaches out, which had collected in the upper regions of the enclosure, and threw the substrate out. I also discovered that in this process the lower portion of the branch had rotted (helped along by the gnawing of the juvenile roaches) from the excess moisture, and broken off.

After removing the offending substrate, I replaced it with a mix of coco fiber, aspen shavings, and some rotting leaves; a month or so into this and the shavings and the leaves have rotted/been eaten, which is what I had anticipated. The branch, though significantly smaller, went back in, and has fared better than its other half insofar.

Food has consisted of vegetable and fruit table scraps, as well as more typical fare, like dog food, and some more unusual items, such as scrambled eggs and old oatmeal, which though eaten completely, were not received with as much gusto as I thought they would be. I taped a piece of paper to the side of the bucket to help keep track of what food went in, how many individuals were left, etc., but my record keeping has completely failed on this front.

The summer warmth has meant though that quite a few specimens have molted out to adulthood, though they are less colorful as adults than I originally anticipated. Not the best pictures below, these fellows can be a pain to photograph as they try to get back down into the substrate. Any movement of the bin inevitably sends them scurrying back into their dens as well, so pictures of them in the enclosure need to either be done rapidly or gotten by leaving the lid off and throwing food in.

Adult specimen. The adults will walk-run frantically around your hand in a bid to escape.

Video of the emergence…surprisingly not as riotous as I thought it would be. Then again, oatmeal isn’t a particularly exciting food for any of the roach species I’ve kept (just like some people in that regard I guess!).

And that’ll do it for now! I’ll catch y’all next time. I have a very special post coming up, so stay tuned!