Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Our Cast of Characters

Repeat visitors to the insect village sometimes comment that a favorite insect is missing from the live insect display. Or alternatively, they may see something new, even after many visits in the past. Why does our cast of insects change and what can you expect to see on any given day?

There are two groups of arthropods you will almost certainly see on any given day. The first are those that live in breeding colonies. The Brazilian and the Madagascar hissing cockroaches, the different stick insects and the dermestid beetles and mealworms all breed easily in captivity. We keep colonies of all of these insects going all the time. The only time they might come off exhibit is for cleaning, remodeling the cage, or to make room for something more spectacular.

The other tried and true groups are those with extremely long life cycles. Tarantulas, blue death feigning beetles, and scorpions all live for many years in captivity. They are trouble free, easy to care for, and will likely grace our exhibit on almost any day of the year.
Some of our other creatures will be here one day, gone the next. Grasshoppers have notoriously short life spans, and have problematic young – they hop so well their cages are difficult to clean without risking escapes. So we feature mature or sub adult grasshoppers, and do not attempt to breed them in captivity. They do very well in the wild, thank you very much!

Many large, cool beetles have long life cycles, but spend most of that time as grubs, buried in their food material. So while we may or may not have a breeding population, we have found it difficult to create a good display of hidden grubs.

Other species have labor intensive life cycles. Silk moths were very rewarding to look at, but required a time investment that it is not always possible to commit to. When staffing allows, these cuties may come back.

Then there are seasonal species. The bee hive may overwinter, but it is always dicey getting it to, and it will always be small and depleted by spring. Bees are far less active when nectar is unavailable, and it is nearly impossible to guarantee a bustling hive after a long, rainy winter. Our local spider population is also seasonal. The huge spiders you notice in fall will mostly die off in the winter, leaving egg sacs or tiny hatchlings to start the next spring. So while a few species can be featured year round, our most spectacular spider exhibit will always be around October.

One other element at play here is you. We try to notice which bugs attract people most. In some cases, attract may not be the right word – perhaps repel yet fascinate? But we always love additional feedback. What is your favorite character in the insect zoo? What would you love to see that we don’t have? We make no promises, but we do try to keep you happy.

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