Rearing Insects

One of the easiest ways to obtain insect specimens for collection or study is to raise them (see sections “Cockroach trap”, “Food-baited jars”, “Pheromones” and below). Many college and university biology and entomology departments (see listing in section, “Donations to museums and associated tax benefits”) maintain cultures of arthropods for study and can be contacted or visited. Several companies sell culture supplies and equipment for begin your own cultures. Starting a culture from scratch is easily done for many groups of arthropods (see, FAPFS008, L-1311 – “Raising Crickets for Fish Bait”, and L-5313).

Sources of Information:

Chinery, M. 1977. The Complete Amateur Naturalist. Bloomsbury Books, London, UK. 192 pp.

Evans, H. E. 1963. Wasp Farm. A Double Day Anchor Natural History Book, Garden City, NY. 188 pp.

Edwards, R. R., N. C. Leppla, W. A. Dickerson. 1987. Arthropod Species in Culture. Entomological Society of America, Mayer, D. F. And C. Mayer. 1983. Bugs: How To Raise Insects for Fun and Profit. And books, 702 South Michigan, South Bend, Indiana 46618108 pp.

Sources of supplies:

Insect Rearing and Supplies BioServ™ Catalog (1998-2000) Entomology Division One 8th Street 1 Frenchtown, NJ 08825 908/996-2155; FAX: 908/996-4123

Carolina Biological Supply Company 2700 York Rd. Burlington, NC 27215

Obtaining insect eggs for culture. Mated (and sometimes, unmated) adult insects will lay eggs on host plants or animals and in suitable habitats. Queen fire ants, for instance, continuously lay eggs even when removed from colonies. Holding adult insects in captivity rather than killing them immediately and providing host material can often induce them to lay eggs. These can not only become specimens on their own (another life stage), but they can be used to start a culture to observe all developmental stages.

Rearing butterflies and moths. If you happen to find a large, fully-grown caterpillars in the field, keep some in a zip-lock bag with pieces of the plant on which it was feeding. If you’re lucky, it may go ahead and pupate and in a few weeks the adult butterfly or moth may emerge as a perfect specimen! Try collecting bagworm bags in mid summer when caterpillars inside are full grown or have pupated and rearing adult males.

Adult butterflies and moths can be placed in a screen cage or bag (paper or plastic) together with leaves on stems of their larval host plants (e.g., black swallowtail on dill, fennel or parsley). This can also be accomplished in the field by tying a sweep net or burlap bag around the branch of a host plant – even a tree. Once the egg is layed, it can be collected and preserved in alcohol, or allowed to hatch. If caterpillars are to be reared, change host plant leaves frequently to prevent accumulation of decomposing plant tissue and fecal material (frass) that will mold readily. Was leaves collected fresh from host plants or kept in a refrigerator to remove dirt, disease organisms that may be present. If adults are intended to emerge from pupae or chrysalides in captivity, assure that humidity levels are high to allow for expansion of wings.

Rearing parasites. When caterpillars are encountered that are covered with silken cocoons, holding that specimen in a jar will allow adult parasitic wasps to emerge that can then be preserved and mounts on pin-mounted card points. Similarly, a percentage of most populations of insects may be parasitized and allowing them to remain active in captivity allows time for parasites to emerge. Stink bug species such as rice stink bugs and green stink bugs are frequently parasitized by large flies (Tachinidae). Stink bugs can be collected from the field (e.g., using a sweep net in rice fields when seed heads or panicles are formed and producing seed, or soybean fields when pod formation occurs). They can be maintained in a clear glass or plastic container when provided seeds on which they feed (many stink bugs do fine when confined to green beans). Parasites emerge from specific stages of insects, with tachinid flies emerging from adult stages.

Collecting scale insect crawlers. Most scale insect females produce eggs that hatch into tiny six-legged mobile stages called crawlers. In many species, male scales are tiny two-winged stages that look like gnats. Both crawlers and, occasionally, males scale insects can be collected by placing cuttings of twigs and leaves infested with scale insects in a sealed plastic bag. Keep the bag at room temperature away from direct sunlight. If crawlers are emerging, they can be seen in the corners of the bag.

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