The Tank – Preparing a Home for Orthoptera

Orthoptera is an order of insects with paurometabolous or incomplete metamorphosis, which includes grasshoppers, crickets, weta and locusts.

The insect I’ve decided to focus on is the locust – Locusta migratoria to be specific.  These little guys are native to New Zealand, but we don’t have the right conditions here for them to swarm and cause problems the way they do overseas.  If all of our locusts escaped right now they’d die outside in the cold (so there’s no risk of any plague, unless you count a plague of deliciousness).

Locusts require a few things to keep them happy – warmth (between 25-35 degrees Celsius), vertical sticks to climb on and shed their skins (they moult just like cicadas), food (ours love grass the best, but you can feed them almost any fruit/vegetable/green plant combo) and a container of sand to lay eggs in (it needs to be about 10cm deep and kept damp to stop the egg burrows from caving in).

Humidity is the locust’s worst enemy – it will kill them so it’s important to keep their home warm and dry. They get all of their water from their food, but if you want to give them something extra try wetting some cotton wool – they’ll suck on it.  Never give them a water dish because they will drown in it – they breathe through holes in the sides of their bodies and they’re just not smart enough to stay out of the water.

All that being said, locusts do not need their very own designer terrarium.  I’ve adapted a large fish tank for the purpose, and divided into two halves – one half for my adult locusts, and one half for my nursery where the eggs will hatch.  This way I can provide ideal conditions for the eggs without adversely affecting the adults, and it’ll also make it easier to differentiate the age of the insects (they live for around two to three months at most, and I don’t want my breeders dying off because I’ve mismanaged the colony).

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Fishtank converted to a locust tank.

I’ve crafted a wooden lid for the tank with two hatches that are covered with fine metal mesh.  These provide adequate ventilation to reduce humidity within the tank.

Lid:

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The mesh is ‘sandwiched’ between two wooden rounds:

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I’ve also made a fitting for a lightbulb, although I may yet decide to put two in so I don’t have to change the lightbulb each morning and evening.  At present I use a 100 watt soft tone bulb during the day, and a 50 watt red bulb at night.  I’ll be able to get away with a much lower watt daylight bulb as the weather gets warmer.

The floor in the tank is wood – I’ve put in a false floor so that the sand in the egg-laying container is level with the rest of the tank.

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Tank adapted. Here’s a run down on the materials and costs involved:

Wood: Free – leftover ply from a dismantled crate (if you can’t get free then half a sheet of plywood from Bunnings will set you back about $30)

Wire mesh: 50cm – $6

Red Lightbulb: 50w Red Bulb from Hollywood Fish Farm $15 – but you can get a red spot bulb from Bunnings for about $6

Day Lightbulb: 100w softtone bulb from Bunnings – $2

Bulb sockets and cables/switches: $36 altogether ($12 for a cable with plug and switch, $6 for a bulb socket to attach)

Fishtank: Free – picked it up from my wife’s brother – but you can get tanks off trademe to adapt from between $1 – $20

Locusts: 25 ‘medium’ from Biosuppliers, a commercial insect breeder in Albany – $27 including shipping.

I’ll post more pictures of the working set-up in future posts.

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