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Compromised colony - input appreciated.


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My husband and I recently purchased a reptile business that breeds many of its own feeders on site. Among them, we have a large colony of what Eublaberus distanti on the property that has been experiencing a population crash as of late according to the former owners. I had a look and indeed, the colony is full of dead roaches and the survivors do not seem terribly "peppy." There also aren't many young nymphs. I would like to salvage the colony if possible, but I have a few questions, and since I am inexperienced with this species (I breed ornamental species only), I am hoping seasoned keepers have some insights.

- The roaches are covered with tiny, slow moving, gray-to-off-white mites. These mites are found on the abdomen, wings, joints, mouth parts - pretty much all over. I came across an archived topic on this forum and there was a photo that looks very much like these mites, but because the topic has been edited a bit, it isn't making much sense to me. To clarify, are the roaches in this image from the archives in fact a life stage of grain mites? If yes, are they or are they not harmful to the roaches?

- The roaches are currently being fed a diet primarily of varied produce from the local grocer (the stuff that gets thrown out at the day's end). They have always been fed this, but according to the business's prior owners, they also used to feed the roaches waste from a large colony of rats that was once raised on the property. This is the primary change in their husbandry, which tells me that perhaps there was something nutritionally in the rat feces that isn't in the produce. Also, with so much fruit and vegetables but little else, is it possible that part of the issue is a lack of a protein source?

- Another concern of mine is that the colony has become home to more than just the desired roach species; several other exotic roach species plus some native roaches have taken up residence. Off the top of my head, and forgive me for the common names as I don't have time to look up appropriate spellings tonight, I have seen Lobster roaches, American cockroaches, Turkistan roaches, and Oriental cockroaches in the mix. I have read that the mixing of species can result in excessive competition and population collapses. I'd also worry about the exchange of pathogens, though I realize most are fairly host specific. Does this seem like a potential cause of this issue?

Here are some other parameters that may be helpful:

- The roaches are housed in large open-air enclosures with metal sides inside of a barn. The barn is quite warm - I estimate the low 90's but intend to make a more accurate temperature readings - and also very humid; it is slightly above the typical outdoor humidity in this region so around 70% I would estimate.

- The roaches were previously being kept on a peat moss substrate, which to my knowledge is not artificially dampened, though it is damp simply from the humidity and decay of produce. Some of the roaches have been moved into a shed in smaller enclosures in a mix of peat and sawdust; this concerns me as I worry the saw dust may be softwood and thus potentially bearing some of the aromatic oils that bother more sensitive insects - any thoughts on this?

- The enclosures are bare, by which I mean there is not corrugated cardboard or anything of the like for the roaches to cling to. I do not know if this is significant, but I figured it is worth mentioning.

We'd really like to salvage this colony, so any hints on the problem at hand and how to fix it would be much appreciated. As I said, I normally breed small colonies of ornamental roaches, and while I'll be doing plenty of reading, your thoughts on the current situation will be helpful.

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I'd pull out a large number of the stronger individuals and destroy the rest (through feeding to lizards or tarantulas maybe) and keep the old caging empty for a while. The mites are a result of too much moisture or high ambient humidity along with excess rotting food or dead roaches. The mites will reduce to near zero over time with improved husbandry. I'd suggest using the cheapest dry dog food available as the only diet and make sure it remains dry or is consumed entirely within a few days. Produce now and then is okay as long as it is consumed rapidly. No egg cartons and minimal substrate works for some people but I think many blaberids stress wth no shelter.

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Ditto. I use a couple inches of cypress mulch and several (enough to fill the bin one third full) egg cartons. I feed them fresh produce, and sometimes pelleted fish food I buy in bulk (Purina AquaMax or something similar from the feed store).

If you want them gone, buy some Hypoaspis miles for Evergreen Growers Supply over the internet. One container sprinkled in the bin and you soon wont see any mite of any kind for a while. Eventually cellulose mites may move back in but those are harmless, and will get eaten to some degree too. I swear by them. Also, they sell a 'fly control' or 'fly parasite' which is a micro-wasp that feeds on flies and gnats, if those are ever a problem for you too.

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Thanks for the input, guys. I suspected that the large ammount of rotting produce might be a good part of the issue, especially after doing more reading last night. I will have to do some serious work on this colony.

Nothing a good bin cleaning and TLC can't fix! ;)

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  • 2 weeks later...

The business is Agama International. We are currently breeding Australian Water Dragons, Monkey Tailed Skinks, Chinese Crocodile Lizards, Crag Lizards, and hope to soon also be offering Ackie Monitors and Giant Canary Island Lizards. Obviously more down the road. :)

And, thanks for the input, everyone! Looked in on the colony today and liked what I saw: no dead, some freshly molted adults, lots of activity, and the food being eaten up readily. I think it can definitely be salvaged at this point!

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