Raising Spined Soldier Bugs

Spined soldier bugs are easy to raise in captivity and interesting to watch when feeding. Capture a few outside to start a colony, and you can grow them year-round inside.

They can be reared in any clean container. Deli cups, with clear lids, are convenient because it is easy to keep many small groups of insects (so if disease affects one group the entire colony won't be wiped out) and the condition of each group can be observed without opening the container. Put a piece of paper towel cut to fit in the bottom of the container. Provide water in a small vial plugged with a piece of cotton. Attach the water vial securely to the paper with tape so it won't roll around and squash the bugs. Elevating one end of the vial slightly will help prevent water leaking out. Do not allow the paper towel to become saturated. The bugs do best in a dry environment with a plentiful water source. Clean or replace the container periodically, providing fresh paper towel and water. Removing dead bugs, shed skins, and eaten food between cleanings will help keep the container from getting moldy.

Spined soldier bugs will eat each other if there is insufficient food, so keep limited numbers of bugs together in each container. Ten adults or twenty medium-sized nymphs is a reasonable number in a 16 oz. container. It is best to keep the different sizes separate, since the larger ones are likely to eat the smaller ones, unless you are keeping them in a very large cage.

Waxworms are a convenient food for the bugs, but any small caterpillars can be used. Waxworms are available from most stores that sell live bait for fishing. Feed the bugs two or three times a week. Five to 10 waxworms per container is usually adequate. Remove the old, dead waxworms when adding new ones.

These bugs reproduce quite easily. Adults will lay eggs on any surface. Rather than trying to move the eggs, it is easiest to allow the eggs to hatch in the adults' container and then transfer the small nymphs to a new container. Use a fine artist's brush to pick up and move the nymphs. First instar nymphs do not feed, but do require water to survive. Put one waxworm in the container so food will be available as soon as they molt to second instars.

- Susan Mahr, University of Wisconsin - Madison

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