All the talk about the goliath bird-eating tarantula’s urticating bristles—irritating leg hairs it can flick into the eyes of a predator—has me starting to itch. Or maybe it’s just the surroundings, Shedd’s high-security arthropod containment facility, or bug room for short. After 15 minutes in the small locked area that is crawling with additional tarantulas, bullet ants, millipedes and giant cockroaches for Amazon Rising, the power of suggestion wins for a few seconds.
But I move on with my tour guide, senior aquarist and bug room lead Daniel Lorbeske. I learn that the 3-inch adult cockroaches have wings while the juveniles—and here Dan lifts a log to show the underside encrusted with darker subadults—do not.
“These guys are pretty nice, and completely harmless,” he says. They do make good exhibit animals—find them in a highlight exhibit in front of the tortoise habitat in Amazon Rising’s low-water section—because they are big—the biggest roach species in South America—and they are active. And of course, there’s the eeeuuuwww factor, but with this species, it’s misplaced.
“They’re nice to show people because this isn’t a roach that’s going to infest the house,” Dan explains. “They need soil for the eggs and the young to develop in.” In fact, most of the 207 roaches down here are small juveniles that have buried themselves in the habitat’s wood-chip substrate.
Four Peruvian jumping sticks live in a tall terrarium filled with ficus branches. One of two 6-inch females reaches toward a leaf to sip water from its drip tip. “When I mist the plants a couple of times a day, they’ll drink the droplets off the leaves,” he says.
Except for when her legs move, she could be mistaken for a length of snapped-off twig. Right now she’s in slow motion, but her long, powerful back legs enable her to spring up to around 3 feet. It’s no surprise that the jumping sticks are related to grasshoppers.
It takes time to locate an equally camouflaged male, but it’s worth the search. About half the size of the female, he is emerald green. He has white markings on his face and where his legs “bud” from his stemlike body.
The four jumping sticks were removed from Amazon Rising in November. But that doesn’t mean their exhibit is empty. “We absolutely saw them mating and depositing eggs [in there], so now we’re waiting to see if young pop up. But the gestation time of these eggs is incredibly long—nine months to a year.” That’s twice the lifespan of the male, although females, Dan says, live a couple of years.
With the insects’ biological clocks running down, he continues, “Right now, the focus is on getting them to reproduce again. While they are fascinating on exhibit, I have much more control over their environment down here.”
—Karen Furnweger, web editor
Read the first bug room behind-the-scenes blog here!