Hunter Park Kindergarten

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Friday, October 10, 2008

Locusts Care and management

We started to raise locusts (kapakapa, kihikihi, kikihitara, whitiwhiti) as food for our frogs, but the rapidly became an interest to the children in themselves.

According to Land care researchs web page

we have the species Locusta migratoria Linnaeus in New Zealand. It is found in both North and South Islands and indeed all over the world except North and South America.

They start off very small as you can see and rapidly grow to a large size.

The Queensland department of primary industries and fisheries web site suggests in normal summer temperatures they spend 11-15 days in the egg, 30 days as a nymph and about 14 days after becoming a winged adult can begin egg laying.

More information can be found at

It tells us they lay up to 60 eggs in a pod and a female can lay and new pod every 4-6 days, laying about 3-5 pods in a life time with adults living about 60-70 days after fledging.

The eggs dislike dry conditions and die off if not kept moist.

Here is a nymph or hopper, this one is about as large as our bigger frogs can handle, has small winglets and shows that locust can come in a range of colours including green and brown.
When they are crowded they tend to develop as brown locusts, when less crowded as green, and a mix can result at some levels. This one is producing a faecal pellet.

To sex your locusts first look at their size. Females tend to be bigger and heavier, males smaller. Then look at the tail. This one is female, see the two black lips at thetip of the tail.

This one is male, they have a paler tail tip that curves upwards from the bottom.
Locusts often ride on each others backs, these ones are getting ready to lay eggs, with the male on top.

Here's an egg pod, we use gypsum (from the garden centre) soaked in water till it's saturated (wet till you see free water, then pour off excess) in polystrene cups sunk into the floor for them to lay in. (They don't like to climb to lay eggs and prefer to go downhill (were it would be damper.) Their eggs rapidly absorb moisture from the soil to grow, and you need enough depth for them to get their tails in. Locusts are very messy and it can be hard to tell the egg cases amongst the rubbish as you clean, unless you look carefully in a good light.

Here's an egg case opened up, so you can see how tiny the eggs are.
We have one House made of two layers of wood with a sandwhich of inch thick polystrene for insulation. But it would be better if we had several so egg cases could be regularly removed to a nursery, where germinated wheat grass in pots could be feed to them. As little ones are easily lost in the cut grass we feed them in pots, and again have to be searched out carefully.
Our locust house has two layers of perspex for a viewing window, one of which slides out across stick on drought brushes, the other has a door for access. In hindsight the door would be better in the wooden side as the perspex scratches up with door sliding over it.

Underneath the house is a light bulb (40w) that goes all the time and heats the house via ventilation holes covered in wire mesh (they eat non metals). Inside the house is a energy saver bulb that is on a seperate switch and is on 14 hours a day, off 10 hours on a timer to make it like summer for them.
The two bulbs mean if one bulb blows, they still get some warmth.
I've read the babies can survive -7 degrees c, but don't survive very well if cooling is rapid and not gradual. But the don't survive very well belwo 25 degrees c and I like to keep them between 27 and 35 degrees C. (We put in a hot and cold thermometer and a humidity meter from mitre 10).
They seem to do better when they have sticks to climb on, as this lets them climb up under the light to sunbath, and helps when they shed their skin, as well as makes it easier for them to get to their food.
They can jump and hide very well and can also fly.
While they don't like handling much, we will get out males for the children to hold, as as the room is normally cooler than their house this slows them down.
Every day you'll need to feed them one bunch of blade grass maybe two. We put ours in cups of water to keep if fresh (though this ups the humidity but doesn't bother them to much). In holidays and weekends you can get away with several bunches lasting several days, but daily is best.
Getting the grass in summer can be a problem for us, the grass can't have been sprayed, so we grow out own, but have to water it in dry summers and let our lawns grow long!
They don't swarm in New Zealand, because when it get's hot enough it is usually very dry as well, and not hot and wet for a long enough time for their numbers to reach swarm levels.
In such a locust house as ours they will breed all year long, but they do need the 14:10 day night cycle and to be kept at over 28 degrees or they will die off.
As frog food, they are very nutritious, they can be gut packed or dusted with vitamins (we haven't had to yet) but rapidly get too big. "Keeping Frogs" by Mark Davidson says they are high in protien, low in fat and contain high levels of phosphorus and iodine. We try to feed our frogs a variety, but these can be great in spring when there's not much around and the frogs are starting to get hungry.
Having only one house, we've never had enough to try them ourselves, but there are recipes around for them.
We got ours from the national aquarium, were they grow them for kiwi food amongst other things. But they are messy and will need regular cleaning. Remember to use untreated wood on your locust house, and make sure it is water resistant, and let the electrician putting in your lights know it will be for a wet area.

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